Why I Don't Use Surfactants

Why I Don't Use Surfactants

When thinking about standing at your sink, sleeves rolled up and ready to cleanse, there are tons of different product options that you could grab for from your cabinet - gel cleansers, oil-based cleansers, micellar water, foaming cleansers, cleansing balms and bars, and more! Cleansing seems like a ‘straightforward’ part of the skincare process that people don’t think about too much, but that sometimes means it is easy to get caught up in the newest peptides, serums, peels, and moisturizers and instead actually overlook the basic foundations of your skincare routine like cleansing!

Without a proper, high-quality cleansing ritual (using the right ingredients in the right way while avoiding the bad guys), free radicals, pollution, dead skin, and old cosmetics can all build up over time to create a barrier between our products and skin. These can make your skin look dull and dry and prevent skincare and makeup from absorbing correctly.

But not only does *not* cleansing properly impact how our skin looks, it can also affect how our skin functions. Our skin is the largest organ in our body, with its own microbiome that works to protect our body from the outside world (think pollution, external sensitivities, pathogens, and more). When our skin’s microbiome is flourishing and balanced, the skin looks gorgeous and healthy, but when we tamper with it, we can damage this first line of defense which can have more repercussions than ‘just losing our glow’. What this means is it’s so important that we use products that support this skin barrier rather than destroy it.

One type of product that can impact and destroy the skin barrier are surfactants, and these harmful ingredients are in so many of the cleansers on today’s market. I find it shocking that these have become so normalized when you understand what they do to your skin barrier and the integrity of your skin.

Today, I’m going to share with you what these surfactants are, how to avoid them, the ingredients you *should* be working with to wash your face, and how you should be cleansing properly.

The 101 on surfactants

A surfactant is the short form term for a ‘surface active agent’. Surface active agents are ingredients incorporated into products to help clean and cleanse the face by degreasing and shifting dirt, oils, and fats from the skin. These surfactants work to reduce the surface tension of a liquid so that it can spread better and also are used to create that ‘foamy’ look that people associate with their cleanser working correctly. For a long time, it was thought that only a specific type of surfactant (known as surfactant monomers) could penetrate the skin, so the use of these surfactants was assumed to be OK on the surface level of the skin. The truth is that increasing studies are starting to show that the use of these surfactants are really not great at all and actually can be quite damaging.

A large 2012 study on ‘Cleansing Formulations That Respect Skin Barrier Integrity’ looked into what these surfactants are and what they do to the skin. The study concluded that surfactants can:

  • Penetrate into the skin;
  • Alter skin structure;
  • Degrade and impact the skin barrier;
  • Impact the function of the skin barrier;
  • Lead to clinical and subclinical skin conditions; and even
  • Remove skin components.

This means that surfactants can *really* impact your skin in a way that a surfactant-based cleanser was not created to.

The study concludes that most surfactant-based cleansers are formulated at concentrations far higher than is safe and necessary for the skin. It also goes one step further to suggest that surfactants can remain in the stratum corneum long after using them, meaning that it isn’t just one cleanse and moving on. Instead, surfactant-based cleanser usage can lead to chronic surfactant exposure, which can lead to increased levels of oxidative stress and inflammation, which can show up red, dry, uncomfortable, and irritated skin.

It is also thought that stripping your skin of its natural moisture may also lead to your skin’s increased aging - something that I know that everyone reading wants to avoid! 

Basically, surfactants can be super damaging and they are something that you want to avoid using in your skincare routine. Cleansing formulations with minimal barrier disruptions are the future, and I truly believe that effective cleansers need to respect the skin barrier function rather than degrading or interfering with it. 

And this is where my oil-based Agent double cleansing approach comes in - because I have developed a way that you can get all of the power of surfactants, just without having to use them at all!

So what’s the solution?  

First up, it’s understanding the different types of cleaners and how to navigate them to avoid the ones full of surfactants. Any cleanser that foams or is a ‘foaming cleanser’ is likely to include these surfactants - and if you look in the mirror while you are standing at the sink and you see it foaming, this is a sign to avoid this at all costs. 

When looking for surfactants, you want to be looking for things like sodium stearate (the most common surfactant in soap) as well as akyl sulfates (the primary ingredient used in cleansing products), which include things like sodium lauryl sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS). You should also look out for ingredients like 4-(5-dodecyl) benzenesulfonate, docusate (dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate), benzalkaonium chloride (BAC), and perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS), among others.

The most obvious rule for me is that anything that foams is a suggestion that you want to steer clear of, but it is also good to be aware that a ton of mainstream cleansers and products will be packed full of ingredients that are not great for your skin without it being clear. 

For me, going for a natural, oil-based cleansing solution is the easiest way to avoid the surfactant drama. It’s also the type of cleanser that I am most obsessed with - it is powerful and luxurious, and not only do oil-based cleansers cleanse the face so deeply, leaving a clean, beautifully glowing canvas, but they also leave an incredibly moisturizing, deeply hydrating and glossy finish that doesn’t interfere with the skin’s barrier and doesn’t contain surfactants too.

I wanted to create a surfactant-free product set that could go above and beyond the rest of the cleansers on the market, and when I started formulating, I knew this would be oil-based but that I also needed to create a double cleanse ritual. I did this because, after extensive research in the formulation process, it became clear that developing a single cleanser was not going to be enough to achieve the results I sought.

The Agent Cleanse Duo is suitable for all skin types, powerful, and totally surfactant free.

The first stage is an oil-based, cleansing face oil called holi (cleanse) and the second stage is a lactic-based, skin brightening cleanser called acid (wash). Together, they work so perfectly to truly, deeply cleanse your skin, ready for you to either apply your makeup and skincare for the day ahead or instead apply your nighttime skincare and hit the pillow for the rest of the evening.

How to use

Step 1: holi (cleanse) - our oil-based formula that contains calming plant extracts and premium oils that are rich in vitamins, amino acids and antioxidants. This nourishing cleanser glides on so luxuriously thanks to the oil-based consistency and it effortlessly lifts environmental pollutants, makeup and oil from the complexion. Your holi (cleanse) comes with a muslin cloth to help you lift these away from the skin on your first cleansing round with a warm, wet muslin cloth that again helps to gently protect your skin barrier (no aggressive cleansing exofliation here!)

Step 2: Next up, the double cleanse, where we supplement the first round of the oil-based cleanse with our acid (wash). This acid (wash) is a nourishing, lavender water-based cleanser that I formulated to brighten dull skin, increase firmness and prevent blemishes. Step 2 goes even deeper than step 1, and the exfoliating power of the lactic acid helps to ensure that you have removed all dirt, makeup, and impurities for the day. I love lactic and lactic acid - they are really not as harsh as it sounds. Lactic acid is clean and approved for green beauty - and is the only acid I will formulate with because it’s the only one that is clean enough.

The lactic acid in the acid (wash) is mild and doesn’t strip the skin, maximize pores or destroy your skin barrier (like glycolic acid does over time). So, just like we need to avoid surfactants, it’s also important to avoid acid-based cleansers that can damage your skin’s barrier. acid (wash) is the perfect solution.

This Cleanser Duo was specifically designed for a custom double cleanse. Together, these are the perfect combination to refresh tired skin as well as working to gently exfoliate, tighten pores, and nourish a healthy, ageless radiance. Made with only the finest ingredients, these unique formulas contain luxury oils and organic plant extracts thoughtfully selected for their potency, purity, and quality of origin.

So, this double cleanse process in the Agent Cleanse Duo is a pretty simple, straightforward, but incredibly powerful way to cleanse, day in and day out (if you decide that is appropriate for your skin). I will cleanse every evening and sometimes in the morning, too, depending on how my skin feels when I wake.

Too often, the process of cleansing the face is done in a rush and involves nothing more than a makeup remover wipe or horrible surfactant-based cleansers. When people do grab for a cleanser, it’s often full of damaging products like surfactants or even acids that can do damage over time.

I want everyone to be able to stand at their sink with an incredible holi (cleanse) combo and adorable muslin cloth ready to embark on the best double cleanse routine you can find, all while avoiding surfactants that can really damage the skin.

You can shop for your duo here.