03.26.2012
1
Merle NormanClear Complexion Gel Cleanser
4 fl. oz. for $21
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Brand Overview
Expert Reviews

This thin-textured gel cleanser is medicated with 2% salicylic acid. While salicylic acid is a superstar when it comes to exfoliating skin to help with breakouts, it's far less effective for exfoliation, if at all, in a cleanser. That’s because it's rinsed off before it can begin to work. If you are hoping for this cleanser to provide exfoliating benefits, think again.

If that weren’t disappointing enough, the formula contains way too many fragrant plants that can aggravate skin, which potentially can trigger more oil production at the base of your pores (see More Info for details).

Despite this cleanser’s good intentions, it is more trouble than it’s worth. See our list of Best Cleansers for superior options.

Pros:

Cleanses skin with gentle detergent agents.

Contains skin-soothing antioxidants.

Cons:

Salicylic acid cannot work to clear acne in this formula.

Contains fragrant plant extracts which can aggravate skin.

More Info:

Skin-Sensitizing Ingredients: We cannot stress this enough: Sensitizing, harsh, abrasive, or fragrant ingredients are bad for all skin types. Daily application of skincare products that contain these types of skin-aggravating ingredients is a major way we unknowingly do our skin a disservice!  

Sensitizing ingredients are a problem because they can lead to visible problems that include redness, rough skin, dull skin, dryness, increases in oil production, clogged pores, and contribute to making signs of aging worse.

Switching to non-irritating, gentle skincare products can make all the difference in the world. Non-irritating skincare products are those packed with beneficial ingredients that also replenish and soothe skin without any volatility, including those present in natural fragrant ingredients.

A surprising fact: Even though you might not see the negative influence of using products that contain sensitizing ingredients, skin the damage will still be taking place. It doesn’t need to be evident on the surface! Research has demonstrated that you don’t always need to see or feel the effects on your skin for your skin to be suffering the impact and the visible damage may not become apparent for a long time.

For this reason, it’s best to eliminate, or minimize as much as possible, your exposure to ingredients that can be sensitizing on skin. There are many products that contain effective ingredients that are also completely non-irritating so there’s no reason to put your skin at risk with products that include ingredients research has shown can be a problem.

References for this information

Journal of Dermatological Sciences, January 2015, issue 1, pages 28-36. 

International Journal of Cosmetic Science, August 2014, issue 4, pages 379-385

Journal of Clinical Dermatology, November 2014, issue 5, online access

Clinical Dermatology, May-June 2012, issue 3, pages 257-262

Food and Chemical Toxicology, February 2008, pages 446—475

American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2003, issue 11, pages 789-798

Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 2008, issue 4, pages 191-202

Aging, March 2012, pages 166-175

Chemical Immunology and Allergy, March 2012, pages 77-80

Last Updated:12.30.2016
Jar Packaging:No
Tested on animals:No
Community Reviews
Claims

For all skin types and acne concerns. When acne strikes, this powerful gel cleanser helps clear up breakouts and helps prevent new ones from forming. It gently, but effectively clears clogged pores with Salicylic Acid. The refreshing formula dissolves dirt and oil while botanical extracts help refine the appearance of pores. Leaves skin clean, clear and shine-free. Clinically proven to reduce acne.

Ingredients

Active: Salicylic Acid (2%), Other: Water, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Butylene Glycol, PEG-150 Distearate, Grapefruit Seed Extract, Orange Fruit Extract, Matricaria Extract, Witch Hazel Extract, Cinnamon Bark Extract, Bisabolol, Panthethyl Hydroxypropyl Steardimonium Chloride, Tocopheryl Acetate, Retinyl Palmitate, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Phospholipids, Glucose, Lactic Acid, Propylene Glycol, Ethoxydiglycol, PPG-2 Hydroxyethyl Coco/Isostearamide, Disodium EDTA, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Chloride, Phenoxyethanol, Fragrance.

Brand Overview

Merle Norman At-A-Glance

Strengths: Most Merle Norman boutiques willingly provide free samples so you can try before you buy; excellent cleansing lotion for dry, sensitive skin; effective, pH-correct AHA and BHA products; surprisingly good toners; excellent lip balm/lipline filler; good sunscreen and self-tanner.

Weaknesses: Jar packaging is prevalent; the Luxiva Changing Skin products do not effectively address skin changes resulting from menopause; most of the Luxiva Clear Complexion products cause more skin problems than they solve; a few very good products are impossible to recommend because they also include irritants; the Miracol and classic Merle Norman products are severely dated formulas that harken back to the days before computers replaced typewriters.

Merle Norman opened her first cosmetics studio in Santa Monica, California, in 1931. She believed strongly that women would love her products, if only she could "get them on their faces," and the company's now-famous try-before-you-buy program was launched. To this day, women who visit any of Merle Norman's 2,000 boutiques spread across the United States, Canada, and Mexico can take advantage of the company's product samples before making a purchase.

The free samples are great, but the question is why anyone would be inclined to try Merle Norman skin-care products. Although there have been some improvements since the Cosmetics Cop Team last reviewed this brand, much of what was problematic back then is still around today, and still problematic - and that's not good news for your skin.

Across the board, the biggest issue is jar packaging. Several of the moisturizers didn't receive better than a neutral face rating because they are poorly packaged. For a company claiming to be cutting edge, they somehow missed, or chose to ignore, the research showing how state-of-the-art ingredients deteriorate when exposed to light and air. In addition, repeatedly sticking your fingers into a product isn't sanitary, and further degrades the ingredients. What good is adding a lot of antioxidants and other plant extracts or vitamins to a product if their efficacy is all but gone within a week or two of opening?

There are other weak spots to watch out for, too, especially in the Luxiva Changing Skin and Luxiva Clear Complexion lines. Merle Norman also sells a group of antiquated products that are little more than cold cream and super-greasy moisturizers. These are as far removed as you can get from what we know about what skin needs to look younger and function in a healthy manner. Using many of Merle Norman's products is like using a typewriter instead of a computer.

As far as what's to like, you'll find several well-formulated cleansers and toners, some reliable AHA and BHA products, and an impressive lip balm, and most of the SPF-rated products provide broad-spectrum protection. Ultimately, it wouldn't be wise to try to assemble a comprehensive skin-care routine from Merle Norman, but if you focus on their better products you'll do okay.

For the record, it is perfectly fine to mix Merle Norman products with those from other brands. We doubt you'll get this advice if you visit any of the Merle Norman Studios, but it's true. In fact, this applies to any skin-care brand—what counts is the individual product and how well it's formulated, not the company's predetermined ideas that their products work best if and only if they're used together.

For more information about Merle Norman, call (310) 641-3000 or visit www.merlenorman.com.

Note: We know that we've stated for quite some time that the team wouldn't be revisiting this line because of Merle Norman's complete disinterest in helping us get the information we need to review their products accurately. Over the years, my staff has been kicked out of several Merle Norman boutiques, both here in the Seattle area and in other states. As soon as we began taking notes or if we asked too many questions, we were eyed with suspicion and then asked to leave. There are two reasons we changed our mind: (1) our Beautypedia subscribers kept asking us to re-review this brand, and (2) a Merle Norman employee agreed to help us obtain the information we need, as long as she remained anonymous. We wish to extend a sincere thanks to the woman who sent us dozens upon dozens of samples and helped us compile all of the accurate information that made these reviews possible.

Please note: These product prices are in U.S. dollars, and for reasons unknown Merle Norman products are substantially more expensive in Canadian boutiques. Please be aware when shopping that these ratings are a reflection of U.S. prices only.

About the Experts

The Beautypedia and Paula’s Choice Research teams have one mission: To help you find the best products for your skin, whether they’re from Paula’s Choice or another brand. By combining efforts, we’re able to share scientific research and remain committed to the highest standards based on our decades of experience objectively reviewing thousands upon thousands of skincare and makeup formularies in all price ranges.


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