As the first step in your skin-care routine, face wash plays a very important role in keeping your skin balanced. Too harsh of a cleanser can strip the skin of precious natural oils, while too light of one won’t effectively wash away extra sebum and product residue, especially if your complexion leans oily. A good cleanser does no harm; after washing your face, your skin should feel refreshed, not tight and parched, while your pores should feel clear and primed for a serum or moisturizer. Because it can be tricky to find the perfect one for you, I spoke to 15 skin-care experts from dermatologists to facialists about what to look for, plus which cleansers they recommend for each skin type. If you already have an idea of what you want in mind, skip directly to the section that suits your skin type from our table of contents below. Otherwise, read on for nine options for all different types of skin, from oily to sensitive to dry.
Best overall| Best for dry skin | Best for acne-prone skin | Best for oily skin | Best exfoliating for oily skin | Best for sensitive skin | Best less expensive for sensitive skin | Best for combination skin | Best for hyperpigmentation | Best cleansing oil
What we’re looking for:
Skin type: To get the obvious stuff out of the way first: Pick a cleanser appropriate for your skin type. If you’re a self-proclaimed beauty guru, you may be thinking, No duh. But in my experience, most people actually have no idea what their skin type is when asked. If you have zero problems, like acne or dry skin, you were most likely blessed with “normal” skin. But for those with more complicated issues — like excessive dryness that causes tightness and flaking, or blemishes stemming from oily skin — things aren’t quite as straightforward. You need to be mindful of ingredients and the texture of your cleanser, choosing one specifically for your dry, oily, acne-prone, sensitive, or combination skin type.
Texture: Once you figure out your skin type, take into consideration the texture of the cleanser. Dry skin types need creamy, almost moisturizer-like face washes or hydrating oil cleansers to remedy the damaged skin, while oily and acne-prone types should opt for foam or gel textures, which will sop up any excess oil. Oily skin can sometimes get away with cleansing oils, too, because believe it or not, oil attracts oil, which leaves your skin balanced. Sensitive skin types should use something creamier because it’ll likely be less harsh and irritating on your already fragile skin.
Some standout ingredients: What ingredients you need depends on your skin type. For most people, a good rule of thumb is to pick something that is “both oil-free or noncomedogenic,” which means it won’t clog your pores, says certified physician assistant Alexandra Gold of SmarterSkin Dermatology in New York City. If your skin tends to be dry, you should also look for ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid to lock in as much moisture as possible. They can also be helpful for those using drying ingredients to treat acne. But acne-prone and oily skin benefits most from exfoliating ingredients like “salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or alpha hydroxy acids,” says Gold. Those will remove extra oil, debris, and dirt buildup, which can cause acne. Sensitive skin types should avoid anything harsh altogether and focus more on “calming ingredients such as aloe, cucumber, or clay,” notes makeup artist Clara Rae.
Best overall face wash
All skin types | Creamy | Glycerin, vitamin B5, and niacinamide
Backed by three of the experts I spoke to, this Cetaphil face wash features powerful ingredients like glycerin to hydrate, vitamin B5 to protect the skin’s barriers, and niacinamide, which smoothes and helps retain moisture. Plus, this noncomedogenic face wash “works on every skin type, even sensitive skin,” according to Raleigh-based Dr. Sheel Desai Solomon, who has recommended it to patients with acne, eczema, and rosacea. It’s nothing fancy, and honestly, won’t be life-changing, but it’s a simple, soap-free, hypoallergenic, and fragrance-free cleanser that removes dirt, oil, and makeup without stripping the skin or causing irritation. The best part is it’s extremely affordable, allowing you to focus your dollar on other products like moisturizers and serums that have a longer-lasting impact on your skin.
Best face wash for dry skin
Dry skin | Creamy | Glycerin, ceramides, and niacinamide
Dermatologists seemed to like CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser and this La Roche-Posay pick equally for dry skin. The CeraVe face wash has hyaluronic acid, which the La Roche-Posay cleanser doesn’t include. But in our expert opinion, the La Roche-Posay might actually be a little bit better because you get an ounce more product for the same price, and it has more actives than the CeraVe, including ceramides, glycerin, and niacinamide. It also features the brand’s famed thermal spring water, which hydrates and soothes irritated, dry skin thanks to its antioxidant properties. Ami Dalal, a certified physician assistant with Schweiger Dermatology Group, specifically calls out the glycerin within the formula, because it’s “a wonderful ingredient that helps hydrate your skin without the overproduction of oil.”
Best face wash for acne-prone skin
Oily skin | Gel | Salicylic Acid
Those with acne-prone skin should strongly consider using a cleanser with either salicylic acid, which reduces swelling and inflammation as it unclogs pores, or benzoyl peroxide, an antiseptic that decreases the amount of bacteria on your skin to prevent future breakouts. We deep-dive into all the best options here if you’d like to shop around, but overall, this Neutrogena cleanser with salicylic acid might just be your best bet, according to the dermatologists we consulted. It only has 2 percent salicylic acid, so it’s gentle enough for sensitive skin while still being able to tame serious breakouts. The gel texture also makes it particularly good for treating oily skin without drying it out.
Best face wash for oily skin
Oily Skin | Gel to foam | Green tea, vitamins C, E, K
Much like a foaming face wash, a gel one will work best for those with oily or acne-prone skin because it can cut through excess oil on the skin’s surface (and inside pores). But the downside of gel face washes is that many can be too drying, causing more harm than good. Dr. Corey L. Hartman, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama, and Dr. Hope Mitchell, founder of Mitchell Dermatology in Perrysburg, Ohio, say this face wash is an exception. It’s formulated with organic antioxidants like kale, spinach, and green tea, which Mitchell says “boost moisture in the skin, provide anti-inflammatory protection,” and won’t “leave the skin dry or tight.”
Best exfoliating face wash for oily skin
Oily Skin | Gel | Salicylic acid, antioxidants
If you like the texture of gel cleansers like the Youth to the People option above but prefer something that exfoliates, two of our experts recommend this gentle cleanser from iS Clinical. “It works for all skin types and is sulfate- and phthalate-free,” says Dr. Jessie Cheung of Cheung Aesthetics and Wellness, noting that the willow bark in the formula (a form of salicylic acid) “helps break up oils, exfoliate skin, and tighten pores.” The inclusion of salicylic acid also makes this excellent for acne-prone skin because it will deep-clean your pores while reducing inflammation. On top of that, the antioxidants in the formula protect the skin from environmental stressors while also brightening.
Best face wash for sensitive skin
Sensitive skin | Gel | Cucumber extract
Arguably, those with sensitive skin have it the hardest. Because your skin can react adversely to specific ingredients, it’s important to read labels and exclude any cleansers that are too harsh. A good place to start is this Fresh soy cleanser recommended by makeup artist Sofiia Strykova, who says it’s “perfect for extra-sensitive skin.” It gently cleanses while also leaving your skin “toned and brightened.” It has a gel texture, which typically we’d say is too harsh for sensitive skin, but this one is lightweight and feels cool and soothing. I credit that sensation to the combination of soy proteins, which keeps skin soft thanks to its high concentration of amino acids, and the cucumber extract and rose water, which hydrate and calm.
Best less expensive face wash for sensitive skin
For something a little less expensive, Karan Lal recommends this cleanser from Aveeno that contains an “oat complex” and is made with essentially three types of oat: oat oil that conditions the skin, oat extract that soothes the skin, then oat flour that moisturizes. It’s formulated without alcohol, fragrance, sulfates, and phthalates, so you don’t have to worry about any of these ingredients irritating your skin.
Best face wash for combination skin
Combination skin | Cream to foam | Ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and amino acids
Cleansing combination skin can be like dancing a waltz: You have very specific steps you need to take, but one wrong move and the delicate balance of the routine can be thrown off. You have to take into account having both dry and oily skin, which can be tough, but that’s what makes this CeraVe cleanser so good. Mitchell says it’s a best-of-both-worlds scenario for combination skin. It transforms from a cream to a foam, giving dry areas the creamy, hydrating nourishment they need, while the foam removes excess oil “without leaving [the skin] feeling tight or dry,” Mitchell adds. The cleanser also contains essential ingredients like “ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and amino acids that help maintain the skin’s natural barrier and lock in moisture.”
Best face wash for hyperpigmentation
All skin types | Gel | Glycerin
Hyperpigmentation is a skin reaction that can be triggered by inflammation of any kind and leaves challenging-to-get-rid-of dark marks behind. While serums and retinols can help, a good cleanser is just as important. Hartman says Melē’s gel-based face wash will complement “any skin-care regimen aimed at treating hyperpigmentation” and can also help even skin tone in the process. According to Hartman, it cleanses thoroughly enough to remove any impurities, but has a gentle formula that won’t irritate — only refresh — skin. Glycerin is among its star ingredients, so you can count on this to hydrate without leaving an oily film behind. For those who prefer a foam instead of gel, we’ve also heard good things about this Ambi exfoliating face wash, which is formulated with soy extract, salicylic acid, and vitamins C and E. Plus, it’s a smidge cheaper and fragrance-free, which the Melē cleanser isn’t.
Best cleansing oil
All skin types | Oil | None
Once more: Oil attracts oil without stripping the skin and is “actually perfect for dissolving waterproof makeup and getting deep into pores to remove sebum,” Cheung says. While it doesn’t include some of the standout ingredients we mentioned in our criteria, this Pai formula does contain a mix of rose hip, olive, and sunflower oils, all of which are gentle yet effective for lightly cleansing the skin. Best of all, this can work for all skin types, so it all just comes down to whether you enjoy the silky feeling of applying an oil.
Some more face washes we’ve written about
• Dr. Jessie Cheung, founder of Cheung Aesthetics and Wellness
• Ami Dalal, a certified physician assistant with Schweiger Dermatology Group
• Alexandra Gold, physician assistant at SmarterSkin Dermatology in New York City
• Dr. Corey L. Hartman, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama
• Dr. Karan Lal, New York-based dermatologist
• Dr. Hope Mitchell, founder of Mitchell Dermatology in Perrysburg, Ohio
Clara Rae, makeup artist
• Dr. Sheel Desai Solomon, dermatologist at Preston Dermatology + Skin Surgery
• Sofiia Strykova, makeup artist
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