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Which Type of Face Wash is Best for You?
When it comes to skincare routines for any skin type or concern, cleansing your face is the first and most basic step. Although cleansing itself is pretty straightforward, deciding which cleanser or face wash (these two terms are interchangeable) is best for you can be confusing.
We understand that the choices can seem overwhelming. Whether you’re searching for the best face wash for oily skin, dry skin, combination skin, or acne- or redness-prone skin, the following information will help you understand the differences between cleansers so you’ll know which type is best for you.
First and foremost, all cleansers must be gentle, cleanse thoroughly without drying skin, not feel greasy or tacky after rinsing, and be fragrance and irritant free. Never straying from these important cleanser tips will make all the difference in the world.
Best for: Those who prefer a lightweight hydrating cleanser that rinses completely, leaving skin feeling fresh and, of course, clean. Most gel cleansers easily remove light makeup and regular mascara.
Ideal skin types: Normal to combination and oily skin; acne-prone skin, even if it’s also sensitive or redness-prone.
Paula’s Choice Skincare options: CLEAR Pore Normalizing Cleanser; CALM Redness Relief Cleanser for Normal to Oily Skin; HYDRALIGHT One Step Face Cleanser; PC4MEN Wash; EARTH SOURCED Perfectly Natural Cleansing Gel
Foaming Cleansers (Cream-to-Foam and Liquid-to-Foam)
Best for: Those who want thorough cleansing that removes most types of makeup, rinses cleanly, and provides a cushion-like foaming action that still leaves skin soft. Cleansers don’t have to foam to clean skin, but lots of people prefer the feeling of lather.
Ideal skin types: Combination to oily and breakout-prone skin of any age.
Water-Rinseable Cream and Lotion Cleansers
Best for: Those who want their cleanser to have a moisturizing, silky texture that feels protective as you wash and that cleanses while leaving a weightless veil of hydration after rinsing. These types of cleansers are adept at removing most kinds of makeup, but you may need a separate makeup remover for more tenacious products.
Ideal skin types: Normal to dry skin, including sensitive or redness-prone skin. These formulas replenish lipids lost during the cleansing process, and dry skin needs lipids to look and feel better.
Paula’s Choice Skincare options: RESIST Optimal Results Hydrating Cleanser; SKIN RECOVERY Softening Cream Cleanser; CALM Redness Relief Cleanser Normal to Dry Skin; MOISTURE BOOST One Step Face Cleanser.
Micellar Waters, Cleansing Waters, and Liquid Makeup Removers
Best for: Those who prefer wiping off their makeup with cotton pads instead of washing. Micellar waters and cleansing waters might have a different name, but they are really just another name for water- and surfactant-based makeup removers. Most don’t require rinsing, but it’s generally best to do so because you don’t want to leave cleansing agents (even mild ones) on skin any longer than necessary. Dual-phase liquid makeup removers (you must shake before use) are also available. These work beautifully to remove even the most stubborn makeup without surfactants, don’t leave a greasy film behind, and don’t need to be rinsed.
Ideal skin types: All skin types, but you may find you need to use a traditional cleanser afterwards to make sure you remove all your makeup.
Paula’s Choice Skincare option: GENTLE TOUCH Makeup Remover.
Cleansing Balms, Cold Creams, and No-Rinse Cream Cleansers
Best for: Those who want a rich, ultra-moisturizing cleansing experience that removes makeup and leaves a soft, replenished feeling on skin after removal with a washcloth, which is our preferred method for this type of cleanser. Note: Do not “tissue off” cleansers because pulling and tugging at skin is damaging. A wet washcloth gently glides over skin, whereas tissues tug at it.
Ideal skin types: Normal to very dry or eczema-prone skin. Balm and cold cream–style cleansers tend to be too emollient and heavy for breakout-prone or oily skin.
Paula’s Choice Skincare options: None.
Best for: Those who wear heavier makeup or want to “double cleanse,” which means you should cleanse with an oil cleanser and follow with a gel, foaming, or lotion cleanser. Cleansing oils work beautifully for those who want a thinner, easier-to-use version of a cleansing balm that still leaves skin feeling soft and smooth while quickly removing makeup.
Ideal skin types: All skin types—even those with oily, problem skin—can use most cleansing oils, especially when used as part of a double cleansing process.
Paula’s Choice Skincare option: Perfect Cleansing Oil (available fall 2017)
Best for: Those who want to avoid washing at the sink or who want a fast way to cleanse their face at the gym, while camping, or to keep on your bedside table so you don’t forget to remove your makeup before falling asleep. Wipes can be brilliant when the cloth material is soft and the formula doesn’t leave a sticky film on skin. Wipes (sometimes labeled “cleansing cloths”) are a quick, easy way to cleanse, but you need to take care not to pull or tug at the skin, as this encourages sagging.
Ideal skin types: All skin types.
Paula’s Choice Skincare option: None at this time.
Soaps and Bar Cleansers
Best for: No one! Although there is no question that bar cleansers and soap provide thorough cleansing, they cleanse too well, disrupting the skin’s surface. The result is skin that feels dry and tight, and that is never a good thing. Some bar cleansers (like Dove Beauty Bar) are relatively less drying, but the ingredients that keep them in bar form can clog pores and lead to a dull-looking complexion.
Ideal skin types: None.
Paula’s Choice Skincare options: None, because we do not recommend this type of cleanser. Water-soluble cleansers and makeup removers of various textures are the most gentle and effective for every skin type.
References for this information:
Indian Journal of Dermatology, September-October 2014, pages 442–444
Dermatology Research and Practice, August 2012, ePublication
Dermatologic Therapy, volume 17, supplement 1, 2004 pages 16–34
Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, volume 48, 1997, pages 219–234
Ostomy Wound Management, Supplement, March 1998, pages 62S–70S
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About the Experts
Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:
The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!