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The weird reason milky cleansers work on acne-prone skin

Milky Cleansers Pin It
Photo: Abby Maker for Well+Good

When it comes to clear skin, chances are you’ve heard that you should stay away from milk and milk-based foods (since those can cause acne-inducing inflammation). Milky cleansers on the other hand, are a whole other story. That’s probably because they’re not actually named for their ingredient labels, but rather for their textures, which look a lot like something you’d add to your coffee (please don’t, though).

Ever since I got a facial from New York’s new cult-fave Rescue Spa, I’ve been diligently following founder Danuta Mieloch’s advice to only use milky cleansers to rid my face of the dirt, grime, and makeup from the day. Lo and behold, my acne-prone skin is clearing up right before my eyes.

“The one thing I find that works for many people is a gentle, milky cleanser,” adds Diana Yerkes, lead esthetician at Rescue Spa. She explains that a cleanser is one of the fundamentals of a good skin-care regimen, and while it should rid your skin of all the effects of the day, it shouldn’t strip or dry it out. After using it for a few weeks, I’m a believer.

Keep reading to learn why you should add a creamy cleanser to your skin-care routine ASAP.

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Milky cleansers
Graphic: Abby Maker for Well+Good

The power of cream cleansers

What gives these cleansers the dense, milk-like texture is a mixture of emollient-rich ingredients. “Typically milky cleansers will have a combination of oils and vitamin E together,” says Yerkes. “They’ll have hydrating ingredients like glycerin, jojoba, or squalane, and they won’t have anything that’ll be foamy or bubbly.” In other words, these cleansers clean by virtue of the like-dissolves-like principle, breaking down grime with the oils and emollients in their formulas, rather than with a high level of surfactants.

So, these cleaners don’t just feel better on your skin compared to their foamy and gel-based counterparts—they’re truly nicer to your skin. “Creamy cleansers are respectful of your dermis,” explains Yerkes. With so many ingredients acting as stripping agents, milky cleansers help keep it calm and balanced.

“Creamy cleansers are great at helping keep your skin’s barrier intact.”

Mona Gohara, a Danbury, Connecticut dermatologist agrees: “Creamy cleansers are great at helping keep your skin’s barrier intact,” she says. “This helps guard against inflammation, making them a great choice for acne-prone as well as sensitive skin types.”

Because acne-prone complexions can require many drying ingredients like salicylic acid, creamy cleansers can help keep things on the up-and-up. “Rather than drying skin out, you have to normalize it,” explains Yerkes. “Milky cleansers keep the skin’s pH more balanced.” The result is a clean (yet calm) complexion.

I can vouch for how powerful and gentle these cleansers are—after incorporating a milky face wash into my regular routine, skin is happy and a far cry from being stripped and inflamed.

Witch hazel can also clear up your skin. And for an added glow, try these 10 pore-clearing face masks for a deep clean