Cleansing Without the Chemicals

How to free your customers’ face-washing routines of unnecessary, unnatural ingredients.

Your customers are vigilant about keeping their homes free of chemicals, so why forget their faces? Help them redefine their washing routines and find the natural facial cleanser that’s right for them.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
When first switching to a natural cleanser, your customers may notice differences from their typical washes, specifically how the natural cleanser is less foamy. This is due to other cleansers using chemical surfactants (SURface-ACTive ageNTS) as detergents, emulsifiers and foaming agents (1). A surfactant cleans by lowering the surface tension of water, spreading across the surface and attracting dirt and oil to itself (1). Imagine washing dishes in a sink full of water and soap; the bubbles spread to the sides and take with them the debris floating to the surface. The same happens with face washing, though the kind of surfactant used can make the difference between a sink- or face-full of bubbles and getting right down to clearing out the dirt and grime. To achieve the desired foaming and cleansing formula, manufacturers often rely on chemical ingredients, like petroleum or synthetic oil, but natural alternatives can be found in branded natural cleansers, namely plant-derived oils like coconut and cottonseed. Customers may miss a lathery wash experience, but remind them that cutting out the chemicals should outweigh appearances.

Natural cleansers clean as well as mainstream products, without unnecessary ingredients. Besides chemical surfactants, natural cleansers leave out preservatives and “plasticizers” typically found in cosmetics (2). Parabens (also known as methylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben in cosmetics) are the most widely used preservatives found not only in makeup, hair care products, shaving cream and moisturizers, but also in food and drugs (2).

Phthalates are industrial chemicals called “plasticizers” that make plastic more flexible and resilient and are unfortunately found in everything from toys to household products to hygiene products (3). According to the 2005 National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), some phthalates have caused reduced sperm counts, testicular atrophy and structural abnormalities in the reproductive systems of male test animals, and phthalates have been linked to liver cancer and disruption of the endocrine system; however, the CDC stated that the health effects in humans have not been definitely established. Yet in 2008, Congress passed legislation banning six types of phthalates from cosmetics and toys (3).

The Very Good!
With so much to avoid when your customers are looking for a new cleanser, what should they be looking for? Many branded products include oils in their cleansers for moisturizing, including almond, grapefruit and orange, as well as clary sage (Salvia sclarea) for the aromatic and astringent properties of the plant (4). Sage, rosemary and juniper extracts are also found in many natural cleansers for their similar properties. Tea tree oil is in some branded products as it is beneficial for fighting acne and can be used as a less-irritating substitute for benzoyl peroxide (5). Customers may be nervous about washing with oils, but they are actually a great addition to keeping skin healthy and clean.

Teas are also a popular addition to facial cleansers. An addition of green tea has shown to help protect against UV light and damage, meaning it can also help against aging and skin cancer caused by prolonged sunlight, as well as helping with overall skincare due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties (6). Rooibos tea has also been compared to green tea as a natural skincare aid due to its antimicrobial and soothing properties, and it is used topically to aid in skin problems such as rashes and acne (7).

Digging in Deeper
If your customers have been using natural cleansers for a while, but want to try something new, advise them to try out a cleansing scrub. Scrubs often contain many of the same ingredients as cleansers, but include a special, exfoliating element that helps clean a little deeper while gently rubbing away dry and dead skin. Willow bark extract, or salicylic acid, can also be found in scrubs, which is why some customers might feel a cold, but not uncomfortable, tingling when paired with the gritty texture of the scrub to aid in wearing away rough skin.

The active ingredient in a cleansing scrub can be made from many different natural ingredients. Some of the most popular are:
•  Oatmeal.
•  Brown or course ground sugar.
•  Walnut, almond and pecan shells.
•  Corn meal.
•  Fruit pits, especially apricot and peach stone.
•  Silica (sand).
Alert your customers to the possibility of rash or allergic reaction if they have known allergies to the above ingredients, like the inclusion of nuts and their shells. WF

1. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, “Surface Active Agents,”, accessed Nov. 1, 2012.
2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Parabens,”, accessed Nov. 1, 2012.
3. Environmental Working Group, “Phthalates,”, accessed Nov. 1, 2012.
4. “Salvia sclarea – L.,” Plants For a Future,, accessed Nov. 1, 2012.
5. “Tea Tree Oil,” Medline Plus,, accessed Nov. 1, 2012.
6. “Cosmetics that Protect and Enhance the Health of the Skin,” LifeExtention Magazine, Oct. 2004,, accessed Nov. 1, 2012.
7. J. Tiedtke and O. Marks, “Roobios- The New ‘White Tea’ for Hair and Skin Care,”, accessed Nov. 1, 2012.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, December 2012