How to Find the Best Face Cleansers for Your Skin Type

If you’re wondering how to find the best face cleanser for your skin, breathe a sigh of relief. It could be easier to match with a cleanser that works well with your skin type than it is to find the perfect serum or moisturizer.

Keep your skin type in mind and check for a few main ingredients to embrace or avoid (we’ll get into those soon) to make sure your skin and the cleanser are a good match for you. Also, make sure the product you’re considering will do what you want it to (for example, remove makeup well or exfoliate as you cleanse).

Here, we’ll take a look at the best face cleansers for dry, combination, oily, normal, and sensitive skin. You’ll also learn a few ingredients to look for in order to make an educated guess as to how well a product may work on your skin.

How to Find the Best Face Cleaners for You

You’ll probably try a few different cleansers before you find the right one for you, and that’s okay. Skincare is a learning process. The narrower your starting point, the better, though, so let’s go over the types of cleansers and what to look for when. Shopping for your skin type.

Types of Cleaners

Face Cleanser

Some formulas are better for some skin types than others. Here’s a general breakdown:

Foaming

Foaming cleansers tend to be best for those with oily, combination, or acne-prone skin. Wet your skin, massage the product onto your face, and rinse. Easy-peasy!

Gel

Gel cleansers can work for any skin type. These usually lather up when mixed with water and leave your skin feeling clean and refreshed. They generally work the same way as foaming facial washes, but with more moisturizing properties.

Micellar Water

Micellar water can work for any skin type, even sensitive and rosacea-prone. These don’t need any water. Just pour some on a cotton round, press it onto your skin, and wipe the makeup, dirt, and oil away. You can rinse afterward, but you don’t have to.

Cleansing Oil

Oil cleansers are excellent for dry and sensitive skin, but they’ll work well with most skin types. If you have oily skin, cleansing oil may not be the best choice. They don’t suds up or strip any moisture away from the skin.

Apply the cleansing oil to dry skin (unless the product says to apply it to damp skin) with your fingertips and massage it into the skin to loosen up makeup, dirt, and oil. Add a bit of water and keep massaging in circular motions with your hands or a washcloth, then rinse with warm water.

Balm

Balms tend to be best for dry to combination skin. They’re like cleansing oil but start out solid (think coconut oil) and turn to liquid as it warms up on your skin. Once you’ve massaged it all over, simply wipe it away with a washcloth and rinse with warm water.

Cream

Cream cleansers are nourishing but not as thick or greasy-feeling as balm, so they’re good for dry to combination skin types. Use these like you would a foaming or gel cleanser, but don’t expect the same amount of suds.

How to Use Face Cleansers

Face Cleanser

Using face cleansers is pretty straightforward. Unless the directions state otherwise, and unless you’re using an oil cleanser, wet your face and hands first. From there, pump or pour a small amount of cleanser onto your fingertips. Using both hands, apply the cleanser to your face in gentle, circular motions, making sure to cover the whole surface of your face. Massage your skin for a minute or so, then rinse the product off with lukewarm water.

You can use a washcloth in place of your fingertips to apply the product and massage your skin if you want to add gentle exfoliation to the process.

If you’re using a facial cleansing brush, check the instructions to learn how to use it and to verify that your cleanser of choice will pair well with it. In general, exfoliating cleansers and facial brushes should not be used together.

If you’re using a cleanser with medication or exfoliating ingredients, be especially careful to keep it away from your eyes.

What Is Double-Cleansing for Face?

Double-cleansing is perfect when you’re wearing a lot of makeup or feel like your first wash didn’t get the job done, but it’s not the same thing as just washing your face twice with the same product.

First, use micellar water or cleansing oil to remove makeup and oil. Then use a different type of cleanser (foam, gel, cream, etc., as long as it’s water-based) to wash again. Rinse with lukewarm water, pat dry, and apply any other products you use in your nightly routine.

The Main Differences Between Cleansing OIls and Regular Face Wash

Oil cleansing has gotten popular over the past few years, but what’s the difference between an oil cleanser and a regular face wash?

  • Cleansing oils don’t require you to wet your face first, whereas regular face wash does.
  • Cleansing oils won’t suds up, whereas regular face wash often will (some formulas don’t).
  • Cleansing oils aren’t normally recommended for oily skin, whereas regular face wash is a good option.
  • Cleansing oils are thick and feel heavy on the skin as they work, whereas regular face wash feels lighter.

The Main Differences Between Micellar Water and Cleansing Oils

Cleansing with micellar water and cleansing oils seems similar, but there are some differences between the products to keep in mind:

  • Micellar water is thin (like water!) and runny, whereas oils are thicker.
  • Micellar water needs to be poured onto a cotton round and then applied to the face, whereas oils can go from your fingertips to your face and get right to work dissolving makeup, oil, and dirt.
  • Micellar water is good for all skin types, whereas cleansing oils may be too heavy for oily skin and not the first preference for those with combination skin, either.
  • Micellar water may leave traces of waterproof makeup on your skin, whereas cleansing oils are good at removing even that.
  • Micellar water can be somewhat hydrating, whereas cleansing oils do an even better job of hydrating dry skin.

Advantages of Face Cleansers

Face Cleanser

Face cleansers are an important part of daily life, but have you ever stopped to think about all of the advantages they offer?

Some Do More Than Cleanse

Some cleansers do more than just cleanse. They can exfoliate and sometimes even medicate the skin.

Wash Away the Makeup, Dirt, and Oil

Water alone won’t do the trick when you want to wash your makeup off, remove oil and dirt, and keep your pores clean. The right cleanser can help you keep your skin clear.

Keep Redness at Bay

A gentle face cleanser can cool and soothe the skin and help keep redness at bay. Some include ingredients that can help calm red, irritated skin, like chamomile and feverfew.

Help Detox and Deep-Clean

Some cleansers contain ingredients like charcoal to deep-clean and draw out impurities from the pores.

Disadvantages of Face Cleansers

There aren’t a lot of disadvantages to facial cleansers, but using the wrong one or using it in areas it isn’t meant to be used could cause issues.

The Wrong Formula Could Dry Your Skin Out or Make It Feel Oilier

Some face washes, especially those designed to help with oil control or acne, could be too harsh for your skin if it’s dry, sensitive, or even combination.

If your skin is oily, you’re unlikely to be satisfied with oil cleansers. Some oils (like coconut) could potentially clog pores and lead to more breakouts, too.

You May Need a Separate Makeup Remover First

Some cleansers are so gentle that they won’t get all of the stubborn makeup off in one pass (especially if you like to wear a lot of eye makeup or the products that claim to last all day and beyond). Others shouldn’t be used in the eye area. In these cases, you’ll have to double-cleanse or use a separate makeup remover.

Safety Tips for Face Cleansers

There are a few things to keep in mind regarding facial cleansers.

Facial Cleaners Expire, So Toss Them When It’s Time

Just like with makeup, if your facial cleanser starts to look or smell funny, throw it out. Facial cleansers will usually last around a year.

Check the Ingredients

Because face cleansers often target certain types of skin, you’ll need to check the ingredients to make sure there’s nothing in there that’s likely to irritate your skin or trigger a breakout.

Some ingredients you may wish to avoid–especially if you have sensitive skin–include fragrance, sulfates, parabens, and alcohol.

Don’t Try a New One at the Same Time as Another New Face Product

Any time you want to try a few new products, it’s wise to only introduce one new thing at a time. That way, if you have a negative reaction to something, you’ll know which one to discontinue.

If you’re trying a new cleanser, make sure you don’t change anything else in your skincare routine for at least a few days unless instructed to by a professional.

Don’t Use a Granulated Exfoliating Wash Near Eyes

Some facial cleansers are designed to remove eye makeup, so you won’t need a separate eye makeup remover. However, granulated exfoliating washes should be kept away from the eye area. The tiny beads can get into the eye and cause discomfort, redness, and even scratches.

My Top Recommendations

Here are some of my top picks for the best face cleansers:

CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser

cerave hydration gel

This is an extremely gentle cleanser that’s good for all skin types, especially for normal-to-dry skin. It is also one that dermatologists recommend.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Gentle
  • Fragrance-free
  • Hyaluronic acid for moisture

Cons

  • Contains alcohol

Carbon Theory Charcoal & Tea Tree Oil Breakout Control Facial Cleansing Bar

Carbon Theory

You can find this one at Ulta for around $10.00. It’s probably too intense for sensitive and dry skin, but could work wonders for oily skin because of the activated charcoal and tea tree oil.

Pros

  • Good for acne and breakouts
  • Draws out toxins and oils, thanks to the charcoal
  • A short list of ingredients

Cons

  • Not good for sensitive skin

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser

Cetaphil gentle cleanser

This is another gentle cleanser that works on most skin types. It’s especially good for dry, normal, and sensitive skin types, but it’s also good when it seems like everything else causes breakouts.

Pros

  • Fragrance-free
  • Good for sensitive skin
  • Can be used without water

Cons

  • May not feel enough for oily skin
  • Not the best at removing waterproof eye makeup

Farmacy Green Clean Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm

Farmacy Green Clean Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm

This cleansing balm has clean ingredients and does a wonderful job of removing all makeup.

Pros

  • Hydrating and exfoliating (thanks to papaya extract, not beads)
  • Effortlessly removes makeup
  • Synthetic-fragrance free but has a citrus scent

Cons

  • Can feel heavy on the skin (you’ll want to rinse it off)

Kiehl’s Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash

Kiehl 'S Caléndula face wash

This deep-cleansing face wash is perfect for combination and oily skin without over-drying it.

Pros

  • Comes in standard and value sizes
  • Doesn’t dry skin out while addressing oily skin
  • Good for sensitive skin

Cons

Philosophy Purity Made Simple Cleanser

pirity cleanser

This is a best-selling option that works for dry-to-combination skin. It cleanses, tones, and even hydrates the skin.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Comes sizes from 3 oz. to 22 oz.
  • No parabens

Cons

  • Some reviewers said this product made their skin especially dry and irritated 

Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water

Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water

This micellar water cleanses the skin without the need to rinse, plus it’s hydrating.

Pros

  • Can be good for rosacea sufferers
  • Good for all skin types
  • Convenient to use
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • May not remove all makeup if you use long-wearing formulas
  • You’ll need cotton rounds to use it

Tula The Cult Classic Purifying Cleanser

Tula The Cult Classic Purifying Cleanser

Prebiotics, probiotic extracts, and turmeric make this an interesting choice for oily, combination, mature, dry, or blemish-prone skin.

Pros

  • Good for all skin types
  • No dimethicone or silicone
  • Doesn’t dry skin out

Cons

  • Only available at Tula’s website and Ulta

Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Cleanser Daily Foaming Wash

kate somerville exfoliating cream

This is a multi-tasking cleanser that exfoliates with AHAs and fruit enzymes, too.

Pros

  • Smooths skin while it cleanses
  • Good for almost all skin types (may be too much for sensitive skin)

Cons

  • Expensive

Tatcha The Rice Wash Skin-Softening Cleanser

tatcha rice wash

This is a gentle hydrating face cleanser that’s good for dry, normal, and combo skin.

Pros

  • Hyaluronic acid for moisture
  • Vegan, cruelty-free
  • Clean ingredients

Cons

  • Expensive 

The INKEY List Salicylic Acid Acne + Pore Cleanser

INKEY List Salicylic Acid Acne + Pore Cleanser

This option address oiliness, enlarged pores, and acne.

Pros

  • Salicylic acid
  • Clean ingredients
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Can’t be used around the eyes, so you’ll need a separate makeup remover there 

Korres Greek Yoghurt Foaming Cream Cleanser

Korres Greek Yoghurt Foaming Cream Cleanser

This is a good one for dry and sensitive skin. It starts as a cream and turns to foam as it works.

Pros

  • Balances skin
  • Minimizes pores
  • Nourishes skin

Cons

  • Contains alcohol and fragrance

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Deep Cleansing Foaming Cream

la roche posay

This is a good choice for combination-to-oily skin.

Pros

  • Helps control oil
  • Salicylic acid and AHAs
  • A short list of ingredients

Cons

  • Not the best if your skin is sensitive

FAQs

Question: How Do You Pick the Right Face Wash?

Answer: Determine your skin type first. This isn’t a rule but a good general guideline for a starting point: The “heavier” a cleaner is (balms, oils, creams, etc.), the better it is for dry skin.
The lighter it is (foaming cleanser, light gel, micellar water), the more likely it is to be comfortable for oily skin. The range in the middle is what works best for normal and combination skin.

Question: Are Cleansers Face Wash?

Answer: Yes, cleansers are face wash, but in some cases, you may want to double-cleanse with a different type of face wash to get the whole job done. For example, you could use an oil cleanser to remove your makeup but then wish to use a water-based cleanser to remove the leftover oil.

Question: Do Cleansers Cause Acne?

Answer: Breaking out after trying a new cleanser is normal. That doesn’t mean the cleanser isn’t good for your skin, though it can be tempting to return or toss a product you associate with a breakout. Sometimes your skin needs to rebalance or purge toxins before it can settle back down when you mix up your normal regimen.

Question: What Face Cleansers Have Benzoyl Peroxide?

Answer: Dr. Zenovia Skincare 10% Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Cleanser and Differin Face Wash with Benzoyl Peroxide

Question: What Face Cleansers Are Paraben-Free?

Answer: First Aid Beauty Pure Skin Face Cleanser

Question: Can I Use Two Face Cleansers?

Answer: Yes, you may find that you prefer one in the morning and a different one at night, or you may even want to give double-cleansing a try. That involves an oil-based cleanser followed by a water-based one.

Question: What Are Face Cleansers With Retinol?

Answer: Olay Regenerist Retinol 24 Face Cleanser and Dermatouch Retinol Daily Boost Face Cleanser

Question: What Face Wash Is Okay to Use During Pregnancy?

Answer: Check with your doctor before introducing something new to your routine, but you should generally be safe with gentle cleansers like Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser. Use caution with anything that contains essential oils (some or fine, but ask your doctor first) and skip retinols, fragrance, and hydroquinone for now.

Question: What Are Face Cleansers Without Sodium Lauryl Sulfate?

Answer: Korres Greek Yoghurt Foaming Cream Cleanser, Glow Recipe Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser, and REN Clean Skincare Clearcalm Clarifying Clay Cleanser

Question: What Are Face Cleansers Without Alcohol?

Answer: Youth to the People Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser and Farmacy Green Clean Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm.

Question: Are There Face Cleansers Without Glycerin?

Answer: Drunk Elephant JuJu Exfoliating Bar and Albolene Moisturizing Cleanser

Question: What Are Some Face Cleansers With Salicylic Acid?

Answer: Paula’s Choice Pore Normalizing Cleanser, La Roche-Posay Effaclar Deep Cleansing Foaming Cream, and Clean & Clear Advantage® 3-in-1 Foaming Acne Wash

Conclusion: How to Find the Best Face Cleansers

Start with the broad categories that tend to be good for your skin type. From there, look for a simple product with the ingredients designed to get the result you would like.

Calming? Try chamomile. Dry? Look for hyaluronic acid. Oily? Salicylic acid may be your new best friend. Avoid as many of the dirty dozen of skincare as possible. It may take some trial and error to find your best face cleanser match, but you can narrow it down quite a bit with these tips and the list above.

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