Cosmeceutical Critique

Recommending efficacious cleansers for your patients




Recommending the right cleanser for acne-prone skin first depends on whether the patient has oily or dry skin. Individuals with dry skin and acne cannot tolerate drying acne medications. Choosing the correct cleanser and moisturizer can help acne patients be more compliant with the acne treatment plan because of fewer side effects. Dry skin acne types often need two different cleansers. For the morning cleanser, AHA cleansers such as glycolic acid are effective at managing dry. acne-prone skin because glycolic acid has a relatively low pH. P. acnes is less likely to grow on skin with a lower pH.

Hydroxy acids help prevent clogged pores and exfoliate dead skin, which helps prevent acne comedones. Glycolic acid also serves as a humectant ingredient. Creamy cleansers should be used once daily, preferably at night for patients who use makeup since these products are effective at makeup removal. Foaming cleansers should never be used on dry, acne-prone skin. Individuals with the acne subtype of sensitive skin should avoid using scrubs, loofahs, and other forms of mechanical exfoliation.

Patients with oily skin and acne are easier to treat than are dry types because they can better tolerate acne medications. I recommend a salicylic acid cleanser in the morning to unclog pores. The anti-inflammatory properties of salicylic acid help prevent the formation of papules and pustules that characterize acne. Twice-daily use of salicylic acid by patients with oily skin and acne may feel too drying when combined with acne medications such as a retinoid and benzoyl peroxide. If this is the case, a foaming cleanser can be used in the evening to remove dirt, makeup, sunscreen, and debris that can clog pores and exacerbate acne.


Most dry skin type rosacea patients flush red when they wash their face, even if they only use water. The friction alone is enough to cause them to react. Rosacea patients can skip the morning cleanse to help reduce this skin irritation and flushing. Instead they should apply their a.m. anti-redness products followed by a sunscreen appropriate for their skin type. In the evening, a soothing, nonfoaming cleanser with anti-inflammatory ingredients is the best choice to remove makeup, sunscreen, and any built-up dirt or bacteria from the skin’s surface. This should be followed by an anti-redness product that targets the inflammation caused by rosacea.

Anti-inflammatory ingredients that can be found in soothing cleansers and moisturizers for rosacea prone skin include argan oil, green tea, feverfew, chamomile, licorice extract, and aloe.

Patients with very oily skin who have rosacea need to cleanse twice daily to remove excess oil to prevent comedones and acne lesions. A foaming cleanser that contains anti-inflammatory ingredients such as green tea, feverfew, licorice extract, aloe, niacinamide, green tea, and salicylic acid are a good choice for oily rosacea prone skin types.

All rosacea patients should be counseled to avoid mechanical exfoliation, including cleansing scrubs, chemical exfoliants, and abrasive loofahs or cloths.


Patients with eczema should choose the same nonfoaming cleansers recommended for dry skin. For patients with frequent skin infections, hypochlorite and silver are beneficial ingredients found in cleansers to help decrease skin bacteria and prevent infections. Foaming cleansers should never be used in eczema prone types.


Cleansers play an important role in skin care because they affect the skin barrier, pH of the skin, presence of bacteria, condition of the pores, and penetration of the post cleanser–applied ingredients. Knowing which cleansing product to use based on a patient’s skin type is critical to recommending the proper ingredients so that patients can achieve and maintain healthy skin.

Table 1. Ingredients used in foaming cleansers

Acyl glycinates


Alkyl acyl isethionates

Alkyl carboxylates

Alkyl ether sulfates

Alkyl ethoxy sulfates

Alkyl phosphates

Alkyl sulfates

Alkyl sulfonates

Alkyl sulfosuccinates

Alkyl taurates

Dr. Leslie S. Baumann, a dermatologist, researcher, author, and entrepreneur who practices in Miami.

Dr. Leslie S. Baumann

Dr. Baumann is a private practice dermatologist, researcher, author and entrepreneur who practices in Miami. She founded the Cosmetic Dermatology Center at the University of Miami in 1997. Dr. Baumann wrote two textbooks: “Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles and Practice” (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002), and “Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients,” (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2014), and a New York Times Best Sellers book for consumers, “The Skin Type Solution” (New York: Bantam Dell, 2006). Dr. Baumann has received funding for advisory boards and/or clinical research trials from Allergan, Evolus, Galderma, and Revance. She is the founder and CEO of Skin Type Solutions Franchise Systems LLC.


1. Contact Dermatitis. 1995 Oct;33(4):217-25


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