Of the many ways to take care of your skin, washing your face seems the most simple. Cleanser, water, scrub, scrub, done. Choosing a face wash, however? Not so simple. For one, using the wrong formula can greatly impact the effects cleansing has on your skin. If you're using a product that won't get rid of the day's makeup or is too drying or oily, you're not reaping the full benefits. But with so many options on the market to choose from, there’s really no excuse to not find a cleanser that'll work for you and your skin.
Enter: our end-all guide to every formula out there. We went straight to the source and spoke to dermatologists
Ranella Hirsch, MD and Elizabeth Tanzi, MD to give us the breakdown on when you should use what type of cleanser. From cleansing oils to simple water-based versions (like the cult classic from Cetaphil), we’ve tested them all. Which one will you try? Let us know in the comments section below.
Powder Cleansers Powder cleansers are like mini science experiments that make washing your face fun — and make following TSA rules a whole lot easier. “[These cleansers] consist of a dry mixture of tiny, oil-absorbing and exfoliating granules,” says Dr. Tanzi. So when mixed with water, they not only provide a thorough cleanse but also gentle exfoliation. Tanzi suggests using powder cleansers if you have oily or combination skin.
Splurge: Dior Hydra Life Time To Glow Ultra Fine Exfoliating Powder The best powder cleansers are made of super-fine particles that will easily dissolve without abrasive scrubbing. This Dior cleanser fits the bill, leaving your skin super smooth afterwards. And while it is pricey, a little goes a long way.
Hydra Life Time To Glow Ultra Fine Exfoliating Powder,
Save: Bioré Baking Soda Cleansing Scrub The super-fine granules in baking soda are ideal for ridding surfaces of dirt and grime, making it a popular ingredient in the DIY face scrubs all over YouTube. If you're hesitant to turn to that orange box sitting in the fridge, we’ve found you a happy medium. This Bioré scrub includes sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) as the main ingredient, plus add-ins like citric acid to gently exfoliate.
Baking Soda Cleansing Scrub,
Water-Based Cleansers Water-based cleansers can take many forms, including foam or gel (but we'll get to those later). Basically, you'll know a water-based cleanser by the first ingredient on the label: water. Great for all skin types, these cleansers focus on getting rid of dirt, sweat, and other H2O-based impurities.
Splurge: OleHenriksen Find Your Balance™ Oil Control Cleanser This cleanser is our top pick for acneic skin. It’s made with glycolic and lactic acids to unclog pores, as well as a mix of green tea, eucalyptus, and algae to absorb excess oil.
Ole Find Your Balance™ Oil Control Cleanser,
Save: Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser Chances are, someone in your life has recommended this Cetaphil cleanser to you. And this is one reco you can trust, because it truly does everything you want your cleanser to do. It keeps your skin's pH levels balanced, so it won't feel dry or stiff after cleansing. And it's gentle on even the most sensitive skin — including that with rosacea or eczema.
Gentle Skin Cleanser,
Foaming Cleansers It’s all in the name: Foam cleansers form a bubbly lather when you mix them with water. But while they're great for removing makeup and grime, they can also be drying. “Anything that foams generally has astringent qualities,” says Dr. Tanzi. If your skin already needs extra moisture, you may want to steer clear.
Splurge: Dr. Dennis Gross All-In-One Cleansing Foam This do-it-all cleanser washes away dirt and grime, tones, and combats acne. Formulated with anti-inflammatory ingredients, such as willowherb and witch hazel, you're guaranteed a thorough cleanse without any irritation.
Dr. Dennis Gross
All-in-One Cleansing Foam,
Save: Simple Skincare Foaming Cleanser Yes, foaming cleansers tend to be drying, but they don't all completely strip your skin. This one features pro-vitamin B and glycerin to hydrate your skin while you cleanse. So basically, it's the best of both worlds.
Oil-Based Cleansers We get it, it can seem counterintuitive to add oil to your face when a greasy complexion is something you'd like to avoid. While Dr. Hirsch says these cleansers are best for dry or combination skin, she notes that oily skin types shouldn't necessarily shy away from them, either. Think of oil cleansers as a magnet: The oils in them bind to surface impurities like dirt and sebum. Then, when you wash them off, the water releases the bond and down the drain they go. What you're left with is clean, hydrated, and supple skin.
Splurge: Sunday Riley C.E.O. C+E Micro-Dissolve Cleansing Oil The C.E.O. line in general is just what you'd expect by the name — boss. So when the brand launched a cleansing oil, we knew it'd be a good one. The vitamin C in it leaves your skin looking brighter, while nature's anti-inflammatory (a.k.a. turmeric) works to fight acne. That's a win-win in our book.
C.E.O. C+E Micro-Dissolve Cleansing Oil,
Save: Burt's Bees Facial Cleansing Oil We dare you to find an eyeliner or lip stain that this cleansing oil can't remove — it's that good. (Even waterproof makeup doesn't stand a chance.) Featuring natural oils, like argan oil and coconut oil, it leaves skin hydrated and soft, while still giving your face a deep cleanse.
Facial Cleansing Oil,
Cream Cleansers Cream cleansers tend to be the most moisturizing and therefore the best for drier climates, because the surfactants are often mixed with beeswax or petroleum. But this also makes them great picks for autumn and winter when moisture is key. “You don’t want to strip your skin of its natural oils,” says Dr. Tanzi. “So make sure to look for a cream cleanser that’s really mild, gentle, and completely fragrance-free.”
Splurge: Donell Cream Wash A derm-favorite cleanser is one that should never be ignored. “It’s my go-to because I have rosacea and really sensitive skin. I’ve personally been using it for years and recommend it to patients who have just undergone laser procedures,” says Dr. Tanzi. Gentle enough for skin that's extra sensitive but strong enough to moisturize and clean — we’re sold.
Save: Yes To Coconut Hydrating Creme Cleanser When it comes to skin care, coconut oil is a tried-and-true ingredient because it moisturizes — and locks in that moisture — really well. This cleanser uses said ingredient to smooth over dry, cracked skin and restore it back to a healthy state.
Coconut Hydrating Cream Facial Cleanser,
Gel Cleanser Sometimes you just need to get rid of excess oil but don’t want to strip your skin of its natural oils entirely. That’s where gel cleansers come in, says Dr. Tanzi. She recommends them for people with oily, acne-prone skin.
Splurge: Dr. Jart+ Dermaclear Micro Gel Cleanser This gel cleanser contains moisturizing capsules that remove makeup and grime without stripping the skin. Plus, it contains coconut and fruit oils to keep skin feeling soft and looking bright. Need we say more?
Dermaclear™ Micro Gel Cleanser,
Save: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanser As the weather heats up, you’re going to want something to keep excess oil in check. This cleanser contains zinc pidolate, which purifies the skin and removes the natural oil your skin might naturally overproduce.
Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanser,
Micellar Water Micellar water is for all the minimalists out there. Essentially, it is a water-based, non-soap product made of tiny molecules called micelles that attract dirt and debris. “They attract the debris without breaking down the essential oils in the skin,” says Dr. Tanzi. And because you won't need to scrub, they're a great pick for those with sensitive skin.
Splurge: Bioderma Sensibio H20 This OG micellar water is a cult favorite among makeup artists. The alcohol-, soap-, and fragrance-free formula removes makeup with ease. Just a couple of drops on a cotton ball and a quick swipe over your face will give you an instant cleanse.
Save: Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water This all-in-one product removes the toughest liners and mascaras with ease and gives your skin a good cleanse. It boasts over 200 uses on the bottle, so you're really getting the most bang for your buck here.
Cleansing Water All-In-One Waterproof,
Cleansing Balms Cleansing balms are the equivalent of an oil cleanser — but in solid form. They have the same hydrating properties while also extracting dirt from your skin. “The balm melts into an oil once it gets worked into the skin,” says Dr. Tanzi. If you have particularly dry skin or wear heavy makeup, the following picks are for you.
Splurge: Farmacy Green Clean The oil in this balm easily dissolves makeup and gets deep into the skin to rid it of any impurities. It contains papaya extract, a natural exfoliator, and a high concentration of potent natural antioxidants to give you an evenly toned complexion.
Save: Pixi By Petra Nourishing Cleansing Balm With almond oil, shea butter, and vitamin E, this cleansing balm leaves skin feeling silky smooth and eliminates tough-to-remove makeup in just one swipe.
Nourishing Cleansing Balm,