Say Goodbye to Tight, Dry Skin With These Hydrating Face Washes

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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 in order 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.

In This Article

Best Overall: Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser

Milky Jelly Cleanser

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.

Best Budget: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Lightweight Hydrating Facial Cleansing Gel

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Lightweight Hydrating Facial Cleansing Gel

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.

Best Balm: Then I Met You Living Cleansing 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.

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

True Botanicals Renew Nourishing Cleanser

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. 

Best Lotion Cleanser: Paula’s Choice Moisture Boost One Step Cleanser

Paula’s Choice Moisture Boost One Step Cleanser

With a name like Moisture Boost, it's pretty obvious what this cleanser does. Formulated with dry skin in mind, this milky lotion formula gently lifts makeup and surface dirt effectively while leaving your complexion soft to the touch and incredibly supple. You're in effect pampering your skin while washing it—score.

Best Gel: Beauty Strike Gel Cream Cleanser

Beauty Strike Gel Cream Cleanser

This cruelty-free face wash is full of ingredients that you can say 10 times fast. With avocado oil, jojoba oil, cucumber seed oil, lemon extract, and more, the list is almost good enough to eat. (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.

Best for Dull Skin: Rosen Skincare Super Smoothie Cleanser

Rosen Skincare Super Smoothie Cleanser

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.

Best Soothing Formula: Kate Somerville DeliKate Soothing Cleanser

Kate Somerville DeliKate Soothing Cleanser

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.

Best for Hyperpigmentation: Urban Skin Rx Combination Skin Cleansing Bar

urbanrx cleansing bar

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. I can personally affirm its reputation for supporting an even tone and more radiant skin. With consistent use, my skin has fewer breakouts, and I’ve gone from wearing concealer almost daily to being virtually free of hyperpigmentation. So much yes.

Best Splurge: Matrescence Rose Glow Purifying Cleanser

Matrescence Rose Glow Purifying Cleanser

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.

What to Look for in a Face Wash for Dry Skin

Emollient-Rich Formulas

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 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. Again, 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 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.

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. Zielińska A, Nowak I. Abundance of active ingredients in sea-buckthorn oilLipids Health Dis. 2017;16(1):95. Published 2017 May 19. doi:10.1186/s12944-017-0469-7

  3. Willow Bark. In: Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed). Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); August 16, 2021.

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