It's a new year, so it's the perfect time to incorporate some small but important changes in how you take care of your body. The best place to start is your face and, specifically, not damaging it every morning. First, do not put that bar of body soap on your mug. Ever.
"Soaps and cleansers today are on opposite sides of the spectrum," says Dr. Macrene Alexiades, a New York–based dermatologist during a quick facial cleanser 101. "The key ingredient in soap is lye, which is a base and is really going to destroy the acid mantle on your face that protects the skin from microbes, bacteria, and viruses."
To get off on the right foot, we rang up three experts to find out why facial cleansers are important, what they do, what to look for in a cleanser, and how much you should spend.
Isn't soap, soap?
It is, but not all soaps are made equal. "Bar [and body soaps] are usually a lot harsher and have more detergents," explains Michael Gilman, founder of the Grooming Lounge. "They tend to dry out the face more, which make skin drier and makes shaves less comfortable. It also makes you more prone to breakouts. Plus, you use a bar of soap all over your body, so whatever you're cleaning down there, the next place you put it is your face."
Beyond thinking about where your roommate might have used that bar right before you, the science of it all is pretty telling. As Dr. Alexiades explains, bar soap ingredients typically throw off the pH balance of the face, which will open the skin up to unwanted bacteria and viruses. If your skin is currently oily or dry, it could actually be because of your soap.
"If you overclean, you can cause a cycle of oil creation," cautions Emily Doyle, co-founder of Ursa Major. "What happens is that it'll dry you out and then your skin will create more oil so that you aren't dry." Oily skin will likely lead to clogged pores.
Can I use my girlfriend's cleanser?
If you're using a bar of soap now, any cleanser would likely be better. But if you're reaching for one that isn't specifically made for men, keep a few things in mind. "There are some cleansers that are unisex and some that are definitely not," Alexiades says. The majority of men have larger pores and larger oil glands in their face than women do. Couple this with thicker skin, and oil cleansers aren't able to properly wash the skin.
Our experts point to plant-based ingredients and products that include a gentle exfoliant. While a daily scrub is unnecessary (and possibly damaging), a mild exfoliant in your cleanser will rid the face of dead skin cells and environmental pollutants that plague it every day. These ingredients will assist in fighting acne as well as pimple formation. And for those who do use other products, like moisturizers or night creams, clean skin will allow those products to be more effective. Parabens, detergents, sulfates, and synthetic dyes or fragrances are all things you want to stray away from.
For pricing, Gilman says you should be able to get something under $30. "If you're shopping at the drugstore you'll probably end up in the $10 to $15 range, and then maybe $20 to $30 for premium products. Once you get above that, I don't know how much of a benefit you're getting." Your choice of ingredients should affect the cost. Ursa Major uses all-natural and organic ingredients, which are sometimes two or three times the price of drugstore options.
So I've got a good facial cleanser, now what?
"You know, I just gave my brother our face wash, and he kept asking me what to do with it," Doyle laughs. "It's really simple, you put it in the shower and use it to wash your face." While you can get pretty technical and savvy with your face wash, that's not needed. To start off, just use it like the bar soap you were using before: daily, in the shower, with your fingers or a rag.
Once time passes, there are a few tools and tips you can pick up. First: Use lukewarm water. "You don't want to use hot water, because the body will evaporate the water to cool off, so if you chronically use it, your skin will become dry and red," Dr. Alexiades explains. "As you get to a certain age, the skin doesn't turn back to the right color and you stay red!" To circumvent that, try to shield your face from any extreme temperatures.
While you may start off with once a day, if a few weeks pass and your skin is still oily, you may want to throw in another wash. And if you're feeling pretty confident, don't be afraid to layer on a moisturizer and SPF afterwards to hydrate and protect the skin.