There’s a general mindset that we must eliminate every speck of dirt with the most potent cleanser (here are 14 of the best gentle ones we loved in 2017). Especially since the World Health Organization says 90 per cent of the global population now lives with high levels of pollutants.
We are not against cleanliness, but as the skin is an organ (the largest one, too) and not a toilet that needs overzealous cleaning, how we clean it affects its ability to do what it’s supposed to do: protect us from the elements – including pollution. Especially pollution (Want to reduce your exposure? Read this).
So why is bad air worse than, say, the sun? Pollution, on its own, induces more oxidative stress. It also amplifies the negative effects of UV rays.
That’s why cosmetics companies have been looking at anti-pollution cleansers differently: to clean better, it’s better to clean gently – because an already weakened skin barrier needs to be soothed, not further aggravated. To do that, a lot of the focus has been on textures – myriad richer textures (get this: rich doesn’t = oily), from oil to foam and milk to water – that are designed to glide over skin to remove what shouldn’t be there while protecting and boosting what should.
Chanel has been an early advocator of anti-pollution vigilance. Its latest cleansing range, Anti-pollution (which replaces some of its current cleansers), has four products. Each emollient cleanser has a different texture and is aimed at what you need rather than your skin type. They are colour-coded: orange = oil; blue = watery. All except the foam cleanser will remove full-face makeup.
The first in the range is the Cleansing Oil, a very watery oil that emulsifies with water but doesn’t lather. Use it as a first-step in your double cleansing routine, or alone if you have very dry skin. $64
Cleansing Milk-to-water is like a milky micellar water, and designed to be used like one – with just a cotton pad. Dispense three to four pumps on dry hands, massage onto dry face using circular movements, then remove with a cotton pad. This is gentle enough to be used on the lips, eyelids and lashes, but if you’re using waterproof mascara or eyeliner, it’s best to use a point makeup remover. $64
Cleansing Milk-to-Oil is a thicker milk that transforms to a comforting oil texture which drier or mature skins will like. Dispense three to four pumps onto dry hands, massage onto dry face, then rinse thoroughly. Like the Milk-to-Water, it is gentle enough to be used on the lips, eyelids and lashes, but we found it doesn’t remove waterproof mascara (try these smudge-proof but easy-to-remove ones) or eyeliner as well. $64
Foam cleansers used to have a bad reputation because they tended to be harsh on skin, stripping it of its natural oils and causing tautness and dryness. But we’ve evolved way beyond that. Chanel’s Cleansing Cream-to-foam continues the trend of beauty brands developing gentle foam cleansers. It gives a creamy lather for zero drag on skin. Use it in the AM or as part two of your double-cleanse in the PM. $64
Japanese holistic brand Three’s anti-pollution cleansers are designed for weakened skin which has become reactive to urban living. Both have bay leaf oil, a natural antibiotic and sanitiser to detox, deep-clean and reduce reactivity.
With 98 per cent naturally derived ingredients (if you’re into natural skincare, these are the brands you need to know), Three’s Cleansing Oil has a smooth and highly spreadable texture that is the best of all the oil cleansers we have tried. It removes accumulated impurities such as makeup, excess keratin and air pollutants that lead to skin problems to restore radiance and clarity. $68
Another gentle foaming cleanser on this list is Three’s Clearing Foam, which has 96 per cent naturally derived ingredients, and soap nut extract and olive oil. It is anti-inflammatory, and lathers into a rich and fluffy foam and doesn’t leave the skin feeling taut, which makes it a soothing wash for even the most reactive skin (try this 28-day serum that is said to help soothe reactive skin). $58
Cult American brand Pixi is all about paraben-free skincare. Its Rose Cream Cleanser is a comforting, nourishing cream cleanser with rose (more rose-based skincare here), avocado, chamomile and aloe vera to strengthen, soothe and condition. It’s suitable for all skin types, including very sensitive skin. $28, from Sephora.
The Nivea Super Mousse Cleanser is a dense micro-foam cleanser that is able to deeply cleanse while remaining gentle on skin. With a pH of 5.5, this protects skin’s moisture barrier without stripping it dry. The formula is also free of soap, alcohol, colourant, mineral oil, silicones and parabens. There are three variants: Pearl White has pearl extract serum to combat dull skin, White Oil Clear has carnitine to reduce oiliness while licorice brightens and moisturises, and Hydration has hyaluronic acid, golden algae extract and marine salt for drier skin types. $9.90 each
Japanese brand Senka’s new reformulated Perfect Whip Facial Cleanser has Aqua-in-Pool, a moisture-boosting ingredient developed by Shiseido that protects and strengthens skin, while reinforcing its barrier function. This foams into a rich and dense texture to cleanse without stripping skin of moisture. The Speedy Perfect Whip Facial Cleanser is its auto-foaming counterpart. $7.90-$13.90
A version of this story was originally published in the June 2018 issue of Her World magazine.