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SKIN CARE AND COSMETICS: CLEANSING

The amount of care your skin requires is dependent on its type. If your skin is oily, such as might be the case if you are an adolescent, it will require different attention from that required for a dry elderly skin. Similarly, if you are fortunate enough to have inherited an olive or pigmented skin, you will require less care than if you possess a fair skin.

The basic daily skin care routine consists of cleansing and conditioning.

All skin types need to be cleansed, for both aesthetic and health reasons. Cleansing removes oily secretions (sebum), sweat, skin debris, dirt, cosmetics, and a certain number of bacteria, and can be carried out most quickly, cheaply and effectively with water and soap. If, however, you have a dry skin, it might be advisable to avoid soap altogether, as it tends to have a drying effect on skin. You will probably find the use of a cleansing cream more suitable.

In addition, dry skin should not be washed as frequently as normal or oily skin. Frequent washing dries the skin by removing normal, oily substances whose purpose it is to keep the skin surface soft and pliable (these oily substances in fact hold a small amount of water within the skin’s layers). This dry skin routine—that is, the avoidance of soap, less frequent washing, and the use of cleansing cream—could also benefit elderly people, those with eczema, or those living in areas of particularly low humidity.

Apart from soap—and indeed, as a less drying alternative to soap—cold cream is one of the best and most popular cleansers. Cold cream is in fact the prototype of all modern cleansing creams. The original cold cream dates back to A.D. 150, when it was thought to be discovered by the great Greek physician, Galen. The original formula consisted of a mixture of olive oil, beeswax, water and rose petals. It was termed ‘cold cream’ because of the cooling effect on the skin when the water evaporated.

Since its discovery, cold cream has undergone numerous formulation changes. Olive oil has been replaced by mineral oils, which do not become rancid, and beeswax has been replaced by more stable synthetic waxes. As a result, we now have a fine, white, glossy cream of firm consistency that spreads easily and cools the skin. The oil and wax provide a cleansing action by liquifying upon contact with the warm skin, and loosening suspended particles of dirt, oily secretions, dead cells, and other material on the skin’s surface. They can then be easily removed with a tissue or cloth or, if left on the skin, act as an emollient and relieve excess dryness.

Cleansing creams, in which a variety of oils, waxes and other ingredients such as alcohol may be included, are only variations of the basic cold cream. They are generally thinner and lighter than cold cream, have less ‘drag’ and feel less oily on the skin. Cleansing lotions and aerosol foams are essentially the same thing in fluid or foam form. Make-up, especially waterproof products such as eye make-up, is best removed with cleansing cream. In most other situations, soap and water are the best combination (except for those with exceptionally dry skin who, as previously mentioned, are better to avoid the use of soap altogether). Some of you may have been mislead by advertisements suggesting that soap alters the skin’s naturally slightly acidic property or ‘pH’, which they suggest dimimshes its protective function. However, within half to one hour, the skin’s pH reverts back to normal. The reason the cosmetic companies are loathe to recommend washing is that they have not yet worked out a way to make a profit out of water.

At this stage we should consider what is meant by ‘a normal skin’. It may be surprising but there is no accepted definition of what may be termed normal skin. Nevertheless we should not ignore the term: it is in our interests to have some idea of what it means Wherever we look the media bombards us with what we should or should not do to attain or retain a ‘normal skin’. The popular assumption that a normal skin is one which is neither oily nor dry is meaningless. Typically, a normal skin is firm, because the supporting connective tissue is dense and solid; it is supple, because its elastic fibres are numerous and in good condition; it is matt, because it secretes minimal sebum; it is fine textured, smooth, without visible pores, and velvety to touch. All this, however, cannot be attained except perhaps in a fortunate and healthy prepubertal child.

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