The Effects of Using The Wrong Cleansers & My Top Picks

Your cleanser is the most important part of your skincare routine to get right. Why? Because using the wrong cleanser can damage your skin and actually make your acne worse. It took me a long time to stop using aggressive cleansers. I thought antibacterial, foaming cleansers that dried out my skin would stop it being so oily and dry out any spots. I wish I knew the effects of using such harsh ingredients on my skin earlier! I hope it helps you understand the function of the skin and ways that cleansing can go wrong.

There are 3 important parts to healthy skin – the skin barrier, the skin pH and the skin microbiome. The role of cleansers is to remove dirt and other contaminants that can be on the skin. Some cleansers can cause changes in the skin barrier, pH and microbiome, which upsets the skin and can cause more breakouts.

These are a few ways cleansers can be affecting your skin:

  1.  Harsh surfactants in cleansers can remove essential parts of the skins outer layer, such as lipids and natural moisturising factors. This causes damage to the skin barrier and can strip the skin of its natural oils. Your skin may feel tight after washing, and the oil glands in the skin can produce more oil to overcompensate for the dryness. Surfactants can remain in the skin barrier even after washing, which further disrupts skin structure causing inflammation, redness and imbalances in bacteria which can lead to acne. 
  2. Foaming cleansers tend to have a very high pH, which causes the skin to become alkaline. The good bacteria on our skin prefer a more acidic state to thrive. By changing the pH of the skin, we can disrupt the microbiome and bacteria that are related to skin conditions can start to overgrow.
  3. Using antibacterial washes and over-exfoliating disrupts the outer layer of the skin. This can affect the skin microbiome and leave the younger cells exposed and vulnerable. The combination of a disrupted skin microbiome and damaged skin barrier can be the perfect combination for acne to develop. 

You don’t need every skincare product to be ‘acne-fighting’. By being at war with your skin you could be doing more damage than good. By using a more gentle approach to the skin, you can give it the time and tools it needs to repair. These are some of my current favourite cleansers for acne-prone skin.

1. Twelve Beauty Clementine Cleansing Balm

This is a thick, creamy oil based cleanser that is great to remove makeup and be the first step in a double-cleanse. It doesn’t contain coconut oil, which can be problematic for acne-prone skin. 


2. Twelve Beauty Purifying Cleansing Beauty Cream

This is a cream cleanser which feels very calming on the skin. It contains very high amounts of squalane which helps to repair the skin and removes impurities without over-drying or causing irritation. In fact, your skin feels pretty moisturised after using this! I tend to use this in the evening if I haven’t been wearing makeup, or as the second step in a double cleanse.


3. Living Libations Best Skin Ever – Sandalwood


Another oil based cleanser that can be used as a moisturiser too. It contains jojoba oil which helps to cleanse pores and balance the natural oil production of the skin. It has a lovely blend of calming and anti-inflammatory essential oils including chamomile and frankinensce. 


4. Oskia Reniassance Cleansing Gel 


If you hate the idea of cleansing with oil because your skin is very oily, you might want to try this gel. Caprylic/capric triglyceride is refined coconut oil, which prevents it blocking pores in acne prone skin. It gently exfoliates while contains oils and vitamins that help to protect the skin barrier and keep the skin mositurised. 


5. By Sarah Red Raspberry Seed Cleansing Oil 


Another oil based cleanser full of fatty acids and squalane which help to protect and repair the skin barrier and keep the skin at a healthy pH. It will turn into a milky cleanser when mixed with water. 

Has this changed your perspective of cleansing?




  1. The Effect of Cleansers on the Skin Microbiome 
  2. Cleansing Formulations That Respect Skin Barrier Integrity
  3. Cleansing without compromise: the impact of cleansers on the skin barrier and the technology of mild cleansing
  4. Photo by Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

Do you feel like you’ve tried everything but nothing will shift your acne?

I’ve been where you are for years and can understand your frustration. Grab my eBook and get my best tips on what to do to finally improve how your skin looks and feels. You’ll also get a bi-weekly roundup of my tips and blog posts to help you lead a healthy lifestyle, plus news I only share through email. You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of my emails. Before you subscribe please make sure you have read the privacy policy page.

By Emilia Papadopoullos
DipCNM, Nutritional Therapist

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