Derm Topics

Patient Buzz: Situational Cleansing

HuffPost recently shared an article on situational cleansing, a skin care technique where the choice of what cleanser to use is based on the skin’s needs at that time. For example, the decision on whether to use a cream-based or gel-based cleanser would be dependent on whether the skin is dry or experiencing an acne breakout. Some beauty brands have developed product lines based on the technique.

Is situational cleansing wise advice or just a skin care fad?

For an expert opinion, I consulted dermatologist, researcher and author Leslie Baumann, MD, FAAD. Dr. Baumann, who practices in Miami, and is also CEO of Skin Type Solutions, Inc.

Is situational cleansing really a thing? This seems to depend upon whether the skin is dry or oily. There are two issues here. The main reason to change cleansers would be status of the skin barrier and sebum production rates that affect skin hydration. The production of sebum is pretty constant from person to person if they are in the same environment and does not change daily, so there is no reason to adjust the cleanser every day. If the patient flies on an airplane one day and another day is in a humid environment, then the skin hydration will vary. The skin type does change seasonally if they live in a place that gets hot in summer and cold in winter. (In Miami we don’t really have seasons). Hormone changes and stress can also change the skin type (hydration).

My advice is this: If the patient has a lifestyle routine that does not vary, stays in the same geographic location and the weather is stable, they do not need to change cleansers because the Baumann Skin Type is stable. If they travel to places with very different climates or they alternate between extremely stressful times and then relaxing times, then they will alternate between two Baumann Skin Types (an oily one and the corresponding dry one). My advice is to diagnose the Baumann Skin Type and then have them retake the quiz when they believe the skin type has changed. I often give my patients who have houses in Aspen a different regimen then the one they use in Miami. If dermatologists want to diagnose the Baumann Skin Type in their offices, they can learn how at

 The second issue is that people incorrectly guess if their skin is dry or oily. It is better to follow a dermatologist’s advice then for patients to try and self-diagnose on a daily basis.

What are some potential benefits of situational cleansing? 

I do not see any benefit. However, I do see an advantage to changing the cleanser seasonally if the skin type alternates between a dry and oily skin type.

What are some potential pitfalls of situational cleansing? 

A waste of time and money. Also, patients will most likely misdiagnose their skin type and use the wrong cleanser anyway.

How should dermatologists counsel their patients who ask about situational cleansing? 

Dermatologists should tell patients that situational cleansing is just a marketing attempt to sell them more cleansers.

Did you enjoy this Patient Buzz expert commentary? You can find more here.