How to Determine the Most Effective Cleanser for Your Skin Type


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How can I choose what kind of cleaner to use?—Wendy Vazquez

Whether you’re a skincare minimalist (like me) or maximalist (like me), there is one non-negotiable that I sincerely hope everyone engages in: cleaning your face. Even though it may not be as “exciting” as serums and moisturizers, the appropriate cleanser serves as the basis for the remainder of your regimen. In other words, it is really crucial. Using a cleanser that is too light will leave your face with residual makeup and dirt, leading to breakouts and discomfort. However, using a cleanser that is overly thick might strip your skin of its natural oils, resulting in breakouts and discomfort. Neither option is favorable.

So how does one locate the ideal cleanser? You can go for popular brand names and dermatologist-recommended seals, but everyone’s skin is unique; therefore, what worked for your mother may not work for you. Choosing the appropriate cleaner is so crucial.

But first, a disclaimer: As long as you’re not washing your face with dish detergent or body wash (yes, I’ve seen both) and your skin doesn’t appear to be irritated, you’re probably fine. However, there are advantages to each type of face cleanser, and understanding them will allow you to better tailor your regimen to your current skincare objectives.

From oil-based to water-based to gels and foams, continue reading to discover your ideal product.
01 out of 7 Clay
Suitable for: oily skin

Clay-based products are presumably recognizable to you due to their Instagram-friendliness (they make for the ultimate serial killer/self-care selfie). However, apart from its attractiveness, it also has some impressive skin advantages. Clay is a popular component because it absorbs sebum and has antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory effects, according to Hadley King, MD, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist. Depending on the formulation, clay might be overly drying for skin that is already dry or sensitive. Due to the fact that clay absorbs all the oil from your skin, clay-based products should not be left on for too long.

Kiehl’s Rare Earth Deep Pore Daily Cleanser ($25; comes highly recommended.
02 of 07 hydrocarbon
Ideal for: Dry or dry skin

When attempting to remove a substantial amount of stubborn makeup, oil-based cleansers are ideal. “Since like dissolves like, oil-based cleansers can be useful for eliminating oil-based makeup,” explains Dr. King. In general, washing with oils and milks is optimal for dry and sensitive skin types since they do not include excessive amounts of surfactants, which strip the skin of its natural oils.

The Laneige Cream Skin Milk Oil Cleanser ($34, comes highly recommended.
03 of 07 Gel Intended for: Acne-Prone, Oily, or Combination Skin

Typically, gel cleansers are water-based and have mild surfactants. This may result in less froth and bubbles, but the formulas will likely be lighter, cooler, and more refreshing. However, this does not imply they are ineffective; in fact, the thinner consistency is ideal for decongesting congested pores (read: great for acne-prone skin). “There are a variety of gel cleansers, so it’s better to consider the active ingredients in the product if you’re looking for a certain effect,” explains Loretta Ciraldo, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in Miami, Florida. “For example, if you desire hydration and anti-aging effects, you can seek for a cleanser containing peptides that is gel-based.”

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cleanser ($3; is my recommendation.
04 of 07 Vanilla
Ideal for: dry to normal skin

Cream cleansers often have a creamy consistency. According to Dr. King, cream cleansers are often gentler since they contain humectants to moisturize and emollients to protect the skin barrier and avoid overdrying. Because cream cleansers are typically combined with a hydrator, they are good for individuals with dry skin.

The Korres Mini Greek Yogurt Foaming Cream Cleanser ($28, comes highly recommended.
5 out of 7 Foam
Formulated for: combination skin

Consider foam cleansers a compromise between gel and cream cleansers. Dr. King explains, “They are more likely to be water-based, but may contain different levels of humectants, emollients, and surfactants to create a sudsy effect.” Upon pumping, these formulations will transform from a cream or gel into a frothy lather. Notably, if you have sensitive skin, check the label for sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS, which is a surfactant that can be unpleasant to certain individuals. This does not necessarily imply that it is harmful to your skin, but I would recommend conducting a patch test beforehand.

Caudalie Vinoclean Gentle Foam Cleanser ($28; comes highly recommended.

6 out of 7 micelles
Ideal for: sensitive skin or the first cleansing step if you wear makeup.

Micelles (tiny balls of cleaning oil molecules) are suspended in soft water to form micellar water. Dr. King explains, “The concept is that micelles are drawn to dirt and oil, so they may collect impurities without drying out the skin.” Micelles adhere to debris, oil, and makeup on the skin, dissolve them, and leave behind a moisturized finish. In other words, micellar water is the ideal multitasking cleanser, serving as a face wash, makeup remover, and moisturizer simultaneously.

“Although anybody may use micellar water, those with sensitive skin who have difficulty with conventional cleansers would benefit the most,” adds Dr. King. “A standard foaming cleanser can peel the skin and leave harsh chemicals behind.” And unlike many toners, micellar water never hurts and contains no alcohol. If your skin is really sensitive, you should seek out a fragrance-free product (see below!).

My suggestion is the Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water ($17 on Amazon).
07 of 07 Balm for cleansing
Ideal for dry skin or as the first step in a double cleansing routine if you wear makeup,

As the name suggests, cleaning balms are composed of exceptionally moisturizing substances, such as balms, butters, and oils, that profoundly hydrate and dissolve makeup. Dr. King notes that these balms tend to leave behind an oily film that might stay on the face even after rinsing. This is not a negative thing (in fact, it helps!) for dry skin, but if you are prone to breakouts, you may want to use it as the first step of a double cleanse.

CeraVe Cleansing Balm ($9, Amazon) is my top pick.