Facial cleansers have come a long way since the days of the Dove bar. Regardless of age, skin type or complexion concern, there is a facial cleanser designed specifically to address your skin care needs. And many of today’s facial cleansers even go a step further to help moisturize, exfoliate and protect skin while washing away dirt and grime. From creamy cleansing milks to foaming face washes, choosing the right cleanser for your skin type doesn’t have to be a dirty job. Here’s the scoop on what to buy.
For Dry/Sensitive Skin
Many cleansing detergents can dry skin, so look for facial cleansers without these ingredients, usually labeled “soap-free.” Opt for ones with the words “creamy” or “milk” in the title, which usually indicate an emollient-rich cleanser with plenty of skin-nourishing ingredients. Cleansers rich in nutrients will also help protect skin from over drying. Avoid facial cleansers that contain Alcohol, Witch Hazel, Fragrance or Menthol, which can dry or irritate skin.
Best Types: cream cleansers, liquid cleansers and cleansing fluids
Ingredients to look for: Vitamin E, Shea or Cocoa Butter, Jojoba, Olive Oil, natural or organic plant extracts
Tip: Use a moist cotton ball to remove no-rinse cream cleansers, as a dry cotton ball can actually remove skin’s natural oils along with the cleansing cream
For Oily/Acne-Prone Skin
The key to cleaning oily skin is to remove dirt and gently exfoliate without over-stripping skin’s natural oil, which leads to overproduction of sebum in the oil glands resulting in more breakouts. You also want to look for ingredients that help control blemishes. Look for words like “purifying,” “balancing” and “deep” which typically indicate the presence of a pore-cleaning ingredient.
Best Types: foaming face washes, cleansing oil, gel cleansers and exfoliating cleansers
Ingredients to look for: Salicylic Acid, Tea Tree Oil, Glycolic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide, which have anti-bacterial and exfoliating properties
Tip: Rinse oily skin with cold water to close pores
For Normal/Combination Skin
For skin that’s not too oily and not too dry, look for mild, soap-free facial cleansers that remove makeup and debris while exfoliating with micro-beads, natural acids or fruit enzymes – if you have inflamed or cystic acne, avoid scrubbing cleansers as they cause more irritation. Multi-tasking cleansers or 2-in-one cleansers that also act as a toner or mask work well for normal/combo skin without drying it out. Often facial cleansers marketed as “daily cleansers” or “rebalancing” are perfect for this skin type. Look for labels indicating the cleanser is “non-comedogenic” (non-acne aggravating) and “non-overdrying” or “non-irritating,” as many anti-acne ingredients can cause over-drying.
Best Types: foaming face washes, cleansing gels, liquid cleansers, exfoliating cleansers
Ingredients to look for: Alpha-Hydroxy Acid, astringents like Witch Hazel or Meadowseed, Tea Tree Oil
Tip: You may want to invest in a smaller size facial cleanser for oily skin, for days that you’re feeling extra oily
Your Guide to Common Cleanser Types
Acne Cleansers – These are often oil-free clear gels or foaming cleansers that contain acne-fighting ingredients like Tea Tree Oil, Benzoyl Peroxide (typically around 10%), Glycolic Acid (up to 10%) or Salicylic Acid (typically around 2%) to exfoliate skin while unclogging pores. Some acne cleansers also contain micro-beads, doubling as scrubs.
Cream, Milk and Lotion Cleansers – These are great for removing makeup from dry skin. Many of them either rinse or tissue off, so they can be convenient for quick makeup removal. But they are not a good option for oily or acne-prone skin as they can clog pores.
Exfoliating Cleansers – Designed for those with normal to oily skin, these can exfoliate with either physical exfoliants (like beads, granules or powder) or chemical agents (fruit enzymes, AHA or BHA). They are most commonly creamy or even clay-like facial cleansers or gel textures.
No-Rinse Cleansers – Whether they come in creamy formulas (like cold creams) or liquid forms (sometimes called “cleansing water), these types of cleansers don’t require water to remove. Just apply with a cotton ball or your fingers, then gently wipe off with a tissue or dry wash cloth to remove dirt. These are great for those with sensitive skin, as they often contain calming ingredients, or for people who don’t like splashing water on their faces.
Oil-based Cleansers – A popular facial cleanser type in Asia, oil-based facial cleansers effectively melt away makeup (even waterproof) and impurities without stripping skin or clogging pores. The key to applying these types of cleansers is to use dry hands to apply it to a dry face, then apply a bit of water and massage in so the oil can start dissolving the dirt and makeup.