More and more we’re realizing the importance of our skincare regimes – we spend hours looking for moisturizers that won’t block our pores and choosing toners that will give us radiant skin. But when it comes to cleansers, we’re much less discerning; we’ll choose one based on brand, packaging, or an ad we saw. Getting clued up on your cleansers is actually so important, because knowing which type of cleanser to use can have a huge impact on your skin – seriously, HUGE! We all know how long we spend decoding our moisturizers, well, the process should be the same for your cleanser. To make it extra easy for you, here’s our ultimate cleanser breakdown, so you can choose the best one specifically for your skin type:
BEST FOR: COMBINATION/ OILY/ ACNE-PRONE SKIN
Gel formulas are clear with a thick gel consistency, and they’re amazing for deep cleansing. They decongest clogged pores, remove excess oils without stripping the skin, and many formulas also have antibacterial ingredients that are perfect for calming acne-prone skin. Gels are ideal for deep cleaning without over-stripping. You can even use some gel cleansers as a mask, just leave them on your skin for a couple of minutes and wash off.
Beware of: Strong ingredients that can overly strip your skin. If your face feels tight after using a gel cleanser, it could be too intense for your skin.
Best ingredients: Alpha Hydroxy Acids, Glycolic Acid, Tea Tree Oil, Witchhazel.
BEST FOR: DRY/ SENSITIVE/ AGING SKIN
Cream cleansers are typically a thick, dense formula that is extremely moisturizing (perfect for aging skin), while they’re also great at removing makeup due to the heavy consistency. The rich consistency means that they’re less foamy, and as a result, will not dry your skin. If you’re a heavy makeup wearer, it’s better to remove makeup with a wipe or micellar water first and then finish with your cream cleanser. Some formulas even say to apply on dry skin and wipe away with a cotton ball – in this case, it’s better to use a toner after to make sure no residue is left on your skin.
Beware of: Some cream cleansers can block your pores, so look out for labels that say non-comedogenic and non-acnegenic, as this means the product has been specifically tested for this, and won’t block your pores.
BEST FOR: OILY/ ACNE-PRONE SKIN
Foaming cleansers usually come with a pump dispenser and are typically a little tougher on your skin. They’re perfect for getting rid of makeup and removing dirt and oil, but if your skin tends to be dry, it’s better to steer clear of foam cleansers as they’ll strip your skin. There’s a little controversy around foam cleansers, as some believe they can be too harsh on your skin, but foam cleansers are a great option for oily-prone skin types, just be sure to follow with a moisturizer as oily skin needs moisture too!
Beware of: Check the ingredients and be sure to avoid sodium laurel sulphate, as this ingredient can irritate your skin.
Best ingredients: Tea Tree Oil, Salicylic Acid, Glycolic Acid, and Benzoyl Peroxide.
BEST FOR: DRY SKIN/ SENSITIVE SKIN/ ECZEMA/ MAKEUP REMOVAL
The theory behind cleansing oils – an oily, watery formula – is oil attracts oil. So, when you massage an oil cleanser into your face, those good oils bind with the sebum and any makeup oil and dirt, and when you rinse your skin all the oil is removed together. An oil cleanser is a very gentle way of removing dirt from your skin, and it doesn’t clog your pores because it doesn’t sink in, it only removes impurities. Cleansing oils will also balance and maintain your skin’s natural pH, preventing your skin from producing excess oil, like it might do to combat drying ingredients from other cleansers. The other benefit is natural oils are antibacterial and have antioxidants that help to improve your skin texture while retaining your skin’s typical moisture level. See our full guide to finding the best cleansing oil for your skin type here. We love to use a cleansing oil as the first step in our cleansing routine, and then follow with a water-based cleanser that suits our skin type.
Beware of: If you have acne-prone skin, look for cleansers with the ingredients glycerin or silicone as these are non-comedogenic and non-acnegenic. Try to avoid parabens, petrolatum, phthalates, sodium laurel sulphate (SLS).
Best ingredients: Grape seed, almond oil, sunflower seed oil, argan oil, green tea, vitamin E.
BEST FOR: DRY/ NORMAL/ SENSITIVE/ AGING SKIN
These extra-gentle milky formulas are an emulsion of fats and water, the tiny droplets of fat in the water give the formula its milk-like look and silky texture. Cleansing milk doesn’t foam, but instead, it dissolves dirt, makeup, and sebum, with oils and fats; this makes it extremely moisturizing as it won’t strip your skin with chemicals, and it’s great for removing makeup (not a full cake face). Most formulas should be massaged into the skin in circular motions and be wiped away with a tissue – because milk cleansers are an emulsion, water will not remove them.
Beware of: If you wear heavy makeup, it’s better to use a foam or gel cleanser first and follow with a milk cleanser. This double cleansing technique will ensure your face is free of makeup and the final milk cleansing step will ensure skin is soft and hydrated.
Best ingredients: Natural ingredients like cucumber, rice bran oil, vitamin E, hyaluronic acid/sodium hyaluronate.
Water Cleansers aka Micellar Water
BEST FOR: SENSITIVE/ ACNE/ NORMAL
This French creation is a super sensitive alternative to traditional cleansers, the formula looks and feels like water, but it contains tiny balls of oils molecules (micelles) suspended in soft water. The micelles contain surfactants, which attract makeup, dirt, and sebum. To use, soak a cotton pad in micellar water and wipe gently across your skin – no scrubbing is needed as the formula draws out impurities. The formula doesn’t contain harsh chemicals, is hydrating for your skin, and if you’re a heavy makeup wearer, it can be used as a gentle alternative to toners, as it won’t dry out your skin.
Beware of: Nothing! This formula is ideal for all skin types and makes a perfect step for a double cleansing routine, which if you wear makeup, you should do. Use before your chosen cleanser to remove makeup, or after to remove any excess residue.
Best ingredients: Some formulas contain added benefits like vitamins, rose water, rose oil, or hibiscus.
Now you know which cleanser you should be using, here’s how you can get the most from your cleanser:
- If you wear heavy makeup use a double cleansing method. First remove your makeup with an oil cleanser, or if you don’t have one, use a makeup wipe, micellar water, and then follow with a cleanser suitable for your skin type. Follow with a toner or micellar water.
- Always use warm water to wash your face. Studies have shown hot water can dry out your skin, increase the likeliness cleansers will irritate your skin, and even cause damage to your facial capillaries and the barrier function of the skin’s surface. Once your face is clean, use a splash of cold water to close your pores.
- Always moisturize after your skin is cleansed, this is particularly important at night, even if you have oily or acne-prone skin, as your face loses more moisture overnight than at any point.