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There's a big—and we mean big—misconception out there that face wash should make skin feel tight and dry to prove that it's working. Don't get us wrong: The basic premise of a face wash is to get your skin squeaky clean, but it's not supposed to do more harm than good—and it sure as heck isn't supposed to make your skin feel like it's about to crack open.
Now imagine if your skin is dry, to begin with. Cleansing with a too-harsh face wash that strips the little surface oils you do have (you want to keep those, obv) won't end well, so be mindful of choosing the right formula for parched skin. The best face washes for dry skin work in tandem to remove impurities and grime while also keeping the skin healthy and hydrated.
Below, we rounded up a list of our favorites, so keep scrolling our picks of the best face washes for dry skin.
Best Overall: Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser
Doesn't strip skin
Packaging could be more sustainable
Who else recommends it? Allure also picked the Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser.
What do buyers say? 3,700+ Glossier reviewers rated it 4 stars or above.
This is a top-rated product in the Glossier product portfolio, and it lives up to its hype, says Byrdie's Senior Editor, Holly Rhue. She (along with many others) loves the conditioning, pH-balanced formula that's gentle for even the most sensitive skin. It's made with five skin conditioners, so you can rest assured that your skin won't feel tight post-rinse. As a bonus: It doubles as a makeup remover for the face and eyes since it's got the same cleansing agents in it that you'd find in a contact lens solution.
Active Ingredients: Poloxamer, rose water, comfrey root extract, aquaxyl, pro-vitamin B5 | Skin Type: All | Size: 2 or 6 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Budget: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Lightweight Hydrating Facial Cleansing Gel
Doesn't strip skin
Hyaluronic acid is a top hydrating ingredient in moisturizers, so we're pleased to see it in this budget-friendly face wash as well. Its role here is the same—to add intense moisture to the skin while cleansing agents bid adieu to dirt, oil, and impurities. Reviewers say that it racks up on moisture without sacrificing the clean, fresh feeling that we love and expect from a quality cleanser. It's got Rhue's seal of approval as well.
Active Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid | Skin Type: Dry, sensitive | Size: 6 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Balm: Then I Met You Living Cleansing Balm
Beauty editors are raving over this award-winning cleansing balm, including Byrdie's Former Editorial Director, Faith Xue. The Then I Met You Cleansing Balm has a sorbet-like texture that is rich in nutrients, including persimmon extract, olive oil, and vitamin E. The star ingredient is seaberry oil, which is rich in fatty acids and antioxidants. Users rave that it removes all makeup residue and works even better as step one of two with the brand's Soothing Tea Gel Cleanser.
Active Ingredients: Sea buckthorn, persimmon extract, olive oil, vitamin E | Skin Type: All | Size: 3.17 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Your cleanser doesn’t have to lather in order to prove that it’s working! Many natural products purify and remove impurities without the suds.
Best for Breakouts: True Botanicals Clear Nourishing Cleanser
Doesn't strip skin
Yes, it's possible to have dry skin that is also prone to breakouts. It's harder to address both concerns at once since common acne-fighting ingredients (think salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide) are known to be drying. You could, however, use this hydrating cleanser that boasts ingredients like green tea, white tea, and black willow bark extract (a natural source of salicylic acid) and promises to tackle dry skin and acne concerns at the same time. A favorite of Byrdie's Email Editor Karli Bendlin, this face wash has all of the anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal properties you need for a healthier complexion.
Active Ingredients: Green tea, white tea, black willow bark extract, helichrysum | Skin Type: Dry, acne-prone | Size: 3.9 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Gel: Beauty Strike Gel Cream Cleanser
Fortifies skin barrier
Smaller amount than other options
This cruelty-free face wash is full of ingredients that you can say 10 times fast. The list is almost good enough to eat with avocado oil, jojoba oil, cucumber seed oil, lemon extract, and more. (But please, don’t eat it!)
Beauty Strike founder and esthetician Emani Jeter recommends using this gel-cream cleanser because it removes dirt while fortifying the skin barrier with vitamins and nutrients. Plus, this brand is committed to transparency and quality, so you can count on products without icky ingredients.
Active Ingredients: Avocado oil, jojoba oil, vitamin A, vitamin E | Skin Type: Dry | Size: 4 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Dull Skin: Rosen Skincare Super Smoothie Cleanser
Doesn't strip skin
Reviewers note bottles can arrive half empty
Think of this as a smoothie for your face. This all-natural cleanser is packed with active fruit powders and will help boost radiance and smooth your skin without stripping it. The fruit powders at play include raspberry, lemon, and strawberry. Users love how this cleanser leaves skin feeling moisturized, and even those with sensitive skin keep coming back for more. We especially love that Rosen Skincare is an independent, growing business that stands firm in transparent ingredients and never condones skin shaming.
Active Ingredients: Active fruit powders (strawberry, lemon, raspberry) | Skin Type: Dry, acne-prone | Size: 4 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Soothing Formula: Kate Somerville DeliKate Soothing Cleanser
Fortifies skin barrier
If your skin is all sorts of stressed out or run down from too many months (years, even) of harsh face washes, this face wash can help calm things down. It's made to help soothe and calm redness and irritation and is formulated with a ceramide complex, ginger root extract, and Tasmania lanceolata fruit extract. Another favorite of Xue's, it's just what the doctor ordered to restore the skin's protective barrier.
Active Ingredients: Amino acids, ceramides, tasmannia lanceolatea fruit extract, ginger root extract, cucumber seed oil | Skin Type: Dry, sensitive, stressed | Size: 4 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Hyperpigmentation: Urban Skin Rx Combination Skin Cleansing Bar
Helps treat breakouts
This unique cleansing bar for dry and combination skin is a major routine upgrade for those who deal with hyperpigmentation. Created with people of color in mind, Urban Skin RX has melanin skin down to a science—literally. We can personally affirm its reputation for supporting an even tone and more radiant skin. With consistent use, skin has fewer breakouts, and we’ve gone from wearing concealer almost daily to being virtually free of hyperpigmentation. So much "yes!"
Active Ingredients: ClearTone Advanced Technology, resorcinol, coconut oil, salicylic acid, hibiscus flower extract, licorice root extract | Skin Type: Dry, combination, mature | Size: 2 or 3.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Splurge: Matrescence Rose Glow Purifying Cleanser
Contains organic ingredients
Great for dry skin, this product will deliver a deep clean feeling without ever stripping your skin of its natural oils. It's also a great pick for sensitive skin because of its anti-inflammatory, healing, and calming properties. It's also lightly scented with citrus and bergamot for a spa-like bonus, so needless to say, it's worth every penny.
Active Ingredients: Burdock root extract, green tea extract, plantain extract, witch hazel | Skin Type: Dry, hormonal, sensitive | Size: 4 ounces | Byrdie Clean: Yes
What to Look for in a Face Wash for Dry Skin
If your skin is on the drier side, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King recommends looking for a cleanser that’s rich in emollients (think: natural plant butters, oils, lipids, and fatty acids). These, she says, will help support and strengthen the skin’s natural barrier, which is responsible for trapping moisture.
Avoid Harsh Detergents
In terms of what to avoid, Dr. King recommends that anyone with dry skin steer clear of cleansers that contain harsh detergents like SLS or SLES. “They can strip the skin of its natural oils, leaving the skin drier with an impaired skin barrier function, potentially causing irritation,” she says. Instead, she recommends reaching for gentle options that contain cleansers like gluconolactone (a PHA) or lactic acid (an AHA) and are also packed with nourishing ingredients.
Avoid Potentially Drying or Irritating Ingredients
Dr. King also recommends avoiding any potentially irritating or drying ingredients, such as salicylic acid or glycolic acid. If you’re looking for a cleanser that contains an exfoliating hydroxy acid, she recommends instead reaching for lactic acid, which has humectant properties. Or seek out a PHA like gluconolactone, which doesn’t penetrate the skin as deeply, thus reducing the risk of dryness or irritation. Also, added fragrance is usually best avoided as it can cause irritation, especially when the skin is already dry.
How often should you wash your face with dry skin?
How often you wash your face will largely depend on your skin's needs and your lifestyle. It's common for people with dry skin to prefer cleansing once a day (usually at night) to prevent stripping their skin. However, if you work out in the morning and build up a sweat, it's best to wash your face twice a day.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Hadley King, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in medical and cosmetic dermatology. She is also a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
While you might enjoy the clean and fresh scents that derive from the ingredients of your cleanser, dermatologists recommend avoiding products with added perfumes that irritate dry skin.
The Best Facial Cleansers for Dry Skin, According to Dermatologists. Allure. https://www.allure.com/gallery/best-face-washes-for-dry-skin
Lubart R, Yariv I, Fixler D, Lipovsky A. Topical Hyaluronic Acid Facial Cream with New Micronized Molecule Technology Effectively Penetrates and Improves Facial Skin Quality: Results from In-vitro, Ex-vivo, and In-vivo (Open-label) Studies. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2019;12(10):39-44.
Zielińska A, Nowak I. Abundance of active ingredients in sea-buckthorn oil. Lipids Health Dis. 2017;16(1):95. doi:10.1186/s12944-017-0469-7
Willow Bark. In: Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed). Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US).