Q&A: “Deep Cleaning” & The Tingle Myth

Q: I prefer a cleanser that leaves my face feeling really clean and cooled, but I often feel dry and tight after – what causes this feeling?

A: It’s not uncommon to enjoy the sensation of (what we perceive to be) a thorough clean, this might include tingling or cooling sensations from your product while cleansing or toning, or a taught feeling to the skin.

We are guided by skin care and cosmetic marketing to understand that a “deeper” cleanse is better, although cleansers (indeed, most skin care on the market) will not work past the top layers of the skin. Deep cleanses, to our senses, are reflected in a cool, “fresh” or even burning sensation.

Depending on the ingredient profile of your cleanser, you might find your cooling sensation is caused by the inclusion of peppermint or menthol. Peppermint, as discussed in our post on essential oil toxicity, will cause cell damage with continued use, while menthol has some intriguing properties.

Detailed in the 2013 “Journal of Lifestyle Medicine” article “Cooling the Skin: Understanding a Specific Cutaneous Thermosensation”:

“‘When applied at low concentrations to the skin or mouth, menthol elicits a pleasant cool sensation. The cooling sensation of menthol arises from a molecular site of the cold receptor, TRPM8, as mentioned above. However, menthol can evoke pain (or irritation) through activation and sensitization of C fibers with activation thresholds within the noxious range of temperatures. Therefore, in the case of menthol, both pain (or discomfort) and cold sensation appear closely linked.”

Sensitised skin leads to inflammation and reduced skin barrier function, and can lead to conditions like atopic dermatitis with continued exposure to sensitising ingredients. 

A tight feeling to the skin might be attributed to higher levels of alcohol on the ingredient list, causing cell proliferation and impairing the skin from functioning as normal. 

We should be aware that while we may respond pleasurably in the short term to these products, long-term, our skin won’t forget these daily applications. Look for gentle yet effective cleansers that remove product, excess oil or dead skin buildup and leave skin feeling as it should – neutral.

Have you experienced a tingling sensation from your skin care products? Let us know in the comments!

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