Does adding an oil to a surfactant cleanser formula increase or decrease irritation potential?

We have all heard of the “oil cleansing method” and how “oils attract oils”. (Unless this actually untrue, then please correct me.)

If the above is true, then does adding an oil to a surfactant cleanser formula increase the cleansing ability of the formula, therefore potentially increasing the irritation potential for skin types that require very gentle cleansing activity? 

Or does the oil act more as a buffer against the action of the surfactants on skin, or as a moisturizer, that would make the formula milder?

Comments

  • Adding oils to a conventional surfactant product does nothing but suppress  cleansing abilities. As a result it might be less irritating but you will achieve the same result by adding less surfactant.

    Oil cleansing assumes use of specific emulsifiers such as PEG-20 Glyceryl Triisostearate. It doesn't foam and doesn't work as a traditional surfactant base product.

    There are plenty of ways of formulating a mild cleanser but adding oils is not one of them.

  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    Surfactants remove oils through a process of emulsification. Oils are lifted from the surface, surrounded by surfactants, suspended in the water solution where they can be rinsed away. Putting an oil in your surfactant just makes your surfactant less effective at emulsifying oils on the surface. 

    Oil cleansing only works if you are also doing something to physically remove the oil like using an oil absorbent cloth or towel. The oil you put on the surface combines with the oil already on the surface. Theoretically, this makes an oil solution that is easier to wipe off the surface. It doesn't always work with all oils & it may not get the surface completely oil free.

    But you can't combine oil & surfactant to get something that works better. 
  • MJLMJL Member
    Thank you @ngarayeva001 and @Perry for taking the time to comment and to clarify some information for me about so-called “oil cleansing.”

    So basically, adding an oil to a surfactant system only serves to decrease the efficacy of the surfactant?

    Then, does having an oil in the product add any benefit at all, for example: would the oil “leave” any kind of extra moisture on the skin after cleansing? Or is it generally just better to formulate a gentle surfactant cleanser and worry about moisturizing after cleansing? (Not that one wouldn’t also moisturize after cleansing, anyway.)

    Thanks again for your time.
  • PerryPerry Administrator, Professional Chemist
    The primary benefit that oils have in surfactant systems is that it allows marketers to call it out on the label and in advertising. It is not providing any noticeable benefit to the product user. 
  • MJLMJL Member
    @Perry: Good to know. Thanks so much for all of the information you have shared.

  • I would like to clarify something about oil cleansing if I may. Double cleansing makes sense when you deal with makeup. Especially with water-resistant mascara. The first step is oil with a surfactant in it. Non foaming formula where surfactant is only used to let oil rinse off easily. The second step is gentle foaming cleanser (without oil) to finish the cleansing. But you don’t need any oil in shampoo or shower gel. 
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