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Washing your face seems like a simple task. Just grab a cleanser and go, right? Well, not exactly. According to celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau, the cleansing portion of your skincare routine is perhaps the most important. So it's not in our best interest to use any old cleanser. Instead, it's better to find one that works best for your particular skin type, with ingredients that are good for your skin rather than harsh and drying.
Dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, explains, "The wrong cleanser can rub your skin barrier, leading to inflammation (or it may not do an effective enough job). Remember, the right cleanser for you may be very different from what your best friend is using." TL;DR: Our skin is not one-size-fits-all. Far from it, in fact. Below, top dermatologists and estheticians reveal their favorite cleansers to use on themselves and their patients.
Keep reading to find the best face wash and cleansers that suits you.
Best Overall: First Aid Beauty Pure Skin Face Cleanser
Every face wash should remove makeup and clean your skin well without completely stripping your complexion of healthy oils, which can cause the skin to feel tight and produce even more oil. Enter this facial cleanser from First Aid Beauty. The ingredient allantoin helps calm skin irritations from acne or shaving while antioxidants derived from plants protect the skin's outer barrier from pollution.
Best Budget: Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
"Originally used to wipe off makeup, Cetaphil's Gentle Skin Cleanser doesn't even require water to rinse off. I do, though, still recommend you remove any residual potential irritants. It's great about removing dirt and makeup without drying out delicate facial skin." — Nazarian
Best Drugstore: La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Facial Cleanser
"This cleanser comes from France, where the thermal spring water comes out of a local natural spring," explains aesthetician Graceanne Svendsen. The naturally thermal spring waters are used to treat patients in the clinic who have rosacea, dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis. This cleanser is a gentle, non-comedogenic cleanser that also helps heal skin and is non-irritating for all skin types. It's made with glycerin. What I love about glycerin is its ability to bind and attract water molecules in the air. It's one of the most effective humectants for non-oily hydration."
Best for Sensitive Skin: Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser
"This one doesn't have any formaldehyde, fragrance, parabens, or dyes. It's one of the gentlest, safest ways to cleanse your skin. I've never had a problem with it (even with my most sensitive-skin patients)." — Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City
Best Bar: Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar Soap
"No fragrance, highly moisturizing, never strips natural skin oils—it's been around a long time for good reason. They make bars that come in many different scents, but the best is the unscented sensitive skin bar. It's a wonderfully safe way to clean skin. You'll feel more moisturized after using it, which is rare for a cleanser." — Nazarian
Best for Dry Skin: Renée Rouleau Moisture Protecting Cleanser
Allantoin, also known as aluminum dihydroxy allantoinate, is an extract from the comfrey plant (which is native to temperate climates of Asia and Europe). It has potent healing and soothing properties, and may also help exfoliate the skin.
"This silky, sulfate-free cleanser is a unique gel-to-milk formula that provides the gentlest cleansing experience. It uses plant-based hydration and soothers like allantoin, aloe, and glycerin to provide soothing comfort for dry, sensitive skin types. This cleanser is ideal for any retinol or retinoid users who need to cleanse with something that won’t disrupt their skin’s delicate moisture barrier." — Rouleau
Runner-Up, Best For Dry Skin: Shani Darden Skincare Cleansing Serum
Esthetician to the stars, Shani Darden uses this highly concentrated cleanser in her own daily routine. It purifies the skin and unclogs pores without damaging the skin barrier, so those with dry skin love that it doesn't leave skin feeling tight.
"This is a super gentle cleanser. It's got olive and chicory leaf extract which is really great for inflammation, it calms the skin, and it's great for removing makeup." — Shani Darden
Best for Dull Skin: Joanna Vargas Vitamin C Face Wash
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient required for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of the body, including the skin, but we cannot produce it on our own. For the skin, it helps to boost collagen, lighten discoloration, and fight free radicals.
"This is a sulfate-free foaming face wash that uses a blend of vitamin C–infused citrus extracts along with açai juice to promote brighter skin. It creates a gentle, soft foaming lather that won’t strip the skin of essential moisture. This is a great morning cleanser for the shower to give your skin a refreshing pick-me-up to wake up tired-looking skin. And the scent is lovely!"— Rouleau
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Deep Cleanser With Red Clay
"This cleanser is particularly helpful in patients with oily and acne-prone skin. Red clay helps absorb oil from the skin while licorice root, feverfew, and white tea help calm skin inflammation." — Joshua Zeichner
Best for Oily Skin: Avene Cleansing Foam
Dermatologist Sonia Batra, MD, MSC, MPH, recommends this Avène pick. It's formulated with glutamic acid, which gently clears away extra sebum if you have an oily skin type. One of our writers even says it feels like a cloud against your skin and smells just as fresh.
Best for Combination Skin: Differin Balancing Cleanser
Dermatologist Melissa Levin, MD, always recommends a makeup wipe as the first step in your cleansing routine. “If you have oily or acne-prone skin, this gives the additive physical exfoliation, which can help remove oil, makeup, and dirt from the skin,” says Levin. “I recommend following that up with a proper gentle cleanser to ensure all the makeup is removed. One of my favorites is Differin Balancing Cleanser as a gentle hypoallergenic option.”
Best for Clogged Pores: DermaDoctor Ain't Misbehavin' Medicated AHA/BHA Acne Cleanser
Soap-free, oil-free, and pH-balanced to prevent dryness and irritation, this gentle cleanser is made up of witch hazel, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid—a triple threat of components that form a great acne-fighting brigade. Nava Greenfield, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group recommends salicylic acid for those small, fine bumps, also known as comedones.
Best Scrub: Dr. Barbara Sturm Facial Scrub
Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, says, "Exfoliation is key and necessary to continue turnover of dead skin cells. I recommend incorporating a gentle exfoliating cleanser as a great entry point. This one is blended with moisturizing silk extract so it's really nourishing and won't ever leave your face feeling tight."
Best Classic: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash
Though some cleansers lack beads because of harshness, exfoliation is one of the top recommendations among facialists and dermatologists when it comes to clearing your skin. This formula not only has the heavenly scent of grapefruit, but it tackles acne-prone skin and prevents breakouts. The exfoliators in this scrub go deep into your pores but are gentle enough to use regularly.
Best for Blackheads: St. Ives Blackhead Clearing Green Tea & Bamboo Face Scrub
You’ve tried it all, but nothing seems to kick those frustrating blackheads off your face. If that sounds like you, try out St. Ives’ Blackhead Clearing Face Scrub.
Containing 1% salicylic acid, this is an oil-free, non-comedogenic cleanser, which helps to unclog pores and prevent the formation of blackheads and eliminate what's already there. So, if you're looking for a gentle, exfoliating product to clear skin, look no further than this facial scrub.
Best for Aging Skin: InstaNatural Vitamin C Cleanser
Aloe vera is a naturally derived ingredient known for its soothing and moisturizing properties. The aloe plant's inner gel mucilage (the part that's used in skin care products) is made up of 99.5% water.
Aloe vera, coconut water, sugar cane extract, and green tea extract work together to plump the skin and reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles. The vitamin C-packed cleanser also helps with discoloration and dullness that may come with growing older. Though it’s best for anti-aging concerns, this product is recommended for people of all ages and skin types. It’s also paraben-free and made with all-natural ingredients to brighten and cleanse the skin without any harsh side effects.
Best Cream: Glytone Mild Cream Cleanser
Glytone is a skincare brand that specializes in glycolic acid products, an ingredient recommended by every dermatologist I've ever spoken with. This mild cleanser is suitable for sensitive skin types and does everything a glycolic acid cleanser should do. It cleans the skin while exfoliating, brightening, and fighting signs of aging too.
Best Versatile: Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser/Mask
Clear skin doesn’t have to come with a hefty price tag. Neutrogena’s Clear Pore Facial Cleanser is two-in-one because it also acts as a mask. Containing benzoyl peroxide, this product is recommended for those with oily skin or blemishes.
Use it as a face wash for a quick, fresh clean. If you have a few extra minutes, do some self-care and leave it on as a mask. Whatever you choose, your skin will reap the rewards.
Best Natural: Christina Moss Naturals Original Rosemary Face Wash
Some face washes may have harsh chemicals that don’t mix well with sensitive skin. If that is your concern, rest assured that this organic formula is formulated without potential irritants like chemicals; instead the formula boasts all-natural ingredients you can feel good about.
Best for Men: Scotch Porter Restoring Face Wash
You might know that the men in your life need to upgrade their skincare routine, and this face wash will convince them that they do too. Dermatologists acknowledge that inflammation is the root cause of many irritating skin problems, and this foaming face wash has the magic ingredient, turmeric, to keep skin calm and smooth.
Best for Hyperpigmentation: Specific Beauty Daily Gentle Cleanser
This cleanser takes a gentle approach to remove impurities without stripping or irritating the skin. Dr. Heather Woolery-Lloyd created Specific Beauty with melanin-rich skin in mind, and she sites a calming cleanser as the integral first step of a skincare routine.
Since darker skin tones are more likely to develop dark marks, Dr. Heather says that it's important to "keep the skin calm and soothed so it's less reactive and less prone to creating dark marks and pigmentation."
There’s a good reason why there are so many different types of facial cleansers on the market; different skin types need different things. That being said, the First Aid Beauty Pure Skin Face Cleanser is as close to an all-around universal fail-safe pick as you can get in the face wash world. For dry skin, we like the Renée Rouleau Moisture Protecting Cleanser; for oily skin, the Avene Cleansing Foam. Prone to breakouts? Try the First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Deep Cleanser with Red Clay or the Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash.
What to Look For In a Face Wash
Those with dry skin should opt for thicker, creamier textures—think balms and "milks". Foaming formulas are best for those with oily skin, while those with normal skin should consider gels or lotions.
No matter what kind of skin you have, it’s imperative to impart some moisture back into it during the cleansing process. Again, if your complexion is drier, oils and butter are a good better. Oilier? Look for lighter hydration such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid.
What it doesn’t contain
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough face washes from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at email@example.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.