Why You Should Wash Your Face with a Cleanser Instead of Soap

11.21.2016, 9:19 CST | Posted In: Sensitive Skin, Acne & Blemishes, Dry Skin, Signs of Aging, Health & Beauty, Products, Skin Care

Obagi Non-soap Cleansers

We have all, at some point, felt frustrated with the condition of our skin. Dry, flaky, sensitive, too oily, prone to breakouts. Sound familiar?

The interesting fact is that your skin’s health is directly linked to the balance between acidity and alkalinity, which is measured by the pH scale.1

All soaps, lotions, cleansers, and other skin care products have an effect on the pH level of your skin.  

How Does pH work?

The pH level of a substance is measured on a scale of 0 to 14: 0 is the most acidic, 14 is the most alkaline, and 7 is neutral, which is the pH of pure water.

The surface of normal adult skin is coated with a combination of sebum, skin’s natural oil, and perspiration. This coating is referred to as the acid mantle, which protects the skin and locks in moisture.2 Normal adult skin is slightly acidic with a pH level in the range of 5.4 - 5.9.1

There is a delicate balance with skin’s pH - when the pH is too alkaline, the skin becomes dry and very sensitive, which may lead to signs of skin aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles.3

What is the pH Level of my Skin?

Normally you can quite easily determine the pH level of your skin, by taking a look at the behavior of your skin. For instance, if your skin is oily and acne-prone it may be overly acidic. If it tends to be dry, sensitive and flaky, it may be too alkaline.  

You can buy pH testing strips at your favorite drugstore to test in the comfort of your home. An alternative would be to consult your skin care physician to get a more accurate reading.  

So Why Cleanser Instead of Soap?

Soap has a general pH level of between 9 and 10, which can make your skin feel very clean, but is just way too harsh. It removes all natural oils from your skin making the pH level too alkaline.1 This can cause a host of new problems - the skin becomes dry, flaky, and prone to inflammation. This can cause the sebaceous glands to overproduce oil to compensate for the dryness causing clogged pores and breakouts.3 When skin is overly dry and flaky, it can also lead to premature fine lines and wrinkles.

Cleansers are generally at a much lower pH level than soaps and are gentler on your skin

Different cleansers have been developed for different skin types

Oily skin can benefit from an “active” cleanser, such as the CLENZIderm M.D.™ Daily Care Foaming Cleanser. This particular cleanser contains 2% salicylic acid to unclog pores and wash away dead skin cells, leaving skin feeling clean and refreshed. It also includes calming menthol to help cool irritated skin.

The Obagi360™ Exfoliating Cleanser works chemically and mechanically to help clear clogged pores that can cause dull, dry, uneven skin. It thoroughly cleanses skin to reveal a soft, smooth, and radiant complexion.

Dry and sensitive skin will benefit from a gentle “resting” cleanser. The Gentle Rejuvenation Soothing Cleanser is specifically formulated to cleanse delicate skin while soothing, rinsing clean to leave skin feeling comfortable and soft. You really can’t go wrong with the Obagi Nu-Derm® Gentle Cleanser as it gets the job done by gently removing makeup and everyday impurities for a clean, fresh complexion.

Skin showing the appearance of aging may benefit from a cleanser with Vitamin C, such as the Obagi-C® Rx C-Cleansing Gel, which is designed to help clarify and prepare your skin for other products, while also removing makeup and oil.

Remember: a good cleanser will work with the skin, not stripping it from its natural oils and drying it out.

Bottom Line

Avoid harsh soaps on your face, such as bar soaps, which have an alkalinity level between 9 and 10. Use facial cleansers, which have a lower pH level and are specifically designed to cleanse the face.

And on a separate (but important) note: eat a healthy, balanced diet to regulate the pH level of your body.4 Avoid processed foods and eat plenty of fruits and veggies, which will help keep your skin glowing and radiant!


  1. Tarun, Jose, et al. Evaluation of pH of Bathing Soaps and Shampoos for Skin and Hair Care. Indian J Dermatol. 2014 Sep-Oct; 59(5): 442–444. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4171909/
  2. Lee, SH, et al. An Update of the Defensive Barrier Function of Skin. Yonsei Med J. 2006 Jun 30; 47(3): 293–306. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2688147/
  3. Mukhopadhyay, P. Cleansers and Their Role in Various Dermatological Disorders. Indian J Dermatol. 2011 Jan-Feb; 56(1): 2–6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3088928/
  4. Anton, Stephen Douglas, et al. Effect of a novel dietary supplement on pH levels of healthy volunteers: a pilot study. J Integr Med. 2013 Nov; 11(6): 384–388. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4643844/


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