How do I choose the right cleanser?

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How do I choose the right cleanser for my skin type (oily dehydrated)? Also, even though I wash my face, after going through with toner on a cotton pad, there is still brownish residue which I suppose is dirt being picked up on the cotton pad. Does this mean my cleanser isn’t effective enough?


Hi Elocinoof,

The brown residue you see is most likely an accumulation of dirt, grime, dead skin cells( keratin) which have undergone oxidation, or residual makeup.

It is indeed possible to have both oily acne prone skin as well as dry dehydrated skin at the same time. While the causes of acne are as described in the video above, most of the time when you have both oily and dry skin, the dry skin part is caused by excessive or inappropriate use of skin cleansers and products such as toners. Read my article on gentle and effective skin cleansing here.

Even if you wear just a little concealer, BB cream, CC cream or just tinted sunscreen, it’s important to fully cleanse these off as debris, grime and oil all interact to form the perfect environment for bacteria to grow on one’s face. Acne isn’t just caused by bacteria, but severe skin colonisation by either good or bad bacteria on one’s face can lead to secondary skin infections, like gram-negative folliculitis, impetigo in addition to the acne-causing bacteria, propionibacterium acnes.

On the topic of cleansing, simply using a one-step foaming cleanser to remove makeup and cleanse skin poses an issue for acne prone skin:

  1. Makeup pigments are oil based colours and require an oil solvent to dissolve properly, purely SLS-based foaming cleansers do not do this well and require more product, this results in skin becoming even more dehydrated after cleansing
  2. Using a makeup remover alone to cleanse acne-prone skin is not ideal as it does not effectively emulsify oil that is produced by acne skin types.

Here’s why I don’t recommend using traditional toners. Look down the ingredient list of your toner lotion and here’s likely what you will find in differing concentrations, isopropyl alcohol (used as a preservative and as an astringent, i.e. something that dries out skin and removes oil) in addition to salicylic acid. Some cosmetic or antiageing lines will also add varying amounts of low concentration glycolic acids (alpha hydroxy acids) and lactic acids which claim to exfoliate skin. If you do an experiment and put a piece of natural leather into such a toner, soaking it overnight, you may find the leather wrinkled and shrivelled, most likely discolored as well. That’s certainly not what we want to happen to our skin. Alcohol does successfully dry out skin and reduce oil on surfaces, but not without first damaging the skin by removing its natural protective barrier. Paradoxically, the skin’s sebaceous (oil) glands are also intelligent and may react by producing even more oil when it’s chronically dry (due to application of astringents), a condition known as reactive seborrhea.

In my dermatologist practice, I do not recommend using any skincare containing glycolic, lactic or salicylic acids in general and the cosmeceutical line which I formulate is specifically without these ingredients. While there is evidence that these acids help in skin regeneration and superficial peeling for a refreshed rejuvenated complexion, when one uses it daily as part of skincare, it only causes skin irritation and eczema. This is not just for people with “ sensitive skin”, but also for those with acne prone oily skin who develop sensitisation to these ingredients. The main purpose of these superficial peeling acids would be in the context of a dermatologist’s office-based chemical peel procedure, whereby the peels will be left on skin for a set period of time under medical supervision and then neutralised completely so it does not continue to irritate skin. The dermatologist performing such a peel would also be looking out for complications such as excessive stinging, dryness or redness and treat these complications accordingly.

Bottom line is, skincare should always be gentle and effective, rather than harsh and dehydrating, simply because even acne prone oily skin should not be stripped completely of its natural protective oils. My acne patients use cosmeceutical skincare, with pharmaceutical grade hyaluronic acid concentrate (not available in cosmetic formulations) to hydrate their skin and prevent excessive oil secretion. They also use a medically tested vitamin C serum containing one of the highest concentrations at 4%, in the form of sodium ascorbyl phosphate, in a formula that is still gentle to skin and effective in its anti-oxidant and anti-acne properties.


Dr. Teo Wan Lin


TWL Specialist Skin & Laser Centre

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