We Need to Talk About Why Dermatologists Don't Like This Face Wash

woman with natural skin and red lips

Washing your face is so important—it's the first step in your skincare routine and, if done incorrectly, can mess with the effectiveness of the rest of your products. Celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau explains, "If your cleanser is damaging, then everything you use afterward (toner, serum, and moisturizer) must do repair work to fix the irritation."

As someone who swears by a serum that costs $163 (you can read more about how magical it is here), I expect it to do its job properly. To better understand which ingredients are harmful, I tapped Rouleau for more information. She named three top contenders to look out for and offered up a better alternative for each. Keep reading to make sure you're not using a cleanser that contains one (or more) of them.

1. Sulfates

"Many foaming and gel cleansers are formulated with sodium lauryl sulfate, a cleansing agent that cuts oil from the skin," explains Rouleau. "If you wash with a soap that is too drying, it pulls all the water out of the skin and creates dead, dry skin-cell buildup. The rule is: The more lather there is, the more drying your cleanser will be. If there's less of a lather, your face wash is gentle and safer for your skin."

Essentially, you just have to listen to your skin. If it feels dry, opt for a low-foaming, low-frothing cleanser and make sure there are no sulfates on the ingredient list. Instead, try a hydrating, gel-to-milk formula to keep the moisture barrier intact, like Renée Rouleau's Moisture Protecting Cleanser ($37).

Gentle Cleanse for Dry Skin - Best Face Wash
Renée Rouleau Moisture Protecting Cleanser $37

2. Plastic Beads

"Look for the ingredient polyethylene, as it has been proven to be bad for the environment. The plastic beads are slipping through water treatment plants and turning up by the tens of millions in the Great Lakes," says Rouleau. "Alternatively, natural jojoba beads are perfectly round beads that gently roll over the skin and will not cause irritation." Because they are not made of plastic, they're also a better choice for the environment. Look at the product ingredient label, and use scrubs with hydrogenated jojoba oil, jojoba oil, jojoba esters, or jojoba wax beads.

It's also important not to use an exfoliating cleanser with a facial cleansing brush. It'll cause a negative reaction in your skin, as too many skin cells are being removed in the process. "You will be disrupting your skin's moisture barrier and cause dryness and invisible inflammation over time—which will never result in healthy, balanced skin." Instead, try SkinMedica's AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser ($47) because it combines alpha and beta hydroxy acids to remove dead cells without being too harsh on your skin.

AHA BHA Exfoliator - Best Face Wash
SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser $47

3. Cleansing Wipes

Of course, they're convenient. But according to Rouleau, cleansing wipes don't effectively clean the skin. Instead, they just smear dirt, bacteria, oil, and makeup across your face. Essentially, it's like applying cleanser to your face and then not washing it off. "The cleansing agents are designed to break down debris, but it's the rinsing action from water that actually removes it. No wipe will ever be as effective as a proper cleanse, especially for those with dry skin," Rouleau says. A cleansing lotion is your best bet, like Mario Badescu's Seaweed Cleansing Lotion ($15), as it's a nondrying cleansing toner that disinfects but is still easy and quick to apply in a pinch.

Mario Badescu Cleanser - Best Face Wash
Mario Badescu Seaweed Cleansing Lotion $15

Next up, there are the six foods an esthetician would avoid at all costs.

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