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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.
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.
"This cleanser comes from a small town in Toleriane, France, where the thermal spring water comes out of a local natural spring," explains aesthetician Graceanne Svendsen. "A clinic was made in Toleriane, and the natural 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 nonirritating 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."
"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
"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
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 hydrators 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
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
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 give the look of 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
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.
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.”
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.
Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, says, "Exfoliation is key and necessary in order 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."
"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
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 on a regular basis.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This cleanser takes a gentle approach to removing 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 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."