- Facial cleansers can greatly improve your skin by clearing away excess oils, impurities and debris
- Many are formulated to also target specific skin concerns based on active ingredients
- Facial cleansers can be found in a multitude of formulations for compatibility with all skin types
A good facial cleanser is a key component of any effective skin care regimen. With a great range of options—from lightweight gel formulas to deeply nourishing creams and oils—and an abundance of active ingredients, there are plenty of options to choose from for every skin type and concern.
Benefits of a Good Facial Cleanser
Facial cleansers remove grime, sweat and sebum (a natural oil that protects and lubricates skin); bacteria and fungi; dead skin cells and environmental pollutants. The act of cleansing boosts blood flow to the face to brighten the complexion and leaves skin refreshed.
A good facial cleanser supports the health of your skin by maintaining the integrity of the skin barrier, the stratum corneum. This is the outermost layer of skin and it serves to protect against irritation, inflammation and bacterial infiltration. This prevents the formation of conditions such as eczema or acne.
For those with existing skin conditions, an appropriate cleanser can complement traditional topical medications by stabilizing this barrier and bolstering the effects of topical medications by clearing pores to allow for better penetration.
Using an inappropriate or poor quality cleanser can worsen a skin condition and slow healing. As such, proper cleansing is an essential component of any treatment plan to achieve satisfactory results.
Cleansers formulated for oily and acne-prone skin reduce shine and clear pores of oil-clogging debris; hydrating formulas work to soften, moisturize and balance dry and sensitive skin; and anti-aging cleansers target dull, dry skin and plump fine lines and wrinkles.
Regardless of your skin type or skin concern, a good facial cleanser is one that is designed for a specific skin type and will include agents to bolster the health of your skin.
Best Facial Cleansers for Every Skin Type
The most important point to consider when choosing a cleanser is its mildness in order to avoid itchy, irritated, dry skin. It must effectively remove grime and oil, and deliver beneficial agents such as occlusives and lipids to restore moisture and maintain the integrity of the skin barrier. This applies to all skin types – even oily and acne-prone.
When selecting a product, opt for a low pH cleanser which can work in harmony with your skin’s natural environment. Doing so, will lower the risk of developing skin conditions such as acne and will support healthy skin.
The most popular types of cleansers are gel, foam and cream formulations but clay and oil formulas are also well known.
Cleansers for normal skin
Normal skin is healthy, smooth-textured and well balanced in oils. You can choose among gel, cream or foaming cleansers to find the right fit for your skin; how your skin reacts will depend not only on the type of cleanser but the active ingredients as well as any irritating additives.
To help protect your skin, consider a cleanser with potent antioxidant properties such as vitamins C and E. Both scavenge free radicals to repair and prevent skin damage; both can increase collagen synthesis to thicken and strengthen skin.
Cleansers for dry or sensitive skin
Dry and sensitive skin is characterized by flakiness, dullness and redness. It can be accompanied by a sensation of itching or stinging.
Cream and oil formulas are excellent choices to alleviate these symptoms; creams have a thick consistency and can deliver deep moisturization; oil formulas have a soothing consistency to relieve tight, irritated skin and hydrate skin.
For best results, choose a product with glycerin or ceramides to attract and retain moisture, nourish skin and protect the skin barrier. Hyaluronic acid is another substance that can effectively retain moisture to plump and hydrate skin.
Cleansers for combination skin
Combination skin is characterized by oiliness in the T-zone (forehead, nose and chin) and dry or normal areas on the balance of the face. This type of skin is best addressed with a gentle foam or lightweight gel cleanser that is oil-free.
Look for a cleanser that includes salicylic acid to slough off dead skin cells and remove excess oils, and hyaluronic acid to increase moisture levels in skin. You should be able to find a product that includes both.
One study examining the effects of a cleanser containing ceramides and salicylic acid demonstrated that with daily use, this combination significantly improved dry skin.
Cleansers for oily skin
Foaming cleansers are ideal for oily skin as the sudsy foam can penetrate deep within pores to clear oils and debris. When choosing a product look for a gentle formula that will respect the skin barrier by helping to maintain moisture balance.
Oily skin can be best served by including retinol, which has been shown to provide a number of benefits: it can suppress sebum production, exfoliate deep-seated oils and dead skin cells, and speed up skin cell turnover.
Another way to reduce the amount of oils on your skin is to use a clay cleanser. These can effectively absorb and draw out oils, toxins and contaminants from the skin, leaving skin refreshed.
Good Facial Cleansers for Your Skin Concerns
You can choose among a wide range of facial cleansers that are specially formulated to treat specific skin concerns.
Cleansers for acne
Acne-prone skin is characterized by oily skin and a buildup of dead skin cells and debris. As such, a foaming cleanser is a smart choice for deep cleansing as is clay for targeting excess oils and impurities. It can also aid in healing blemishes.
Look for medicated cleansers for acne that contain salicylic acid to exfoliate pore-clogging dead skin cells and excess oils. This acid has been demonstrated to significantly improve whiteheads and blackheads which typifies noninflammatory comedonal acne.
Along with salicylic acid cleansers, benzoyl peroxide has shown the best efficacy profile among acne cleansers. This agent is prized for its ability to kill acne-causing bacteria, reduce redness and swelling of inflamed lesions and dry up active lesions.
One drawback of medicated acne treatments is that they can have a drying effect on skin. To counteract these effects, ensure your cleanser contains either hyaluronic acid, ceramides or glycerin to moisturize and soften skin.
Cleanser for eczema
Eczema is a chronic inflammatory condition characterized by skin that is dry, itchy, cracked and red which develops due to a damaged skin barrier function. An appropriate cleanser is one that is gentle and cream-based to soothe inflammation, and especially to hydrate and help heal the skin barrier.
Colloidal oatmeal has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, making this ingredient an effective choice when choosing a cleanser. It has been shown to produce significant improvements in skin dryness, scaling, roughness and itchiness.
To help restore the skin barrier, opt for a product that contains glycerin, ceramides and hyaluronic acid; restoring moisture to skin will work to reduce inflammation and irritation.
Cleansers for mature skin
With age, skin will gradually show signs of aging such as dullness, dryness, fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation.
Opt for a cream-based moisture-rich cleanser to counteract dry, rough skin and to help skin feel comfortable.
There are a number of active ingredients available to address these skin concerns. Retinol is a powerful vitamin-A derivative that can provide a number of skin benefits: it can stimulate collagen production to thicken skin, lighten dark spots, and soften lines and wrinkles.
Gentle exfoliants such as glycolic and lactic acid also provide the same benefits as retinol plus they can hydrate skin for a more youthful appearance.
Other Factors to Consider
When selecting a cleanser, consider its compatibility with the other skin care products in your routine to maintain the health of your skin. For example, avoid pairing products that contain the same active ingredient as this can irritate skin and disrupt the skin barrier.
A good cleanser is an integral part of a daily skin care routine, working to clear away oils, dead skin cells and impurities from the skin. Many are also formulated to treat a number of skin conditions such as acne and eczema, and concerns such as signs of aging.
Those with oily and acne-prone skin types can choose among foam or clay-based cleansers that contain oil-controlling ingredients such as salicylic acid and clay. Cream and oil cleansers are best suited for those with eczema or dry skin.
To reduce the signs of aging skin, opt for a hydrating cream cleanser that contains anti-aging ingredients, such as retinol, and glycolic or lactic acid.
A good facial cleanser is one that is compatible with your skin type, is gentle and pH balanced, has moisture-restoring ingredients and active agents to target your specific skin concerns.
- Draelos ZD. Cosmeceuticals: What’s Real, What’s Not. Dermatol Clin. 2019;37(1):107-115. doi:10.1016/j.det.2018.07.001
- Madison KC. Barrier function of the skin: “la raison d’être” of the epidermis. J Invest Dermatol. 2003;121(2):231-241. doi:10.1046/j.1523-1747.2003.12359.x
- Lain E, Andriessen AE. Choosing the Right Partner: Complementing Prescription Acne Medication With Over-the-Counter Cleansers and Moisturizers. J Drugs Dermatol. 2020;19(11):1069-1075. doi:10.36849/JDD.2020.5536
- Draelos ZD. Concepts in skin care maintenance. Cutis. 2005;76(6 Suppl):19-25. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16869178/
- Ananthapadmanabhan KP, Moore DJ, Subramanyan K, Misra M, Meyer F. Cleansing without compromise: the impact of cleansers on the skin barrier and the technology of mild cleansing. Dermatol Ther. 2004;17 Suppl 1:16-25. doi:10.1111/j.1396-0296.2004.04s1002.x
- Al-Niaimi F, Chiang NYZ. Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2017;10(7):14-17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29104718/
- Coderch L, López O, de la Maza A, Parra JL. Ceramides and skin function. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2003;4(2):107-129. doi:10.2165/00128071-200304020-00004
- Vender RB, Andriessen A, Barankin B, et al. Cohort Using a Ceramides Containing Cleanser and Cream With Salicylic Acid for Dry, Flaking, and Scaling Skin Conditions. J Drugs Dermatol. 2019;18(1):80-85. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30681802/
- Endly DC, Miller RA. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2017;10(8):49-55. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28979664/
- Williams LB, Haydel SE. Evaluation of the medicinal use of clay minerals as antibacterial agents. Int Geol Rev. 2010;52(7/8):745-770. doi:10.1080/00206811003679737
- Bettoli V, Micali G, Monfrecola G, Veraldi S. Effectiveness of a combination of salicylic acid-based products for the treatment of mild comedonal-papular acne: a multicenter prospective observational study. G Ital Dermatol Venereol. 2020;155(6):744-748. doi:10.23736/S0392-0488.20.06751-6
- Dall’oglio F, Tedeschi A, Fabbrocini G, Veraldi S, Picardo M, Micali G. Cosmetics for acne: indications and recommendations for an evidence-based approach. G Ital Dermatol Venereol. 2015;150(1):1-11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25315288/
- Sohn A, Frankel A, Patel RV, Goldenberg G. Eczema. Mt Sinai J Med. 2011;78(5):730-739. doi:10.1002/msj.20289
- Reynertson KA, Garay M, Nebus J, et al. Anti-inflammatory activities of colloidal oatmeal (Avena sativa) contribute to the effectiveness of oats in treatment of itch associated with dry, irritated skin. J Drugs Dermatol. 2015;14(1):43-48. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25607907/