Basic formula is gentle and effective
A little goes a long way
Natural, skin-soothing ingredients preserve barrier health
Not Byrdie Clean
May be pricey for a cleanser
Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cleanser
We put Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cleanser to the test after receiving a complimentary sample from the brand. Keep reading for our full product review.
Working in the beauty and grooming business, I’m often asked, “What’s the best cleanser?” and, time and time again, rather than recommend a specific product, I focus more on dispelling myths about what cleansers should do. For a product whose purpose is, essentially, to wash away dirt and oil, there is little evidence to suggest cleansers can do much more. I’m not talking about those containing AHAs or BHAs, which can also provide exfoliation, but rather the many products out there today that contain any number of plant extracts and ingredients like antioxidants that, because they’re only exposed to the skin for a few seconds, don’t serve any real function—other than to drain your bank account.
For me, a good foaming cleanser is a basic option that meets three simple criteria: high-quality ingredients, a superior lather, and a reasonable price tag. Everything beyond this, such as fragrance, texture, and bonus ingredients, comes down to your personal preference and needs and is irrelevant to the efficacy of the product. And ticking off these boxes with aplomb is Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser—a no-frills formulation that has earned itself a permanent place in my routine. Keep reading to see my full thoughts.
Best for: All skin types.
Uses: To gently cleanse skin without over-drying or stripping.
Byrdie Clean? No; contains PEGs, triethanolamine, and parabens.
About the brand: After starting as a tiny Manhattan apothecary in 1851, Kiehl’s has grown to become one of the world’s most-loved skin and body care brands. Known for bringing natural ingredients to the forefront, the brand offers no-nonsense products that really work.
About My Skin: Sensitive and moody
I’m a retinol user, so my skin is on the sensitive side, oily, and easily reactive to any kind of aggressor. Harsh cleansers or alcohol-based toners leave it tight, shiny, and angry-looking, and if I stray from my normal routine, my skin can get red and blotchy, which could last for days. As a result, I’m quite particular about cleansers, and find many—even those touted for sensitive skin—can be too aggressive for me. I also wear SPF daily (as we all should), so while I need something gentle, it must be strong enough to remove every trace of sunscreen.
The Feel: Gel to foam
The first thing you’ll notice about Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser is that a little goes a long way. It’s a dense gel that takes some real movement to work up into a lather, and feels soft and cushiony on your face as you cleanse with it. I especially like how it gets my beard clean without taking away its natural luster. Another bonus: once in a while, I shave the upper part of my beard, and I find the natural emollients in this cleanser are enough to use its lather as a shaving gel.
The Scent: Neutral
This fragrance-free formulation has a mild, if not pleasant, natural smell. It’s just there and doesn’t smell like much of anything. When it comes to fragrance in cleansers, I don’t mind a fresh, light fragrance, but I hate when it’s overly perfumed to the point that it leaves some behind. Because of that, I usually opt for a fragrance-free cleanser like this.
The Ingredients: Nature at its best
Here’s where I take issue with many cleansers: they can feature ingredients lists stacked with stuff that you’ll wash down the drain in a matter of seconds. But as is the case with most of its products, Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser is loaded with a host of natural ingredients, all of which contribute to a great cleansing experience. High up on the list is a sugar-derived glycoside that whips up a luscious lather without the drying effects of a more chemical foaming agent. There’s also glycerin, a natural humectant that helps bind water to the skin and gives the gel a nice glide consistency. Lastly, a combination of emollients including squalane, apricot kernel oil, vitamin E, and avocado oil helps to protect skin’s barrier and maintain the proper pH balance.
The Results: Clean, balanced skin
The best part about Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser comes after you’ve rinsed it away and dried your face, when you experience skin that just feels great. After washing my face, my skin felt clean, refreshed, and balanced—not too tight, red, or shiny. I can be quite oily, especially in the summer, and this cleanser is evidence of the rule that says the more aggressively you wash your face, the oilier it will be. Using such a gentle yet effective formula keeps my oil in check naturally.
The Value: Well worth the money
At $22 a pop, Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser isn’t cheap, especially when compared with the surplus of effective drugstore cleansers, but in my opinion, it outshines all of them in its ability to get skin looking and feeling both clean and well-cared-for. Add to that the fact that a pea-sized amount is all you need, and dollar for dollar, this stuff will last you way longer.
Similar Products: You have options
Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser: From a brand that’s known as the "savior for the sensitive-skinned," this Cetaphil foaming cleanser ($7) gets the job done with a simple, fragrance-free formula.
Mario Badescu Gentle Foaming Cleanser: Packed with aloe and skin-soothing glycerin, Mario Badescu’s basic foaming cleanser ($14) gives you lather for days and silky-soft skin.
Simple Kind to Skin Foaming Cleanser: A few pumps of this instant foaming cleanser from Simple ($7) is enough to remove dirt and oil without upsetting your skin or your budget.
After using Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser for a while, I can honestly say it would be my desert island staple. While I’d never call a cleanser "revolutionary," I would say this has significantly upped my standards, and I’ll happily stick with it for the foreseeable future.
- Product Name Ultra Facial Cleanser
- Product Brand Kiehl's
- Price $22
- Weight 5 oz.
- Full Ingredient List Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Decyl Glucoside, Glycerin, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, Acrylates Copolymer, PEG-200 Hydrogenated Glyceryl Palmate, Lauryl Glucoside, Sodium Chloride, Pentylene Glycol, Triethanolamine, Phenoxyethanol, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, Distearyl Ether, Behenyl Alcohol, Methylparaben, Laureth-2, Propylparaben, Sodium Methylparaben, Squalane, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis Oil/Sweet Almond Oil, Prunus Armeniaca Kernel Oil/Apricot Kernel Oil, Tocopherol, Ascorbyl Glucoside, Persea Gratissima Oil/Avocado Oil, Sodium Hydroxide, Citric Acid.