The chemistry of soap
The first records of soap production appeared in Babylon, dating from around 2800 BC. . It all started with a chemical reaction, saponification, which takes place between fatty acids, derived from animal and vegetable fats, and a strong base, such as caustic soda or potash. Therefore, a soap molecule is formed, and its detergent action allows to envelop the dirt and then remove it using water. However this solution has two problems: In addition to having a very strong detergent action, which damages the skin barrier, soap generates a solution with an alkaline pH, which can cause skin irritation therefore harming its protective microbiome.
The syndet development
With all these problems in mind, the first synthetic detergents, also known as syndets, appeared at the beginning of the 20th century . When compared to soaps, these molecules have a milder detergent action and allow to respect skin's surface pH. The production of surfactants has been evolving over the years, and new molecules which are increasingly gentle on the skin and sustainable for the environment have emerged. Nowadays it is possible to develop cleansing products for all skin types, respecting even the most sensitive skins. However, syndets are not effective enough to separate and eliminate dead cells accumulated on the epidermis, then stimulating the natural desquamation and renewal process. Therefore, and despite advances in technology, this cleansing component could still be compromised.
In healthy skin, the epidermal desquamation occurs over about 28 days. This process is only possible thanks to the action of special skin enzymes. But it can take longer as we age, and whenever the skin is dry . Knowing this, and with the aim of recreating the natural process of skin renewal, cosmetic scientists have turned to plant enzymes, such as bromelain and papain, often found in fruits. In fact, these enzymes were already used in antiquity for wound debridement. When used in cleansing products, especially those for facial care, the concentrations of these enzymes are carefully adjusted to the skin needs, hence respecting its physiological balance .
For all these reasons, enzymatic cleansing allows to restore the epidermal thickness, thus improving the penetration and effectiveness of the skincare products.
Skin cleansing - the new approach
Skin cleansing is the first step towards a balanced skincare routine. In addition to preventing the development of harmful microorganisms, this gesture allows to eliminate pollutants, dust, accumulated dirt and dead cells. However, not all hygiene products are good for cleansing the skin. Especially the face! Some products clean too much, others do it poorly, and there are others that don’t do much for the natural process of skin desquamation, despite providing an adequate surface cleansing. In this article, we will unveil the magnificent history of skin cleansing, which has allowed us to get closer and closer to the perfect formula over a few thousand years.
It all started with oils
In ancient Greece and Egypt, vegetable and essential oils were used to cleanse and perfume the skin . This way, the Greeks and Egyptians were able to disguise unpleasant odors, while the surface impurities were dissolved, dragged and eliminated with oils. However, this solution was not very effective, since, in addition to leaving oily residues, it hardly removed all the dirt from the surface of the skin.