Wash to Care: Finding the right cleanser in this time of pandemic

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With the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, frequent and proper handwashing has been an important addition to our daily routine. However, constant handwashing poses a great concern mainly because of the skin irritation caused by the harsh ingredients found in ordinary soaps. To help you understand and decide on the appropriate cleanser for your personal use during this pandemic, 10 board-certified Dermatologists of the Philippine Dermatological Society gave their expert opinions.

Good cleansing regimen

The skin type is typically taken into consideration in prescribing the proper cleansing regimen. “When I choose a cleansing regimen for each patient, I first check and examine the patient’s skin type, whether or not there is a pathologic skin condition that needs treatment,” said Dr Kriselle Santos-Cabrera. “I first consider my patient’s skin type… Different skin types would require different ingredients,” added Dr Ma. Cristina Puyat.

In choosing the proper cleanser, “…it has to be gentle, moisturizing, non-irritating, non-comedogenic, non-drying, and preferably fragrance-free,” said Dr Mary Ann Rueda. Our experts agree that it is especially necessary during this pandemic to use “A cleanser that washes off dirt that is mild enough to be used frequently and regularly,” explained Dr Michelle Manuel. Dr Rueda often recommends “…a cleansing/bathing bar with a neutral or slightly acidic pH that’s less irritating, moisturizing, and that which closely matches the skin’s pH”. In addition, Dr Niña Gabaton said that, “An ideal cleanser is mild to the skin, hydrating and hypoallergenic. It does the [job] without compromise.”

Cleansers versus regular soaps

Not all skin cleansing agents are the same. “Skin cleansers have a neutral or slightly acidic pH and are composed of non-soap synthetic surface-active substances that lower the surface tension on the skin which remove dirt, sebum, microorganisms, and exfoliated skin cells… without damaging or irritating the skin and will keep the skin surface moist. An ordinary soap, on the other hand, has a [basic] pH between 9–10 and it is composed of long-chain fatty acid alkali salts; with this pH, it frequently can cause dryness and irritation of the skin,” explained Dr Ken Pipo. “Cleansing bars can be used [daily]… [since these contain] more moisturizing and hydrating ingredients [that] are also proven to be gentler than regular/classic soaps,” added Dr Puyat.

Frequent handwashing along with the excessive use of disinfectants have greatly affected those with dry and sensitive skin. These patients suffer and complain of itchiness, redness, drying and cracking of their skin with stinging sensations especially after using regular soap. Therefore, dermatologists advocate the use of bathing bars or cleansers because these have the same pH as our skin and contain moisturizers that are similar to the natural moisturizing factor of the skin, making these less likely to remove the skin’s natural oils and, therefore, are less likely to cause further drying and irritation. “Damaged skin barrier may manifest as dryness, itchiness, inflammation and redness, flaky, and scaly skin. Hence, it is very important to look for the right ingredients to prevent damaging the skin barrier,” said Dr Beverly Ong-Amoranto.

Our experts advise to look for the following ingredients commonly found in cleansers: 1) ceramides which maintain the integrity of skin’s barrier function, 2) peptides which are building-block proteins of the skin and play an essential role in collagen synthesis, 3) antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E which prevent and reduce oxidative damage, 4) humectants such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin which attract and retain water in the skin, making skin moist and supple, and 5) emollients like cocoa butter, lanolin and shea butter which reduce transepidermal water loss and retain moisture.

Handwashing and the use of cleansers during the pandemic

With the fear of acquiring the SARS-CoV-2 virus, most persons regularly incorporate exaggerated use of disinfectants and perform excessive handwashing to their everyday routine. “Repeated handwashing could disrupt the natural skin barrier that leads to dryness and easy accessibility of bacteria and fungi. If the patient is not conscious on the soaps that they are using (especially [the] ones with higher pH), harsh ones could increase the pH of the skin that could lead to further breakdown of the skin barrier,” explained Dr Jennifer Viray-Sese. “Frequent handwashing during the pandemic increased the incidence of both exogenous and endogenous eczemas. The use of a cleanser or bathing bar does not prevent from having eczema in predisposed individuals because water alone is a skin irritant and continual exposure to it may produce repeated evaporation of water from the skin producing the clinical symptoms of a dermatitis which are dryness, redness and pruritus,” reminded Dr Pipo. “However, proper handwashing is critical in preventing the spread of COVID-19. There are ways to prevent getting dry skin like using lukewarm water to wash the hands and [using] unscented, dye-free moisturizing cream immediately after handwashing,” emphasized Dr Via Marquez-Protacio.

The myth that cleansers are not effective in removing dirt and bacteria from our skin has been dispelled by our experts. “Soap-free washes or soap substitutes [contain] synthetic detergents, or syndets, which nearly matches the cleansing action of soap,” explained Dr Elaine Marie Gutierrez. “Cleansers contain surfactants which can disrupt the outer covering of viruses and bacteria, inactivating and killing it,” added Dr Marquez-Protacio.

Wash to care: Cleansing with moisturizing

Frequent and proper handwashing is a must these days. Cleansers provide good moisturizing effects “by containing ingredients that will not strip-off the skin from its natural lipid and protein layer, instead it synergistically [enhance] the protective layer of the skin,” said Dr Manuel. “The importance of cleansers [has] significantly evolved from just mere agents that remove oil/sebum, dirt, dead cells, and microorganisms from the skin, to something that also provides moisturizing benefits,” added Dr Gutierrez.

“My ideal cleansing bar is one that is hypoallergenic, moisturizing, hydrating, non-irritating, free from sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), and as much as possible, fragrance-free,” emphasized Dr Cabrera. “A perfect cleanser/bathing bar for everyday use is something that is cleansing, moisturizing and nourishing, all at the same time,” added Dr Gutierrez.

So, choose your skin cleanser wisely and take our experts’ advice. It is important to ‘wash to care’. The appropriate cleanser or bathing bar can protect you from harmful diseases and at the same time still moisturize and maintain your skin’s natural barrier.

Find your Dermatologist at https://pds.org.ph.

This article is sponsored by Unilever