Cleansers don’t get nearly as much attention as the leave-on products. With all the focus on serums, moisturizers, and anti-aging products you might think they were the heavy-hitters in a skincare routine. But the truth is healthy, radiant skin starts with a clean face.
The cleanser you use not only directly affects the condition of your skin, but the efficacy of all your other products. If you haven’t been paying attention to your face wash, it’s time to start. We’re telling you how to choose the right cleanser ahead!
The Right Cleanser Makes a Big Difference
A cleanser gets rid of dirt, sweat, sebum, bacteria, dead cells and makeup, without stripping your skin of it’s natural oils. But it’s not necessarily about using the right cleanser. It’s about making sure you don’t use the wrong one.
Using the wrong cleanser can result in breakouts, dullness and dehydration. It also makes it difficult for your other skincare products to be effective. So how do you know if you’re using the wrong cleanser? Here are six signs that the cleanser you’re using isn’t doing your skin any favors:
- Your skin is dry or feels tight immediately after washing.
- You are suddenly experiencing breakouts.
- Your skin is rough or flaky.
- Your skin seems dull and sallow.
- You notice an increase of fine lines, wrinkles or other premature signs of aging.
- Your skin burns, itches or is red or irritated after washing it.
- You notice there is a lot of makeup/dirt left behind after cleansing.
What are the types of cleansers?
Face wash generates about 1.57 billion dollars in the United States. That’s A LOT of cleansers to choose from. There are literally hundreds of cleansers on the market. And different ones do different things. Let’s take a look at each type of cleanser and what they do.
Cream/milk cleansers: Cream and milk cleansers are creamy and generally have a white appearance. Cream based cleansers usually don’t foam much or at all. These cleansers offer a more soothing cleanse. They work best for very dry and mature skin types.
Foaming cleansers: Foaming cleansers used to have a not so great reputation. That’s because of harsh surfactants used to make them lather. Surfactants like sulfates often have a drying effect. But there are mild, sulfate-free foaming cleansers that contain gentler plant-derived foaming agents that do not strip or over-dry skin. Depending on the type of surfactant and other ingredients, foaming cleansers can range from mild to strong and apply to different skin types.
Gel cleansers: Gel cleansers are very common, and like foaming cleansers, can run the range from harsh to gentle depending on the ingredients and surfactants used. Mild gel cleansers are good for most skin types, as they won’t overstrip skin but do have enough power to wash away oil and grime. Gel cleansers require some work to massage in and need to be thoroughly rinsed.
Oil cleansers: Oil cleansers are perfect for melting away make-up, particularly mascara. Because of this, cleansing oils are often used as the first step in a double cleanse. But oil cleansers can be highly comedogenic. Watch out for these if you’re prone to breakouts and blackheads, or limit them to eye makeup removal duty.
Cleansing balms: Another option for removing make-up is a cleansing balm. These are often from plant butters, oils and other ingredients. Balms can leave an oily residue, so they need to be rinsed off thoroughly. They are also best removed with a muslin or other washcloth, or followed up by a water-based cleanser.
Micellar water: Micellar water is an extremely gentle cleanser. The formula consists of tiny droplets of cleansing oil suspended in water. It’s a cross between a traditional cleanser and a toner, designed to entrap and remove oil from the skin’s surface. Use a micellar water anytime you need a midday freshen up, as a quick morning cleanse, or on those nights when you’re too tired for your whole routine.
What’s Your Skin Type?
Like all of your other skincare products, you should choose your cleanser according to your skin type. But what if you’re not sure about your skin type? Here’s a breakdown of each.
- You have dry skin if…your skin is often itchy, flaky, or feels generally tight.
- You have oily skin if…you have large, visible pores and are prone to breakouts and blackheads. A greasy sheen often develops on oily skin right after washing.
- You have combination skin if…you have an oily t-zone along with patches of dry skin on your cheeks.
- You have sensitive skin if…your skin is often red (especially after cleansing) and prone to breakouts and irritation
- You have normal skin if…you have an even skin texture with no flaking, redness, or sheen, and very few breakouts.
Still not sure what type of skin you have?
If you’re still not sure what your skin type is, we can help! Try this trick below:
- Wash your face.
- Pat it dry with a towel.
- Wait 20 minutes.
- Stick three pieces of tape on your face; one across your forehead, one down the length of your nose and one across one of your cheeks by your jawline.
- Wait five minutes.
- Remove the tape.
- If you see flakes, you have dry skin; tiny oil droplets, oily skin; a bit of both, combination skin; and redness, sensitive skin.
Here’s the Best Cleanser, Based on Your Skin Type
Below are the best facial cleansers for every skin type.
If you have dry skin
If you have very dry skin, choose a non-foaming formula or a sulfate-free cleanser incorporating hydrating oils. A gentle cream or milk cleanser is your best bet. Look for ingredients and fatty acids in the form of oils. And keep ingredients like glycolic or lactic acids out. These will further strip dry skin of the oil it needs.
If you have oily skin
The ideal face wash for someone with oily skin is a foaming cleanser. Ingredients like salicylic acid, AHA/BHA, and tea tree oil will balance oil production, unclog pores and banish blackheads. Do make sure you give your face a good massage with your cleanser and rinse thoroughly to release oils and debris. But remember, even if you have oiler skin or are prone to breakouts, a cleanser shouldn’t leave your skin feeling tight afterwards.
If you have combination skin
When your skin has just one problem, like too much oil or dry patches, it’s easy to figure out what works best. But having both oily and dry (hello combination skin!) can make it more challenging. This is where our middle ground cleanser comes in. A mild gel cleanser nourishes drier skin and slightly foams for oilier parts. Look for neutral and gentle ingredients that won’t irritate your skin.
If you have sensitive skin
If you have sensitive skin a gentle hydrating cleanser will remove impurities without stripping the skin barrier of all its natural moisturize. Look for cleansers with humectants to help keep water in the skin. Micellar waters are also useful for this skin type. Avoid harsh acids, synthetic fragrances, sulfates, and long ingredient lists that may contain irritants.
If you have normal skin
Few to no blemishes, no sensitivity, minimally visible pores, and balanced hydration levels? Congrats! Your main priority is maintaining that happy equilibrium. If you feel like your current cleanser is no longer working, try to assess the core issue. If your skin feels drier or tighter than before, opt for a more gentle hydrating cleanser. If you’re noticing more oil, a formula incorporating AHA or a foaming cleanser might do the trick. If you’re noticing irritation or breakouts, opt for a simple gentle gel cleanser. Use oil cleansers and balms sparingly, as they can still lead to clogged pores- even on normal skin.
Double cleansing is just what it sounds like. It involves thoroughly washing your face with two cleansers. It is extremely important to remove makeup, dirt, and pollutants that have accumulated on your skin during the day, before heading to bed. Sleeping with makeup on or forgetting to wash your face before bed can cause major breakouts.
Use an oil-based cleanser or micellar water to wipe off makeup and debris. These products break down the sebum of the skin and makeup, which are both also oil-based. After your first cleanse has removed any makeup and impurities, you’re ready for the second. Your second cleanse is when you actually wash your face.
How to properly wash your face
How you wash your face is just as important as what you wash with. Follow these tips for a healthy, radiant complexion!
Step 1. Remove any make-up first, before your main cleanse. You can use makeup remover, micellar water, wipes or balms.
Step 2. Wet your face with lukewarm water and use your fingertips to apply cleanser. Avoid water that is hot or very cold, as this can shock your skin.
Step 3. Massage the cleanser gently into your skin in circular motions for at least 20 to 30 seconds.
Step 4. Rinse your face a few times with lukewarm water to make sure you’ve removed all residue and pat it dry with a soft towel.
Step 5. To finish your skincare routine, follow your deep cleanse with toner, serum and moisturizer. If you notice there is still makeup or dirt remaining on your skin at this stage, your cleansing product might not be doing its job effectively (or you need to spend more time cleansing).
Tips for washing your face
- Because of the way the hair follicles are oriented on your face, it’s best to wash upwards and outwards for deeper cleanse.
- Washing too aggressively or for too long can quickly lead to irritation.
- Limit washing your face to twice a day and after sweating. Wash your face once in the morning and once at night, and anytime after sweating heavily. Sweat irritates the skin.
Washing your face is arguably the most important part of any skincare routine. A clean face helps you maintain healthy skin. It also makes your other skincare products work harder. When choosing a moisturiser or a serum, you wouldn’t just grab any old product off the shelf, would you? You tailor your moisturizer and serum to your skin concerns – why not apply the same logic to choosing a cleanser?
Healthy, radiant skin starts with washing your face. If you haven’t been paying attention to your face wash, it’s time to start. Read up on our guide to cleansers, choose the best one and get to washing!