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Does Your Cleanser Need to Foam to Clean?

by kelly / January, 8 2020 01:30

Photo of clear bubbles and foam

If you’ve run into any skin care advertisement, you’ll frequently see brands promote and compare the amount of foam in a cleanser to prove it’s superior. They’ll generally imply that the amount of foam reflects the cleaning ability of the cleanser. Have you ever wondered if that’s the case, do you need more foam to clean? Not quite…

You Don’t Need Foam to Clean

The answer is NO. The amount of foam has almost no effect on the cleaning ability of the product. Most of the foam you experience isn’t for cleaning but for aesthetics. Basically we’ve been marketed to and led to believe it’s doing something so we believe we need it. I even fall prey to this with my shampoo!

Too Much Foam Can Irritate

According to dermatologist Dr. Erum Ilyas: “There’s a tendency for people to look for ‘foaming’ ones, because they think if it doesn’t foam it’s not cleansing. But foaming can actually strip your skin of more natural oils.”

Two of the main culprits that sometimes cause irritation are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES). These two ingredients are common in many household and personal products such as cleansers, shampoos, and body washes. They are what make your products foam or lather. While many federal organizations such as the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the European Union, Health Canada, and Ecocert consider SLS and SLES safe – there have been independent studies that show these two ingredients can cause some skin irritation.

For even more on these two ingredients check out our post Ingredient Truths: Sodium Lauryl / Laureth Sulfate, Toxic or Not?

I will add that SLS and SLES are surfactants and surfactants are important to cleansers. What’s a surfactant? Well, they have many uses and are important in a whole range of products – detergents, wetting agents, emulsifiers, foaming agents, and dispersants to name a few.

In cleansers surfactants are one of the primary ingredients that cleanse. So it’s not to say that a surfactant has no purpose – you want some sort of surfactant in your cleanser so that it cleans. But you generally don’t need the amount that is used in personal care products. That amount is largely used to get the foaming effect, less is needed to clean. You may still get some foaming, but you generally don’t need the large amount you often see. Plus, as I mentioned, you might want to be careful of which surfactants are in your cleanser – some can irritate the skin.

Find a Cleanser You Like, Regardless of Foam

What does this all mean? It means find a cleanser you like. If you want it to foam because you just like that feeling and it doesn’t bother your skin – great. If you don’t want ingredients like SLS or SLES you can find products with different surfactants – check the ingredient label. These other surfactants may or may not foam depending on how much is used in the product. And if you want a product without SLS or SLES and you don’t care how much it foams you can still get a fantastic clean.

A friendly reminder if you want a cleanser without SLS or SLES that does a wonderful job cleaning, is gentle on the skin, and lightly foams – check out our Organic Purifying Facial Cleanser Laughing.

Cleansing Tips

Want to keep the cleansing tips going? We’ve got them for you in our Cleansers blog series. Find out how to, how much, and when to cleanse for the healthiest skin.

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