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Keywords:

  • amphoteric surfactants;
  • anionic surfactants;
  • dry skin;
  • non-ionic surfactants;
  • skin barrier damage;
  • stratum corneum;
  • syndet, surfactants, after-wash tightness

ABSTRACT:  Cleanser technology has come a long way from merely cleansing to providing mildness and moisturizing benefits as well. It is known that harsh surfactants in cleansers can cause damage to skin proteins and lipids, leading to after-wash tightness, dryness, barrier damage, irritation, and even itch. In order for cleansers to provide skin-care benefits, they first must minimize surfactant damage to skin proteins and lipids. Secondly, they must deposit and deliver beneficial agents such as occlusives, skin lipids, and humectants under wash conditions to improve skin hydration, as well as mechanical and visual properties. While all surfactants tend to interact to some degree with lipids, their interaction with proteins can vary significantly, depending upon the nature of their functional head group. In vitro, ex vivo, and in vivo studies have shown that surfactants that cause significant skin irritation interact strongly with skin proteins. Based on this understanding, several surfactants and surfactant mixtures have been identified as “less irritating” mild surfactants because of their diminished interactions with skin proteins. Surfactants that interact minimally with both skin lipids and proteins are especially mild. Another factor that can aggravate surfactant-induced dryness and irritation is the pH of the cleanser. The present authors’ recent studies demonstrate that high pH (pH 10) solutions, even in the absence of surfactants, can increase stratum corneum (SC) swelling and alter lipid rigidity, thereby suggesting that cleansers with neutral or acidic pH, close to SC-normal pH 5.5, may be potentially less damaging to the skin. Mildness enhancers and moisturizing agents such as lipids, occlusives, and humectants minimize damaging interactions between surfactants, and skin proteins and lipids, and thereby, reduce skin damage. In addition, these agents play an ameliorative role, replenishing the skin lipids lost during the wash period. The present review discusses the benefits of such agents and their respective roles in improving the overall health of the skin barrier.