Self care in the days of quarantine 😷… when the stock of your favorite products runs low and fear of germs 🦠 runs high. When you’re more worried about washing your hands than washing your face—and more worried about washing enough than washing properly.
If you’re cleansing like 99.99% of humankind, even if you follow up with perfect skin care moves (down to slathering on SPF 15+ sunscreen indoors), still, at best, you’re doing to your skin the equivalent of crossfit after a breakfast of a Double Big Mac with a Chocolate Triple Thick Shake … and a side of fries.
When you could simply … not do that to your face.
But I’m glad you asked, “should I wash my face in the morning?” Just getting clarity on this simple question will set your skincare routine up for success. In fact I bet you’ll be shocked at how much this little thing turns out to matter.
We’re about to dive where no beauty blog has ever dared before, and show you how to cleanse your skin in the days of coronavirus, where not doing enough can possibly set off a chain of events that lands you in the hospital but doing too much can … well, you’ll see.
And what you’re about to learn is no dermatological hearsay. Everything we show you is backed by evidence—rigorously sourced from peer-reviewed academic journals.
Oh and a couple of 💩 emojis too. Nothing gratuitous of course. Strictly used to make a point that can’t be elegantly made otherwise. Because contrary to popular opinion, science, 💩, and elegance—they mix.
Table of Contents
- Should I Wash My Face in the Morning? And How: Foam Cleansing vs. Oil Cleansing vs. Double Cleansing
- Should I Wash My Face in the Morning? And How: What Surfactants Do to Your Skin Barrier
- Should I Wash My Face in the Morning? And How: Cleanser Alternatives to Surfactants That Don’t Cut It
- How to Properly Cleanse Your Face
- Should I Wash My Face in the Morning? And How: Semi-Viable Cleanser Alternative #1: Don’t
- Should I Wash My Face in the Morning? And How: Semi-Viable Cleanser Alternative #2: Cold Cream
- Should I Wash My Face in the Morning? And How: Semi-Viable Cleanser Alternative #3: Oil Cleanser
- Oils & Saponins: The Holy Grail of Surfactant-Free, Preservative-Free Cleansing
- Manufacturing Difficulties of Colloidal Saponin Powders
- Preparing Colloidal Oatmeal with Highest Saponin Content
- Why Oatmeal Saponins Anyway? Isn’t There an Easier Way to Get Saponins?
- What Kind of Oils Should These Amazing Oat Colloids Swim in?
- Is it Realistically Possible to Cram any More Goodness into a Cleanser?
But first things first.
Should I Wash My Face in the Morning? And How: Foam Cleansing vs. Oil Cleansing vs. Double Cleansing
Which one was it today?
Tell me how you cleansed and I’ll tell you what it did to your skin.
By far the most common way to go. And the most pleasant. I mean, who doesn’t love bubbles?
The delectable creamy lather whose consistency you can control by simply rubbing your hands or adding a drop of water… the heavenly scent… the ph balanced formula and 97-99% natural and/or organic ingredients your favorite brand boasts of via adorable packaging stickers set in minimalist chic design… the fresh, clean feel you get the moment you wash it off.
Let me stop you right there.
What you just did was use a surfactant to emulsify away the oils and dirt from your skin’s surface. But that’s not all you emulsified away. Hold this mental image for a sec…. We’ll get back to it in a jiffy.
A classic oil cleanser is just pure oil or a blend of oils, applied by cotton pad or face cloth. It works by dissolving the oils on your face, based on the principle of like dissolves like. That’s the cleansing mechanism.
Simple and effective.
You’ll be surprised how even the most stubborn waterproof makeup melts away like butter when you wipe it off with the an oil-soaked cotton pad.
Not every oil is meant to go on your face. Much less stay on it. Even if it works like gangbusters to dissolve makeup. More on why later.
Essentially, an oil cleanser mixes with your skin’s own sebum and oils, and as you wipe it off, it wipes them off. Along with makeup and dirt. But by the same token, because an oil cleanser replaces the oils of your skin, it leaves it looking even shinier and greasier.
Depending on the specific oils you use, this greasy layer can also be occlusive and irritating and lead to skin congestion and breakouts.
At any rate it doesn’t sit well and pretty under the next steps in your routine. Especially makeup.
Double Cleansing = Oil Cleansing + Foam Cleansing
That’s why most peeps who oil cleanse follow up with a foaming cleanser, to emulsify away and remove this excess oil. Otherwise known as double cleansing, which yields the cleanest skin after the two steps. Step one dissolves oils and impurities. Step two washes off step one leftovers.
However, this second step always involves the use of one or more surfactant (the foaming agent) and surfactants by definition strip all fats.
They’re essentially the same class of chemicals as your dish soap and work the same way.
Another name they go by is detergents.
Yep. Dish detergent, face detergent.
Tough on grease is the name of the game. Hence the “squeaky clean” feel afterwards.
Should I Wash My Face in the Morning? And How: What Surfactants Do to Your Skin Barrier
Thing is, your skin barrier is fat-based. What holds it together are a bunch of interwoven fats called the lipid matrix.
But one end of the surfactant’s molecule grabs on to fats for dear life. The other end grabs on to water. (The ability to do this is what makes a surfactant a surfactant.)
Cleanser Skin Fail #1: Damage to Your Skin Barrier’s Fats & Proteins
So when you lather your surfactant-based cleanser on your skin, and splash water to rinse everything off, that water pulls off the surfactant’s water-binding end, which in turn pulls off the fat-binding end, which in turn pulls off your friggin’ skin barrier!
Goodbye cruel world!—silently cried Your natural moisturizing factor molecules, aka your skin barrier’s building blocks, as the surfactant molecule pulled them down the drain in the murder suicide that took place in your bathroom sink earlier today
And Surfactants do damage to skin proteins just as much as to fats, really wrecking the whole architecture that holds skin together. While some are harsher than others (e.g., sodium lauryl sulfate), all without exception disrupt the skin barrier.
It’s how they work.
And to varying extent, they’re all irritants and sensitizers.
Not to beat a dead horse, but it turns out the kinds of substances you’ve been washing your face with your whole life (right up to this morning?) are so damaging to the skin that science has yet to figure out just how they manage to unleash as much destruction as they do. Nothing we know accounts for the full extent of the observed wreckage.
From the academic journal Clinics in Dermatology, which your dermatologist pays an arm and a leg to in yearly subscription fees, to stay current on the latest dermatological gossip:
The most obvious way in which surfactants mess up your skin (i.e., stripping fats) is not even the primary way they mess up your skin. The article goes on to list what reads like 101 separate mechanisms of wreckage.
From the International Journal of Cosmetic Science:
Yep, normal skin cleansing is a daily act of hari-kari for your skin. Next thing you know Sofia Coppola is working on a production of the The Corneocytes Suicides (Okay, okay, that was a nerdy reference too far).
Cleanser Skin Fail #2: Damage to Your Skin Microflora
Even worse, though not nearly as obvious, surfactants also kill off most of your skin microflora.
With Covid19 running rampant across the land this is the least sexy idea you can possibly entertain right now, but truth is a headstrong nerd that doesn’t care about being in fashion.
And this is the truth:
Your skin is like a planet that’s home to many diverse communities of bacteria, yeasts, and archaea that perform “terraforming” activities on its surface, much as actual flora does for Planet Earth, making it a livable place.
Kill off Earth flora, you get a desert.
Kill off your microflora, and you get problem skin.
Daily use of surfactants impoverishes what’s called your commensal microflora, the communities of hard-working, responsible micro-citizens that just mind their own business and carry on bustling economies, creating and trading metabolic byproducts that your skin actually needs to stay in top shape. This metaphor is not even far-fetched, the microbiology of skin is mind-blowing. From the Journal of Investigative Dermatology:
Timely and proper establishment of healthy skin microbiome during [early childhood] might have a pivotal role in denying access to potentially infectious microbes and could affect microbiome composition and stability extending into adulthood.
Bacterial communities contribute to the establishment of cutaneous homeostasis and modulate inflammatory responses. Early microbial colonization is therefore expected to critically affect the development of the skin immune function.—Diversity of the Human Skin Microbiome Early in Life, Journal of Investigative Dermatology,
Volume 131, Issue 10, October 2011, Pages 2026-2032
When those healthy microbial communities are thriving and the skin barrier is intact, there is no way for pathogenic microorganisms to gain a foothold on your skin. The commensal microbiome eats up all the nutrients, leaving nothing for critters that are up to no good.
Commensal microbes also directly bind themselves to skin cell receptor sites, leaving no loose receptors for pathogens to attach themselves to. The bad guys literally can’t find a handle to grab on to anywhere on your skin.
Everyone is happy and your skin looks dope!
As just one example of how these microbial checks and balances work, in this case, to prevent acne outbreaks, check this out from the Journal of Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology:
Now, before you go swabbing your fingertips to get your hands on some of that Staphylococcus Epidermidis, remember two things:
First, it’s already on your hands, literally—so you don’t need to transplant it to your face.
Just stop washing it off!
Second, it’s not about any specific strain of bacteria (though some are legit rockstars) but about the overall biodiversity of your skin biome. In fact even Staphylococcus epidermidis can turn pathogenic to your skin if it overgrows (I mean, it is a strain of staph after all).
The point is that when there’s a rich, diverse skin flora, no particular strain overgrows and takes over the rest. Your skin becomes a melting pot for critters of all races and cultures, where they live in harmony and keep each other in check, like…
If you make me overexplain, I might as well just go:
When you take surfactants to your skin though, it’s an extinction event for most of these microbiome communities. The ones likely to survive are those that we humankind have been targeting for extermination, through our overuse of antibiotics and biocidal preservatives. That is, the ones you would have wanted to wash off (and probably believed you were) are the hardest ones to dislodge.
But the ones you want to leave well alone?
If anything foster and roll out the welcome mat for?
They’re delicate melting snowflakes. And already dead…if you washed your face this morning, that is.
Over time, daily washing with a surfactant / foaming cleanser will disrupt your skin barrier by stripping it of its fats (that lipid matrix), will damage structural proteins and collagen fibers, and will also decimate the armies of micro-critters that were protecting it.
A triple whammy.
Actually a quadruple whammy, when you consider the effect on your skin’s ph.
Cleanser Skin Fail #3: Damage to Your Skin’s Acid Mantle
Did you know your skin is not ph neutral, like water, but pretty acidic?
Distilled water’s ph is 7. The ph of skin’s so-called acid mantle is 4.6-5, ideally (anything below 7 is acidic, anything above, alkaline). It is called an acid mantle because it envelops the skin like a protective blanket.
And it’s part of its natural defense mechanism, because it signals to pathogens they ain’t welcome there and will get the boot.
Most pathogenic microorganisms hate acidic environments and thrive in either ph neural or slightly alkaline conditions.
A bar of soap (yes, even an all-natural, artisanal, cold-process soap made from pure healthy vegetable fats, with medicinal extracts sustainably harvested from an old-growth-forrest’s troll’s pinky toes) has a ph of at least 9-10. In fact soaps are the most ancient surfactants and by far the strongest.
There’s a few tricks that cosmetic chemists have got up their sleeve in order to “ph balance” a surfactant-based cleanser.
But they’re just that: tricks.
They won’t noticeably affect the outcome, which is, that if your cleanser is surfactant based, it will definitely increase your skin’s ph level, regardless of its own.
There are studies to back this up, and when trying to formulate that holy grail of a perfect cleanser, researchers have set their bar so low that all they’re looking for now is a surfactant formula that causes only mild damage to the skin barrier.
So don’t fall for “ph balanced” or “mild” claims on foaming cleansers. Because by “mild,” they mean the damage, not the cleanser.
Here’s a study from the journal Contact Dermatitis, comparing sodium lauryl sulfate with a mild surfactant. Clearly, some are worse than others, but none are great:
All surfactants will increase the ph of your skin, disrupting its natural acid mantle, and in fact clinical studies have shown that immediately post washing with a surfactant based cleanser, the ph of skin goes up by a good 2-3 points. And that it may take up to 90 minutes or more for the mantle to repair its ph level to what it was before the surfactant spiked it.
If you cleanse twice a day, that’s a good three hour window during which skin defenses are down and pathogenic fungi and bacteria can easily make gains in colonizing your skin.
‘Cause, you know, they’re everywhere around us.
And if you’re a skincare buff who thinks you’ve got this covered, because your toner is balancing the ph of your skin immediately after your cleanser has done some mild damage, think again.
A good toner might have a ph close to skin’s own, but it only establishes that ph on your skin for as long as it is moist (by definition, ph is established in an aqueous solution).
Once the water in the toner evaporates (in a minute or so after application), the skin is left to its former stripped state, which it can only repair very slowly, by excreting more sebum and slightly acidic NMF (natural moisturizing factor—the ultimate DIY moisturizer not for sale at major retailers).
Rinse and repeat every day, literally and figuratively, and before you know it, between the skin barrier being assaulted, the commensal microbiome weeded out, and the acid mantle disrupted, microscopic ISIS is on the rise.
On your face!
Claiming propaganda victories by causing visible and embarrasing skin problems for the whole world to see.
It’s a slow but steady erosion of skin health, one that’s hard to tie back to the cleanser as the culprit, because cleansing is the most overlooked step of a skin care routine. You’re more likely to focus on the sexy active ingredients of serums, lotions, and potions expected to move the needle for your skin goals and actually work wonders.
Cleansing is seen as just the preliminary step of wiping the slate clean before those amazing compounds of the next leave-on steps can do their magic.
But an ancient bit of evergreen wisdom otherwise known as the Hippocratic Oath goes something like this, first do no harm. If doctors must swear to it before they start caring for others, we can do worse than abide by it when caring for ourselves.
If you’re going after that perfect complexion—with amazing masks, high-end serums, actives, moisturizers, and God knows what else you’ve got for heavy artillery in your skin care arsenal—and yet you nuke your skin barrier and skin biome everyday, possibly twice a day, as a matter of course, well… one way to put it is…
That’s a bit like trying to dry off while still in the shower with the water running.
First shut off the source of damage.
Then move on to next steps of repair.
Cleansing is the first step of your skin care routine. In many ways the most important.
Can you afford to cut corners with it?
So? What can you use instead of surfactants that doesn’t suck?
Should I Wash My Face in the Morning? And How: Cleanser Alternatives to Surfactants That Don’t Cut It
Non-Viable Cleanser Alternative #1: Water
Did you know that tap water alone can actually remove ~60% of anything that needs taking off from your skin?
Of course it’s less effective at removing water-insoluble impurities, aka waterproof makeup or sebum. But if you’re not wearing makeup (especially foundation), such as when you wake up in the morning, you can do worse than wash your face with plain water.
Or can you?
Turns out even water alone causes considerable damage to the skin barrier.
Just a bit less than common surfactants.
In fact, from the Journal of Investigative Dermatology:
So never mind.
Turns out water is carrying water for surfactants and deserves credit for a lot of the damage attributed to them. Unindicted co-conspirator!
It seems like water itself, even without surfactants, can wreck your face. In fact this study is saying that part of why surfactants are so bad for the skin barrier is because they use water as part of their cleansing mechanism.
Hey, but at least it’s free!
If you’re gonna wreck your face, you should’t have to pay for the privilege.
And if you were using a foamy bubbly cleanser, you will see an improvement in the overall health of your skin by switching to cleansing with just water. Because you’d be going from worse to bad. And that’s the right direction….
But is there a way to go from bad to good?
Non-Viable Cleanser Alternative #2: Micellar Water
Same as regular tap water, but worse.
Better at the cleansing bit, because it contains micelles which are just surfactant molecules holding hands together singing ring around the rosies. Worse at the not-wrecking-your-skin-barrier bit… because micelles are just surfactant molecules holding hands together singing ring around the rosies.
The effect is sneaky because micellar water does not sud or form bubbles, as it interacts more weakly with the fats of your skin. So it feels less stripping. But chemically it’s the same effect as any other surfactant.
Just on the milder side.
And if you think you need micellar water because you are plagued with hard water where you live, remember that you can soften your hard water easily with just a few drops of apple cider vinegar.
But why would you want to do that… when any water, hard or soft, sucks as cleanser? 🤷🏻♀️
How to Properly Cleanse Your Face
…then, without doing to your skin any of the above (or this one below), you may be wondering….
Should I Wash My Face in the Morning? And How: Semi-Viable Cleanser Alternative #1: Don’t
Why do you even wash your face?
In the morning at least, assuming you went to bed with clean skin, just how much dirt does your face accumulate overnight?
If you have to think too long about the answer, time to get an air filter in your bedroom and change that pillow case.
But seriously, unless you work in a coal mine this whole talk of “dirt, impurities, and pollution” that the cleanser is supposed to take off is just a euphemism for makeup and spaghetti sauce.
So why not only cleanse on a need to basis instead? If you didn’t wear makeup in the day, do you really need to cleanse at night?
If anything, you may need to protect your skin from shampoo dripping down your face in the shower!
For real, how did cavewomen ever manage without commercial cleansers? 🤔
The skin has its own cleansing mechanism: it’s constantly churning out more corneocytes that shed off around the clock. Not in big chunks like when you’re noticeably peeling. But in tiny increments, all on their own, without any need for exfoliation or other help from you. All it requires is enough hydration, provided for by an intact skin barrier rich in NMF. And it sorts itself out.
Yes it can really be that simple…
But most people who cleanse either do so out of habit—it’s a step in their routine, like brushing their teeth.
Or they cleanse because they don’t like the feel of their skin and cleansing is a way to reset it to a less oily, less blotchy, less whatever-is-bothering-them, more even state.
If only for a little bit.
Until it gets worse. Because cleansing.
Do you ever do this?
Food for thought: abstinence is a decent alternative.
With cleansing, less is more.
Should I Wash My Face in the Morning? And How: Semi-Viable Cleanser Alternative #2: Cold Cream
OK, with cold cream we’re actually getting warmer. 😉
If your grandma swore by Ponds and you ever secretly rolled your eyes, guess what? Grandma was right! Certainly for as long as she was young (or youngish enough to care about her complexion), cold cream was definitely the best of all cleansing options available to her.
Cold cream is essentially a water-in-oil emulsion, meaning little droplets of water mixed with other ingredients are floating in a base of oil mixed with other ingredients. Most creams, lotions, and other moisturizers are the opposite: that is, oil-in-water emulsions, their base being watery. Which is why cold cream feels much heavier than a typical moisturizer.
It’s the oil.
Cold cream’s cleansing mechanism is the same as any oil cleanser’s, like dissolves like. Especially when it comes to waterproof makeup, which really does need some sort of oily wipe-off to get rid of, cold cream is a badass cleanser. In fact you typically see it advertised as a makeup remover.
Being surfactant-free, cold cream does not damage the skin barrier. In fact it replenishes it with lipids and mineral oil. It’s also pretty cheap. I mean, look at the Amazon reviews. That’s the price for a whole 4-pack!
That’s the good.
As to the bad… well, the water phase has to be preserved with biocidal preservatives to keep it from spoiling. And those are always irritating to skin and disrupting to microflora.
Preservatives are biocidal chemicals added to cosmetics…. The ideal preservative, both effective and devoid of irritant or sensitizing potential, is still to be discovered.—Hypersensitivity to preservatives, Dermatologic Therapy, 2004
And that mineral oil that’s the main ingredient of commercial cold creams?
Don’t get me wrong. It’s actually a wonderful, skin-loving ingredient (in theory at least). But it is occlusive, forming a protective film on the skin. So if your skin care routine begins and ends with cleansing, bam!
That’s it. One step and you’re done.
But if you have any other steps to follow, their ingredients will basically pile up on top of the petroleum jelly aka mineral oil. They won’t even touch, let alone penetrate your skin.
If you want to keep your skin care routine really basic, then you might as well skip the preservatives of the cold cream and use pure vaseline to cleanse.
That’s an option. A decent one.
Just wipe everything off with vaseline, aka 100% pure petroleum jelly aka mineral oil, and you’re done. Here, even cheaper than cold cream to boot.
Petroleum jelly is sourced from the waxy substances that build up in oil rigs. When it’s perfectly refined that’s not a problem, just a cool fact. But there have been some concerns of late, about how the refinement process works in practice. It is not foolproof against contamination with cancer causing chemicals.
So if you want to play it safe, a vegetable oil would be a wiser alternative to mineral oil for cleansing.
Should I Wash My Face in the Morning? And How: Semi-Viable Cleanser Alternative #3: Oil Cleanser
Are we back full circle here?
Same problem with cold cream or petroleum jelly / vaseline, by the way.
Thing is, oil cleansing gets a lot right. Dissolving dirt and excess oil with more oil is the way to go (assuming you’re using the right oils, more on that later). But cleansing can’t be left to just that, because oil is too greasy and … well … oily.
If it’s bedtime and you’re about to hit the hay, it won’t feel right on the sheets or pillow case. If it’s morning and you’re about to put on your face, double that.
Oils & Saponins: The Holy Grail of Surfactant-Free, Preservative-Free Cleansing
But oils and water don’t mix, so how will you rinse off that extra oil now that your face is clean but greasy? That’s why you need the surfactant… but surfactants will mess… you… up….
In short, to clean your skin without surfactants, you need magic.
Drumroll… Introducing SAPONINS!
What’s a saponin?
Now that’s not something that pops up much in beauty blogs or Pinterest boards. But the name itself is giving you a clue of what it means. Saponin is Latin for mini-soap.
And the name stands for a big family of naturally occurring molecules found in certain plants (mostly legumes, cereals, grains, etc.), which all have this property in common: if you mix them in water, they make somewhat of a foam. Saponins are interesting compounds, because they evolved as part of the plants’ natural defense mechanisms against aggressors big and small.
First, they have targeted antimicrobial and antifungal activity, but emphasis on targeted: they only inhibit bacteria and molds that attack their mother-plant. Typically little to no overlap with your own skin flora. They also double as antifeedants, because, news flash, plants don’t like to be eaten! Unless they’re fruit-bearing plants, that is.
Getting a bit in the weeds here (pun coming up in 3, 2, 1👇), but you won’t mind the detour because, how cool is this?
The best shot that fruit-bearing plants have at reproduction lies in the off-chance of the 💩 of whomever ate their fruit ending up in a field somewhere, so their seeds, or plant babies, can sprout from said 💩 all nourished and ready to flourish.
Yep, that’s why delicious fruit is baiting us to take a bite.
Not usually what you have in mind when you think of pure and natural skin care?
Sorry, you’ve been red-pilled! 😎
Back to saponins.
Now, if you’re not a fruit bearing plant, it is not to your advantage to end up in anyone’s 💩.
You do that, you’re dead!
No life after death for the next generation.
No Shawshank Redemption, light-at-the-end-of-the-💩-tunnel, with Morgan Freeman narrating your life story.
Just straight-up 💩.
So non-fruit-bearing plants really don’t want to be eaten. To make those feelings known to would-be-eaters, non-verbally but in no uncertain terms, feisty saponins will throw a fit and act as … among other things, soap in the mouth of yonder billygoat that picked the wrong shrub to mess with.
But here’s where things get really interesting:
There are certain plants that we humans have domesticated since the Agricultural Revolution. Just as we have domesticated wolves by picking for our pets the tamest of their cubs in each generation, until that perfect creature, the Golden Retriever, was born, so too have we bred the most nutritious varieties of grains, rice, oats, and cereals, by selecting for their most desirable traits in every planting season.
Enhancing that delectable soapiness in our mouths is not exactly what we’ve been after the past 10,000 years. (Off topic but not really: strong saponins not only taste soapy but interfere with the absorption of nutrients in the GI tract).
The saponins of many edible plans, modern oatmeal in particular, are to the saponins of wild plants (such as, say, soapwort, whose root has historically been used as soap, hence its name), as the modern Golden Retriever is to Arya Stark’s feral alpha she-wolf.
Oat saponins are basically traditional surfactants’ third cousins twice removed.
Are the dots connecting yet, with respect to how you’ll wash your face tonight?
Because all you want a surfactant to do, ideally, is play catch with some extra oils and dirt you’ve got lying around your skin.
But the creature you let loose from the face-wash, when you invite it to play catch, it bares its teeth, breaks your fence, kills all your sheep, and scurries back to the woods leaving behind a bloody trail.
Until you invite it back to play catch the next day.
And the day after that.
Sorry, but you’re sending the wrong breed of wolf on that mission.
Maybe the Golden Retriever can finally get some playtime eh, coach?
So, how harsh are oat saponins?
About as harsh as oatmeal is soapy. That’s orders of magnitude milder than the gentlest synthetic cleanser on the market.
Try eating your favorite “gentle” face wash, and you’ll see what I mean.
But they still get the job done.
Because you can take the dog out of the wolf pack, but you can’t take the wolf pack out of the dog. Oat and rice saponins have one or more water-loving heads, and a fat-loving rump. But they’re so gentle that they barely tug at the end they love.
When it comes to your cleansing routine, it’s a slam-dunk.
Because when you wash off oils with oat saponins, you’re truly only washing off excess oil, and not a smidgen more.
Think about it.
While a classic oil cleanser is waterproof (because oils and water don’t mix) and for that very reason it takes a surfactant to remove it from the skin, when you premix the oil cleanser with super-fine colloidal oats, those colloids, as they’re called, not only provide some gentle exfoliation along with the cleansing action of the oil, but they make magic possible: you can actually rinse off the oil cleanser without the second step of double cleansing with a surfactant!
Simply splash some water on your face, massage it gently, and it’s gone.
The saponins are so weak that they leave some of the oil still on your skin, just enough so you look dewy like you never believed was possible without a perfect six-or-more-step routine. But they’re saponins after all, so they micro-emulsify the rest of the oil away, allowing it to be rinsed off. That way you don’t look like an oil slick.
It truly strikes the perfect balance between this
Because right between those two ☝️ is where true perfection lies…. obviously!
And best of all, when you premix oil with oat saponins, you’ve got yourself a water-free formula that can be bottled, the saponins being found in superfine dry powder of colloidal oatmeal. Guess what doesn’t need to into the cleanser bottle to keep them company?
That’s right, biocidal preservatives.
With just oils mixed with a fine powder of dry colloids, this is a self-preserving formula.
Meaning, this is a skin-biome friendly way to cleanse and no sensitizing or irritating preservatives are coming into contact with your skin or disrupting its natural microbial ecosystem.
Any other consequences to cleansing with… a mix of oils and colloidal saponin powders?
It’s all about…
BYOO—bring your own oils.
Remember how even plain water can be kryptonite to the skin?
Bringing your own oils to your skin and then taking them off with the magic of water & saponins is really the only way to ensure that there’s no interaction between your skin on the one hand and water or surfactants on the other.
So when rinsing, you’re only rinsing off the oil you brought along. Of the cleanser. Not your own skin’s.
This oil that you bring to the party becomes the middleman that runs the cleansing transaction, so your bare skin doesn’t even have to get wet.
You’ll experience this the very first time after washing your face this way. And it feels like pure skincare voodoo.
As soon as the cleanser rinses off, you’ll touch your face and find that the thinnest, velvetiest layer of oil is still left between your skin and the water running down it. It’s like a microscopic protective mantle and it’s an experience truly unheard of with any traditional cleansing.
Manufacturing Difficulties of Colloidal Saponin Powders
But remember how saponins interfere with the absorption of nutrients in the GI tract? (If you’re into the paleo diet, that’s why it’s advisable to soak your legumes overnight for better nutrition.) For that reason, and others having to do with general shelf life, the rice and oats (along with other grains) in your grocery store have been heat treated.
Bummer alert: Heat will destroy most saponins. They’re extremely heat sensitive.
From the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry:
Almost all oats for human consumption are heat treated to inactivate lipases, before being milled and used in different food products…. To understand the fate of oat saponins during processing, isolated avenacosides A and B were heated…. Heating … led to partial destruction of the oat saponins….
Addition of catalytic amounts of iron and stainless steel dramatically increased the rate of saponin breakdown…. This could in part explain the reduction of the saponin content in canned and roller-dried products.—Degradation of Oat Saponins during Heat Processing – Effect of pH, Stainless Steel, and Iron at Different Temperatures, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry
Just when you thought you found a good thing in the cereal aisle.
Preparing Colloidal Oatmeal with Highest Saponin Content
So what you need for full saponin content is to get your hands on raw oat groats, which are sold by local farmers. But not steel cut oatmeal or rolled oats.
Raw oat groats are typically harvested and then just air dried, cleansed with high intensity air flow that pulls away any dust and impurities from the crop. They are not heat treated in any way and are about as pure and unprocessed as the raw material for oatmeal can possibly be.
Once you get your hands on these raw oat groats (preferably organically grown) you need to be careful with how you mill them.
The easiest thing would be to throw them into your stainless-steel-blade blender or nutri-bullet.
Yes, that would be the easiest way to go.
But as with most things in life, easy is junk.
If you throw oat groats into the blender, you’ll have steel cut oatmeal to eat for breakfast. But you won’t have a saponin-rich fine powder to cleanse with.
For that you’ll need to use a specialty grain mill, which is a kind of stone mill (available on Amazon) instead of a stainless-steel one, because in case you missed the fine print above, iron and steel are kryptonite to oat saponins.
Basically, saponins are delicate, complicated miracles of molecules retained in premium-milled oat flour, but easily degraded and denatured by high heat or high-shear grinding and milling processes.
Why Oatmeal Saponins Anyway? Isn’t There an Easier Way to Get Saponins?
I hear you.
With all this work involved to protect oat saponins, is the juice even worth the squeeze?
Aren’t there other plants that can supply saponins mild enough to be used as cleanser without having to jump through all these hoops?
What with your shiny, powerful blender, the pride of your kitchen counter, sitting there collecting dust, when grinding something good to a pulp is the very job it was born to do, at the push of a button, are we really to go back to Stone Age technology and rely on stone mills? Just to protect oat saponins?
Yes there are other sources of mild saponins.
Yes they would work well in a cleanser.
But when you consider what else oatmeal has to offer, I think you’ll agree that it’s nothing short of a skincare miracle worker, and the juice is very much worth the squeeze because you get a lot more besides saponins thrown into the bargain.
For one thing, did you know colloidal oatmeal is an active ingredient that’s FDA-approved as a Class-A skin protectant?
It takes overwhelming clinical proof of efficacy to get that kind of designation.
A quick tour of oatmeal’s skincare-specific properties, from the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology:
The many clinical properties of colloidal oatmeal derive from its chemical polymorphism. The high concentration in starches and beta-glucan is responsible for the protective and water-holding functions of oat.
The presence of different types of phenols confers antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Some of the oat phenols are also strong ultraviolet absorbers.
The cleansing activity of oat is mostly due to saponins. Its many functional properties make colloidal oatmeal a cleanser, moisturizer, buffer, as well as a soothing and protective anti-inflammatory agent.Colloidal oatmeal: history, chemistry and clinical properties, Journal of Drugs in Dermatology : JDD, 31 Jan 2007, 6(2):167-170
And that’s still selling it short, because those beta-glucans alone do a lot more than hold water.
From the same International Journal of Cosmetic Science cited earlier on how brutal normal cleansing can be to skin:
Our objective was to study the penetration of oat beta‐glucan in human skin models and to evaluate clinically its efficacy for reducing fine‐lines and wrinkles.
The results showed that beta‐glucan, despite its large molecular size, deeply penetrated the skin into the epidermis and dermis. A clinical study of 27 subjects was performed to evaluate the effects of beta‐glucan on facial fine‐lines and wrinkles.
After 8 weeks of treatment, digital image analysis of silicone replicas indicated a significant reduction of wrinkle depth and height, and overall roughness.Anti‐Wrinkle Therapy: Significant New Findings in the Non‐Invasive Cosmetic Treatment of Skin Wrinkles with Beta‐Glucan, 13 September 2005, International Journal of Cosmetic Science
And if a picture is worth a thousand words, another clinical study (from the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology) that examines the mechanisms of just how oatmeal can do what it does to skin, shows this before and after high-res picture of skin treated with oatmeal extract for 14 days:
Instagram 14-day challenge, anyone?
Yep, dope looking skin from colloidal oatmeal! You want this stuff in your cleanser.
No wonder Aveeno‘s entire branding and marketing strategy consists of adding about 2% oatmeal to their products and shouting the fact to the world, in fact naming their whole brand after oats (the Latin name for oatmeal is avena sativa).
But guess what else is degraded from the heat treatment your grocery store oatmeal has undergone?
Yep, β-glucan‘s a goner too. At least for skincare purposes. It undergoes changes that completely modify its molecular structure so it becomes a much longer chain molecule that actually works better to absorb cholesterol when ingested (so boil your oatmeal) but can’t penetrate the skin.
The good guys just can’t take the heat.
So if you want to retain full saponin content and keep that β-glucan bioavailable to skin, you need your colloidal oatmeal t come from oats untreated with heat:
Raw oat groats.
That shalt be the grist for thy $1,500 stone mill.
It’s the kind of mill used by nutritional supplement manufacturers who make phytoceramide supplements. If you expect to be baking a lot during this pandemic, that mini one from Amazon is actually a good investment for your everyday nutritional needs, to make your own fresh flour of various sources.
But back to phytoceramides: they are complex lipid structures found in the oil of oats, wheat, and rice, extracted by milling them just right.
Phyto stands for their plant origin. Ceramides… you’ve probably seen that ingredient on the label of high-end skin care products, and probably toward the end of the ingredient list (cause they ain’t cheap, so they’re typically sprinkled in at fairy-dust-like concentration). But even in good old Cerave cream, ceramides don’t start making an appearance until spot #10 on the ingredient list.
Cause they’re the fancy stuff!
Ceramides give structural integrity to the lipid matrix of skin, and provide much of its elasticity, firmness, and suppleness. If the proteins in your skin barrier are the floors and ceilings of the whole edifice, ceramides would be the structural beams that hold it up.
And amazingly enough, the skin recognizes phytoceramides as if they were its own ceramides. Guess what else is chockfull of phytoceramides?
In fact not only are oats rich sources of phytoceramides, they stimulate skin cells to produce their own ceramides to boost.
Despite a rich history of traditional use, the exact mechanisms of action that give colloidal oatmeal its clinical benefits remain unknown.
A recent study [the one the before-and-after picture was pulled from–ed] has reported that colloidal oatmeal can reduce the expression of pro-inflammatory mediators in keratinocytes [skin cells] and decrease activation of the NF-kB pathway, which could contribute to the anti-inflammatory activity of colloidal oats on irritated skin.
In addition, [a study] recently reported that a lipophilic extract isolated from oats can induce ceramide synthesis in keratinocytes through activation of the PPAR pathway. We conducted a series of in vitro experiments and a clinical study to help identify the mechanism of action for the clinical benefit of colloidal oatmeal on skin barrier. …
In addition, an investigator-blinded clinical study was conducted to evaluate the efficacy of a colloidal oatmeal skin protectant lotion in improving barrier function in moderate to severely dry skin. Results of these studies demonstrate that colloidal oats can increase skin’s expression of epidermal differentiation targets and lipids involved in barrier function, can provide pH-buffering capacity for skin and can clinically improve skin barrier function.
Thus, colloidal oatmeal as an ingredient provides a multi-therapy approach for dry and compromised skin by strengthening skin barrier.Colloidal Oatmeal (Avena Sativa) Improves Skin Barrier Through Multi-Therapy Activity, Journal of drugs in dermatology: JDD · June 2016
Wrapping up what colloidal oatmeal can do for your skin in a cleanser and beyond:
- full of powerful anti-oxidants, which protect from sun-damage induced free radicals
- loaded in phenols, which protect against inflammation
- rich in β-glucans, which not only bind water to the skin but directly counter the formation of wrinkles
- high saponin content but weak / gentle saponin structure
- very rich in oil (highest oil content of any grain, upwards of 10% by weight) which is perfect for an oil cleanser, and great as a leave-on trace amount after rinsing
- excellent source of phytoceramides
- stimulant of skin cells’ own ceramide production
- skin-ph buffer and regulator
What Kind of Oils Should These Amazing Oat Colloids Swim in?
So then all you need for the perfect oil & colloid cleanser is to mix in some real finely stone-ground raw oat groats with some oil, and just wipe it all over your skin.
Just what oil base you use is very important for your new skin care mantra, “first do no harm.” Yeah, there’s a bunch of oils you can realistically use as a base that won’t make your skin fall off, but remember, you want to rinse off the excess oil from the cleanser while leaving the rest on. So what you do end up leaving on needs to play nice with your skin.
Your skin’s oil profile depends on your age, sex, whether or not you’ve done a number on it at the tanning salon in your wild days. Also on heritable skin problems (e.g., if you have eczema or rosacea your oil composition is markedly different compared to people who don’t).
A good rule of thumb when it comes to putting something on your skin, is that if it’s safe and good to eat, it can’t be bad when slathered on from the outside. But every rule of thumb has a few kinks and exceptions.
For example, olive oil.
Great for cooking or even used raw on salads.
Great for skin? Nope!
Oleic Acid and What it Does to Your Skin
The biggest building block of olive oil is oleic acid. Now, oleic acid is naturally found in skin, but the less of it the better. Our skin’s oleic acid content increases as we get older and is an indicator of intrinsic aging.
If you take anything away from this post, let it be this: don’t use olive oil for any DIY moisturizer recipe, such as you might have saved on Pinterest, with high hopes of erasing stretch marks or wrinkles or hemorrhoids in 10 days.
Besides, olive oil is notoriously adulterated in North American markets.
The research is a little boring but trust me, I’ve done it.
To sum it up, there’s loads of evidence that oleic acid is a big-time disrupter of the skin barrier. In fact it’s used as a “permeability enhancer,” meaning, it helps other ingredients get deeper into skin, and does so by breaking down the skin barrier so those other ingredients can make a run for the border.
Because, in case it wasn’t obvious, the job of the skin barrier is to keep in what needs to stay in (blood, water, collagen, ‘n stuff), and keep out everything trying to get in from the outside.
It’s the border between you and the outside world.
Bottom line, your ideal facial oil should be low in oleic acid.
Linoleic Acid and What it Does to Your Skin
Linoleic acid is another component of human skin, but it’s like oleic acid’s non-evil twin.
The ying to its yang.
It’s an omega-6 essential fatty acid, which means our bodies can’t produce it and must import it from the diet. It’s found in higher concentrations in young skin and that concentration decreases with age. The skin goes into overdrive to allocate extra linoleic acid to its surface immediately after a sunburn, because it plays a crucial role in skin’s self-repair mechanism. It’s a thin, free-flowing oil, which dilutes your sebum making it less greasy or likely to clog up pores.
Oleic acid, on the other hand, is thick and pore plugging. Surprise surprise, acne sufferers have less linoleic acid in their sebum than people with clear skin.
And just to make sure this deficiency was no coincidence, researchers applied some linoleic acid daily to those people’s skins, and their acne cleared right up!
Some of the research sounds like its intended audience (and possibly its authors) are AI-powered androids, but let’s try to pull some pithy quick hits, because these are bold claims and I wouldn’t want you to get your hopes up without evidence. From the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology:
Acne patients have also been shown to have low levels of linoleic acid in their skin surface lipids.Essential fatty acids and acne, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology
From Clinical and Experimental Dermatology, where the battle for flawless skin is taken to the ultimate frontier, as researchers take close-up digital pictures of zits in the noble quest of exterminating them:
It has been hypothesized that a relative decrease in linoleic acid in the sebum could be responsible, in part, for [acne]. The aim of the present study was objectively to evaluate the effects of topically applied linoleic acid on the size of microcomedones in patients with mild acne.
The design was a double‐blind placebo‐controlled randomized cross‐over study. Evaluations were performed by digital image analysis of cyanoacrylate follicular biopsies.
There was a significant effect of topically applied linoleic acid on the size of follicular casts and microcomedones, an almost 25% reduction in their overall size being achieved over a 1‐month treatment period. In contrast, no change was found at placebo‐treated sites. It is concluded that topical linoleic acid might play a role as a comedolytic agent in acne‐prone patients.Digital image analysis of the effect of topically applied linoleic acid on acne microcomedones, Clinical and Experimental Dermatology
The verdict is out.
Linoleic acid is a zit-crushing superstar.
There are many more studies like these and they’re all in agreement. But if you’re one of those insufferable people who never breaks out, and are already thinking, “nah, I need something rich and moisturizing, don’t need any help with acne, thank you very much 🙄,” guess what, linoleic acid is no one-trick pony!
It promotes a healthy skin barrier all around, as you would plainly understand if you spoke Martian, the native language of the contributors to Clinics in Dermatology (shhh… it’s OK to let your eyes glaze):
These [linoleic-acid derivative] fatty acids are showing promise as safe adjunctive treatments for many skin disorders, including atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, acne vulgaris, systemic lupus erythematosus, nonmelanoma skin cancer, and melanoma.
Their roles are diverse and include maintenance of the stratum corneum permeability barrier, maturation and differentiation of the stratum corneum, formation and secretion of lamellar bodies, inhibition of proinflammatory eicosanoids, elevation of the sunburn threshold, inhibition of proinflammatory cytokines (tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interferon-gamma, and interleukin-12), inhibition of lipoxygenase, promotion of wound healing, and promotion of apoptosis in malignant cells, including melanoma. They fulfill these functions independently and through the modulation of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors and Toll-like receptors.Healing fats of the skin: the structural and immunologic roles of the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, Clinics in Dermatology
There’s more where that came from, but ‘nuf said, you want linoleic acid no matter what it is that you’re trying to improve about your skin.
And the oil richest in it is grape seed oil.
A whopping 66-74%, depending on the cultivar and extraction method! (Our supplier‘s cold-pressed organic grape seed oil comes in at 73.6% linoleic acid, according to our own lab analysis.)
It doesn’t get any higher than that.
Coconut oil has 1.6% linoleic acid.
Olive oil, 16%.
Grape seed oil does have some oleic acid, but it’s such a low concentration compared to the linoleic acid, that it will always improve the ratio of those oils on your skin. And the ratio is what matters.
You want the linoleic acid to overwhelm the oleic in volume.
Grape seed oil is also loaded in Vitamin E, which keeps it shelf stable. This is important because normally, an oil so high in polyunsaturated fats (such as linoleic acid) can go rancid pretty quickly. But the built-in megadose of Vitamin E whips it up into shape whenever it gets any ideas of going soft on us. It’s also full of powerful micro-nutrients with too much anti-aging research behind them to even cram in here. You can read a whole dissertation about grape seed oil if you’re in the mood to geek out. From Nutrition and Metabolic Insights:
Grape seed oil has beneficial properties for health that are mainly detected by in vitro studies, such as anti-inflammatory, cardioprotective, antimicrobial, and anticancer properties, and may interact with cellular and molecular pathways. These effects have been related to grape seed oil constituents, mainly tocopherol, linolenic acid, resveratrol, quercetin, procyanidins, carotenoids, and phytosterols.
Grape seed oil contains a large amount of phenolic compounds, including flavonoids, carotenoids, phenolic acids, tannins, and stilbenes. It has also 59–360 mg of gallic acid equivalent/kg of phenols, which have been reported to be involved in a wide range of biological activities but are mostly known for their antioxidant properties. The main polyphenols identified in grape seed oil are catechins, epicatechins, trans-resveratrol, and procyanidin.
The interest in grape seed oil as a functional food product has increased, especially because of its high levels of hydrophilic constituents, such as phenolic compounds.Grape Seed Oil Compounds: Biological and Chemical Actions for Health, Nutrition and Metabolic Insights
Hydrophilic = Water-loving.
What that whole mouthful means, among other things, is that grape seed oil will melt well with water, especially with a little help from saponins. So it’s just perfect as a cleansing oil.
Grape seed oil and oat saponins are a match made in skincare heaven!
Is it Realistically Possible to Cram any More Goodness into a Cleanser?
Well, we can try.
But if you want to go the DIY route and need to keep it stupid simple, a recipe for a minimum viable cleanser that will blow out of the water anything else you’ve tried and everything that’s available on the skincare market (to my knowledge at least), goes something like this: mix two parts grape seed oil with one part colloidal oatmeal produced from stone-milled raw oat groats, after you run said oatmeal flour through a sieve to filter out any biggish fragments of oat groat skin (which can be on the rough side).
In fact that’s how our own cleanser’s recipe started.
But as it started making the rounds among our small circle of skincare obsessed friends and family—our beloved original guinea pigs—you best believe that the compliments to the cleanser did get to my head and I tried to top expectations with every new batch.
I’ve tried a lot of tweaks that did’t work, and only a few that actually made this cleanser better, which have since been incorporated into our formula.
Well, one thing I wanted to improve was consistency.
Because of the super-fine colloids in this cleanser, it already has some exfoliant activity. Stone-milled flour has a completely different consistency to grains ground up in a high-powered blender. It’s without grits and melts between your fingers like a whipped-cotton cloud. When it absorbs a thin oil like that of grape seed, the consistency is close to that of a very light mud mask.
But overall it’s still a bit too runny for people used to traditional cleansers.
Matcha Green Tea to Boost an Oil & Saponin Cleanser’s Activity
So I went all out and experimented with adding some matcha green tea powder, and wow!
It fills up the oil to make it bulkier, giving your fingers or cotton pad more to work with as you work the paste on your skin.
Like the stone-milled oat flour run through a sieve, matcha tea is also so perfectly and finely ground that it won’t scratch your skin or create micro-tears, unlike most physical exfoliants.
We used the finest culinary grade matcha, because that’s the kind of tea so rich in flavonoids that it tastes too bitter to drink. But thankfully your skin has no taste buds, and will love the extra anti-oxidant and anti-aging benefits of the most powerful grade of matcha.
That bright green color comes from chlorophyll, by the way. The matcha tea is shade grown on purpose, to force the plant to muster all the chlorophyll it possibly can in order to survive.
It’s no lazy sun-soaking sloth, that matcha, but rather a powerhouse of green energy. By far the best way to get the well-documented anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effect of green tea on your skin.
And guess what else matcha brings to the party?
Major components of matcha are catechins, which are known for their anti-oxidant activity, amino acids, and saponins, which contribute to the foaming property of matcha.The Powdering Process with a Set of Ceramic Mills for Green Tea Promoted Catechin Extraction and the ROS Inhibition Effect, New Frontiers on the Metabolism, Bioavailability and Health Effects of Phenolic Compounds
Yep, and just like low temperature, stone milling is essential to preserving all the vital compounds of oatmeal, ceramic milling is the way to go for matcha, to maximize the extraction of catechins and anti-oxidants. I hope you can appreciate how much of the effectiveness of any active ingredient is not just in the raw material itself but the methods of extraction and processing.
But seriously, between the raw oats, matcha green tea, and phenomenally phenol-rich grape seed oil, the sheer volume of plant flavonoids and sterols in this cleanser is enough to probably induce a double-digit drop in your cholesterol levels if you drank it instead of putting it on your face. (Please don’t drink this cleanser… just saying).
But this cleanser was not formulated to prevent a heart attack.
Only to give you a glowing complexion.
Activated Charcoal to Add Adsorption to the Cleansing Mechanism of an Oil & Saponin Cleanser
We also added a pinch of activated charcoal, because the way it cleanses is so completely different to the way surfactants work, that it’s just too good to pass.
Charcoal works via adsorption: it has tiny little pores that can suck anything around them like a vacuum. If there’s a spec of dust that somehow didn’t get trapped by the grape seed oil, these little charcoal particles will zap it.
And send it down the drain along with everything else the saponins wash off.
Seriously, while Elon Musk probably has a bunch of cosmology PhDs locked in a dungeon somewhere, trying to create a synthetic black hole in southern California, you can deploy mini black holes that suck the dirt from your skin, and then disappear down the drain without endangering the fabric of the known universe.
Or of your epidermis, for that matter.
The last thing we added is turmeric, for its well-known anti-inflammatory and photo-protective properties. Its consistency also plays real well with the other colloids of the cleanser.
There was nothing else we could add to improve upon perfection, so we left it at that.
So how do you get your hands on this cleanser, you say?
You won’t find it anywhere on the market because it doesn’t exist. Not outside my personal stash I’m afraid. This is a product I’ve been manufacturing myself in small batches while gearing up for a big product launch.
Which was due in March.
But Coronavirus had other plans and at the moment I am quarantined with my family in an Airbnb in upstate NY. Blogging about my skincare obsession is how I personally cope with the ‘new normal.’ Suffice it to say, no manufacturing or delivery operations are happening from this Airbnb’s basement.
Pre-orders are accepted but delivery isn’t happening until NYC is back to business as usual.
But join our exclusive prelaunch list and you’ll get a special gift code when you pre-order.
If you’re not cut out for the waiting game, give the bare-bones DIY recipe a try.
Throughout all this obsessive (but very necessary) hand washing, I promise your complexion will thank you for it if you transition to a cleansing solution that doesn’t strip your skin barrier. 👇👇👇