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 SmarterSkin Dermatology in New York City, who notes that hydrating ingredients to look for include ceramides and hyaluronic acid. Ami Dalal, a certified physician assistant with Schweiger Dermatology Group, 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.” And for sensitive skin, makeup artist Clara Rae recommends looking for cleansers “that have calming ingredients such as aloe, cucumber, or clay, and sticking to textures that are milky or creamy.” To make it as easy as possible for you to find the best face washes and cleansers for these skin types and more, we asked Gold, Dalal, Rae, and 13 more skin-care experts about the ones that they recommend. Their 18 suggestions below run the gamut from effective drugstore options to fancier gels, foams, and face washes with jojoba beads.
Best overall face wash
Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Cleanser was recommended by three of our experts — Dalal, makeup artist Shara Strand, and Dr. Sheel Desai Solomon, a board-certified dermatologist based in Raleigh. 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,” adding that the product is “soap-free, hypoallergenic, and fragrance-free.”
Best hydrating face wash
Both Gold and Dr. Hope Mitchell, the founder of Ohio-based Mitchell Dermatology, recommend CeraVe’s Hydrating Cleanser. Gold tells us that “it contains ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid, which help to hydrate and keep moisture in the skin.” The face wash has a creamy texture that delivers moisture by way of glycerin and those ceramides — specifically, ceramides 1, 3, and 6-II, all of which help restore the skin’s barrier and in turn help increase its moisture levels. Mitchell adds that the cleanser is “gentle, noncomedogenic, and oil-free, so it won’t cause acne.”
Best (French) hydrating face wash
Here’s another gentle, noncomedogenic cleanser that both Solomon and Dalal recommend — again for its hydration benefit. Like the CeraVe cleanser above, it has a creamy texture and contains ceramide 3. But, as Dalal notes, “the active ingredient here is glycerin,” which she describes as “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.”
Best face wash for hyperpigmentation
As we’ve explained before, 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 introducing different serums and retinols into your routine will treat the problem, a good cleanser is just as important. Dr. Corey L. Hartman, the founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama, 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 buildup behind.
Best (less expensive) face wash for hyperpigmentation
The Melē cleanser may not be a splurge, but if you’d prefer an even cheaper option to treat hyperpigmentation, try this wash from Ambi that Mitchell says is just as effective. “This foaming cleanser is formulated with ingredients such as soy extract, salicylic acid, and vitamins C and E,” she says, “which in combination help to address hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone, antioxidant protection, and breakouts.” Foamy cleansers are typically best for those with oily or acne-prone skin as they can be quite harsh and drying, but Mitchell says not to “let the foamy consistency fool you” because “this cleanser is gentle enough for all skin types, including sensitive skin.”
Best face wash for extra-sensitive skin
Makeup artist Sofiia Strykova says that this face wash is “perfect for extra-sensitive skin,” adding that in addition to gently cleansing, 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,” or, in other words, 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
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 that is building up in pores) much easier. But the downside of gel face washes is that many can be too drying, causing more damage than they fix. Hartman and Mitchell say this face wash is an exception, recommending it to anyone who might prefer a gel consistency. 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 gel face wash
If you’re partial to gel cleansers and also want 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.” It also contains antioxidants, which help to protect skin from environmental stressors and brighten, too. Dr. Chaneve Jeanniton, a Brooklyn-based oculofacial plastic surgeon and the founder of epi.logic Skincare, says this is her go-to recommendation for patients with acne-prone skin. That’s because of the formula’s salicylic acid, which she says is effective at breaking up pore-clogging oil to boost cell turnover and keep breakouts at bay. Writer Kaleigh Fasanella, who has a rare genetic disorder that disrupts her skin barrier, has also attested to this face wash’s gentleness, calling it “ultragentle yet still clarifying.”
Best gentle exfoliating gel face wash
Solomon likes this gel cleanser from Glytone, which, as the name suggests, is much more mild as far as exfoliation goes. The brand, she tells us, formulates all of its products using glycolic acid. “It cleanses and exfoliates the skin without stripping it of moisture,” she 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 her. “It also helps to eliminate acne-causing bacteria.”
Best (less expensive) gentle exfoliating gel face wash
This cleanser is also formulated to exfoliate gently enough to use every day and won’t set you back as much as the Glytone one above. Dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, uses it himself, describing it as “a mild exfoliating cleanser with hydroxy acids to help the skin shed surface cells that lead to dullness.” Zeichner adds that the formulation “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.”
Best gel-to-creamy exfoliating face wash
Rea’s favorite exfoliating gel cleanser, meanwhile, comes from Tatcha. “It has natural fruit exfoliants that are really great at drawing out impurities and dirt from clogged pores,” Rae 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) is able to penetrate and really work instead of just sitting on top of the surface of your skin,” Rae adds.