Are the New Bioré Baking Soda Cleansers a Safe Alternative to Using Regular Baking Soda on Your Skin?

I've been told to keep baking soda away from my face, BUT...
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I've been told to keep baking soda away from my face, BUT...

If you Google "baking soda for skin," you'll get a lot of conflicting results. While there are plenty of headlines proclaiming all of the wonderful beauty benefits of baking soda and recipes for baking soda facial scrubs, there are also a few noble outliers warning against the potentially harmful effects of putting baking soda on your face. We even wrote about it here on xoVain

Awesome for cleaning toilets or baking cookies! Not so awesome for scrubbing your face. 

Awesome for cleaning toilets or baking cookies! Not so awesome for scrubbing your face. 

Although it's tempting to use baking soda as a cheap exfoliant, you should actually be wary of using it on your skin. The simple reason is because baking soda's pH is a 9, which is much too alkaline and can therefore damage your skin's protective barrier. You may not see the damage right away or even over a long period of time, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to regularly rub baking soda on your face.

So when I was visiting Marci last week at the office (side note: love it when I get to say that) and she showed me the new Bioré Baking Soda cleansers, I immediately wondered how it compared to using a simple baking soda scrub. Being the fearless editor that she is, Marci loaded me up with the products and sent me on my way to do a little experiment. 

The big question: are the new Bioré baking soda cleansers a safe alternative to using just baking soda on your face?

The reason why I'm leaning towards saying "yes," or at least "maybe!" is because the cleanser and the scrub both claim to have a pH-balanced formula. If you'll remember from, like, two paragraphs ago, the main problem with baking soda is that its pH of 9 threatens to mess with your skin's natural pH of 4.5/5. So even if there is baking soda in these cleansers, that might actually be OK as long as they corrected the pH of the overall formula of the cleanser. 

Let's look at the ingredients of each of the two products in this new line. First up, the Baking Soda Pore Cleanser.

Pump packaging is the best and cleansers know it. I wish my moisturizers would learn from them.

Pump packaging is the best and cleansers know it. I wish my moisturizers would learn from them.

Ingredients of the pore cleanser: water, glycerin, sorbitol, sodium laureth sulfate, cocamidopropyl betaine, laureth-4 carboxylic acid, ethylhexylglycerin, jojoba esters, acrylates/C10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, sodium benzoate, salicylic acid, citric acid, fragrance, sodium bicarbonate, sodium hydroxide, polyquaternium-39, disodium EDTA. 

To break that down a little: glycerin and sorbitol are both humectants, so those help to make this cleaner hydrating. Sodium laureth sulfate is in a lot of cleansers, since it's a fairly gentle cleansing agent that has foaming abilities. Some other notable ingredients are jojoba esters (an emollient derived from jojoba oil, an oil that I personally love for my skin), salicylic acid (a chemical exfoliant that's great for acne), and fragrance. 

Next, let's look at the ingredients of the Baking Soda Cleansing Scrub. 

I also like the scrub's packaging; it's fun to push the blue button to pop open the lid. 

I also like the scrub's packaging; it's fun to push the blue button to pop open the lid. 

Ingredients of the scrub: sodium bicarbonate, sodium cocoyl isethionate, citric acid, sodium carboxymethyl starch, silica, panthenol, sodium citrate, microcrystalline cellulose, fragrance, menthol. 

The scrub has almost half the amount of products as the liquid cleanser. As you probably noticed, baking soda is the first ingredient in this, whereas in the liquid cleanser it was all the way at the bottom. Again, if the formula is pH-balanced then that might not be a big deal. Practically speaking from my own experience, this just makes the scrub more... well, scrubby.   

As for the rest of the ingredients, silica seems to be ineffective at best, panthenol is a form of vitamin B5 and is moisturizing, and menthol has the potential to be a skin irritant for some people

There's fragrance in this one, too, although I will point out that the inclusion of fragrance is not as big a deal in a cleanser as it might be in other skincare products because you're just going to wash it off anyway. 

Before I reach any conclusions, it only makes sense to test the products out on myself. So that's what I did! I took a few before and after pictures just in case, although I think you'll see there isn't a very noticeable difference. 

Here's my entire face before using the cleansers:

Before: my rosacea-prone skin is always this red.

Before: my rosacea-prone skin is always this red.

After using the cleansers:

After: still red but no worse than before.

After: still red but no worse than before.

I was worried that my skin would look redder than usual afterwards, if not because of the products themselves but if only for the process of washing and rubbing my face. Happily, that wasn't the case. 

I washed each half of my face with one of the cleansers in the interest of saving time and being able to compare them simultaneously. I started with the liquid pore cleanser on the right side of my face. Here's the before:

The right side of my face before using the pore cleanser. 

The right side of my face before using the pore cleanser. 

And here's the after:

The right side of my face after using the pore cleanser. 

The right side of my face after using the pore cleanser. 

Again, there's not really a noticeable difference. My experience using this cleanser was good, though. It has a subtle floral scent, but nothing too strong. It has tiny particles to gently exfoliate; you can definitely feel them there but it didn't feel harsh at all. Best of all, this cleanser didn't leave my skin tight or dry like some can. My skin just felt really clean and soft. 

Now for the scrub. Here's the left side of my face before the scrub: 

The left side of my face before using the scrub. 

The left side of my face before using the scrub. 

And after the scrub:

The left side of my face after using the scrub. 

The left side of my face after using the scrub. 

Once more, not a big difference in redness, so that's good. This is a scrub with baking soda as the first ingredient, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it's very different than just adding water to baking soda. The way it works is you tap about a quarter-sized amount of the powder into your palm and then add some warm water to turn it into a fun, foamy concoction. The more water you add, the gentler it will be; conversely if you want a rougher scrub, you can add less water. This really isn't as rough as I was expecting; it's a little more abrasive than the liquid pore cleanser but felt much gentler than baking soda (don't ask me how I know). This scrub also left my skin feeling clean but soft, rather than tight and dried out. 

You can guess at a cleanser's pH by how you feel after using it: if your skin feels too dry or too oily, then it's not good. I was very impressed with the smooth feeling left behind on my skin by both cleansers, so much so that I'll use them when my micellar water just isn't cutting it. I think I would probably choose the liquid pore cleanser over the scrub, just because it seems to have more hydrating ingredients, a gentler exfoliant, and possibly less risk of irritation. 

In conclusion, yes: if you or someone you know has a bad habit of using baking soda as a facial scrub, it would probably be a much better idea to switch to one of these pH-balanced Bioré cleansers instead. Just use sparingly, as with any physical exfoliant.

  • Have you tried the new Bioré baking soda cleansers?
  • Have you ever used baking soda on your face? 
  • Did I do a good job talking smart things? Science is not my strong suit, so I'm willing to hear a different take on this if anyone has one!