My cleanser doesn’t foam, does it still work?

My cleanser doesn't foam, does it still work?

All detergents are surfactants, but not all surfactants are detergents. Surfactants work like soap, but are also not a true soap – both are cleansing agents. Confused yet? Some common surfactants you may have heard of are SLS, SLES and cocamidopropyl betaine. [1]

Water alone does not mix with the oily sebum of our skin as it is hydrophobic. Surfactants help water mix with oil so that oil-based impurities can be rinsed off. Like soap that removes grease, surfactants remove excess sebum from the skin. [2]

Any time you see some lather in your skin care, you can be sure a surfactant is hard at work. Let us not forget about the cleansers that do not foam like milk, cream, oil and balm cleansers. Just because they do not foam does not mean they are ineffective.

Foaming is a property of surfactants, it’s just what they do. It does not mean if your cleanser is not foaming it will not be effective. Milk, oil and balm cleansers do not foam, but instead work by breaking down excess sebum and oil based impurities These products are formulated with oils and emollients which help to dissolve other oils and provide a much gentler cleansing experience. [3] These cleansers are meant to be wiped off and leave the skin feeling fresh and soft

Personally, my go to cleanser contains sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate – a surfactant and foam booster [4] and cocamidopropyl betaine. I have heard this product is known to dry out your skin; however, that has not been my experience. If a cleanser is leaving your face feeling tight, then it has removed too much oil from your skin and could lead to dryness and irritation down the road. I really stand by the idea that if it works for you and you see results, keep using it!

By Jamie Stanton, A.Sc – Barber & Co Products @Jamie_the_Chemist





[1,2] Surfactant. (2020, December 22). Retrieved from

[3] Adivi, M., Yakalis, M., & Cirjak, A. (2020, June 11). How to Use Cleansing Milk? 19 Best Milk Cleansers for Face. Retrieved from

[4] Perkins, S. (2018, July 11). Is Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate a Sulfate? Retrieved from nate-hi