- Face cleansers and washes are both designed to clear skin of grime and impurities but do so at different levels
- Face washes usually have a foaming action and are rinsed off
- Cleansers are available in various textures and viscosities and are rinsed or wiped off
- Face washes provide a deeper cleanse and are ideal for oily skin
- Cleansers are more gentle and are therefore best suited for dry and sensitive skin
While facial cleansers and washes both clear skin of excess oils, grime, pollution and debris they have different mechanisms of action and so perform differently. When choosing a product, a cleanser vs. a face wash will depend on your skin type, lifestyle, specific needs and personal preference.
Face Cleansers vs. Face Washes
Cleansers are mild, nonfoaming products that are applied to skin and then rinsed or wiped off to dissolve sebum (oil), grime, dead skin cells and impurities. These products not only purify, but soothe, protect and hydrate skin, due to their composition as well as added beneficial ingredients. This makes cleanser ideal for not only dry skin but sensitive and combination skin.
Facial cleansers can be found in a range of formulations including cream, oil and gel; each has a different weight, texture and consistency, from thin and watery to milky, oily, thick and creamy.
Face washes, on the other hand, are water-based products that are applied to wet skin, worked into a sudsy or foamy lather and then rinsed off to provide a deeper cleanse. Typically, these contain astringent properties that together with the foaming action, clears pores and removes excess sebum, making these products an excellent choice for oily and acne-prone skin.
Of note is that both types contain surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate which combine with oils, fat and dirt and suspends them where they can then be wiped off or rinsed away.
Unfortunately, surfactants can also strip skin of essential moisture which can disturb the skin barrier function, leaving skin feeling taut, itchy, red and dry.
An ideal product should therefore be able to effectively cleanse the skin without causing damage or irritation and on the contrary, should attempt to keep the skin surface moist.
In order to choose a product that is compatible with your skin type and lifestyle, it’s important to recognize the main differences between cleansers and face washes.
|Purpose||Clears grime, excess sebum, flaky skin, makeup and sunscreen from the skin’s surface||Penetrates skin to remove pore buildup for a deeper cleanse|
|Best suited for||Normal, dry, combination, sensitive and mature skin||Normal, oily, combination and acne-prone skin|
|Formulations||Cream, lotion and oil||Gel and foam|
|When to use||Evening||Morning or evening|
|Method||Rinse or wipe off||Rinse off|
|Texture||Thin and watery, milky, oily or thick and creamy||Gel or foam|
|Hydrating||Formulated to hydrate and soothe skin; typically contain added ingredients to boost moisture and nourish skin||Astringent to remove excess oils; ideally, should contain added agents to restore moisture|
How to Use Face Cleanser
Nighttime is the ideal time to use a foaming cleanser as it can eliminate the days’ accumulation of oils, grime, pollution, makeup and sunscreen. This also prepares your skin for better absorption and optimization of any rejuvenating serums or moisturizers during the nighttime cell renewal and repair process.
Some cleansers are designed to be applied and wiped off; others require rinsing. Follow the instructions on the label and ensure you thoroughly remove all traces of cleanser regardless of the method.
Cleansers are ideal for normal, dry, sensitive and combination skin. If you have very dry skin, cleansing twice a day will help keep skin hydrated, soft and comfortable.
How to Use Face Wash
Morning is optimal for using a face wash to deeply cleanse skin before applying any moisturizing products, makeup and sunscreen.
Washing your face properly not only entails using the right product, but also the correct method.
Overwashing or scrubbing in an aggressive manner will irritate and redden skin.
To avoid this, put a small amount of face wash on the tips of your fingers and apply to wet skin; gently massage your skin in a circular manner for 20–30 seconds – no more.
This will thoroughly cleanse your skin and allow enough time for any active ingredients to absorb into your skin. Rinse thoroughly, pat dry and continue with your skin care routine.
A face wash can be beneficial for all skin types, even dry and sensitive.
To ensure your product doesn’t strip skin of natural oils and moisture, opt for a product that contains niacinamide to boost hydration and calm inflammation; ceramides to protect the skin barrier function; and glycerin to moisturize and soften. This is especially important for dry and sensitive skin.
If you have particularly oily skin, you can use a face wash both morning and night.
Can you use both?
Yes, depending on your skin type, lifestyle and preferences, cleansers and face washes can be used in the same routine; this could be every day or on an as-needed basis.
Double-cleansing involves applying a cream, lotion or oil cleanser to remove grime, oil, makeup, sunscreen followed by a cleanser to remove traces of cleanser and residual debris. Depending on your preferences and daily activities, this can be performed morning or night.
If you notice any signs of irritation such as dryness, itching or irritation, this may be a sign of overwashing; if so, scale back and double cleanse less often.
However, if you have oily but sensitive skin, double cleansing may help alleviate both issues by reducing oiliness and calming irritation.
Should You Use a Face Wash or a Cleanser?
Face washes are typically formulated for oily skin and skin that develops pimples and comedones; cleansers for normal, dry and sensitive skin. The main difference between the two is that a foaming face wash penetrates deeper for greater results; a cleanser works on the surface of skin and is more hydrating.
One study examining cleansers found that cleansing oils were more beneficial for dry and mature skin, while gels were better suited to oily and acne-prone skin.
No matter which type you choose to wash your face, opt for a product that is designed for your skin type and receive the most benefits for your skin by opting for one that contains active ingredients to achieve soft, smooth skin and address any skin concerns:
- Green tea extract is a natural ingredient that has been found to regulate oil production to calm acne breakouts
- Glycolic acid is gentle enough for dry and sensitive skin; it exfoliates pore buildup, and boosts skin cell turnover and collagen production
- Salicylic acid is prized for its ability to slough off dead skin cells, exfoliate blackheads, and eliminate excess oils
While face washes may not be designed for dry or sensitive skin, you can still benefit from using them if you choose a product that has added ingredients to counteract their drying effects, such as ceramides, glycerin, lipids and hyaluronic acid. These agents work to hydrate, protect and strengthen the skin barrier.
Both gentle cleansers and deep cleansing face washes play an important role in an effective skin care routine, as they both effectively clear skin of debris, sebum and dead skin cells, but do so by different modes of action.
Face washes provide a deep cleanse via a foaming action and are designed to help treat acne blemishes and oily skin. Cleansers work on the surface of skin and are considered more gentle and hydrating, making them a good choice for normal, mature, dry and sensitive skin.
Depending on your preferences and lifestyle, and especially how your skin reacts to a certain product, you can use either type if you ensure moisturizing ingredients are included to restore moisture and protect skin.
Look for ceramides, glycerin, lipids and hyaluronic acid, as these agents will hydrate, smooth and protect skin.
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