Finding the right basic, everyday face wash may not be as simple as you think. For starters, “you want something that is both oil-free or noncomedogenic (i.e., not pore-clogging), as well as hydrating,” says certified physician assistant Alexandra Gold of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, adding that the hydrating ingredients to look for include ceramides and hyaluronic acid. Ami Dalal, another certified physician assistant with Schweiger, adds that “a quality face wash should help cleanse without stripping essential oils from your face and maintain your skin’s pH balance.”
And then, of course, different skin types require different ingredients. For acne-prone skin, “exfoliating ingredients are important,” says Gold. “Those may include salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or alpha hydroxy acids.” (Ditto an exfoliating cleanser for those with oily skin, according to Honey Artists makeup artist Clara Rea.) And for sensitive skin, Rea recommends looking for cleansers “that have calming ingredients such as aloe, cucumber or clay, and stick to textures that are milky or creamy.” To break it all down and make it as easy as possible for you to find the best face washes and cleansers for all these skin types and more, we collected the favorite recommendations from our panel of eight skin-care experts — with options including everything from your gels to your foams to your jojoba beads.
Best overall everyday face wash
Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Cleanser was recommended by three of our experts — board certified Raleigh-based dermatologist Dr. Sheel Desai Solomon, Dalal, and makeup artist Shara Strand. A noncomedogenic face wash, “It works on every skin type, even sensitive skin,” according to Solomon, who says she recommends it “to patients who struggle with acne and sensitive skin and also to people who suffer from eczema and rosacea.” Dalal calls it “an affordable, easy option for a basic face wash that does the job well,” adding that “it’s best at removing dirt, oil, and makeup products from the skin.” Strand agrees that it “removes makeup without overdrying,” and she appreciates the fact that it’s “soap-free, hypoallergenic, and fragrance-free.”
Best hydrating face washes
Here’s another gentle, noncomedogenic cleanser that both Solomon and Dalal recommend — most of all for its hydration benefit. “The active ingredient here is glycerin,” explains Dalal. “Glycerin is a wonderful ingredient that helps hydrate your skin without the overproduction of oil.” Solomon agrees, adding that glycerin “is an effective moisture preserver that hydrates in a nonoily way.” As with the Cetaphil, “this face wash works for all skin types and is nonirritating,” according to Dalal, who also adds that it is formulated in “a town in France where the thermal water has been used to treat patients with many skin conditions, including eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis.”
Gold recommends CeraVe’s Hydrating Cleanser as a face wash that’s “gentle, noncomedogenic, and oil-free, so it won’t cause acne,” she says. “It also contains ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid, which help to hydrate and keep moisture in the skin. It is important for a cleanser to remove dirt and makeup without disrupting the skin’s protective barrier.” Like the La Roche-Posay cleanser, this face wash also has a creamy texture that delivers moisture by way of glycerin and ceramides — but instead of having just one type of ceramide (the La Roche-Posay contains ceramide 3), it has two additional ones (ceramide 1 and 6-II), which help restore the skin’s barrier, and in turn can increase its moisture levels. The two hydrating cleansers are similar in price, with CeraVe coming in slightly cheaper per ounce, so it may just come down to whatever brand you prefer, as each of them tend to have their own devoted followings.
Best face wash for sensitive skin
Makeup artist Sofiia Strykova at Honey Artists says that this face wash is “perfect for extra-sensitive skin,” adding that in addition to gently cleansing your skin, its formulation “also leaves your skin toned and brightened, eliminating an extra step from your skincare routine.” It includes soy proteins that are high in amino acids, keeping skin soft, as well as soothing and calming cucumber extract and rosewater.
Best creamy face wash
While some people have an inherent bias against cream cleansers — the creaminess feels antithetical to the cleansing — if you can get past that (often incorrect) instinct, or if you’re someone who happens to actually enjoy the luxurious experience of washing with this type of texture, the First Aid Beauty Face Cleanser is a great bet for all skin types. According to Dalal, a good face wash “should help cleanse without stripping essential oils from your face, and maintain your skin’s pH balance”; that is, its natural acidity — and that’s exactly what this cleanser does. “It has the perfect blend of antioxidants to safeguard your skin from pollutants,” she says, “as well as a pH-balanced formula that prevents skin from getting dry and irritated.” It is fragrance-, paraben-, and phthalate-free, too.
Best gel face wash
Honey Artist make up artist Kornelija Slunjski recommends this cleansing gel from Mario Badescu for people with normal and oily skin. “It really does a nice job in moisturizing the skin and also cleansing it from impurities,” she says. “It also plumps up the skin, so is a great pick for those seeking an anti-aging cleanser.” The cleanser also contains papaya and grapefruit enzymes, which can help with exfoliation, even though this is not an exfoliating cleanser per se.
Best gentle exfoliating face washes
But here, however, we do have a cleanser that is explicitly aimed at exfoliation — albeit in a gentle way, which means you can use it as your daily face wash. Dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, prefers “a mild exfoliating cleanser with hydroxy acids to help the skin shed surface cells that lead to dullness” — and that’s what you’ve got in the Transparent Gentle Exfoliating Daily Cleanser from Ghost Democracy, which he is currently using. “It combines glycolic and mandelic acid for mild exfoliation along with niacinamide,” which he says offers a calming benefit for the skin. It also contains willow bark extract, which, according to the product description helps “break down dead skin cells and dissolve pore-clogging impurities” and “balances sebum production.”
This is a granular exfoliating facial cleanser that contains jojoba beads, so it’s a bit of a different experience from the Ghost Democracy version, but perhaps equally mild in its effect (and also one that you can use every day). “This one is my favorite for an ultra-gentle milky texture that lathers up the more you scrub,” says Rea. “It’s gentle enough to never irritate the skin, and it dissolves any makeup and dirt and is super-easy to use.” Herbal extracts provide antioxidants that soothe and balance your skin, while green tea “reduces puffiness due to the caffeine in it,” according to Rea. She recommends doing a double cleanse: “First wash to remove any surface dirt and makeup, and then again to really cleanse the skin underneath.” Other than the fact that this one is slightly more expensive than the Ghost Democracy cleanser, the main difference is its milky-gel texture with the jojoba beads (which, it should be noted, dissolve as you cleanse, so you can’t overscrub your skin).
The best exfoliating gel face washes
If you’re partial to gel cleansers, but also want something that exfoliates, Solomon recommends Glytone’s gel cleanser. “This skin-care line specializes in products with glycolic acid, which cleanses and exfoliates the skin without stripping it of moisture,” Solomon says. This cleanser not only removes makeup, it also gets rid of “dead skin cells, environmental debris, and everyday buildup that can clog pores,” according to Solomon. “It also helps to eliminate acne-causing bacteria.”