It prepares the skin
First and foremost, a cleanser’s job is to remove unwanted particles from the skin’s surface, such as makeup, dirt particles, sebum and even leftover sunscreen or other products. Without this step, the particles settle and build up on the skin, making pores and fine lines look more pronounced. They can also start to mix with any dead skin cells that are still clinging to the skin’s surface (the stratum corneum), leading to blocked pores or skin that looks dull or congested. Try layering an anti-ageing skincare product over this mix of old makeup, sebum and dead cells and not surprisingly, it might not be as effective as you’d like it to be! Gently but thoroughly cleansing the skin first gets rid of the build-up and helps give you a clean slate, so that your anti-ageing products are better able to do their job.
It keeps the skin looking healthy
While it’s important to remove surface impurities, cleansing properly isn’t about simply stripping everything away. In fact, using a cleanser that’s too harsh or aggressive has been found to disrupt the outer layer of the skin, the stratum corneum.2 The stratum corneum helps the skin retain water and helps to keep out irritants, which helps keep the skin looking and feeling healthy. Its finely-tuned balance can be disrupted when a cleanser not only removes particles from the surface but also strips away some of the natural lipids, too. When this happens, skin is left feeling tight, dry and irritated.2
Dry and tight skin isn’t fun in and of itself, but in the longer term, it may also lead to the formation of premature lines. One study has found that dry skin puts more strain on the stratum corneum when different facial expressions are made. In turn, this leads to temporary lines appearing which, over time, can become permanent wrinkles.3
For the sake of both the short and long term, a good cleanser should leave skin feeling cleansed and comfortable, but never tight, dry or itchy.
It contains bonus helpful ingredients
So far we’ve looked at how the right cleanser sets up the skin so that it’s healthy-looking and ready to receive any products that follow. However some cleansers themselves also give back, containing antioxidants or other skin-loving ingredients. Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) is one ingredient that has many benefits for ageing skin and that is now found in a number of cleansers. It’s been found to help improve the appearance of hyperpigmentation (dark spots), fine lines and wrinkles.4
Then there are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which can turbocharge a cleanser to give it mild exfoliating properties. As we get older this becomes increasingly important, as the skin’s natural ability to turn over and discard old cells slows down; they hang around for longer, making the skin look dull and lacklustre. An AHA such as lactic or glycolic acid helps speed up the process of sloughing away dead skin cells, leaving skin looking smoother and feeling softer, and helping to diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. As with any product containing AHAs, it’s important not to use them on irritated skin, and to start slowly, alternating with another cleanser until your skin builds up tolerance.
Ready to find a cleanser for your skin? Here are three to consider: