The One Skincare Product That Can Make or Break Your Skin

Dry, dehydrated skin? Your face cleanser could be the cause. Holistic make-up artist and nutritional therapist Sjaniël Turrell shares her tips for finding the perfect cleanser and some of her favourite brands.

One of the most regular skin issues I’ve come across when people come to me for make-up or product overhauls is dehydrated or dry surface skin – even for those who identify their skin as combination and oily or even acne prone; flaky bits of dry skin in certain areas, especially around the nose and cheeks or around blemishes – seems to be commonplace. Firstly, covering up flaky, dry skin successfully with natural make-up is very difficult – mostly because natural products avoid silicone which is the plastic-like layer that would even out those bits (but effectively still leave them dry). The only way to be rid of dry and rough skin is through the right skincare (and nutrition of course – drink enough of that properly purified tap water and get in those healthy omega oils!).

The most obvious answer to this problem may seem to be that you need to find the ultimate moisturiser to combat dryness – it certainly seems to be what everyone comes looking for – but what if I told you that your moisturiser is not the product that dictates how dry or replenished your skin looks and feels?

You may be unknowingly dehydrating your skin daily by using the wrong cleanser! The cleanser you use will 100% make or break the moisture levels in your skin and if you’re using something that is too harsh and stripping, well then you will certainly have issues with surface dryness or dehydration.

Many of us, especially in our teens, have been told to use foaming cleansers that “really clean” off dirt and pollution or combat sebum production when we suffer from hormonal breakouts or acne. Even gentler versions of cleanser that is marketed to sensitive skin is commonly made to be foaming and thus quite harsh and stripping.

The main ingredient in any skincare product – think cleansers, shampoo, toothpaste, bubble bath, bodywash etc (or household product) that creates a foam or bubbles – is called Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) plus a few other stealth names. This ingredient is commonly used as both a degreaser and foaming agent in beauty products because it is cheap and works well to create the desired effect. You will often find it high up in your ingredients list which also means most of your product is made up of this ingredient. The problem is that SLS is an extremely harsh chemical ingredient – it is an industrial strength degreaser and strips waxes and oils from anything from floors to dirty dishes and can be highly irritating for any skin but especially sensitive and reactive skin types. Now I don’t know about you, but I think our skin deserves better treatment than that!

Your skin has a delicate balance of moisture, sebum and essential bacteria that makes it your internal organs’ protective layer from the outside world – continuously upsetting and stripping off those protective layers day in and out will over time cause havoc with even the best skin types. If you suddenly find your skin feeling sore or itchy from products you were always fine with before, even without a visible rash, you can be sure you’ve damaged your skin’s protective barrier and have to strip your product use right down to the bare minimum. 

How to find the right cleanser 


  • Start by avoiding any products that contain SLS or SLES or similar, the easiest way to do that is to stay away from foaming cleansers. Some organic skincare products do have a little foaming action which, when done right, will be made from plant-based ingredients, most commonly coconut or palm but also other vegetables or fruits.
  • A good rule of thumb to know if your cleanser is too drying or harsh on your skin is whether your skin feels taught after washing and drying. If you have that tight feeling on your skin after cleansing, then it is too drying!
  • Choose a cleanser that is fragrance free as there could be a myriad of ingredients hidden in that one word that is upsetting your skin’s equilibrium.
  • Use an organic oil or balm cleanser with a damp reusable cotton pad or muslin cloth for removing heavy makeup before washing your face with cleanser. Rubbing even a gentle cleanser repeatedly over the eye area is going to damage that delicate skin over time.
  • Use a gentle cream cleanser that emulsifies a little with water and washes off easily. Using a clean muslin or face cloth to wash off and cleanse your face will have the dual action of a light exfoliation and removing any left-over residue on the skin without stripping off essential protective layers. 
  • Not all natural alternatives are better – even some natural surfacants (foaming agents) can increase the pH of the formula, leaving skin dehydrated. My selection below keeps this in mind. 

Best Gentle Cleansers


Without trying to sound biased, this is by far one of the best cleansers on the natural beauty market. I have been using this cleanser on and off now for 5 years and every time I try something new, I always find myself going back. It is hydrating, healing, gentle and gives your skin a glow like never before as it is packed with all the best botanical extracts on offer like Mallow Flower and Butterfly Bush leaf extract. It’s moisture replenishing action lies in the high grade, olive oil-derived Squalane as its star ingredient. Expertly formulated with sensitive and unhappy skin in mind whilst working well for all skin types, but if you really suffer from dry or irritated skin, this is the cleanser for you. 

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MV is another favourite for those with sensitive and reactive skin issues – it is extremely gentle and leaves your skin feeling hydrated once cleansed, with essential oils of Rose, Chamomile and Mandarin having as much of a soothing effect on the senses. Especially formulated for those who suffer from rosacea and other reactive skin issues, you can’t go wrong if you need to give your skin a reboot from harsh treatment – once you see the results it will become a staple. 

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Skin health research is making it clear that the skin’s microbiome plays a very large role in your skin’s overall condition. ESSE is a brand that focuses on keeping that microbiome well balanced and healthy at every step. Those with more sensitive or reactive skin types need to be even more focused on good pH and healthy bacteria levels and this cleanser does it all. A gentle formula that’s made with Aloe Vera leaf extract to sooth and Marula and Jojoba oils to break down dirt and retain moisture along with added lactobacillus ferment to keep the skin microbiome in optimal shape. 

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This gentle cleanser by French house ABSOLUTION is perfect for removing excess makeup and impurities whilst still hydrating and healing the skin. It contains soothing Aloe Vera, the anti-inflammatory and healing herb St. John’s Wort and Pracaxi oil to strengthen and protect the skin cells whilst also holding moisture. Perfect for sensitive skin but also balancing for those with unhappy skin moments. 

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This gentle cream cleanser is part of the PLANT STEM CELL range and packed full of protective and hydrating ingredients. The antioxidant rich Summer Lilac Plant stem cells not only protect against pollution and oxidative stress, it helps with cell renewal and has anti-aging properties. Add to that the specialised Green and Brown Algae extract that gives ultra-hydration and protects the skin’s natural barrier. This is a great product to bring your skin back to it’s best state whilst also protecting it for the future. 

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This cleanser is a powerhouse of healing herbs and oils that not only deeply cleanse and moisturise but works like a vitamin complex for the skin. Ingredients like Ashwaganda, Rasberry Leaf, Milk Thistle, Ginkgo and Black Cohosh would often be seen in the best anti-inflammatory and hormone balancing supplements but here their properties are harnessed to calm and refresh your skin as you cleanse. A reminder that your skin should be treated as an organ just as you do your internal organs. A must have for stressed out, dry and skin in need of TLC.

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Dr Alkaitis is known for its very therapeutic blends of herbs and oils in order to address any skin issues and upsets. If you suffer from regular breakouts or acne, this is the ideal gentle cleanser to use. The gel formula gently removes impurities whilst still maintaining and restoring the skin’s pH balance – essential for healthy skin. It contains the Dr Alkaitis Herbal Skin Repair Complex which is a special selection of organically grown and wild-crafted medicinal herbs that work hard to bring your stressed-out skin to its optimal health. Most importantly it does not contain any alcohol (an ingredient so often found in cleansers for acne-prone skin) and it does not strip the skin from essential moisture. 

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If you prefer the texture of a gel but still want to avoid any tightness on your skin, then this is a wonderful gentle and hydrating option. It is a sensory smell experience of beautifully blended plant enzymes, extracts and botanicals with the stars being Amythest, Jasmine, Peony, Aloe, Rice and Pomegranate. It effectively cleanses the skin whilst also hydrating, balancing, regenerating and adding glow. 

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This is a very gentle cleanser that is both lightweight and oil free and thus works well for both sensitive and oily skin types. Aloe Leaf has a soothing effect whilst the African Moringa peptides help to both remove impurities and protect the skin’s natural layer against pollution. Prickly Pear extract has a hydrating and healing effect which makes it a great option to reset and rehydrate thirsty and stressed skin.

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This gentle gel cleanser is perfect for those who have a little more combination type skin or skin that feels grimy by the end of the day (even sensitive skin can feel oily at times). It gently removes impurities without drying out the skin’s surface and you’re left with squeaky clean skin that does not feel tight after washing. It contains calming roman chamomile and oat for stressed out skin and the white willow is the perfect for healing blemishes with its anti-bacterial and regenerating properties. 

Best Oil and Balm Cleansers

This is a list of my favourite cleansing balms and oils. These are perfect for dissolving any waterproof or eye-makeup before doing a wash-off cleanse. All of these can of course be used on their own with a damp reusable cotton pad or with warm water and a muslin. When doing a double cleanse, these will keep your skin supple and soft and not dry them out like harsh makeup remover wipes or alcohol-based makeup removers. 


A lightweight oil full of organically grown and CO2 extracted Rosehip oil making it healing and protective for glowing skin.

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Highly luxurious in feel and texture, this fine oil cleanser is full of nourishing and softening oils and plant extracts.

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A powerful blend of the most nourishing and healing oils packed with anti-oxidants and nutrients for stressed, dry and super sensitive skin. An ideal choice for removing your makeup in the gentlest possible way.

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This oil cleanser is a combination of anti-bacterial and nourishing plant oils so it keeps skin healthy whilst also removing all your best attempts at glam eyelashes and lips.

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Therapeutic aromatherapy and gentle cleansing combined with De Mamiel’s expert blend of calming and restorative blend of essential oils that put not only your skin but your head in the right space. Wonderfully effective and nourishing.

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Super effective, yet super simple and clean. You can trust the purest ingredients in this balm to gently melt away makeup whilst gently drawing out impurities without dehydrating or irritating your skin.

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This simple yet effective cleansing balm will melt away dirt and makeup whilst keeping the skin moisturised and protected with the addition of nourishing Baobab oil.

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A great balm cleanser for oilier skin types as it contains lightweight thistle oil and the refreshing clean, calm feel of Spearmint herb oil and Eucalyptus leaf – it is also free from coconut oil for those who react to coconut struggle to find a balm that’s coconut free.

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For more natural skincare, see Sjaniël’s top 5 facial serums for the changing season.

Pamper yourself with our guide to giving yourself a facial at home…the sustainable way.

See our DIY beauty recipes for face and skin.