Do Cleansers With Active Ingredients Actually Do Anything For Your Skin? Here's What We Know

The first step of a typical skincare routine is cleansing. It makes sense — after all, you can't create art on a dirty canvas. Board-certified dermatologist Lela Lankerani, MD, reminds us that facial cleansing removes build-up, hydrates the skin, and helps to keep acne at bay (per Westlake Dermatology).

However, washing your face too much can be just as harmful as under washing. Dermatologist Roberta Del Campo warns "When washing the face too much, you lose natural oils and fats in the skin, which technically will pull the skin cells apart allowing room for debris and bacteria to enter the skin" (via NBC News).

Proper face washing is a critical skincare step, regardless if you wear makeup or perspire on your face. That might be one reason the beauty industry is saturated with multiple types of cleansers. There are oil, clay, foam, cream, and gel cleansers. However, speedily infiltrating the market are cleansers with active ingredients. Are these latest cleansers doing anything special for your skin?

What are active ingredients?

It is important to be mindful of everything we put on our skin. However, when it comes to looking at the ingredients, it is not always easy. Besides the names being hard to pronounce, there are also active and inactive ingredients. Dermatologist Walter J. Liszewski explains, "The active ingredient is the component of your skincare product that is supposed to target a specific skin care concern" (via Northwestern Medicine). The acids that combat acne, or vitamins that amplify moisture, can be active ingredients.

But wash-off products like cleansers raise doubts about whether the active ingredients have time to work. Cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos suggests that these ingredients benefit the skin despite being washed off. She explains, "Most ingredients that are lipid-soluble — think antioxidants like vitamin E — have the same effect when they're washed off versus kept on the skin" (per New Beauty). Some active ingredients benefit from being in a cleanser versus a leave-on product like a serum. Dobbs shares, "Retinoids — which have the benefit of efficacy at lower concentrations — can also work better in wash-off products." So what can these active ingredients do for your skin?

The skincare benefits of active ingredients

Now that we know cleansers with active ingredients aren't a total scam, it helps to understand what these ingredients do for the skin. Dr. Lauren Ploch tells Today, "Some active ingredients are responsible for providing moisture. Some provide sun protection. Others provide chemical exfoliation and/or anti-aging effects." The board-certified dermatologist explains, "the most common and sought-after active ingredients include retinol, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, zinc oxide, vitamin C and ceramides."

Retinol has a bounty of skincare benefits, according to Well+Good. It can unclog pores, increase cell turnover, and reduce dark spots. Another popular active ingredient is hyaluronic acid which is ideal for hydration. The acid helps to absorb and retain moisture for radiant skin. Products with Vitamin C help to brighten the skin, while products with ceramides create a barrier of protection. The best active ingredient will depend on your skincare needs. But whatever the skin problem, there's probably an active ingredient solution.