Skin Care with Liquid Body Cleansers

Types of Liquid Cleansers

Liquid face cleaners at CVS
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Liquid cleansers were first introduced in the 1990s, revolutionizing the skincare marketplace by offering a less damaging alternative to bar soaps. The production of liquid soaps is a more straightforward process compared to bar soap production. This makes it possible to use milder surfactants and better moisturizers in liquid cleansers. The three types of liquid cleansers have different properties, but overall, the emollient-rich cleansers are the best for normal skin.

Humectant-Rich Body Cleansers

Most body washes fall into this category and contain glycerin as the humectant. Unfortunately, the humectant-rich body cleansers are not as beneficial clinically. Because this type of cleanser contains water-soluble ingredients, most of the moisturizing ingredients get washed away in the rinse. They don't leave enough moisturizer on the skin to moisturize it. Even though the name of the product contains "moisturizing", the only way to tell if you have a humectant-rich body cleanser is to look at the ingredients. These cleansers typically contain (in order):

  • Water
  • Sodium Lauryl (or Laureth) Sulfate - a harsher surfactant
  • Glycerin - the main humectant
  • Cocamidopropyl Betaine - another humectant

Emollient-Rich Body Cleansers

These body washes often contain the emollients sunflower oil or soybean oil. Emollient-rich body cleansers are better for the skin than humectant-rich cleansers because they are milder and more moisturizing.

The surfactant used in these washes is milder than the surfactant used in other washes, causing less damage to the skin. Also, because the emollient is not water soluble, it stays on the skin and moisturizes it. The two companies that make emollient-rich body cleansers are Dove® and Olay®. You can tell if you have an emollient-rich body cleanser by looking at the ingredients.

These cleansers typically contain (in order):

  • Water
  • Glycine Soja (soybean oil) and/or Helianthus Annuus (sunflower) Seed oil - emollients
  • Petroleum - an occlusive
  • Ammonium Lauryl (or Laureth) Sulfate - a milder surfactant

Low-Foaming Body Cleansers

This category of liquid cleansers is often used on the face, but there are low-foaming body washes. Low-foaming cleansers have little to no surfactant to damage the skin, but they don't contain any ingredients to replace moisture in the skin. The main low-foaming body cleanser is made by Cetaphil®. If you look at the ingredients, there are no humectants or emollients, and the surfactant (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) is farther down the ingredient list meaning it is present in smaller quantities.


Ananthapadmanabhan, KP. "Cleansing without compromise: the impact of cleansers on the skin barrier and the technology of mild cleansing." Dermatologic Therapy. Vol 17. 2004: 17-25.

Abbas, Syed, Goldberg, Jessica, and Massaro, Michael. "Personal cleanser technology and clinical performance." Dermatologic Therapy. Vol. 17 2004: 35-42.

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