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Skin Cleansing

Cleansing removes dirt, bacteria, oils, dead skin cells, sweat and other debris from the skin surface. Unfortunately, cleansing can also dry and irritate the skin, especially sensitive skin or skin inflamed by disease.

pH is a useful measure of the mildness of a skin cleanser. In general, cleansers with an alkaline pH are not as well tolerated as cleansers with a neutral or acid pH. A pH of 7.0 is neutral (a 0.5 shift in either direction is still considered neutral). A pH higher than 7.5 is alkaline. A pH lower than 6.5 is acid. (See below).

The pH of the skin is 5.5 to 6.0. This acid pH helps protect the skin, and is called the "acid mantle." Cleansers with a neutral or acid pH do not disrupt this acid mantle like alkaline cleansers do.

There are three basic types of skin cleansers: soaps, synthetic bars and lipid-free cleansers. Soaps are sodium or potassium salts of animal and vegetable fats. They are alkaline, with a pH ranging from 9 to 10. Therefore, they can be irritating to the skin, especially diseased skin. Soaps also form soap scum on the skin.

Most soaps are opaque, but transparent soaps are also available. Also called glycerin soaps, they contain ingredients such as alcohol, glycerin, and sugar that produce a clear, soft bar.

Superfatted soaps contain increased amounts of fat or oil in an attempt to leave a protective film of oil on the skin. Deodorant soaps contain topical antiseptics to inhibit the growth of bacteria.

Synthetic bars, which were developed about 50 years ago as an improvement on soap, usually contain synthetic surfactants as cleansing agents. Synthetic bars are much less irritating than soap bars, and they donít form soap scum.

Lipid-free cleansers are soapless liquids that cleanse without water. These products often contain glycerin, cetyl alcohol, and propylene glycol, but they do not contain oils or fats. They leave a thin moisturizing film, and are especially useful for people with sensitive or irritated skin.

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