Since I started blogging about skincare a few years ago, I’ve often harped on the importance of using a gentle, preferably low-pH cleanser. That’s because one of the biggest skincare mistakes I’ve made was using a harsh cleanser that disrupted my moisture barrier and stripped my skin of its natural defenses.
I’m not going to go too into detail about the importance of using a low-pH cleanser, but in brief, you should use a gentle, low-pH cleanser because of the following:
- The skin’s moisture barrier (a combination of lipids, fatty acids, and skin cells) that protects our skin from bacteria, prevents water loss, and defends our skin from environmental stress, is naturally slightly acidic, with a pH level of around pH 5.
- Using a highly alkaline cleanser strips the skin of its natural lipids and disrupts the moisture barrier, leaving skin vulnerable to infection (ie. acne bacteria), vulnerable to water loss, and more sensitive to stress and inflammation.
I would highly suggest reading this post by Skin and Tonics, which first brought this issue to my attention.
I saw a drastic improvement in my skin after I started cleansing properly, removing my makeup with an oil cleanser and then following it with a gentle, low-pH cleanser. (See also: The Three Best Things I’ve Done For My Skin)
It used to be pretty hard to find a low-pH cleanser. There wasn’t a vibrant community on Instagram dedicated to testing the pH of cleansers, for instance, and pretty much everyone who wanted a low-pH cleanser bought the Cosrx Low-pH Gel Cleanser because it was one of the few affordable options out there. While the Cosrx is still a great option, I’m so glad there are a plethora of gentle cleansers on the market now.
6 Gentle Low-pH Cleansers
I decided to go through my stash and test all my cleansers, recommending a few that are genuinely gentle, and all pH 5.5 or under. That’s not to say that I don’t have other cleansers I’ve liked, but in the interest of finding the mildest, gentlest cleansers, these are the best ones I have (clockwise from top left):
(*) indicates PR samples – product was free but I am not paid or required to give a positive review
Bioclarity Cleanse* (pH 5.5)
I tried Bioclarity’s 3-step system quite a while ago, and while they have repackaged their products in the meantime, their cleanser is still one of the most pleasant, mildly foaming gel cleansers I’ve used. My mother-in-law actually stole my first tube because it was so gentle on her very dry skin. This can only be purchased as part of the three-step system right now, but there is ALWAYS a 50% off your first order coupon somewhere, and $15 for all three products is a steal (just cancel the subscription before it renews).
JKosmmune Enyzme Powder Cleanser* (pH 4.5)
I just started using this powder cleanser (which is so convenient for traveling since it’s non liquid), and it lathers up into a rich foam with a little water. This had the lowest pH (most acidic) of all the cleansers I tested (though a lot depends on how much water is used to foam it up), which is ideal for acne-prone skin. Its star ingredient, beta-glucan, is excellent for moisturizing and reducing redness and irritation.
Huxley Secret of Sahara Cleansing Gel* (pH 5.5)
I reviewed the Huxley Cleansing Gel here on the blog. This is a really lovely gel cleanser that creates a rich foam that leaves my skin feeling silky and hydrated. It has a lush floral smell that I personally love.
Earth’s Recipe Stemwater Cleanser* (pH 5.5)
This gentle cleanser has the most interesting texture. It’s described as a “honey-gel” and it’s a viscous, sticky gel. Once foamed up though, it feels deliciously silky and slippy on the skin, and leaves my skin feeling fresh and moisturized.
Bemused Korea – $26
Indie Lee Rosehip Cleanser (pH 5.5)
The Indie Lee Rosehip Cleanser is one of my favorites, not just for its gentleness, but for the sheer delight of using it. Everything, from the scent, to the silky texture, to how smooth and gentle it feels on my skin, makes me enjoy using it. I highly recommend it.
Hada Labo Tokyo Hydrating Cleanser
I sound like a broken record because I recommend this so often, but it’s so gentle, luxurious, and AFFORDABLE! This is the foaming cleanser for those who love a really rich foam, yet it’s one of the most gentle foaming cleansers I’ve ever tried.
Hada Labo Tokyo Hydrating Cleanser – $11.99
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