All About Cleansing & How to Choose a Gentle Cleanser

What Makes a Gentle Cleanser? All About Gentle Cleansing

Gone are the days of harsh cleansers that dried out your skin – everyone’s getting into gentle cleansers! What’s the science behind gentle cleansing, and how do you pick a gentle cleanser? Here’s the scientific background behind this skin-loving trend!

Want more about the science behind choosing and using the right cleansers, moisturiser and sunscreen for your skin? Check out The Lab Muffin Guide to Basic Skincare!

How Cleansing Damages Your Skin

Cleansing is the most damaging thing you do to your skin on a daily basis, but unfortunately it’s necessary to get rid of all the dirt, makeup, oil and sunscreen you’ve accumulated on your skin over the course of the day. These unwanted substances won’t come off with water though! That’s why cleansers usually contain surfactants, magical chemicals which can help the grime dissolve in water and wash away.

All About Cleansing & How to Choose a Gentle Cleanser

Surfactants are the key ingredients in pretty much every single cleanser: foaming cleansers, soaps, body washes, cleansing balms, cleansing oils and micellar water. In fact, the only common surfactant-free cleansing methods I can think of are oil cleansing and using a cloth with just water. (I wrote about how surfactants are in everything in this post on The Toast a couple of years ago).

As amazing and useful as surfactants are at lifting grime, they’re not always good for your skin. The outer layer of your skin (the stratum corneum or SC) consists of dead, protein-rich skin cells filled with water-binding chemicals (your natural moisturising factor or NMF), surrounded by carefully arranged oily lipids (mostly ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids). It looks a lot like a brick wall, with skin cell bricks and lipid mortar. Together, these form a barrier against water evaporating from the skin into the environment, and against external irritants entering your skin.

All About Cleansing & How to Choose a Gentle Cleanser

When the SC’s structure is disturbed, skin becomes dry, itchy, flaky, red and irritated. Luckily, the SC is pretty hardy and holds up well against most things… but unfortunately, surfactants are VERY good at messing things up! Here’s what a harsh cleanser does:

Removes important stratum corneum components

Surfactants are amazing at removing grime, but they can’t tell the difference between the chemicals that make up your skin and the chemicals that aren’t meant to be there. Surfactants are good at removing lipids (particularly cholesterol) from your SC, which messes up its structure and makes it more susceptible to water loss. They also remove proteins and NMF components from your skin, meaning it won’t be able to hold onto water as effectively. This all leads to dry, dehydrated skin.

Remains in the skin, causing irritation and disruption

After cleansing, most of the surfactant gets rinsed off, but unfortunately not all of it. Some surfactant molecules will bind to proteins in the skin, causing them to denature (change shape) and swell.  The more swelling, the greater the irritation. (Interestingly, this interaction with proteins is probably a bigger contributor to the “tight” feeling after cleansing than the loss of oils!) Additionally, surfactants can remain in the lipid “mortar” of the SC, changing its structure. Together, these effects lead to a compromised SC that’s prone to letting water escape and irritants enter.

Read more

End-of-Year Empties


I really didn’t get through as many products as I’d hoped to this year – I’m hoping 2016 will be better! Here are my final empties for the year:


Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar – I used this for my Aztec Secret clay masks, but I’ve switched to citric acid instead to avoid the vinegar stink. I don’t think I’ll be rebuying this for a while.

Biore Aqua Rich Watery Essence SPF50+ PA+++ Sunscreen – This is the old version, I’ve repurchased the newer, reformulated PA++++ version already. I love how light and non-greasy this is!

Nivea Repair and Protection Lip Balm – My trusty favourite lip balm. I have so many open tubes lying around my room.

Crop Gentle Cleansing Gel – I really like this foaming cleanser. It doesn’t strip your skin of oil, and I haven’t found the essential oils irritating on my skin either. I’ll be repurchasing this!

Banila Co Clean It Zero – I love this mineral oil-based cleansing balm for taking off heavy make-up. I have a bunch of little samples to go through, and I’d love to try the other varieties before going for a full-size tub.

Enbacci Vitis Vinifera Rejuvenating Gel Cleanser – This is a really nice, non-drying cleanser sample I received at the Bloggers United Australia event in Sydney earlier this year. I have a whole heap of other Enbacci samples I’m working through too!

Marc Jacobs Daisy Perfume – This has been my emergency handbag perfume, and I’m sad to see the end of it… lucky I have a few more sample sprays from various subscription boxes! Perfume samples are definitely one of my most used items from subscriptions.

Models Prefer Multi-Purpose Sponge – This is a nice sponge that’s a similar texture to the Beauty Blenders that are really popular now (I have a bunch of those too!). I find the sponge shape a little harder to work with, but it’s handier and a lot cheaper, and easier to wash.

Read more

Gradual Tanners: Bondi Sands, Dove, Fake Bake & St Tropez review


You can’t tan without exposing yourself to wrinkles and melanoma, so fake tan is the way to go if you want to go brown. I’ve recently tried 4 gradual tanners widely available in Australia:


  • Bondi Sands Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk
  • Dove Summer Glow Gradual Self Tan Body Lotion (Fair to Medium)
  • St Tropez Gradual Tan Everyday Body Mousse
  • Fake Bake Sport Daily Tan

If you’re not confident in your ability to apply fake tan smoothly, or you’re scared of people asking you why you became a super dark tanned glamazon goddess overnight, then gradual tanners might be for you! These contain a lower percentage of dihydroxyacetone (DHA), the staining ingredient in fake tan, so the tan builds slowly over a few applications. (You can read all about how the dihydroxyacetone in fake tan works in this post.) Here’s how they fared:


Criteria: Not too orange is pretty much my only criteria. Getting a decent amount of colour after 2 applications is good too.

Results: All 4 were surprisingly comparable. I used a different tanner on each limb, and at the end they all looked pretty much the same. Fake Bake was a touch darker than the rest, and Dove was a touch lighter (Dove also has a Medium to Dark version which I haven’t tried). Dove and Fake Bake were a bit more yellow, while St Tropez and Bondi Sands are a bit more pink/brown, so they’ll look a bit more natural if you don’t have a yellow undertone.

Winner: Bondi Sands and St Tropez for a more natural colour for people without a yellow undertone, Fake Bake if you want a faster result and your skin works well with yellow.

Ease of application

I like my fake tan to be easy to apply in awkward places (middle of the back, especially!). I want it to spread evenly with minimal effort.

Results: Bondi Sands and Fake Bake are runny lotions, Dove is a thicker lotion, and St Tropez is a foam. The foam was by far the easiest to apply, though the runny lotions weren’t that difficult, especially when I started using a mitt. Dove was the hardest to rub in, but again it wasn’t too bad with a mitt.

Winner: St Tropez, though a mitt makes anything possible.

Read more

Sunsilk and Dove: My Favourite Drugstore Shampoos


My hair has semi-fancy taste – it’s OK with some drugstore shampoos and conditioners, but some will make my scalp scabby and disgusting for no apparent reason. I’ve never gone wrong with Sunsilk or Dove though. Here are my current favourite types:


Sunsilk Perfect Straight (shampoo and conditoner both $4.79 for 200 mL) was designed in conjunction with Yuko Yamashita, creator of the Yuko straightening system I’ve tried in the past. Sunsilk shampoos leave your hair strongly scented, which can be good or bad depending on your preference. This does leave my hair slightly straighter and tamer than usual, but since nothing changes my hair shape except blistering amounts of heat, it’s pretty impressive. I’ve also tried Longer & Stronger and Addictive Brilliant Shine sets in the past, which also played nicely with my hair.


Dove Intensive Repair conditioner inspired my first MakeupAlley review back in 2011 – whenever my hair is looking sad, it’ll kick it back into happy split-end-free bouncy shine. However, it does feel a little superficial – the hair is smooth and shiny with lots of body, but the hair still feels a little stiff. I used to mix a pump of macadamia oil into the conditioner to penetrate the strand and soften it a bit. Dove have made it easier for me now, with the Nutritive Solutions Nourishing Oil Care series (shampoo and conditioner both $6.89 for 320 mL) – it’s got oil AND my beloved silicones! It’s not as moisturising as my DIY combo, but it’s handier, and it avoids the issue of sometimes getting some oily patches afterwards because it’s impossible to mix oil evenly into conditioner in the shower.

Read more

Shampoo and Conditioner Road Test: Moroccanoil, Yuko, Dove and Aldi

I’ve always had trouble finding a good shampoo. I’ve had a nice run with conditioners, but good shampoos have always eluded me. No matter which shampoo I use, my scalp is always an itchy, oily mess by the end of the day. For two months I tried washing my hair every second day, on the advice of many people on …

Read more

Project Pan Empties #21-30

More Project Pan empties! I’ve loosened up a bit with the No Buy, and it’s now a Low Buy, but I’ve kind of lost the urge to BUY ALL THE THINGS so it’s been a pretty successful venture in my opinion. 21. Lux Luminous Touch Body Wash – The “luminous” mica flakes aren’t really that noticeable, but I love the …

Read more