Can skin cleansers deliver active ingredients? Episode 25

Can skin cleansers really deliver vitamins and other anti-aging ingredients or is that all hype? We explain it all. Plus: In Beauty Science News we cover the case of the Fashion Billionaire and the Fountain of Youth.  Wow! 

Show notes

Beauty Science News: The Case of the Fashion Billionaire and the Fountain of Youth

70 year old Fashion Designer Peter Nygard says stem cell treatments are making him younger.

Question of the week: Can skin cleansers deliver active ingredients?

Cindy asks: Can facial cleansers deliver active ingredients like AHAs and vitamin C?

Let’s start by looking at what methods can be used to deposit ingredients from a rinse off product.

Coacervation and dilution deposition

The ingredient has limited solubility in water- as the product as diluted during rinsing the product “falls out” of solution and stays on the skin.


Involves the use of a shell or vesicle which serves 3 purposes:

1. Suspends the active in the delivery medium
2. Shields the active from interaction with other ingredients
3. Deposits the active on substrate in such a way that it remains after rinsing.

A thorough discussion of all the different types of encapsulation is beyond the scope of this show but in rinse off systems phospholipids, polymers, and even silicones can be used as encapsulates.

Can you tell if a product will deposit actives by reading the ingredients?
Unfortunately, either of these methods are tough to spot just from ingredients. That’s because the ingredients which are responsible for deposition are typically multifunctional and can serve other purposes in the formula.

For example, the same surfactants used in coacervation are used to clean and provide lather. The same polymers that can encapsulate actives are used to thicken. In addition not every delivery system works for every ingredient. Phospholipid encapsulates can’t deliver water loving materials like Vitamin C. The best you can do is look for a reputable brand which gives some indication of how it works.

Here are some ingredients that are proven to be deliverable from skin cleansers.

According to this paper it is possible to deliver sal acid to skin from cleansers with acrylate polymers. We also found another study published by company shows increased deposition/adhesion of sal acid when encapsulated which makes sense. And we’ve also seen similar evidence for other acne drugs like 5% Benzoyl Peroxide In a cleanser and 2% resorcinol.

We know that fluoride can be delivered from a cleanser, namely toothpaste. This is thought to work because Fl more easily sticks to the enamel that has been attacked by acid producing bacteria. So it’s a type of charge deposition.

You’ll see a lot of anti aging actives in cleansers, like vitamins, like C, E, and niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, However, there’s little evidence that these will deposit. One exception that we’ve seen with data to back it up is vitamin C which can be delivered from a silicone vesicles that’s based on PEG-12 Dimethicone.

Dandruff shampoo are over the counter drugs which are proven to work so we know that actives like Coal tar, ketaconazole, sal acid, selenium sulfide, zinc pyrithione will deposit from a rinse off system. Keep in mind that the conditions required to deposit on hair are not necessarily the same as those for depositing on skin.

There are antibacterial wash products but those don’t necessarily have to remain behind after rinsing because they can kill bacteria on contact. On the other hand, antimicrobials like benzalkonium chloride could deposit by charge.

Moisturizing oils
Oils are relatively easy to deposit on skin by using surfactants bilayers, polymers, nonionic capsules and so forth. For example, P&G has patented technology to deliver petrolatum from a body wash and we’ve seen studies showing that plant oils such as jojoba, sunflower, and soybean can be delivered as well.

UV absorbers
Finally, believe it or not, you can even deliver UV absorbers from a facial cleanser or body wash. Aquea Scientific has a patent on this technology and it can be found in the Freeze 24/7 line. It really works but has limitations. It works by encapsulating the sunscreen and incorporating a cationic polymer to create some charge deposition.

So know you know HOW actives are delivered from cleansers and you have an idea of which actives really work, let’s talk about why you’d want to get your actives from a cleanser rather than a leave on product like a cream or lotion because there are advantages and disadvantages to this approach.

Advantages of using a cleanser to deliver actives
If you really can deliver actives from a cleanser there are several advantages.

  • Improve convenience. For example, you can eliminate a step by applying sunscreen while you wash your face.
  • Enhance functionality, you can boost the benefit by combining with a cleansing step for example, if you’re scrubbing your face to exfoliate it, you can exfoliate even better by including an AHA in the cleanser.
  • Eliminate a negative. For example, you can deliver dandruff actives from a conditioner but some people, especially guys, think that conditioners may leave junk on their scalp that makes the problem even worse. Delivering the actives from a shampoo solves that problem.

Disadvantages of using a cleanser to deliver actives
However, things aren’t always that simple and there are some serious issues with this approach.

  • Reduces performance. Anytime you’re striving for 2 in1 approach you’re going to compromise efficacy.
  • Makes it harder for you to pick products that really work. It’s hard to spot a cleanser that will really deliver what it says. You have to really scrutinize a cleanser that will deliver SPF it’s kind of a no brainier with a leave on product.
  • Increases product cost to more expensive products: If you want to deliver 2% acid from a cream you put in 2% if you want to deliver 2% from a cleanser you may have to put in 5% AND/OR you may have to have expensive delivery system like encapsulation. And you STILL won’t deliver an optimum dose. So why pay more for a product that does less?

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Cleansers can deliver active ingredients but there will certainly be a trade off in performance. You have to ask yourself WHY you would choose delivery from a cleanser rather than a leave on product to make the best choice.

LIL buy it now button

Buy your copy of It’s OK to Have Lead in Your Lipstick to learn more about:

  • Clever lies that the beauty companies tell you.
  • The straight scoop of which beauty myths are true and which are just urban legends.
  • Which ingredients are really scary and which ones are just scaremongering by the media to incite an irrational fear of chemicals.
  • How to tell the difference between the products that are really green and the ones that are just trying to get more of your hard earned money by labeling them “natural” or “organic.

Click here for all the The Beauty Brains podcasts.