are foaming cleansers really bad for skin

“I’ve given up on foaming cleansers,” a friend announced the other day. “Caroline Hirons said they’re not good for your skin.”

I’m not as drastic as Caroline, but she has a point.

If a cleanser dries out your skin, it’s usually a foaming one.

If it leaves your skin feeling tight, ditto.

There’s enough to make you think to ditch them for good. Should you?

How Do Foaming Cleansers Work?

A foaming cleanser is a cleanser that produces lather. Unlike cream, milk, or balm cleansers. Pretty self-explanatory so far.

But, what makes a foaming cleanser foam?

Surfactants. Water alone can’t mix with the extra sebum on your face or the oils in your makeup and sunscreen. It can’t remove them.

Enter surfactants. They help water with mix oil, so that oil-based impurities can be rinsed off. Finally!

Any time you see some lather in your skincare, you can be sure there’s at least one tiny little surfactant lurking in it.

Related: Should You Avoid Sulfates In Skincare?

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that banishes shine, excess oil, and acne? Download your FREE “Best Skincare Routine For Oily Skin” cheat sheet to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order:

Why Are Foaming Cleansers “Bad” For Skin?

Remember when I mentioned surfactants help oil mix with water so they can be rinsed away?

Well, sebum is your skin’s natural moisturiser. If you remove the excess, good. If you remove a little too much, your skin dries out. That’s why foaming cleansers are usually recommended for oily skin only.

Surfactants disrupt your skin’s protective barrier, too. They bring your skin’s pH level to the stars. They make it so high, the lipids in your skin’s protective barrier break down. When that happens, skin becomes all dry and sensitive.

Moisture gets out. Bacteria gets in. At best, your skin turns into the Sahara. At worst, you get an infection, too.

Related: How To Choose The Best Cleanser For Your Skin Type

Are All Foaming Cleansers Bad?

I mean, as long as a cleanser doesn’t leave your skin squeaky clean and feeling tight, you’re all good, right? It’s not that simple.

Whether a foaming cleanser will ruin your skin or not depends on two things:

  • pH: If it’s low enough (around 6), all good. Problem is, cleansers don’t usually state their pH on the label. You need to buy pH strips and test it yourself.
  • Type of surfactants: Harsh surfactants that leave your skin feeling tight are a no-no. Instead, look for gentler ones like Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), Cocoamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate and Alkyl Sulfosuccinates (i.e. anything with “succinate” in the ingredients list).

If your foaming cleanser fits both criteria, go ahead. It’s safe to use.

Related: Why You Should Ditch Cleansers With A High pH

foaming cleansers bad for skin

What Are The Best Foaming Cleansers?

  • Corsx low PH Good Morning Gel Cleanser ($11.00): ph 5.5. Available at Sokoglam and YesStyle.
  • Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser ($6.99): ph 6.2. Available at Ulta.
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Oil-Reducing Cleanser ($18.00): ph 5.5. Available at DermstoreNordstrom and Paula’s Choice.

The Bottom Line

If you love using a foaming cleanser, make sure it’s pH balanced and doesn’t live your skin feeling tighter after washing. Break the rules and you may end up with dry, irritated skin!