Products designed to cleanse the skin commonly do so through surfactant action, which leads to the lowering of the surface tension of the skin to facilitate the removal of dirt from its surface. Skin cleansers generally come in one of two types: soap-based and synthetic detergents, or syndets. While the latter can effectively maintain the native skin structure, function and integrity, the former tends to negatively affect the skin by causing barrier disruption, lipid dissolution and pH alteration. Despite this, soap is still often preferred, possibly due to the negative connotations around anything that is not perceived as 'natural'. It is, therefore, important that the science behind cleansers, especially those designed for the maintenance of healthy skin and the management of common skin conditions such as eczema, be understood by both formulators and end-users. Here, we carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of surfactant-the key ingredient(s) in skin cleansers-and provide insight into surfactants' physicochemical properties, biological activity and potential effects. Fine-tuning of the complex characteristics of surfactants can successfully lead to an 'optimal' skin cleanser that can simultaneously be milder in nature, highly effective and beneficial, and offer minimal skin interference and environmental impact.
Keywords: capacity; charge; cleanser; ingredient; mildness; pH; skin; soap; surfactant; syndet.