Despite cleansing being the first essential step in your skincare routine, people often neglect to be selective with a cleanser the same way they would with a serum or a treatment. But the truth is, the cleanser you use should be chosen based on your skin type, your needs, and your skincare goals. Formulas can vary from oils to cleansing balms and gels to gentle exfoliators, each designed with specific skin types and concerns in mind.
“The most important factor to consider when investing in a face cleanser is to know your skin type,” says Dr. Michelle Henry. “Whether you have oily, dry, acne-prone, or sensitive skin, choosing the right ingredients is key to healthy skin.” Dr. Carmen Castilla agrees, adding that you want to look out for a cleanser that will remove buildup and grime from the day without stripping your skin of its natural oils.
So, we put tons of different face washes to the test in our lab facility in New York City to determine the best options for people with various skin types, skin concerns, and preferences. We evaluated each product based on ease of use, feel, effectiveness, and appearance, and those that ranked highest are on this list.
KraveBeauty Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser
Consistency is balanced and easy to apply
Creates subtle cooling effect on the skin
Thoroughly removes makeup and impurities
Leaves skin feeling refreshed and comfortable
Not currently available at any major retailers
Out of all the face washes we tested, this one has claimed our best overall title. It has a gel formula that’s silky and has just the right consistency, making it easy to apply on the skin and create a nice lather. The formula features coconut-based surfactants to cleanse the skin, as well as matcha and hemp seed oil for antioxidant protection and hydration.
Our tester adored how soothing it felt, saying the soft texture and subtle cooling effect it created left her skin feeling refreshed. She said it did an excellent job at thoroughly cleansing her skin of excess makeup and oil without leaving her with a dry or stripped feeling. It was easy to use, effective and created a nice sensorial experience. The one downside? It’s currently only sold on the KraveBeauty website, making it not as accessible as we would love it to be.
Price at time of publish: $16
Skin Type: All | Size: 4.05 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What Our Testers Say
“The face wash felt very gentle on my face. It wasn't too sticky, thick, or too watery. It was also very lightweight and soothing on the skin. It had a slight cooling effect that felt rejuvenating on the face.” —Michelle Ransom, Tester
CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser
Lightweight, creamy gel texture
Creates nice lather
Effectively removes makeup and dirt
Doesn’t leave residue behind
Keeps skin feeling soft and hydrated
Might not be ideal for those with oily skin
If you scroll through BeautyToK, chances are you’re familiar with CeraVe products and how great they are—and this one is no exception. In addition to being affordable and accessible, it does a great job at doing exactly what it was designed to do: effectively cleanse the skin. It’s not super fancy, and it doesn’t offer “extras” like exfoliation or antioxidant protection, but it’s fantastic at cleansing the skin without stripping it or creating that tight feeling that many cleansers do. It has a creamy, slightly gel-like texture, and it’s formulated with hyaluronic acid and ceramides for hydration and skin barrier support which is excellent for those with dry and sensitive skin.
Our tester was pleasantly surprised by how well it removed her makeup, saying just one wash was all it took to leave her skin looking and feeling clean. She appreciated that after using it, her skin was clean and hydrated, and her complexion looked even.
While it’s an excellent choice for people with balanced, dry, or even sensitive skin, those with very oily skin might need something a bit more powerful to effectively break down excess oil.
Price at time of publish: $19 for 19 fl oz
Skin Type: Dry, balanced, sensitive | Size: 16, 19 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
Lightweight, creamy formula
Gentle on the skin
Might not be powerful enough for those with oily skin
This incredibly popular cleanser has been a drugstore staple for decades, and given how simple and effective the formula is, its popularity is justified. It’s free from common irritating ingredients, has a lightweight, creamy texture, and contains glycerin and niacinamide for hydration and skin barrier support.
In terms of how it felt on the skin, our tester said he really enjoyed that the consistency wasn’t overly thick or runny, making it easy and comfortable to apply on the face. It rinsed off easily and left his skin looking and feeling clean and moisturized. It’s a fantastic option for people with dry or sensitive skin, and we also recommend it for those that seek out a very gentle cleanser in the morning when they don’t need to remove makeup. If you have oily skin or makeup to remove, this could be a nice option as a second cleanse after an oil-based cleanser.
Price at time of publish: $17
Skin Type: Dry, balanced, sensitive | Size: 8 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
Best for Dry Skin
Paula’s Choice Resist Optimal Results Hydrating Cleanser
Soft, lotion-like texture
Effectively removes face makeup
Leaves skin feeling moisturized
Some online reviewers say it isn’t powerful enough to break down SPF and excess oil
If you have dry skin, then you can probably identify with the tight, uncomfortable feeling that some cleansers leave you with. That’s why we love this creamy, hydrating face wash for people with dry skin—it doesn’t do that. The lotion-like texture is formulated with glycerin to hydrate the skin, as well as chamomile extract to soothe it.
In addition to the texture, our tester loved how well it removed her foundation and concealer and left her skin feeling clean and moisturized rather than stripped and tight. She also noted that it felt gentle and non-irritating around her eyes, a real plus if you’re sensitive in that area.
One thing to note is that, like many cream cleansers, some online reviewers say this one isn’t ideal for removing stubborn eye makeup or breaking down SPF or excess oil. If you have oily skin and still want to use it, we recommend starting with a cleansing balm first.
Price at time of publish: $22
Skin Type: Dry, balanced, sensitive | Size: 6.4 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Oily Skin
Hyper Skin Hyper Even Gentle Brightening Cleansing Gel
Gelatinous texture that easily emulsifies
Consistency is thick and won’t run down the face, creating a mess
Leaves the skin feeling clean and balanced
Takes a bit of rubbing to fully remove makeup
When you have oily skin, finding a face wash that fully removes excess oil without completely drying out your skin can be challenging, but this one does the job. It has a unique gel texture that’s pretty viscous without being heavy, making it really easy to lather. Our tester raved about the consistency, saying it was incredibly easy to work with and totally enjoyable to apply. While she noted that it took a bit of effort to fully remove makeup, she praised how well the formula cleansed her skin when going in a second time with it, and she loved that it left her oily complexion feeling balanced—free of grease yet not dried out.
We also love that this formula contains mandelic acid, which helps to gently exfoliate, as well as licorice root extract and willow bark extract to soothe and tone down redness. If you’re on the hunt for a face wash to balance out your oily skin type, we highly recommend this one.
Price at time of publish: $28
Skin Type: Oily, balanced, combo, dry | Size: 5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
What Our Testers Say
Tester Quote: “It's the perfect combination of what I need to fully cleanse my skin without over-stripping my dry areas but [still] clearing up the oily areas like I need.” —Danielle Ransom, Tester
Best for Sensitive Skin
Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser
Free of sensitizing ingredients
Leaves skin feeling balanced
Not great at removing makeup
People with sensitive skin often struggle to find skincare products that don’t create redness or irritation. If that sounds like you, then we recommend checking out this affordable face wash that was specifically formulated without many of the ingredients that are known to be sensitizing. It’s free from fragrance, soap, dyes, gluten, and more. The light, creamy formula contains glycerin to hydrate the skin, as well as coco-glucoside, a coconut-based surfactant to cleanse.
Our tester with sensitive, reactive skin shared that the face wash felt soft and gentle on her face, and while it wasn’t super effective at removing makeup, it did do a nice job at cleansing without creating a tight feeling. It’s a basic, affordable face wash that’s effective and non-irritating on dry and sensitive skin, but if you’re looking to remove makeup as well, we suggest using a makeup remover first.
Price at time of publish: $9
Skin Type: All, especially sensitive | Size: 8 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Pores
Skinfix Acne+ 2% BHA/AHA Azelaic Acid and Niacinamide Cleanser
Soft, foaming gel formula
Cleans the skin without over-stripping
Contains BHA to gently exfoliate the skin
Product comes out of the tube too fast and gets messy
You probably know that you can’t actually alter the size of your pores, but ridding your skin of excess sebum can help to make your pores appear smaller and more clear. If you struggle with clogged pores, this gel face wash is a great option for you because it’s formulated with BHA, which works to remove excess oils and dead skin cells. It also contains niacinamide to help prevent excess oil production, as well as azelaic acid to reduce the appearance of post-breakout marks.
When it comes to the texture of the product, our tester said it felt like a thin, slippy gel formula that lathered well and was easy to spread around his face. He didn’t have to apply pressure or exert much effort to thoroughly cleanse his skin with this product, and he appreciated the results, saying it left his face neither still oily nor dried out.
Our one con? He explained that the packaging isn’t ideal, saying that the thin formula came out of the opening way too fast, which caused a little bit of a mess.
Price at time of publish: $35
Skin Type: Oily, combo, normal | Size: 5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Redness
EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser
Soft, creamy texture
Creates a thick lather
Leaves skin feeling balanced
Foaming description is slightly misleading
People with sensitive skin know how difficult it can be to wash your face without getting really red. Whether your skin is sensitive or you’re just prone to redness, this is a great option for you. The formula contains bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapple which is known to be anti-inflammatory—this can help reduce redness, swelling, and irritation.
Our tester loved the texture of this face wash, although it’s not exactly like most lightweight, foaming cleansers. While most foaming cleansers have airy, mousse-like textures, this one is definitely more rich and viscous and forms a much thicker foam. She said that it felt soft and luxurious when applied on her skin, noting that it was easy to lather and massage across her face. It effectively removed her makeup and excess oil and left her skin feeling clean and not stripped.
Price at time of publish: $32
Skin Type: All | Size: 7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
Best for Acne
PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash
Lightweight, creamy texture
Contains high concentration of benzoyl peroxide
Not ideal for those with dry or sensitive skin
If you have stubborn acne, you know how frustrating it can be to find products that work to reduce breakouts and leave you with clear skin. But if you haven’t tried this cleanser from PanOxyl, we highly recommend that you do—that is, if your skin isn’t overly sensitive or dry. The lightweight, creamy formula contains 10 percent benzoyl peroxide, the highest concentration of the ingredient that can be included in over-the-counter products. Why is this so helpful for those with acne-prone skin? Because benzoyl peroxide works to kill much of the acne-causing bacteria on the skin, which helps to clear current breakouts and prevent new ones from popping up.
Note that while this cleanser is an excellent option for those with acne-prone skin, it can be drying. So if you have sensitive or dry skin, we recommend that you consult with your dermatologist before using it.
Price at time of publish: $10
Skin Type: Acne-prone | Size: 5.5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
Dr. Loretta Gentle Hydrating Cleanser
Slippery gel texture lathers easily
Luxurious feeling on the skin
Fully cleanses skin without stripping it
Contains hydrating ingredients
Some online reviewers say there are similar options that are more affordable
Face wash is supposed to clean your skin, but sometimes it cleans it a little bit too well, resulting in uncomfortable dryness and a tightening sensation. That’s why it’s important to seek out cleansers that effectively cleanse excess dirt and oil without completely robbing your skin of necessary hydration—especially if you have dry or sensitive skin. We love this silky gel cleanser because it’s formulated with marine peptides to boost hydration, as well as chamomile essential oils to soothe it.
Our tester shared that she loved the consistency of this product, saying it felt like a slippery gel that lathered nicely and felt soft and luxurious on her face as she applied it. It effectively removed her makeup, cleaned her face, and left her skin feeling perfectly balanced and hydrated.
While we absolutely recommend this product to anyone looking for a solid hydrating cleanser, some online reviewers say they’ve found comparable options on the market for a more affordable price.
Price at time of publish: $35
Skin Type: Dry, combo, balanced, sensitive | Size: 6.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
SkinCeuticals Purifying Cleanser With Glycolic Acid
Thin, gel consistency
Foams and lathers easily
Cleanses excess oil without over-drying
Contains glycolic acid for gentle exfoliation
It’s not ideal for breaking down makeup and SPF
Exfoliation is great for the skin because it works to remove dead skin cells and leave your complexion smoother and brighter. But, use an exfoliator that’s too harsh, and you could do more harm than good. That’s why we love this exfoliating cleanser—it’s formulated with glycolic acid, which works to get rid of dead skin cells and boost collagen, making it a more gentle option than a harsh scrub. It has a thin gel consistently that foams and lathers well, and our tester appreciated how soft and comforting it felt as she applied it on her skin. It effectively removed her excess oil without stripping her skin or leaving behind a residue, and she shared that her face felt clean and soft after using it. If you want to incorporate gentle chemical exfoliation into your everyday routine, we absolutely recommend this cleanser.
Price at time of publish: $36
Skin Type: Oily, combo, balanced, dry | Size: 6.8 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
Best Cream Cleanser
First Aid Beauty Face Cleanser
Soft, creamy texture
Gentle on the skin
Effectively removes makeup and dirt
Could be slightly more hydrating
Cream face washes are great for anyone who likes a soft, sensorial experience while cleansing. They’re also usually great options for those with dry or combination skin because they tend to be less drying than gel or foaming cleansers. We love this one because it’s formulated without drying alcohols, has a thick, creamy texture, and lathers with ease. Our tester loved how soft it felt on her skin, and she was pleasantly surprised by how well it removed her stubborn makeup. While she definitely didn’t find it drying, she said it left her skin feeling normal—not stripped, yet not hydrated. We love that it delivers on its claims and isn’t so gentle and creamy that it’s not effective, but we wish it were just the slightest bit more moisturizing. If you have balanced or combination skin and you’re looking for a cream cleanser, this is a Byrdie-approved product for you.
Price at time of publish: $23 for 5 oz
Skin Type: Balanced, dry, combo, oily | Size: 2, 5, 11 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Foaming Cleanser
Kopari Lychee Clean Vitamin C Foaming Face Cleanser
Packaging is mess-free and dispenses ideal amount of cleanser
Lightweight, fluffy foaming texture
Effectively removes makeup and oil in one cleanse
Fragrance could be slightly off-putting for some
If you like lightweight, foaming cleansers, we highly recommend that you try this one from Kopari Beauty. While some foaming formulas can be pretty drying due to a high alcohol concentration or a lack of nourishing ingredients, this one is the opposite. In fact, it’s formulated with hydrating B5 and allantoin, a soothing plant extract, making it a great option for people with dry or even sensitive skin.
In addition to loving how functional the recyclable packaging is because it easily dispenses the ideal amount of product, our tester loved how fluffy the consistently is and how soft this face wash felt against her skin. It successfully removed her makeup and cleansed her skin without leaving her with a tight sensation, and she noticed an improvement in the brightness of her complexion after using it.
While she personally loved the tropical fragrance, which is derived from plant extracts, we know fragrances can be undesirable for some people, so we would love to see a fragrance-free option.
Price at time of publish: $24
Skin Type: All | Size: 5.1 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Gel Cleanser
iS Clinical Cleansing Complex
Thoroughly cleanses makeup, dirt, and oil
Safe for all skin types
Contains salicylic acid for mild exfoliation
Gel texture is slightly sticky
According to Dr. Henry, “Gel cleansers are great for deep-cleansing routines and for removing excess oil particles and oilier skin types.” And while they can sometimes be a bit drying, this one isn’t. It’s formulated with glycerin to hydrate the skin, as well as chamomile flower to soothe it, making it a solid choice no matter your skin type. Our tester appreciated how well it broke down her makeup, cleansed her skin of excess oil, and left it feeling purified, smooth, and even moisturized. It also contains salicylic acid to gently exfoliate the skin, which is an added bonus if you struggle with breakouts or uneven skin texture.
While our tester found the gel consistency to be slightly sticky, which might be a bit off-putting for some, it can be mitigated by adding a bit more water during your cleansing process. Plus, because it has a subtle tackiness to it, it’s not as messy or runny when you’re applying it to your skin. If you’re in the market for a face wash that thoroughly removes makeup and gives the skin a deep yet gentle clean, this is the one for you.
Price at time of publish: $25 for 2 fl oz
Skin Type: All | Size: 2, 6 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Milky Cleanser
Hero Cosmetics Pore-Clarifying Cleanser
Easy to spread across the skin
Leaves skin feeling hydrated
Leaves a slight film behind
Think of a milky cleanser as a more lightweight, liquidly version of a cream cleanser. Milky formulas are typically gentle, hydrating, and non-foaming. We love this one for those with dry or sensitive skin because it contains jojoba and ceramides to moisturize the skin, as well as colloidal oatmeal to calm it. Plus, it’s also a great gentle option for people who struggle with acne because oatmeal helps to soothe stressed skin, and it also contains PHA to help clarify congested pores.
Our tester gave it really positive reviews, saying that the texture wasn’t too thin or runny, and it felt incredibly calming and non-irritating on her skin. Despite its gentle formula, it worked to remove dirt, and even makeup, leaving her skin both clean and hydrated. The one minor con? She noted that it left a thin film on her skin, so it could take a bit of effort to fully remove.
Price at time of publish: $15
Skin Type: Dry, sensitive, acne-prone | Size: 5.4 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Blueland Facial Cleanser Starter Set
Mess-free option for traveling
Easy DIY assembly of the product
Gentle on the skin
Not currently available at accessible retailers
Not ideal for makeup removal
Let’s face it—the beauty industry creates an immense amount of waste. If this is something you feel passionately about, and you want to opt for sustainable brands and products, we highly recommend this cleanser from Blueland. The starter kit comes with a bottle that you can use over and over again, as well as a packet (or three if you choose the three-pack) of powdered cleanser. You’ll then fill the bottle up with your water, add in the packet of cleanser, shake the bottle, and wait one hour for the formula to activate. The formula contains soothing oat and vitamin E, as well as kaolin clay, which is also great for oil absorption. Once you run out, you can simply order refill packets rather than purchasing a whole new bottle each time.
Aside from the incredible sustainability component of this product, our tester really enjoyed how gentle the gel formula felt on her skin. It was easy to spread around her face, and she appreciated that it didn’t drip as she applied it. She didn’t find it to be super impressive when it came to removing makeup, so we think this face wash is a better choice for the morning or for when you’re makeup-free.
Price at time of publish: $16
Skin Type: All | Size: 8 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
The KraveBeauty Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser has been crowned our favorite face wash. It’s efficacious, has a nice texture, feels refreshing on the skin, and leaves the face feeling balanced. If you prefer to pick up something gentle and affordable at the drugstore, we recommend the Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser. And if you’re looking for a cleanser to help prevent and treat breakouts, the PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash with Benzoyl Peroxide is an excellent choice.
Meet the Expert
- Carmen Castilla, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. She specializes in cosmetic and medicinal dermatology and is a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Hospital.
- Michelle Henry, MD, FAAD, is a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist and a clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College. She is also the founder of Skin & Aesthetic Surgery of Manhattan, and the CEO of The Henry Research Group.
How We Tested
After reading the manufacturing directions on the package of the face wash they chose, each tester applied the product to their skin and cleansed for the same amount of time using lukewarm water. After thoroughly washing their faces, the testers patted their skin dry with a towel and noted how their skin looked and felt. During the process, they were sure to note whether or not the packaging was functional, the product texture, how well it removed makeup and grime, how it lathered, and how it left their skin. Each face wash was evaluated based on ease of use, feel, effectiveness, and appearance, and those with the highest scores appear on this list.
Testing the Best Face Washes for Formula and Ingredients
Other Options We Tested
Aveeno Positively Radiant Brightening Facial Cleanser
We certainly appreciate that this affordable face wash is accessible at drugstores, but our tester shared that he found the consistency to be pretty sticky, and his face felt pretty stripped of moisture after using it.
Fresh Soy pH-balanced Hydration Face Wash
This ultra-popular face cleanser left our tester’s skin feeling balanced and refreshed, but she noted that it didn’t do a great job at breaking down or removing her makeup.
Good Light Cosmic Dew Water Cleanser
Our tester shared that this gel-to-foam cleanser did a nice job of cleansing his face and removing makeup, but it left behind a slight residue and left his skin feeling pretty dry.
What to Look For When Buying a Facial Cleanser
Considering the formula and texture of a face wash is important in order to ensure you’re selecting something that’s effective for your skin type. While there’s no one-type-fits-all in terms of a specific formula that’s best for a specific skin type, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind.
According to Dr. Castilla, “Cream-based cleansers typically incorporate humectants such as hyaluronic acid or glycerin to help the skin stay moisturized post-cleanse,” making creamy formulas fitting for people with dry skin. We love the First Aid Beauty Pure Skin Face Cleanser for people with a variety of skin types that are looking for a creamy cleanser, but we highly recommend the CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser for those with dry or sensitive skin.
She notes that “gel cleansers are best for removing excess oils and cleaning out pores,” meaning that they’re often best for people with oily or combination skin. If you’re looking for a gel formula, we recommend the iS Clinical Cleansing Complex because it’s suitable for all skin types and does an excellent job of thoroughly cleansing the skin.
As for foaming cleansers, she explains that they’re usually soap based and are highly effective at removing makeup and excess oil. However, Dr. Henry shares that foaming cleansers can be drying, so they’re often best suited for people with very oily skin. But, the Kopari Beauty Lychee Clean Vitamin C Foaming Face Cleanser is an exception to this, as it contains hydrating ingredients and is safe for all skin types.
As with all beauty products, you’ll want to consider the ingredient list of your face wash. Take your skincare goals into consideration as you decide what ingredients to seek out. For example, if you’re looking for a face wash that will provide some exfoliation benefits, keep an eye out for products with salicylic acid or glycolic acid, like the SkinCeuticals Purifying Cleanser.
Your skin type should also help you dictate what ingredients to seek or avoid. Dr. Henry advises people with sensitive skin to look for cleansers that contain calming ingredients, like glycerin, jojoba esters, niacinamide, and vitamin E, and avoid high concentrations of exfoliating acids that could potentially be irritating. Dr. Castilla agrees, also noting that it’s wise for those with sensitive skin to avoid physical exfoliation beads as well as formulas with high concentrations of alcohol. For people with oily skin, Dr. Henry recommends looking for products containing salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or glycolic acid. “These ingredients help control oil production, help kill surface bacteria on the skin, and can act as gentle exfoliants,” she says.
This is especially important for those with dry and/or sensitive skin. In this case, it's worth looking for "sulfate-free" and "fragrance-free" distinctions.
How often should you wash your face?
According to Dr. Henry, you should wash your face morning and night. However, Dr. Castilla says if you have dry or sensitive skin, you might not need to use soap in the morning, a simple rinse with water will do the trick.
Is it necessary to double cleanse?
The short answer is: there’s no right answer. If you’re not wearing makeup, you likely won’t need to double cleanse unless you’re having trouble breaking down stubborn SPF. However, if you are wearing makeup and you typically use a cream or milky cleanser, it likely won’t do a thorough enough job at breaking down and completely removing your makeup. In that case, we recommend starting with an oil-based cleanser, like a cleansing balm, to break down your makeup and following up with your usual face wash to cleanse your skin.
Why Trust Byrdie
Alyssa Kaplan is an experienced writer in the beauty industry and product tester specializing in cosmetics. She has tested dozens of facial cleansers, including several on this list. She received a bachelor’s degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she studied marketing and product development in the cosmetics industry as well as fashion business marketing. Alyssa has been a commerce writer at Byrdie since 2022, where she covers all things beauty.