Cleansing with Confidence: The Power of Surfactants

Cleansing with Confidence: The Power of Surfactants

by Natalise Kalea Robinson

Throughout the day, your skin accumulates dirt, oil, and grime. It’s important to cleanse and remove these particles at the end of the day to prevent the formation of breakouts, blackheads, and other skin problems. Cleansing helps to unclog pores, which allows your skin (and skin microbiome) to breathe and function optimally. Additionally, gentle cleansing prepares the skin to better absorb other skincare products, such as moisturizers, serums, and treatments, making them more effective. Regular cleansing also helps to improve the overall appearance and texture of the skin, leaving it looking smooth, fresh, and radiant. Cleansing is, therefore, an essential step in your skincare routine, but it can’t be done with just water alone. 

​​Surfactants are a critical ingredient of cleansers, which are also found in shampoos, detergents, and body washes. They are responsible for creating lather, emulsifying oils, and removing dirt and impurities from the skin.

What are surfactants?

Surfactants are a class of compounds that are used as emulsifiers and foaming agents in a wide range of personal care products. The word “surfactant” is a combination of “surface active agent,” which refers to their ability to interact with both oil and water. This property makes surfactants ideal for cleaning and removing impurities from the skin.

How do surfactants work?

Surfactants have a unique chemical structure with both hydrophobic (oil-binding) and hydrophilic (water-binding) areas that allows them to dissolve in both oil and water. The oil-loving end of the surfactant molecule attracts and traps oil-based impurities, while the water-loving end attracts and dissolves in water, making it easy to rinse away the dirt and impurities. 

The skin cell membrane is made of lipids, which have a hydrophobic and hydrophilic composition. So, when you add a surfactant, the hydrophobic tails form a micelle configuration to completely engulf the dirt and oil inside, leaving these emulsion droplets to be easily rinsed away.

Surfactants also work by lowering the surface tension of a substance, allowing it to spread more easily and effectively over the skin's surface. This helps to dissolve and remove dirt, oil, and other impurities from the skin, leaving it feeling clean and refreshed. 

Not all Surfactants are Made Equally

Harsh surfactants, including soaps and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), are known to damage your skin’s lipids and proteins and permanently diminish your lipid barrier. Avoid using harsh surfactants and choose gentle, non-irritating cleansers that are appropriate for your skin type and needs. Parallel’s “Holy Calming Cleanser” includes Decyl Glucoside, which is a mild surfactant that removes dirt and makeup, but also allows your skin to retain moisture and good bacteria. Decyl Glucoside is biodegradable and non-toxic, with a great ability to lather easily and retain skin moisture. It is often used in products for people with sensitive skin, such as baby shampoo and eczema cream.

How often should I cleanse?

Although surfactants are powerful cleansing agents, they aren’t always good for your skin. 

It is recommended to cleanse your skin twice a day – once in the morning and once at night – to remove impurities, makeup, and oil that have accumulated on your skin. However, it’s important not to over cleanse your skin, which can lead to many negative effects on your skin’s health and appearance. Over-cleansing can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to dryness and flakiness, while damaging skin barrier proteins and lipids.

If you’re looking for a cleanser that strikes the perfect balance of functional cleansing and hydration, check out Parallel’s Holy Calming Cleanser. In addition to a gentle surfactant, it includes soothing key ingredients like holy basil (tulsi) and rosemary, which help support hydration and anti-aging. 

Can’t wait to try Parallel’s Holy Calming Cleanser? Sign up for the waitlist for exclusive early access. 

Questions? Ask at

About Parallel

A parallel world lives amongst us: the microbial world. This world impacts not only our lifespan, but also our healthspan.

Our mission is to empower people with real science to make meaningful skincare decisions to improve their healthspan, mental well-being, and self-confidence.

Parallel is a next-generation skin health company providing effective, personalized skincare and testing, powered by genomics, skin microbiome science, and machine learning.

Related Articles

Get Started

Discover your skin microbiome, then receive a monthly supply of your Custom Active Phage Serum. Includes free testing every 6 months + 1:1 clinical guidance..
Discover your skin microbiome in a problem area on your body and learn how to improve balance.
Discover your odor microbiome and learn what makes up your unique scent.