The Great Soap Debate Part II: How to Restore your Skin’s Function

The Great Soap Debate Part II: How to Restore your Skin’s Function

In This Article

Skin Health

In my last article, I reported on the benefits of cleansing your skin using oil rather than soap. To remind you, they are:

  • Moisturization of the deeper layers of the skin, while soaps can dry the skin out.
  • Feeding the good microbes on the skin.
  • Creating a saponification or detergent effect on the skin, without destroying the good microbiology of the skin.
  • Bringing to the surface, or pulling, impurities and toxins out of the pores.

But achieving these important benefits for the tight and tiny pores of the face is uniquely challenging if applied improperly. Folks commonly complain of breaking out, feeling greasy, or having a lackluster complexion when first using oils on the face.

When I first asked dermatologists about the traditional use of oil on the face, I was told that the vegetable oil molecule is too large to penetrate and moisturize the deep layers of the skin.

However, vegetable oil actually goes about moisturizing the skin in a completely different and more effective way than most moisturizers do. Let me explain.

The Secret Way that Oil Works 

  • Feeding friendly microbes: As I discussed in “The Great Soap Debate: Part I,” beneficial bacteria living on the surface of the skin are fed by the skin’s natural oil – called sebum. High quality vegetable oils will feed these friendly microbes in the same way, and in exchange the bugs will clean the skin. The oils feed the healthy microbes on the skin, who manufacture the skin’s own moisturizing factors. (3) So actually, even if the oil does not penetrate deeply enough into the pores to moisturize the skin with the same mechanics as a moisturizer would, it is still moisturizing the skin in this surprising, indirect way!
  • A carrier for skin-supportive herbs: In Ayurveda, oils for the skin are cured and cooked with special herbs that moisturize and soothe the skin. The oil acts as a carrier for the herbs, driving the moisture deeper into the pores.
  • Skin detox: When used on the face, oils can act as natural “pulling” agents, accelerating the detoxification of the skin. (1, 2)
  • Swishing or gargling in the mouth with oil – traditionally called “oil pulling” – has been shown to have a saponification (detergent or cleansing) effect on the oral mucosa, proving that oil combined with water creates cleansing suds! (8)

Squalane – Customized Oil Therapy for the Skin

If that isn’t enough, here’s the real game-changer: even though traditional vegetable oil molecules may be too large to enter the pores and moisturize deeply, there is a natural derivative in vegetable oils that offers superb moisturizing results. It’s called squalane, and it’s a compound that is only found in three places in any significant quantity: shark cartilage, olives, and the skin’s natural sebum. What could be better than to replicate the skin’s natural moisturizers?

*Note: In the next installment of this series, I’ll talk more about squalane, and give you an inside peek into our skin care formulation process.

Before You Moisturize: Prep & Soothe the Skin

Applying herbalized oil to the skin of your face has some yummy benefits, as we have seen. But to ensure a truly healthy appearance of the skin, we must augment oil cleansing with regular, deeper detox and exfoliation of the skin.

There is a kind and gentle way to accomplish this with an age-old Ayurvedic recipe I learned almost 30 years ago in India. Here are the key ingredients to this miraculous skin-detoxing mask, which I recommend enjoying 1-2 times per week

  • Raw honey can be used as a natural moisturizer to soften and open pores for cleansing. Much like herbalized oils, honey naturally cleanses the skin and feeds the good bugs.
  • When the honey is mixed with skin-supportive herbs it acts as a carrier, which delivers them deeper into the pores. Turmeric, Triphala, Amalaki and neem are the herbs traditionally used. Turmeric is a natural cleanser and toner. Triphala – a formula of three unique fruits – tones, scrubs and exfoliates the skin. Amalaki – otherwise known as Indian Gooseberry – supports a healthy complexion. Neem – which is called the “Queen of the Skin” – is known to deliver unmatched support for the beauty of the skin.
  • There are two more important ingredients to finish this recipe: chickpea flour and clay. Both pull toxins from the pores that can negatively impact the skin. Chickpea flour exfoliates the surface layers of the skin and acts as a pulling agent, pulling impurities to the surface of the skin and out of the pores. The clay is carried by the raw honey along with the herbs into the pores, where it scrubs and attaches to impurities that may be congesting the skin. Note: the honey counteracts any of the drying properties of the clay.

The blend of all these ingredients helps to restore the appearance of healthy skin while pulling out congestive impurities. For years, I only used this recipe during our Ayurvedic facials. It worked so well that in 1998 we built our entire skincare line around this formula, which remains a staple of my skincare line, in the form of the Blooming Lotus Mud Mask.

Up Next in Part III: When oil is improperly applied to the face, it can cause problems for certain skin types. The goal of Ayurvedic skin care is to restore the skin to its former glory and radiance. Tune in to my next article as I delve further into the Ayurvedic approach to caring for facial skin with special herbalized oils. 

The Great Soap Debate Part I: Is Your Soap Killing Essential Microbes?
The Great Soap Debate Part III: The Wisdom of Oils on your Face


  1. Sharma HM, Midich SI, Sands D, Smith DE: Improvement in cardiovascular risk factors through Panchakarma purification procedures. J Res Educ Indian Med, 1993; 12(4); 2-13.
  2. Heron, Fagan. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine in its September/October 2002 issue, two
  3. The Skin Microbiome. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2011 April;9(4):244-53

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Dr. John

2 thoughts on “The Great Soap Debate Part II: How to Restore your Skin’s Function”

  1. Can you provide a recipe for making the honey facial mask…I have all the ingredients but would like to know amounts, etc.
    Thank you for this valuable information.

    Mary Jo


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