the best cleansers for dry skin

What are the best cleansers for dry skin? Cleansing is the most underrated step of your skincare routine. It gets rid of dirt, grime and makeup – a small feat with plenty of benefits for your skin. Good cleansing prevents acne, brightens skin, and removes the debris that’d make it hard for your active ingredients to penetrate deeply, so they end up where they need to be to their anti-aging job.

Although cleansers are very simple creatures (all they do is cleanse skin, no need for bells and whistles here!), finding one that does the job without drying skin is a challenge – especially when your skin is dry. “‘All cleansing has an impact on the skin’s barrier function – even the simple interaction with water depletes skin lipids and moisturising factors,” explains Dr Sam Bunting. “This is potentially troublesome for those with dry skin who have less barrier reserve.”

Add to that cold temperatures and harsh winds (I know it’s summer in the Western hemisphere now, but London hasn’t gotten the memo yet *sighs*) and you’ve got a recipe for dryness and dehydration. So how do you cleanse your skin if it’s already dry? Here are the best cleansers for dry skin (based on science, not hype):

What To Look For In A Cleanser For Dry Skin

Here’s what you need to look for in a cleanser for dry skin:

  • Creamy texture: The best cleansers for dry skin have a creamy, moisturising texture that’s packed with oils to remove dirt and makeup while moisturising skin. Foaming cleansers are ok only when they use super gentle surfactants that don’t disrupt the skin’s protective barrier. If you don’t know what they are, do your dry skin a favour and stick to cream and oil-based cleansers.
  • Simple formula: More isn’t better when it comes to cleansers. Antioxidants, peptides & co gets washed down the drain when you rinse the cleanser off. Pick a simple formula that does the cleansing job and nothing else. And make sure it doesn’t contain any irritations: “I recommend avoiding cleansers with fragrance, foaming agents and essential oils which can all trigger irritation and sensitivity in those with dry skin,” says Dr Bunting.
  • Skin-barrier restoring ingredients: Dry skin has a compromised protective barrier that allows water to evaporate out. As Dr. Elaine F. Kung, MD, of Future Bright Dermatology, recommends: “If you have dry, sensitive, and rash prone skin, look for cleansers with skin barrier restoring ingredients such as ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide.” They help moisturise skin while the cleanser gets rid of grime.


What can cleansers for dry skin do?

Cleansers for dry skin can remove dirt, impurities and makeup while moisturising skin at the same time. Result? Clean, soft skin.

What can’t cleansers for dry skin do?

Anything else. They can’t treat acne, treat wrinkles, prevent premature aging. Any other active you put in the cleanser just ends up down the drain, where it does nothing for your skin. *sighs*

How often can you use a cleanser for dry skin?

Twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.

review liz earle cleanse and polish hot cloth cleanser 01

The Best Cleansers For Dry Skin

Liz Earle Hot Cloth Cleanser (£18.50)

Liz Earle Hot Cloth Cleanser is one of my fave cleansers ever. It uses a mix of natural butters and emollients to effortlessly remove all traces of dirt, grime and makeup from the skin without drying it out. You can use it alone just for cleansing or with a washcloth for some exfoliating action, too. I prefer to do the former and use a separate exfoliant, but if you have sensitive skin that can’t tolerate acids or have run out of your trusted Glycolic Acid, this is a good alternative for a week or so. Either way, it leaves skin clean, soft and bright.

Available at: Boots, Look Fantastic, and Sephora.

Active Ingredients: Caprylic/capric triglyceride and Theobroma cacao (cocoa) seed butter.

Benefits: Cleanses and exfoliates skin.

Cons: Essential oils may irritate sensitive skin.

Skin type: Dry.

Fragrance-free: It doesn’t contain fragrance. But it contains fragrant essential oils that could irritate sensitive skin.

Related: My Full Review Of Liz Earle Hot Cloth Cleanser

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Clinique Redness Solutions Soothing Cleanser ($23.00)

Clinique Redness Solutions Soothing Cleanser contains NO detergents. Instead, it’s packed with emollients and silicones that remove makeup and grime while adding moisture to your skin. The catch? It’s so rich, you may need a washcloth to remove it all from the skin. But if you’re looking for something very gentle or your skin reacts badly to detergents, this was made for you.

Available at: Clinique, Look Fantastic, Sephora, and Ulta.

Active Ingredients: Squalane, and Phenyl Trimethicone.

Benefits: Cleans sensitive, dry skin without irritating it further.

Cons: Too rich for some people, you may need a washcloth to remove it.

Skin type: Dry and sensitive.

Fragrance-free: Yes.

Related: 9 Soothing Tips To Deal With Sensitive Skin

cerave hydrating cleanser

Cerave Hydrating Cleanser ($16.99)

If your skin is flaky and irritated, it means only one thing: your skin’s protective barrier is severely compromised. CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser is loaded with ceramides to patch up the holes. It’s true they work better when left on the skin (and I recommend you find a moisturiser packed with them too), but when your skin is this dry, every little bit helps. Plus, it does a good job at cleansing skin, too. Oh, did I mention the bottom is so huge, it’ll last you forever?

Available at: Boots, Cult Beauty, Dermstore, Look Fantastic, SephoraUlta and Walmart

Active Ingredients: Peg-40 Stearate, Polysorbate 20, and Ceramides.

Benefits: Cleanses and moisturises skin at the same time.

Cons: If you have oily skin, this is too rich for you.

Skin type: Dry and sensitive.

Fragrance-free: Yes.

Related: My Full Review Of CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser

Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser ($25.00)

I’m usually not a fan of foaming cleansers for dry skin. They’re too harsh. Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser is the exception to the rule. Gentle and pH-balanced, it removes every last trace of impurities without stripping your dry skin barely of the natural oil it produces to stay healthy and moisturised. It’s one of those little gems that’s suitable for all skin types, so you can share it with your family too.

Available at: Boots, Look Fantastic, Sephora, SpaceNK, and UIta.

Active Ingredients: Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Decyl Glucoside, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, and Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate.

Benefits: Cleanses skin without stripping it bare.

Cons: If you don’t like foaming cleansers, this isn’t for you.

Skin type: All skin types.

Fragrance-free: Yes.

Mad Hippie Cream Cleanser ($16.99)

This rich oil-based cleanser works thanks to the “like attracts like” principle: the oils in the cleanser attach to and dissolve the oils in your makeup remover and sends them to a trip down the train. Plus, oils are very moisturising, so at the end of the cleansing process, your face if free of makeup and silky soft (like a baby’s). It’s so gentle (yet effective), sensitive skin can use it too.

Available at: iHerb and Ulta

Active Ingredients: Sesame Oil (Sesamum Indicum).

Benefits: Removes dirt and makeup while moisturising skin.

Cons: If you have acne, this may aggravate it.

Skin type: Dry and sensitive.

Fragrance-free: Yes.

Pacifica Wake Up Beautiful Waterless Cleansing Balm ($18.00)

A gentle, yet effective, 2-in-1 waterless makeup remover and cleansing balm that uses a combination of natural oils and gentle surfactants to dissolve every last trace of makeup and grime from your skin – without irritating it. It’s also full of antioxidants but, alas!, they just end up down the drain when you wash the cleanser off. Still, if you’re looking for a cleanser that gets the job done and is not too expensive, this fits the bill.

Available at: Cult Beauty, Pacifica, and Ulta.

Active Ingredients: helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil and lauryl glucoside.

Benefits: Cleanses skin and removes makeup without drying out skin.

Cons: Fragrance may irritate sensitive skin.

Skin type: Dry.

Fragrance-free: No.

Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery Softening Cream Cleanser ($19.00)

Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery Softening Cream Cleanser is one of the gentlest cleansers I’ve ever come across. It uses two mild cleansing agents (Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate and Cocamidopropyl Betaine) that remove dirt and excess oil without drying out the skin. If you’re wearing makeup, you’ll probably need a washcloth to remove every last trace of foundation, so I prefer to use it only in the mornings. Did I mention it’s suitable for eczema sufferers as well?

Available at: Paula’s Choice

Active Ingredients: Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate and Cocamidopropyl Betaine.

Benefits: Cleanses skin without drying it out.

Cons: Doesn’t remove makeup well.

Skin type: Dry and sensitive.

Fragrance-free: Yes.

Related: The Best Skincare Routine For Dry Skin

bioderma sensibio h2O micellar water

Bioderma Sensibio H20 ($10.90)

I’m not a fan of micellar waters as everyday cleansers. They’re just too gentle and delicate to remove everything. But if you’re on the go and can’t wash your face, Bioderma Sensibio H20 will save the day. Apply it with a cotton ball, watch the grime come off and get on with your day.

Available at: Boots, Dermstore, and Look Fantastic.

Active Ingredients: Peg-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides.

Benefits: Cleanses skin on-the-go.

Cons: Doesn’t remove makeup well.

Skin type: Dry and sensitive.

Fragrance-free: Yes.

Related: My Full Review Of Bioderma Sensibio H2O

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for the best cleansers for dry, sensitive, easily-irritated skin that don’t strip it bare of natural oils, this list has the best picks for every budget and preference. Here’s to cleansed, moisturised skin!