Dermatologists Weigh in: The 15 Best Drugstore Face Washes

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Some would argue that if you have to choose one budget skincare step, it should be the one that technically washes down the drain (i.e., cleanser). Don't get us wrong—cleansing is a vital part of every routine, and the right formula can make a major difference in the state of your complexion.

Luckily, there are tons of standout drugstore face washes out there, many of which are under $20 (and some even under $10). But which products shine above the rest, and more importantly, which one is right for you? We caught up with two board-certified dermatologists to get their expert opinions on the matter.

"I like gentle cleansers without sodium lauryl sulfate, alcohol, or fragrance to avoid irritation," says Dr. Martha H. Viera. Similarly, Dr. Adebola Dele-Michael of Radiant Skin Dermatology & Laser suggests using a mild cleanser to remove dead skin buildup and pollutants. With pointers from these pros in mind, we found standout formulas for every skin type and budget.

Scroll down for the best drugstore face washes.

Our Top Picks
This wallet-friendly facial cleanser is free of irritating ingredients.
Best for dull skin, this face cleanser features soy to smooth out skin's texture and even out discoloration.
This formula is gentle on all skin types—no irritation here.
This cleanser is formulated with antioxidant-rich thermal water from a natural spring in France.
A gel-like texture removes dirt, oil, and makeup from skin.
Remove impurities with this non-irritating gel cleanser.
Hero ingredients work to reduce redness and clear pores.
Don't be fooled, this foaming cleanser offers gentle exfoliation.
Better-looking skin is in your future thanks to hydrating ingredients.
Oily and waxy complexions can benefit from this sebum-balancing cleansing oil.

Best Overall: Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser

 Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser
What We Like
  • Budget-friendly

  • Pump dispenser

  • Non-comedogenic

  • Accepted by National Eczema Association

What We Don't Like
  • Not cruelty-free

Dr. Viera says Vanicream's Gentle Facial Cleanser is among the best in the drugstore category, and we couldn't agree more. Don't let the basic-looking bottle deter you—this no-nonsense face wash is a clutch when it comes to cleaning sensitive, acne-prone, and eczema-prone skin

Boasting a stamp of approval from the National Eczema Association, it's free of fragrance, dyes, parabens, formaldehyde, and other potentially irritating ingredients. Even those who don't struggle with skin sensitivities can benefit from using Vanicream. The soap-free formula won't clog your pores. Oh, and did we mention it's one of the most affordable options on the market?

Active Ingredients: Glycerin, coco glucoside | Skin Type: Acne-prone/sensitive/eczema-prone | Size: 8 ounces | Cruelty-Free?: No | Byrdie Clean?: Yes

Best Budget: Aveeno Positively Radiant Skin Brightening Face Cleanser

Aveeno Positively Radiant Brightening Facial Cleanser
What We Like
  • Budget-friendly

  • Non-comedogenic

  • Good for all skin types

What We Don't Like
  • Not cruelty-free

Dr. Viera is also a fan of Aveeno. Containing hydrating hyaluronic acid, the brand's wallet-friendly Positively Radiant face wash is a go-to for anyone looking to boost their complexion.

Active Ingredients: Soy, glycerin, hyaluronic acid | Skin Type: All | Size: 6.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free?: No | Byrdie Clean?: No

Best Pump: Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
What We Like
  • Great value

  • Pump dispenser

  • Non-comedogenic

  • Good for all skin types

What We Don't Like
  • Contains alcohol

  • Not cruelty-free

One of the best parts about drugstore face washes is that they often come in large pump bottles, offering easy dispensing and more bang for your buck. With that said, Dr. Viera recommends Cetaphil's 16-ounce Gentle Skin Cleanser, which is soothing, hydrating, and suitable for all skin types.

Active Ingredients: Aloe, chamomile extract, green tea extract | Skin Type: All | Size: 16 ounces | Cruelty-Free?: No | Byrdie Clean?: No

Best Oil-Free: La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Facial Cleanser

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser
What We Like
  • Non-comedogenic

  • Fragrance-free

  • Pump dispenser

What We Don't Like
  • Not cruelty-free

Recommended by both Dr. Dele-Michael and Dr. Viera, La Roche-Posay Toleriane is among the best from the drugstore aisle. This ultra-gentle, oil-free, pleasantly milky cleanser promises to clean with glycerin, soothe with thermal spring water and niacinamide (vitamin B3), and replenish the skin barrier with essential ceramides.

Active Ingredients: Thermal spring water, niacinamide, glycerin, ceramides | Skin Type: Sensitive/dry/oily | Size: 8 ounces | Cruelty-Free?: No | Byrdie Clean?: Yes

Best Soap-Free: Eau Thermale Avène Cleanance Cleansing Gel

Eau Thermale Avène Cleanance Cleansing Gel
What We Like
  • Soap-free formula

  • Reduces redness

  • Prevents breakouts

What We Don't Like
  • Contains fragrance

  • Contains dyes

If you prefer a soap-free formula, Dr. Viera suggests Avène Cleanance. This cleansing gel uses gentle ingredients like milk thistle and thermal spring water meant to remove dirt, oil, and makeup without irritating or drying out the skin.

Active Ingredients: Thermal spring water, zinc gluconate, milk thistle extract | Skin Type: Oily/sensitive/acne-prone | Size: 6.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free?: Yes | Byrdie Clean?: No

Best K-Beauty: COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser

COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser
What We Like
  • Budget-friendly

  • pH-balanced

  • Good for all skin types

What We Don't Like
  • Small amount

If you're not on the Korean cosmetics bandwagon yet, order a tube of CosRx Good Morning Gel and hop on. This pH-balanced face wash contains all-star ingredients like tea tree oil and salicylic acid meant to remove impurities.

Active Ingredients: Tea tree oil, salicylic acid | Skin Type: All | Size: 5.1 ounces | Cruelty-Free?: Yes | Byrdie Clean?: Yes

Best With BHA: CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser

CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser
What We Like
  • Pump dispenser

  • Gently exfoliates

  • Non-comedogenic

What We Don't Like
  • Not cruelty-free

CeraVe's widely celebrated SA Cleanser contains salicylic acid, arguably the most common and effective BHA (beta-hydroxy acid). This superstar ingredient helps reduce redness, and gently exfoliates, while hyaluronic acid and ceramides provide restorative moisture.

Active Ingredients: Salicylic acid, hyaluronic acid, ceramides | Skin Type: All | Size: 8 ounces | Cruelty-Free?: No | Byrdie Clean?: No

Best Foaming: CeraVe Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser

CeraVe Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser
What We Like
  • Pump dispenser

  • Gently exfoliates

  • Non-comedogenic

What We Don't Like
  • Not cruelty-free

  • Contains alcohol

Dr. Viera also likes CeraVe's Cream-to-Foam Cleanser, which comes in a generous 19-ounce pump bottle. This face wash contains moisturizing amino acids, hydrating hyaluronic acid, and ceramides, plus lactic acid for oh-so-gentle exfoliation.

Active Ingredients: Ceramides, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, amino acids, lactic acid | Skin Type: Dry/sensitive/combination | Size: 19 ounces | Cruelty-Free?: No | Byrdie Clean?: No

Best Gel: Good Light Cosmic Dew Water Cleanser

Good Light Cosmic Dew Water Cleanser
What We Like
  • Reduces inflammation

  • Improves skin barrier

  • pH-balanced

  • Fragrance-free

What We Don't Like
  • Small amount

We also love Good Light Cosmic Dew, a fragrance-free, gel-to-foam cleanser formulated to address inflammation and strengthen fragile skin. Standout ingredients include prebiotics, skin-soothing seaweed, and deeply hydrating hyaluronic acid.

Active Ingredients: Glycerin, seaweed, prebiotic plant sugars, hyaluronic acid | Skin Type: Sensitive/dry/combination | Size: 3.4 ounces | Cruelty-Free?: Yes | Byrdie Clean?: Yes

Best Oil: Enuf Project Cleansing Oil

Enuf Project Cleansing Oil
What We Like
  • Pump dispenser

  • Natural formula

  • Dissolves makeup

What We Don't Like
  • Contains fragrance

Despite what your instincts may tell you, oil-based face washes won't make oily skin more greasy. On the contrary, this cleanser claims to balance sebum and help minimize oil production, thanks to a blend of natural antimicrobial and complexion-replenishing plant-based oils.

Active Ingredients: Safflower seed oil, olive oil, coconut oil | Skin Type: Dry/combination/oily | Size: 5.1 ounces | Cruelty-Free?: Yes | Byrdie Clean?: Yes

Best Cleansing Balm: Nyakio Sweet Almond Cleansing Oil Balm

Nyakio Sweet Almond Cleansing Oil Balm
What We Like
  • Dissolves makeup

  • Softens skin

  • Nourishing

What We Don't Like
  • Unhygienic container

  • Relatively pricey

If you're in the market for a cleansing balm, check out this brilliant formula from Nyakio. Flaunting a rich blend of earth-sourced ingredients like shea butter and sweet almond oil, the formula effortlessly breaks down makeup and dirt, leaving your skin soft, nourished, and glowing.

Active Ingredients: Sweet almond oil, shea butter, coconut oil | Skin Type: Combination/dry/mature | Size: 3.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free?: Yes | Byrdie Clean?: Yes

Best for Makeup Removal: DHC Deep Cleansing Oil

DHC Deep Cleansing Oil
What We Like
  • Dissolves makeup

  • Pump dispenser

  • Nourishing

What We Don't Like
  • Not cruelty-free

  • Relatively pricey

When you're ready to take your makeup off at the end of the day, reach for DHC Deep Cleansing Oil. This popular Japanese face wash contains a concoction of olive oil, vitamin E, and antioxidants meant to dissolve stubborn, waterproof products.

Active Ingredients: Olive oil, capric triglyceride, vitamin E | Skin Type: Dry/mature | Size: 6.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free?: No | Byrdie Clean?: No

Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Rosen Skincare Super Smoothie Cleanser

Rosen Skincare Super Smoothie Cleanser
What We Like
  • Smooths uneven texture

  • Balances sebum

  • Antibacterial

What We Don't Like
  • Small amount

For those battling breakouts, we recommend Rosen's Super Smoothie Cleanser. The notably thick, creamy formula promises to confront acne-causing bacteria, balance sebum, and help smooth uneven texture, leaving you with a brighter, even-toned complexion.

Active Ingredients: Strawberry powder, lemon peel | Skin Type: Acne-prone | Size: 4 ounces | Cruelty-Free?: Yes | Byrdie Clean?: Yes

Best for Sensitive Skin: Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser

What We Like
  • Budget-friendly

  • Non-comedogenic

  • Soap-free formula

What We Don't Like
  • Not cruelty-free

Neutrogena's Ultra Gentle Cleanser is one of Dr. Viera's drugstore favorites, and we can see why. The non-comedogenic, soap-free, luxuriously creamy formula simultaneously cleans, moisturizes, and softens without stripping the skin.

Active Ingredients: Thermal water, glycerin, cetearyl glucoside | Skin Type: Sensitive/dry/eczema-prone | Size: 12 ounces | Cruelty-Free?: No | Byrdie Clean?: No

Best for Teens: Sun Bum Daily Cleanser

Sun Bum Daily Cleanser
What We Like
  • Contains antioxidants

  • Good for all skin types

What We Don't Like
  • Contains fragrance

Sun Bum's playful new skincare line has some real gems, like this antioxidant-rich face wash. Containing coconut water, banana extract, and other beachy ingredients, the simple formula is an excellent intro-to-skincare pick for teens.

Active Ingredients: Ginseng, coconut water, banana extract | Skin Type: All | Size: 5 ounces | Cruelty-Free?: Yes | Byrdie Clean?: No

Final Verdict 

Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser (view at Amazon) is undoubtedly the best drugstore face wash on the market. The extra-mild, non-comedogenic, soap-free formula is suitable for all skin types, even the most sensitive, plus it's one of the most affordable options out there. If you're open to spending a tad bit more, you might consider La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Face Cleanser (view at Amazon), a dermatologist-approved formula with a pleasant milky consistency.

What to Look for in a Drugstore Face Wash

Your Skin Type

According to Idris, your best bet when choosing a drugstore face wash is to consider your skin type and choose a formula accordingly. “The choices of great drugstore cleansers are limitless,” says Idris. Narrowing them down by skin type will help the decision-making process.

The Texture of the Product

Once you've identified your skin type, it's easier to know what texture is best. If you have dry skin, creams, oils, or balms are the way to go. For those with oily or acne-prone skin, gel cleansers are best, she says.

FAQ
  • How often should you use a drugstore face wash?

    "Wash your face two times a day with a gentle cleanser," advises Dr. Dele-Michael. That said, folks with extra-dry skin might opt for once-daily cleansing, especially on makeup-free days. On the other hand, some people double-cleanse at night, first reaching for a cleansing balm or another oil-based formula to dissolve makeup, then a water-based face wash to remove any remaining residue.

  • Do drugstore face washes expire?

    Most cleansers will expire 12 to 24 months after being opened, though some may only last roughly six months. It really depends on the container, the formulation, what preservatives are used, and where you store it. Look for the PAO (period-after-opening) symbol, which looks like a tiny jar with a lid. The number within the symbol will tell you how long the product lasts after being opened.

Why Trust Byrdie?

Theresa Holland is a freelance commerce writer specializing in lifestyle, self-care, and beauty. For this story, she interviewed two board-certified dermatologists and researched different ingredients, formulations, and packaging types for cleansers. She looked at dozens of drugstore face washes from a wide range of brands and pored over user reviews before making her final selections. As a skincare enthusiast with a routine nearing ten steps, Theresa has tried several cleansers on this list. She is particularly fond of Vanicream, La Roche-Posay, CosRx, CeraVe, and DHC. She has been contributing to Byrdie since 2020, where she covers skincare, makeup, and fitness apparel.

Meet the Expert

Dr. Adebola Dele-Michael, MD FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist, and the founder of Radiant Skin Dermatology & Laser in New York. She specializes in cosmetic dermatology and dermatologic surgery.

Dr. Martha H. Viera, MD FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in Miami, Florida. She is a fellow member of several dermatological organizations, including the American Academy of Dermatology, the Women's Dermatologic Society, and the Florida Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery.

Dr. Shereene Idris, an NYC board-certified cosmetic dermatologist, and expert in faces, fillers, and lasers.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
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  2. Tang SC, Yang JH. Dual effects of alpha-hydroxy acids on the skinMolecules. 2018;23(4):863. doi:10.3390/molecules23040863

  3. Jesumani V, Du H, Aslam M, Pei P, Huang N. Potential use of seaweed bioactive compounds in skincare-a reviewMar Drugs. 2019;17(12):688. doi:10.3390/md17120688

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