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.”
Rea’s favorite exfoliating gel cleanser, meanwhile, comes from Tatcha, and is just a bit more expensive than the Glytone. “It has natural fruit exfoliants that are really great at drawing out impurities and dirt from clogged pores,” Rea says. “It’s oil-free, which I love, but lathers into a more creamy texture when worked in with water. It leaves skin feeling supersoft and smooth, and I love the slightly floral fragrance from natural Japenese wild rose and Japanese leopard lily.” Amino acids cleanse the skin, while fruit extracts gently exfoliate the skin. “Its ingredients are great at turning over dead skin cells, so that anything that you put on afterwards (toner, serum, moisturizer, etc.) is able to penetrate and really work instead of just sitting on top of the surface of your skin,” Rea adds.
Best two-in-one face wash
Slunjski’s favorite face wash is this two-in-one cleanser from Erno Laszlo that allows you to double cleanse (not only washing away the typical buildup but also clearing out pores) in one step: First, detoxifying cleansing oil beads with black charcoal draw out impurities and other gunk from your pores. Then, fruit enzymes smooth the skin and remove buildup, while a kale protein blend that restores nutrients to the skin. “I love their innovative bubble double cleanse formula,” she says. “It really cleans out the pores but doesn’t leave your skin dry.”
The best deep exfoliating face wash
For those times when you want a deeper, grainier exfoliation, Rea recommends this cleanser from B3. “It has a natural finely ground pumice exfoliant that clears dead cells from the surface,” she says. “It also has a blend of essential oils, which is great for moisture. This one definitely has a rougher texture; I love using it in the shower. I add this one to my routine a few times a week instead of daily use.”
The best foaming face washes
For a foaming cleanser, Strykova recommends OleHenriksen’s, which she especially likes for oily skin, though it’s great for all skin types. It contains African red tea extract that’s high in antioxidants to refresh your skin (“red tea is especially great for anti-fatigue and anti-aging,” she says), vitamin C for brightening, as well as carrot seed, grapefruit, and orange peel oils that clean your skin without stripping or drying it out. “I find that this cleanser helps to condition the skin — and it smells fantastic,” she says. “I love to use this one in summer months or during morning showers for that extra ‘pick me up’ feeling. The vitamin C and red tea energize your skin and give you that spa experience every time you use the product.”
What Rea likes about this foaming face wash is that it’s “strong enough to break down makeup and draw out impurities while not stripping the skin of its natural oils or be too harsh.” She adds, “It leaves your skin feeling invigorated and super well-cleansed. ” It’s also brightening, like the OleHenriksen, but has the added benefit of exfoliation: “It has an AHA/BHA exfoliant, which I love because that helps reduce dark spots and decrease texture over time, but gentle enough to use daily to not irritate the skin. I find that these ingredients really help decrease breakouts and brighten skin over time.” Writer Leah Bhabha, whose “straight-up impossible-to-cover 14-year-old-style zits” were beginning to be a problem, also swears by this face wash, saying that “in combination with my nightly use of retinol, my skin is now finally under control.”
Best facial cleansing oil
If you have dry skin, you may want to consider using a cleansing oil instead of a traditional face wash. This one from Sephora “gently removes even waterproof makeup and leaves skin hydrated,” according to Strykova, thanks to its formula, which is enriched with cottonseed oil and fatty acids that keep moisture in your skin. “It doesn’t leave an oily film and can be used on both the face and eyes,” she says. “Just put one to two pumps into your palm, add water, and it will transform into a lotion and gently remove all impurities.”
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