After 31 days, I looked at myself in the mirror and…
The following were were two headlines I read from the same magazine.
Headline 1: Why you should never wash your face with bar soap!
Headline 2: Why you should be washing your face with bar soap!
Was this attempt at a cruel inside joke? Or was someone from editing completely asleep at their job. But these two dueling headlines got me thinking. The prevailing wisdom that I’ve been familiar with for as long as I can remember is to wash our faces regularly but never with run-of-the-mill ordinary bar soap like let’s say Ivory or Irish Spring.
Now I had to ask myself, why not? I had to know the answer to this question.
The number of friends, family, colleagues, generally anyone on streetcar I happen to sit beside that thought this was a good idea? ZERO.
My best friend Emilija was incredulous at the thought. “You’re crazy,” she told me.“ Your face will hive out and get all red and scaly!” she said with a slightly twisted grin. I think she secretly hoped I would try it.
Why was everyone so vociferous when it came to this subject? What was so crazy about washing my face with soap? Finally, I had the chance to contribute something of monumental value to the world of science.
So Here’s what I decided to do:
- Wash my face with regular bar soap (I chose the most basic brand you can get at any drug store. I will refrain from mentioning the brand for various reasons)
- Wash 2x a day (every morning and every evening)
- Rinse with lukewarm tap water and pat dry
- Do this for a full month (31 days)
Before I gloriously unveil the UNEXPECTED results of my oh-so scientific experiment, let me give you a quick back story.
The first known use of soap for all-purpose cleansing was around 2,000 BC by the Sumerians. But of course, the Egyptians had to one-up that because that’s what they do. The Egyptians have been using facial cleansers for beauty purposes since the days of Cleopatra. Cave drawings in ancient Egypt show that around 332 BC (more than 2,000 years ago), Cleopatra used olive oil mixed with beeswax as a facial and body cleanser.
The first modern liquid facial cleansers were introduced as an alternative to bar soap around the mid-1990s and sales have skyrocketed since then. Korean beauty brands have kicked that up a notch by introducing the idea of “double cleansers”. So now, you’re not just cleansing multiple times a day, you’re using multiple products every time you wash your face. Oh, those Koreans!
So why all this fuss over cleaning one’s face? It’s because of something we learned in high school chemistry called potential hydrogen of pH for short.
pH levels go from 0 to 14: 0 being acidic and 14 being alkaline. Most soaps have a pH level of 10. And this is necessary because it’s the alkaline nature of soap that cleans away the impurities like dirt, oil, and grime.
So what’s the problem? Well, it just so happens that our facial skin shows a natural and optimal pH level of pH5.5. Which means that the more we use soap, the more our face is left in a perpetual alkaline state.
And apparently that’s one of the major cause of premature wrinkles.
It is this simple fact that has the entire world across all nations spending billions of euros a year on cleansers, astringents, softeners and toners.
Now that we’ve set up the mood, on to the results of my experiment.
Week 1 (Day 1 to Day 7)
Costco was selling bar soap for like a buck a bar so I bought way too much to store in my condo but boy, what a deal!
I washed my face in the shower with the soap, pat dried with a clean towel, and looked at myself in the mirror. No change and didn’t feel all that bad…initially. About an hour after washing my face, my face definitely felt a little tight and dry.
I wanted to do this test without any additional moisturizing products but I caved. By day 3, my dry, itchy, flaky skin needed some love so I decided to use a moisturizing cream BUT no pH balancing toner.
By Day 7, not too bad but I’m noticing that I need to use more moisturizing cream than I would normally use and they’re not absorbing as well.
My face feels drier faster, meaning I need to add more moisturizing cream throughout the day. This is a bit annoying because now I have to have one at work or carry one around in my bag.
On the flip side, I know my face is clean 🙂
Week 2 (Day 8 to Day 15)
No drastic changes but my skin feel perpetually tight. It’s been a bit cold and dry here in the Northeast the last few days and that might have something to do with it. I definitely need to use more cream. Without it, I can’t stop scratching my face.
Week 3 (Day 16 to Day 25)
My skin is starting to crack around my eyes, mouth, and nose. I can see micro folds (like mini wrinkles) forming around the eye area. I’m breaking out and I need to use gobs of cream 2 or 3 times a day just to keep my skin from looking like white parchment paper. I am constantly seeing dead skin flaking off and falling on my clothes and it’s constantly itchy.
But in the name of science I must soldier on. On to my 4th week!
Week 4 (Day 26 to Day 31)
So here’s where I am at this point.
My face actually hurts to wash. My condo is pumping in hot and dry air so when I wash with soap my face feels completely dry & tight within minutes. It’s actually painful. Now, add to the fact that when I walk outside, the wind hitting my face feels like I’m walking into a wall of pins.
I’m glad I get to end my experiment here because I don’t think I could continue further. I’m not sure how much worse my face could get but it’s just too hideous and painful for me to continue past this point.
I was actually quite surprised at how much of a difference washing my face with bar soap made. The degradation of my skin condition started almost immediately and just kept progressively getting worse. I didn’t think it would make that much a difference and so quickly.
But here’s the thing.
The soap did exactly what it was supposed to do: it cleans. It was never meant to keep your skin hydrated and soft. The culprit was no re-balancing my skin’s pH after cleansing my face. My face remained in a constant alkaline state which had the effect of eliminating all water and moisture from my face.
How do I know this?
Because when I re-introduced my go-to pH Swiss Power cleansing gel (which is the best cleansing gel I’ve ever tried by the way) but still cleansing with soap, my skin immediately improved.
Questions and Answers
My family and friends who were along for the ride asked a lot of insightful questions. I thought I’d share them here so you can benefit from them as well.
Q1: Do you think the brand soap would have made a difference?
No, I don’t think so. Ivory, Irish Spring, Lever 2000, and even Dove which bills itself as a moisturizing cream (it’s not, it’s soap), all leave your face in an alkaline state. There is soap out there with lower pH levels to start with but they don’t do a great cleansing job. So no matter what brand, the results would have been the same.
Q2: Are you still using soap? What are you using now?
No, I actually never used soap for facial cleansing before this experiment and I don’t plan to. I use my tried and true Swiss Power face cleansing gel my pH balancing step because it completely removes my makeup and it leaves my skin much more hydrated then any other cleanser I’ve used. It leaves my face in a less alkaline state.
I have tried double, triple cleansing, all-natural cleansers, expensive and cheap cleansers but the Swiss Power Cleansing gel is the best cleanser I’ve ever used.
Q3: Do you think different skin types matter?
Now this is a great question. I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is YES and NO.
Yes because my skin tends to lean toward combination/dry so I think that does matter. Someone with oily skin would see different effects from just using soap. But here’s the interesting part.
No, because the end result is that it doesn’t really matter. What I’ve learned is that when oil skin is stripped of its oils and hydration, it produces more oils to replenish. So you end up overproducing oils from glands and you get large and painful breakouts. So no, using soap doesn’t work for oily skin either.
My Suggestions To Avoid My Fate (Your skin will thank you)
OK so don’t wash your face with soap and I highly recommend pH balancing your skin afterward. Even without a moisturizer, those two steps alone will really help your skin look moisturized, hydrated, and fight against premature wrinkles.
I recommend one products for you to try. It works for me and I think it will help you as well, Swiss Power Cleansing Gel.
This is my all-time favorite cleanser and it is the most effective cleaner you’ll ever use. It combines an oil cleanser and a foam cleanser in one. And you can actually see this work when you cleanse: you put the cleanser on dry and it stays in oil foam. Add water to rinse and it turns foamy.
It’s got all-natural ingredients. All I know is that it takes my make up completely off without a makeup remover and leaves my skin reasonably soft and hydrated. It’s simply a great all-around product. Again at 14.90 EUR, it’s not going to compare at price to something you get a Walgreens but I totally cool with paying a little more for quality. I swear to you, just try it for a week and you’ll never go back.