5 Ingredients to Look for When Choosing an Organic Cleanser

Natasha Burton
woman washing face


The organic movement has encouraged many of us to be more discerning about what we put into our bodies. And it’s also changing what we put on our bodies as far as our beauty products go—plenty of people are swapping out their go-to scrubs, body lotions, and what have you for organic concoctions with fewer chemicals. (And plenty are even going the DIY route, thanks to Pinterest.)

But when it comes to your face, it’s worth doing a little homework to make sure that whatever you’re cleansing with will keep your skin looking as fabulous as possible (and works for your skin type, too). Just like not all traditional cleansers are created equal, neither are organic ones. So, be sure to read the labels on those natural face washes and look for these five expert-endorsed ingredients.

1. Soapwart (aka Saponaria officinalis)

If you have sensitive skin look for a cleanser that contains soapwart, suggests beauty expert Araya Elise Green, founder of all-natural skincare line Surface Skincare. “Soapwart helps to calm psoriasis, eczema and acne,” she explains. “It also naturally lathers up on contact with water, making it a great substitute for Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, which dries your skin.”

Try: Surface’s Neroli & Lavender Cleanser, which also contains herbal extracts.

MORE: Organic Hair Care Ingredients: What to Look Out For

2. Natural Oils

Green advises looking for cleansers with various natural oils if you have oily or acne prone skin. They help keep your face nice and moisturized, whereas “harsh cleansers can strip the skin of its natural oils, sending it into overdrive which results in even more sebum production,” she explains.

Dermatologist Debra Jaliman M.D., says grapefruit, lemon, sage leaf oils (sometimes referred to as extracts) are particularly great for oily skin.

Organic beauty guru Julia Teren, formulator for Thesis, also suggests using oil when you’re looking for a cleanser that can remove makeup. “Most makeup contains some kind of oils, natural or synthetic, which makes it easy for cleansing oils to dissolve layers of foundation, mascara and so on,” she says. “Oils effortlessly lift loose makeup leaving behind supple and clean skin. The best way to reap all the benefits of cleansing with oils is to make sure the product is practically 100% made from oils.”

Try: Ursa Major Fantastic Face Wash (contains pink grapefruit peel oil, lime oil, cedar wood oil and other natural oils).

3. Tea Tree (aka Melaleuca Alternifolia)

Tea tree appears in a number of cleansers as an extract but it’s a little different from other oils because of its antiseptic, bacterica-killing properties, Green says.

Acupuncturist and herbalist Aimee Raupp, founder of Aimee Raupp Beauty, suggests finding a cleanser with a moisturizing oil (like coconut, sesame or argan) and tea tree for maximum benefits. “Using such ingredients is the best way to effectively and gently cleanse the skin without drying it and stripping it of its inherent oils,” she says.

She also warns to definitely avoid any cleansers (organic or otherwise) that have alcohol as they can be extremely drying to the skin and will cause an overproduction of oil and thereby increase odds of breakouts.

Try: The Body Shop Tea Tree Clearing Facial Wash

MORE: Organic Makeup: What You Need to Know

4. Dectyl Glucoside

This highly effective, yet gentle, non-toxic cleansing agent works even on sensitive skin types, according to Christine Chang, co-founder of Glow Recipe, a destination for the latest natural Korean beauty products.

“Surfactants are necessary to ‘degrease’ the skin and cut through oils, grime and residue from pollution,” she explains, adding that sodium Lauryl Sulfate is one of the more irritating surfactants and dectyl glucoside provides a safer alternative.

However, she also says that decyl glucoside has a high pH, so you want to look for a cleanser that also contains acidic ingredients to lower and balance  the formula.

Try: Yes to Cucumbers Gentle Milk Cleanser

5. Clay

Teren says that cleansers containing clays like French Green, Kaolin, and Rhassoul are known for cleansing skin without stripping away oils. “The cleansing action occurs by gently binding makeup, dirt, and excess sebum leaving the skin completely clean yet healthy and not dry,” she says. These formulas are great for sensitive skin because they aren’t harsh.

Try: Thesis Natural Face Cleanser