At DermTV, I get a lot of questions about exfoliating cleansers. They're products with a combination of exfoliants in cleansers. So today I’ll discuss exfoliating cleansers with chemical exfoliants first and physical exfoliants second.
Now, as much as I stress that with chemical exfoliants, glycolic is the gold standard, the reality is sadly that glycolic-based cleansers just don’t make any sense as a combination cleanser exfoliant product. You see… you can’t get any meaningful exfoliation from glycolic mixed into a cleanser. That’s not to say that the cleanser won’t work, but there’s not going to be any added benefit from the glycolic.
First of all, when you use a cleanser it’s usually on your face for around 15-30 seconds, and that just isn’t enough time for glycolic or any chemical exfoliant to have a meaningful effect on your skin. But, second and even more importantly, glycolic acid is so diluted by the water that it is effecticely neutralized completely by water. So the glycolic in the cleanser is immediately neutralized by the water when you wet your face before you cleanse and when you’re rinsing afterwards.
Salicylic acid is the other chemical exfoliant included in some cleansers. While salicylic acid isn’t destroyed by water the way glycolic is, again, there won’t be any meaningful added benefit of exfoliation from the salicylic during the 15-30 seconds that the cleanser is on your face.
But now, finally some good news.
Cleansers with physical exfoliants like cleansing grains or scrubs can be effective depending on the size and shape of the particles, and what the particles are made of. So, in this case you can actually get some exfoliation during the cleansing process as you’re massaging the granular scrub into your face. And the results will be directly proportional to how long you massage the cleanser into your face, how much pressure you rub with, and the nature of the exfoliating granules. But just remember, I almost always prefer chemical to physical exfoliants because their results are more precise and predictable.
So when it comes to cleansers, don’t spend extra money on one with a chemical exfoliant in it because you’ll get very little if any additional benefit from the exfoliant part.