Surfactant levels in cleansers
All cleansers have surfactants to differing degrees. Surfactants are a substance that tends to reduce the surface tension of a liquid in which it is dissolved. In other words, it breaks down the oil sort of like those old Dawn commercials where the drop of Dawn sent the oil scattering on the glass pan. The degree of a surfactant in a cleanser doesn’t imply a cleanser is more or less gentle or harsh. Rather, the level of surfactant refers to how strongly it removes the natural oils from the skin.
It is important to use a cleanser with the right level of surfactant for your skin type or else you run the risk of overdrying your skin, which will lead to oil overproduction. A good rule of thumb to figure out if you are using a cleanser with an appropriate level of surfactant is how your skin feels after you use the cleanser. If your skin feels tight, dry, or squeaky clean, then your cleanser has too much surfactant in it, and I would recommend finding one with a lower level.
These are the types of cleansers available from heaviest surfactant levels to least. In general, the more suds a cleanser produces, the heavier the surfactant level:
Foaming Cleanser – Liquid in the bottle but comes out as fluffy foam.
Gel Cleanser – Clear viscous liquid that will turn into suds when agitated.
Light Cream Cleanser – Similar to a gel, only you can’t see through it.
Heavy Cream Cleanser – These cleansers have a lotion consistency and are unlikely to form suds when agitated.