Face Cleansers: How to Choose the Best One for Your Skin Type

Washing your face is perhaps the most seriously underrated part of your skincare regimen. Even if you’re among the cleanest of humans, your face accumulates grime daily. Consider the number of times you touch your face or apply a product in a single day, let alone walk past a running car, a person smoking, a construction site, and so on. 

Every one of those moments can add microbes, pollutants, dirt, and even stressors day after day. Long-term accumulation doesn’t just make you grubby; it will inevitably add to aging. The good news is that all you have to do to counter it is to simply wash your face. Easy-peasy!

What Is Cleansing?

The act of cleansing involves removing unwanted substances from the skin’s surface. Every routine should begin with a cleanser to wipe off daily grime and start your routine off on a clean slate. 

Cleansing can also be considered an age-prevention step, since accumulated grime from the day can have an impact on skin, causing irritation and generating free radicals that can worsen premature aging.

Facial Cleanser

The main “cleansing” components of any cleanser—whether soap, gel, oil, or foam—are its surfactants. These are cool little guys with a hydrophilic (water-loving) head and a hydrophobic (water-hating) tail. 

The fact that they can interact with both means these guys are a shoo-in for cleansing, since they can pick up dirt and grime, and then be lifted off your face with a splash of water. In a cleanser, these surfactants bunch together to form sphere-like micelles. 

As you apply the cleanser and scrub, the micelles interact with the oil and grime, attach to it, and carry it away with a rinse.

Cream cleansers

Of all the cleansers, cream cleansers are the most moisturizing. For people with dry or sensitive skin, their thick, creamy texture gently cleanses and hydrates the skin.

Powder cleansers

In recent years, powder cleansers have gained popularity. The texture of these types of cleansers is powdery when dry, but becomes creamy when mixed with water, allowing them to cleanse your skin and provide gentle exfoliation at the same time. 

Powdered cleansers retain their potency significantly longer than diluted cleansers because they are manufactured without water. In addition to being highly customizable, powdered cleansers can be boosted by adding additional powdered ingredients to the mixture.   

Clay cleansers

Clay cleansers help remove excess oil and impurities from the skin by drawing out excess clay. Oily or combination skin types should use these types of cleansers.

Oil cleansers

Oil cleansers are an effective way to remove contaminants from your skin without overly drying it. The oil cleansers naturally attract facial oil, which is then easily rinsed away, leaving skin soft and moisturized. Both dry and oily skin types can benefit from oil cleansers.

Face Wash

Face wash and facial cleanser are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are traditionally considered separate products. 

Face washes also remove contaminants from the skin like face cleansers. Face cleansers are typically wiped away after use, while face washes require thorough washing with water. Foaming face washes help remove deep-seated dirt and grime, similar to soaps or bath gels. 

A wash is also stronger than a cleanser, so it is harsher on the skin. It is common for people to use a facial cleanser along with a face wash so that they are able to get the most benefit from both products.

Gel face wash

Gel face washes are thick, gel-like products. Their small foaming properties keep your skin clean without removing its natural oils. When your skin is oily or acne-prone, gels can be a good option for you.

Foaming face wash 

The foaming properties of these products help remove impurities and excess oils from deeper within the skin. They come in foamy mousse-like forms or expand when lathered. Oily and acne-prone skin typically benefit from them.

Facial scrub

The function of facial scrubs is not the same as that of washes and cleansers in removing impurities. The abrasive materials in them help to exfoliate the skin physically.

With facial scrubs, dead skin cells are removed from the outermost layer of your skin, revealing smoother, healthier skin beneath. Combination or sensitive skin types might find these products too harsh, but they are suitable for normal and oily skin types.   

Natural face scrubs

Due to their environmental impact, microbeads have been banned in the United States and other countries in recent years.

Consequently, natural alternatives have become increasingly popular. Oats, salt, coffee grounds, and sugar are some of the most common exfoliators used in natural face scrubs. There has also been an increase in popularity of biodegradable beads made from jojoba oil and beeswax.

Budget Cleansers

Coconut oil could have been the blueprint for every balm-to-oil cleanser in the world as it is solid in the tub, melts to oil when warmed in the hands, and can be easily massaged in to remove make-up, leaving skin feeling incredibly soft. The only problem is that it does not emulsify and dissolve away like commercial cleansers, which means that you will end up with clogged pores. So although we always love a cheap workaround, the downsides of using it as a balm cleanser are too big for us to recommend it as such. As a moisturizer or a night mask though, it’s brilliant.

If you are determined to use it as a cleanser, following up with a gentle liquid exfoliator will help to dissolve any traces of the oil on your skin and leave it really clean but still soft.

Another brilliant budget option is Silcock’s Base, which will cleanse, emulsify and leave your skin silky soft and clean. A tub costs a few euro, making it a bril- liant budget buy and a much better option for your skin’s health than coconut oil.

Facial Cleansing Benefits

Your face gets dirty. It can’t be helped. And not just from the dirt and grime of everyday life. In addition to all that, your skin itself sheds dead cells and secretes sweat and sebum—all part of your skin’s natural upkeep—which ensures that it continues to serve as a healthy barrier against outside pathogens. In other words, well, you’re shedding, and that’s okay! But just know that those dust bunnies that you keep having to clean up around the house? A lot of that is actually you! You can’t blame it all on your cat!

Think of washing as an anti-aging step. 

You may associate washing your face with removing makeup, or maybe our old friend acne prevention—but it’s so much more than that. All those particulates can accumulate and cause changes in texture and clarity. They can even add to potential irritation. Pollutants, if left unchecked, can start an unwanted cascade of free radical damage that contributes to aging. You read correctly—your cleanser functions as an age-prevention step.

It should be the first step of your routine. 

Let’s be real: You almost certainly wouldn’t be reading this book unless you were planning to invest in your routine. So, let’s make sure we’re starting off on the right foot—with a clean face! Applying product to an unwashed face can potentially trap dirt and unwanted microbes underneath. In addition to causing breakouts, this can make it harder for your products to penetrate and go to work on your skin. Overall, skipping the cleansing step is pretty counterproductive if you’re wanting to build a good routine, so let’s start off with a clean slate!

How to Choose a Facial Cleanser for Your Skin Type

Facial cleansers are formulated using a wide range of ingredients. These ingredients can have a big impact on how the cleanser interacts with your skin.

For your staple cleansers, gel and cream, products can range from “So gentle—is it really cleansing?” to “Holy moly, my skin actually squeaks!” Other than going off of the often unreliable marketing claims, you should learn to quickly decode that ingredient list! Finding your surfactant BFF can save you a lot of heartache on your cleanser journey. 

If you’re sensitive, or have chronically dry skin, psoriasis, or eczema, it never hurts to double-check the pH of your cleanser. Your skin’s natural acidity (usually hanging out in the pH 5.5 neighborhood) is an important part of its microbiome and general health. Though scientists don’t yet fully understand the complexities of the microbiome and skin pH, try to reach for cleansers with a listed skin-friendly pH (roughly, anything under 6).

Below are some suggestions on choosing facial cleansers for different skin types:

Oily skin

The keyword here is: calm. Calm it all down with soothing cleansers. Oily skin needs to be regulated, so avoid ingredients that are drying.

Since it tends to produce more sebum than you’d like, oily skin can be prone to clogging and break-outs, so avoid cream cleansers and alcohol-heavy foaming washes. Laura Mercier Flawless Skin Oil-Free Foaming One-Step Cleanser is a great all-rounder for oily and congested skin while cleansers containing AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids), such as glycolic and lactic acid, and the BHA (beta hydroxy acid) salicylic acid are great for clearing blockages and grimy pores.

A gel, balm, or oil formula will make oily skin much happier. Micellar water will work in a fix. And no, oils won’t make your skin oilier. We promise.

Dry skin

Dry skin is lacking in oil, so the solution is essentially to replace the lost oil in order to soothe and rejuvenate the skin. Begin the process right at the cleansing stage and then continue to nourish with serums, oils, moisturizers, and so on.

Choose oil, cream, or balm cleansers as they will cleanse skin without stripping it, help to replenish lost moisture, and balance the skin. We recommend the following: Yes to Cucumbers Gentle Milk Cleanser, Lancôme Galetée Confort Comforting Milky Cream Cleanser, Nuxe Comforting Cleansing Milk for Face, Eyes and Lips with Rose Petals, Philosophy Purity Made Simple One-Step Facial Cleanser, Trilogy Cream Cleanser, Uriage Crème Lavante Cleansing Cream and Elave Sensitive Rejuvenating Cleansing Treatment.

For great low-cost alternatives, try Nivea Daily Essentials Gentle Cleansing Cream Wash for Dry and Sensitive Skin or Johnson’s Daily Essentials Nourishing Cleansing Lotion for Dry Skin. On the pricier scale, you can’t go wrong with Clarins Extra-Comfort Anti-Pollution Cleansing Cream and Clinique Comforting Cream Cleanser.

Sensitive skin

Sensitive skin needs a cleanser as free as possible from fragrance, additives, scrubby bits, and potential irritants. Avoiding fragrance is particularly important as it is the most common reason for reactions. Choose unperfumed lotions and potions as much as possible and bear in mind that just because something is ‘natural’ it doesn’t mean that you won’t react.

Have a sniff of something before you buy it. If your immediate reaction is ‘Eww, that’s a bit strong’, this is the first indication that you may react to the product so avoid it – streaming eyes, rashes and hives are no fun. If you’ve got sensitive skin, some of the best cleansers are Avène Tolerance Extreme Cleansing Lotion, Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, Simple Kind to Skin Purifying Cleansing Lotion, Burt’s Bees Sensitive Facial Cleanser, The Body Shop Aloe Gentle Facial Wash and Clarins Extra-Comfort Anti-Pollution Cleansing Cream.

Combination skin

It can be challenging to find a cleanser that is right for combination skin. The ideal product should hydrate and moisturize at the same time.

The best cleanser for combination skin is mild and balanced. A soap- and alcohol-free gel cleanser is a good place to start, but finding a product that addresses dry and oily areas may take some trial and error.

Normal skin

People with normal skin are the luckiest – it’s already balanced, so you only need to worry about keeping it that way. The world is your oyster – oil, balm, gel, or cream cleansers will all be absolutely fine and budget brands will do the job perfectly for you. Go with what makes your skin feel best, but always be suspicious of anything that leaves skin feeling tight or dry after cleansing. And just because your skin is well-behaved, don’t take it for granted: alcohol-heavy cleansers can dry your skin out and unbalance it.

Acne-Prone Skin

Adult acne is a scourge and is the most common skin problem in women over forty. Menopause throws skin off just as much as adolescence does, so be guided by what works for an oily skin type. Avoid shea butter and other congesting ingredients and although you might feel like hitting up the Sauvignon Blanc to console yourself, don’t even consider using alcohol anywhere near your face.

Essentially, though, the problem is hormonal and skincare will only go so far. Don’t be afraid to admit defeat if acne is affecting your self-esteem. See a dermatologist for professional advice if you need to.

Facial Cleansers for Acne and Acne-Prone Skin

Acne is not caused by poor hygiene, so cleansing your face will not eliminate acne. Even so, maintaining clean, healthy skin is essential to managing acne and can make acne treatment products more effective.

For acne and acne-prone skin, there are several key ingredients to look for:

  • Salicylic acid
  • Glycolic acid
  • Benzoyl peroxide

The following ingredients should also be avoided:

  • Fragrances
  • Exfoliating beads
  • Coconut oil
  • Parabens
  • Alcohols

It is important to consider a number of factors before choosing a cleanser for acne-prone skin, including the type and severity of the acne. Cystic acne responds well to glycolic acid while other active ingredients are better suited for other types of acne.

Your skin type should be taken into account when choosing a cleanser. The wrong cleanser can lead to oily or dry skin due to the wrong active ingredients.    

Facial Cleansers for Rosacea

Keeping your skin clean regularly prevents dirt and oil from irritating rosacea-prone skin. There are many ingredients in cleanser that can trigger flare-ups in people who have rosacea, so people with this condition need to be especially careful when choosing a cleanser.

People suffering from rosacea can use many of the cleansers designed for sensitive skin. They should avoid fragrances and alcohols, which are common rosacea triggers, and look for products that maintain their skin’s natural pH balance.

Facial Cleansers For Mature Skin

Mature skin needs extra love and nourishment and this has to start at the cleansing stage. Super-rich balm and oil cleansers can only do you good. Ingredients that clog younger skin, such as shea butter, are perfect for injecting moisture into more mature skin, so try L’Occitane Shea Cleansing Oil for a rejuvenating cleanse. A gel-to-oil formula will also get on well with mature skin, but avoid anything drying.

Cleansers with glycolic acid increase cell turnover, which slows in mature skin, plus they unblock pores and reveal fresher, younger skin straightaway. Try Elave Age Delay Daily Cleanser or Jan Marini Bioglycolic Face Cleanser. Just make sure to keep these products away from your eyes – acids and eyes are a bad combo. Also worth trying are NeoStrata Foaming Glycolic Wash and Nip+Fab Glycolic Cleansing Fix, but go easy with these, or avoid them altogether if your skin is fragile. If you find them too harsh, restrict your use to just once a week or substitute with a gentle exfoliating toner after your cleanser, which will essentially do the same job.

Facial Cleansers For Teen Skin

Teen skin is undergoing a big transition. It’s going to misbehave, so try to tackle issues without feeling too bad about them – if you’re suffering from breakouts, you’re certainly not alone. Cleansing is very important for teen skin because bacteria levels can be hard to regulate and using the wrong products can drive skin out of control. Just don’t, for the love of God, pick a product loaded with astringents or alcohol.

The most important thing is to keep your skin balanced. Avoid applying anything laced with alcohol and resist the urge to ‘dry out’ the dreaded spots. It’s tough, but try to let them run their course without picking. Using a soothing oil or balm cleanser twice daily and incorporating a glycolic wash into your routine once a week won’t stimulate oil production and will help to prevent scarring. If acne be- comes unmanageable, seeing your GP to discuss your options is always a good idea.

Acne can be very tough to deal with and sometimes topical products just aren’t enough. Don’t suffer with it – it can be sorted, or at least calmed down considerably.

Which Cleanser is Best For All Skin Types?

Emma Hardie Amazing Face Moringa Cleansing Balm has to be our stand-out balm-to-oil cleanser. The mixture is so rich and infused with skin-loving ingredients that it seriously is like giving yourself a facial every night. It’s suitable for all skin types, but dry and mature skin will find their skin drinks up this cleanser and thinks to itself ‘Where have you been all my life?’

Forevermore, you will scorn inferior cleansers and it may bring on a panic attack if your tub of oily goodness begins to run out and you haven’t reordered in time to instantly replace it with a new one. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

How to Use Facial Cleansers

To get the most benefits from your daily facial cleanser, it is important to use your product properly.

Step 1. Backcomb your hair

While cleansing your face, keep long hair out of your face by using a hair tie. Also, by doing so, you can easily clean the pores on your hairline, which can become clogged with excess hair product.

Step 2. Wash your hands

Clean your hands before washing your face. Using dirty hands when washing your face can cause grime and impurities to be transferred!

Step 3. Wet your face

Before applying your cleanser, wash your face with lukewarm water. It helps the cleanser spread evenly across your face and go smoothly on your skin.

Step 4. Apply cleanser to your face

Apply your cleanser with clean hands after squeezing a dime-sized amount onto them. Don’t forget to apply the product evenly to your face, including the hairline, jawline, and neck. Don’t rub your eyes or mouth. It can cause irritation if you get product in these areas.

Step 5. Massage your face gently

Make small, circular motions with your fingers after applying your cleanser to your face and neck. It may take more time for the cleanser to work its magic depending on the cleanser you’re using! To activate the unique cleansing technology in our jelly cleanser, massage it into the skin for a full minute.

Step 6. Rinse

After cleansing your skin, rinse it off with lukewarm water. Following a wash, you can remove the cleanser with a washcloth or just your hands. When rinsing your face, do not use hot water. The use of too hot water can cause your skin to become irritated and dry.

Step 7. Dry your face by patting it

Gently pat your skin dry with a soft towel. Avoid rubbing or pulling the skin on your face when removing excess moisture.

Step 8. Keep up with your skincare routine

Following your cleansing routine, you may want to add a few additional steps to your post-wash routine. After cleansing, consider using the following products.

Double Cleansing

Double cleansing is easy peasy, but the difference it can make to your skin is incredible.

First Cleanse 

Choose a cleanser to remove make-up and surface dirt. This can be anything from micellar water to cleansing oils (Shu Uemura, L’Occitane, Nuxe and L’Oréal all do good ones), creams, balms, jelly and gel cleanser. Just avoid anything that foams. We hate foaming cleansers with a passion and although it’s unfair to tar everything with the same brush, so many of them are loaded with alcohol, fragrance and irritating ingredients that it is best to avoid them. Wash your face with your cleanser of choice and rinse with water and a warm facecloth.

Second Cleanse

You may think that your skin is clean at this stage, but we hate to break it to you: it’s not. Your first cleanse removed surface dirt and make-up, so now your sec- ond cleanse can work to get deep into the pores and dislodge any sneaky grime. For your second cleanse, we recommend a good balm cleanser that you can re- ally work into your skin. This will do the trick: this time when you gently rub off the excess with the facecloth, it will come back sparkling clean.

Final Words

Cleansing is an important part of your daily skincare routine. It’s important to keep in mind that the ingredients used to formulate a cleanser can have a big impact on your skin.

In order to meet the unique needs of each skin type, facial cleansers are available in a wide range of formulations. Read the product label ingredients to help you decide which one is tight for you. 

If you have oily skin, you should use a non-comedogenic gel cleanser containing salicylic acid, while if you have dry skin, use a cream cleanser containing glycerin and emollients.

Face Cleansers FAQs

Q. How often should I wash my face?

A: At least once a day is solid. We can understand that for some folks, it works to just wake up and splash water on their face, but don’t skip the evening.

Q: Is there such a thing as washing your face too much?

A: Yes, there is. Your skin will give you signs that this is happening: dryness, tightness, and a general dehydrated feeling. Have at most two wash periods a day. (But count double cleansing as a single wash event.)

Q: Do I need a special, heavy-duty cleanser if I use sunscreen makeup or long-wear makeup?

A: You actually don’t have to use a heavy-duty cleanser with sunscreen and daily makeup. It’s the stubborn, long-wear makeup that may need some help from a makeup remover.

Q: I forgot my cleanser. Is there another alternative I can use? 

A: If you’ve got nothing else on hand, choose a body wash over the hotel bar soap in a pinch. Ultimately though, shampoos and body washes are not formulated with as much emphasis

on gentleness. And we don’t recommend them as long-term solutions.

Q: What do you think of people using pure kitchen plant oils like coconut oil or olive oil to wash their face?

A: We get this for the very driest of skin types, which want something that can remove heavy-duty makeup without stripping the skin. But remember Mr. Micelle? Pure oils lack the surfactants that interact with water for a clean rinse; you may end up with more residue than you bargained for. There are oil cleansers that can do more and still won’t be drying!

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