"Moisturizing" Cleansers

This is probably a really basic question for you all; my apologies in advance. 

Many face/body/hand cleansers advertise their moisturizing properties. But... You're selling me a cleanser.

Let's say the moisturizing ingredients are lipophilic. Do some of the surfactants in the formula just emulsify these oils? Would it be the same if you removed the moisturizing oils and the same percentage of surfactants?

I realize claims are just that - claims. Is there any benefit to a 'moisturizing' cleanser vs. the same cleanser, without the moisturizing ingredients?

I guess this goes to the principle(s) of superfatting, which I've never understood for the above reasons. 

Please elaborate on the general idea if possible. The last ~dozen times I've gone grocery shopping I've remembered this question in the soap isle but inevitably forget to ask it later. 


  • Chemist77Chemist77 Member, PCF student
    Apart from a difference in selection of surfactants and adding some fairy dust claim items, it is INDEED a cleanser. You already have explained yourself perfectly, someone on this forum used a word ‘puffery’. This finds the best use here. 
  • MicroformulationMicroformulation Member, Professional Chemist
    There are numerous moisturizing actives that can have some moisturization in the limited contact time. There are so many actives to mention (ex. higher glycols, Hyaluronic acid, Glucam, etc.). Again, the activity is blunted when compared to a leave-on product but the effect can be achieved.

    In this forum when we discuss cleansers, we are generally talking about surfactants, not saponified soaps. As such "superfatting" is not a factor.
    markfuller@microformulation.com Microformulation.com Microformulation Cosmetic Consulting provides Custom Formulations for both large Commercial accounts as well as smaller entrepreneurs. We can provide Naturally compliant Formulations under the NSF, NPA, Whole Foods and USDA Organic Certifications. BS.Pharm Albany College of Pharmacy, Union University.
  • Well  moisturising doesn’t mean lipophilic though. You can add good old glycerin. Unlike some other NMF there’s some benefit even in a wash off product. Also talking about lipophilic ingredients, nothing dissolves make up better than anhydrous  oil cleansing balms. They leave skin very moisturised. So cleanser isn’t always a mixture of surfactants like SLES, coco glucoside etc. I agree in general regarding ‘moisturizing body washes’ and surfactant products with exotic oils added for claims.
  • @Microformulation just nailed it: limited contact time

    If the cleanser contains surfactants, it must be rinsed off
    So it limits the time it contacts the skin
    not much moisturizing can be achieved in such a limited time.
    But maybe at least some mosturizing can be achieved, with the right ingredients.
  • @Gunther

    If the cleanser contains surfactants, it must be rinsed off

    Not exactly. Micellar water contains surfactants and is used as leave on product. I personally don’t like the idea of leaving surfactants on my skin though.
  • MarkBroussardMarkBroussard Member, Professional Chemist
    The average contact time of a typical facial wash is all of 20 seconds.  Not much going to happen in a 20 second period except the effect of the surfactants.
    Chemist/Microbiologist formulating in the Organic & Naturals arena under ECOCert/Natural Products Assn/Whole Foods/National Organic Program guidelines focused skincare & haircare products. 

    See website for details www.desertinbloomcosmeticslab.com
  • Ah, I love this forum. Thank you all for your replies. 
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    This is actually an interesting question.

    In my view, the only way to get moisturizing from a product is if something is left behind. As @MarkBroussard suggests, the short amount of time that a rinse-off product is on skin will make little difference in moisturizing whether the ingredients have this effect or not. To get noticeable moisturizing, you need to leave something behind.

    There are two ways to leave something behind. First, you make it a leave on product. But if you are leaving the product on, you're not doing a good job of cleansing so the vast majority of cleansers are rinse off.

    The other way to leave something behind from a rinse off product is using a dilution deposition method. This is you use ingredients in your formula that will plate out on the skin during use (some polymers will do this). 

    Finally, there is one other strategy to "moisturize" or at least support the claim of moisturizing. This is a bit of a trick, but essentially you take a measurement of moisturization prior to using the product on two sites on the skin. Then you wash one side with a standard cleanser (maybe soap) which you know will reduce moisturization. You wash the other side with your "moisturizing" formula which has less harsh detergents. When you compare those numbers, you'll be able to say that it is more moisturizing than a standard cleanser because it's less stripping of moisture. 

  • ngarayeva001ngarayeva001 Member
    edited October 2018
    I think that cleansing balms are good example of cleansers that can be claimed as products that "leave skin moisturised" because they don't include detergents. I am referring to an anhydrous solid products that contains fatty acids, traditional emulsifiers (the onces used in formulating lotions) and oils, like this one:

    Cetearyl alcohol and PEG-20 Stearate 10.00%
    PEG-40 HCO 10.00%
    Almond oil 49.50%
    Stearic acid 19.00%
    Cetyl Alcohol 5.00%
    Tocopherol 0.20%
    Kaoilin Clay 5.00%
    Mix of essential oils 0.50%
    Preservative 0.50%

    They are used in Korean skin care a lot.
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    @ngarayeva001 - I guess it depends on how you use the product and how effectively you remove the product from your face.

    If you put this product on your face then wiped it completely off, I don't think you'll get any moisturizing effect.  If you aren't efficient and some of the product is still left behind, then you might get some but you also won't be cleaning your face as well.

    It's a bit like putting on a moisturizer on your dirty face then wiping it off. 

    One other point, emulsifiers are surfactants and they will have some "cleansing" effect. Essentially, they emulsify the oils on your face and remove them when you wipe (or rinse) it away. Emulsifiers may not be good cleansers but they can be cleansers.

  • @Perry, I agree with your analogy about applying moisturizer and then removing it (this is pretty much how it works) however, in case of balms no water is added, so emulsifiers together with oils dissolve makeup and sebum completely and let it be rinsed off. If properly formulated, such a product cleanses pretty well. I think it’s crucial to rinse it not wipe off. I agree it won’t moisturize in a conventional way, because nothing is left on skin, but since it strips less oils from skin than surfactants (detergents) there’s a perception that the product is ‘moisturizing’. These products are coming to the western markets from asia and I think they will become very popular soon. Dior has launched one recently.
  • @Perry are some kind of products attracted to skin?
    Like cationics get attracted to hair?
  • i will add that if the cleaner is well formulated you can solubilized the sebum in a microemulsion instead to emulsify it, and it is much more efficient.

  • @jeremien, it really depends on the goal we are trying to achieve. If we are talking about skin without makeup, then agree, micellar water would do a great job of solubilizing sebum. If we are talking about dissolving a lot of water-proof make up, it won't be sufficient, thus I brought up  an oil based cleansing balm.
  • @Gunther, i guess that skin have a neutral charge, more than attraction I would say compatibility, and as the surface of the skin is mainly lipophilic I would use lipophilic ingredients if you want them to have a chance to remain on the skin after cleaning and washing. The balms option looks interesting.  For hydrophilic ingredient, encapsulation in a amphiphilic system can be a good option to remain on the skin.

  • The reason I am advocating for these types of products, is that every frequent makeup user knows that nothing removes makeup better than oil (any oil, say olive oil). But now there is another problem, how to remove greasy oil from the skin? That is the reason why no one actually uses pure oil for makeup removal - it is not a pleasant feeling. But even if you look at products that are intended for waterproof makeup, it's  bi-phased micellar water with some oil on the top that is supposed to be shaked before using. Cleansing balms solve the problem. They include an emulsifier that allows the oil to be easily rinsed off by water. I noticed that addition of a solubiliser makes is even better (but that is my trick, I have not seen a lot of it in commercial products, so may be I am wrong).
  • MarkBroussardMarkBroussard Member, Professional Chemist
    I've formulated moisturizing cleansers, micellar waters and cleansing balms and quite honestly, with a 20 second or less contact time on the skin prior to wash-off, you are simply not going to get any significant moisturization of the skin from any of these products.  You'll get less stripping with the cleansing balms, but I think the effect you are feeling is less stripping, not moisturization per se.

    I will admit that the cleansing balm did leave a pleasant skin feel post-rinsing. However, I prefer the feeling of a well-formulated, gentle cleanser.
    Chemist/Microbiologist formulating in the Organic & Naturals arena under ECOCert/Natural Products Assn/Whole Foods/National Organic Program guidelines focused skincare & haircare products. 

    See website for details www.desertinbloomcosmeticslab.com
  • @MarkBroussard, agree! It is not moisturisation it's less stripping. And I also agree, as a user that gentle cleanser do feel better, but it depends on the task. I won't use a balm in the morning.
  • A correction to my previous post:

    “The lipid layer in the stratum corneum contains a high ratio of negatively charged lipids and it is well known that the skin may act as a negatively charged membrane” (C. Sinico,  et al.J. Control. Release, 103 (2005), pp. 123-136)

  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    @Gunther - I suppose the cationic polymers and surfactants might be attracted to skin in a way similar to the way they are attracted to hair.
Sign In or Register to comment.