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Is an Anti-Bacterial Face Wash Good for the Skin?

CEO Tinh Phung
Representational Image | Shutterstock ‘Say goodbye to bacteria and hello to healthy skin with xyz anti-bacterial face wash.’ This catchy tagline from countless advertisements makes it seem like bacteria are the enemies of healthy skin,...

Anti-bacterial face wash Representational Image | Shutterstock

‘Say goodbye to bacteria and hello to healthy skin with xyz anti-bacterial face wash.’

This catchy tagline from countless advertisements makes it seem like bacteria are the enemies of healthy skin, and that using anti-bacterial face washes is the solution. However, the truth is more nuanced. Achieving healthy skin is about maintaining the delicate balance of microbes that play a vital role in its radiance.

The Structure of the Skin

In a 2013 study published in the National Library of Medicine, Elizabeth A Grice, a researcher and associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, discovered some fascinating information about the skin. It has an acidic pH and a lower temperature, acting as a barrier against harmful germs and toxins, while also retaining moisture and nutrients. The microorganisms that reside on our skin, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and mites, work together to protect it.

Are Microbes a Nuisance or Partners?

The skin microbiome refers to the community of microorganisms that live on our skin, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and mites. A 2021 study published in BioMed Central (BMC) by researcher Manon Boxberger lists several benefits of the skin microbiome:

  • Skin microbes help in renewing the skin by producing enzymes like protease and lipase that break down lipids on the surface, aiding in the shedding of dead skin cells.
  • They play a crucial role in educating the billions of T cells in our skin, which are part of the immune system. These T cells are like soldiers, trained by the microbes to recognize and fight dangerous pathogens.
  • Some strains of bacteria, like staphylococcus epidermidis, can produce nucleic acids that may shield the skin against skin cancer.

Disrupting the skin microbiome is unwise, as illustrated by the case of Shazia Shakee, a teacher who struggled with acne. She changed her skincare routine, including using an anti-bacterial face wash, to combat her acne. However, this resulted in dry and constantly peeling skin. Switching to a different face wash restored suppleness to her skin, indicating that the anti-bacterial face wash was not suitable for her.

Key Ingredients in Anti-Bacterial Face Washes

According to Dr. Nadir Qazi, a board-certified cosmetic dermatology surgeon, triclosan is the primary ingredient in anti-bacterial and anti-fungal face washes. Additionally, salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide are often included as antiseptic and anti-bacterial agents, respectively. Dr. Samuel Hetz, the medical director of Concept Medical, explains that anti-bacterial ingredients inhibit the growth of bacteria, while antiseptics kill bacteria and prevent further growth.

Side Effects of Anti-Bacterial Face Washes

Dr. Qazi outlines the following side effects of anti-bacterial face washes:

  • Dryness: Both triclosan and common surfactants strip the skin of sebum, the natural protective lipid produced by our bodies.
  • Irritation: Without its natural oils, the skin becomes sensitive and vulnerable to chemical contact and external factors.
  • Contact Dermatitis: Exposure to chemical irritants can cause an allergic rash known as contact dermatitis.
  • Endocrine Disruptions: Prolonged use of triclosan may disrupt the endocrine system, leading to hormone irregularities and thyroid disruptions. A study published in the National Library of Medicine supports this finding.

The Conclusion: Balance

Dr. Hetz states that anti-bacterial face washes effectively reduce acne by unclogging pores and reducing the number of bacteria, as well as swelling and redness. However, if one should avoid overusing them to maintain the delicate balance of the skin's microbiome. The skin prefers a slightly acidic pH of about 5, and any extreme deviation from this can harm the skin's microbiome over time.

Hence, for acne-related issues, one can use anti-bacterial face washes but should do so in moderation. It is essential to ensure that the face wash's pH is not excessively high. The goal is to leverage the benefits of anti-bacterial face washes to reduce acne without compromising the skin's microbiome.

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