how to choose the best cleanser for your skin type

Do you spend more time putting your makeup on than taking it off?

If so, you’re doing it wrong. I know, cleansers are the most boring products on earth, and taking makeup off a chore we could gladly do without. But, cleansing your skin, both at night and in the morning, is NOT negotiable.

Cleansing is one of the most important steps in our skincare routine. It removes grime and impurities from our faces, so they won’t clog pores, and allows the goodies in our serums and moisturizers to better penetrate into the skin, so they can work at full power.

But, you can’t just pick a random one from the shelf. If it’s not formulated for your skin type, it can cause some serious havoc. So, how do you choose the right formula? Here are some tips to help you out:

How Cleansers Are Made

Before we talk about the various types of cleansers, I’ll tell you a secret: all types of cleansers use the same two categories of ingredients to work their magic. These are:

  • Surfactants: these are ingredients that help water mix with oil and dirt so they can easily be rinsed away. The harshest (which should be avoided) is sodium lauryl sulfate. Some of the gentlest are cocamidopropyl betaine, PEG-6 caprylic/capric glycerides, and disodium laureth sulfosuccinate. Sodium laureth sulfate and ammonium laureth sulfare are somewhere in between. There are others, of course, but I won’t bore you with the whole list.
  • Emollients & humectants: these are moisturizers that reduce the harshness of the surfactants (because, if they were TOO gentle, they wouldn’t cleanse skin at all) and keep skin soft during and after washing. They include glycerin, petrolatum, and sunflower seed oil.

So, what change? The type of surfactants and emollients used, and their ratio. Let’s take a look at the various types of cleansers, shall we?

Types Of Cleansers: Which One Is The Best For Your Skin Type?

foaming cleansers: best cleansers for oily skin

Foaming Cleansers

  • High in surfactants and low in emollients
  • Produce a lot of lather
  • Remove dirt and waterproof makeup well
  • Leave no residue behind
  • They can be drying if left on the skin too long

Best picks:

  • Corsx low PH Good Morning Gel Cleanser ($11.00): ph 5.5. Available at Sokoglam and YesStyle.
  • Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser ($6.99): ph 6.2. Available at Ulta.
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Oil-Reducing Cleanser ($18.00): ph 5.5. Available at Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice. 
cleansing milks: best cleansers for dry skin

Related: Are Foaming Cleansers Bad For Skin?

Cleansing Milks

  • Low in surfactants and high in emollients
  • Don’t produce much lather
  • Remove dirt but struggle with waterproof makeup
  • Can leave a residue behind
  • Gentle on the skin

Best Picks:

cleansing oils: best cleansers for dry skin and makeup removal

Cleansing Oils (Including Dual-Phase Makeup Removers)

  • High in emollient oils that cleanse and moisturize
  • Don’t lather
  • Remove dirt and waterproof makeup well
  • Leave a residue behind
  • Gentle on the skin

Best picks:

cleansing balms: best cleansers for dry skin and makeup removal

Related: Why You Should Switch To The Oil Cleansing Method (OCM)

Cleansing Balms

  • High in emollients oils that cleanse and moisturize
  • Turn into oils when massaged into the skin
  • Don’t lather
  • Remove dirt and waterproof makeup well
  • Leave a residue behind
  • Gentle on the skin

Best pick:

micellar waters: best cleansers for sensitive skin

Micellar Waters

  • High in gentler surfactants and low in emollients
  • Don’t lather
  • Remove dirt but struggle with makeup
  • Don’t leave a residue behind
  • Don’t need to be rinsed off
  • Gentle on the skin

Best Pick:

  • Bioderma Sensibio ($10.90/£10.80): available at Dermstore and Feel Unique
  • L’Oreal Micellar Cleansing Water Complete Cleanser ($9.99): available at Ulta

Related: How Do Micellar Water Work?

cleansing wipes: cleansers to avoid

Cleansing Wipes

  • Low in surfactants and emollients
  • Cloths infused with a cleansing lotion
  • Don’t cleanse and remove makeup well
  • Their cleansing power is mostly due to the frictional force of rubbing the cloth into the skin
  • May leave a residue behind
  • Can be drying
  • Best for emergencies

Best Picks:

types of cleansers: what's the best for your skin type?

How To Choose The Best Cleanser For Your Skin Type

First of all, you must know your skin type, or you’re bound to pick up the wrong one. If you don’t have a clue, check out my ultimate guide to identifying your skin type, and then come back here.

Already know your skin type? Go ahead, then:

Normal Skin

What’s The Problem?

What problem? You’ve been blessed with awesome skin that has no issues, and you’d like to keep it that way.

How Can You Fix It?

There’s nothing to fix, so just use a cleanser that removes dirt and makeup without creating any problems.

What’s The Best Cleanser For Normal Skin?

You can choose any type of cleanser, as long as the formula’s not harsh.

Related: The Best Skincare Routine For Normal Skin

Oily Skin

What’s The Problem?

Your sebaceous glands are workaholics. They produce wayyyyyyyyy more sebum than skin needs to stay naturally moisturized, and you’re tempted to use the harshest cleanser you can find to get rid of it all. But, when you do, your skin has the annoying tendency of producing even more oil to compensate. Arrgh!

How Can You Fix It?

You need a cleanser that strips away enough oil to remove grease, but not enough to dry out skin. Choose a lightweight one that’s moderately high in surfactants and low in emollients. Emollients are great for dry skin, but can leave a residue behind and clog your pores. No, thanks!

What’s The Best Cleanser For My Oily Skin?

  • Foaming cleansers

Related: The Best Skincare Routine For Oily Skin

Dry Skin

What’s The Problem?

Most cleansers are too harsh for your skin type, and remove ALL the little amount of sebum your lazy sebaceous glands manage to produce, leaving it as dry as a cardboard box.

How Can You Fix It?

You may like the lather, but it’s not your friend. Opt for cleansers low in surfactants and high in emollients that replenish moisture while cleansing. Your skin will thank you!

What’s The Best Type Of Cleanser For Dry Skin?

  • Cleansing Balms
  • Cleansing Milks
  • Cleansing Oils

Related: The Best Skincare Routine For Dry Skin

Combination Skin

What’s The Problem?

Your skin is crazy. Some areas are too oily and greasy, others dry and flaky. All the cleansers you’ve tried tend to worsen both problems, making you go crazy. too.

How can you fix it?

You’re not gonna like this, my beautiful smart friend, but your best option is to use two cleansers: one chockfull of emollients on your dry patches, and one who barely has any on your oily areas.

What’s The Best Type Of Cleanser For Combination Skin?

  • Cleansing balms (on dry patches)
  • Cleansing milks (on dry patches)
  • Cleansing oils (on dry patches)
  • Foaming cleansers (on oily patches)

Related: The Best Skincare Routine For Combination Skin

Sensitive Skin

What’s The Problem?

All cleansers irritate your skin, and leave it a red, flaky mess. You’re seriously starting to consider to wash your face with water alone, but suspect that will be too harsh too (plus, it won’t remove makeup).

How Can You Fix It?

Be gentle. Choose the mildest formula you can find. Just make sure it’s fragrance-free. As pleasant as they are, fragrances can cause havoc on your skin.

What’s The Best Type Of Cleansers For Sensitive Skin?

  • Micellar waters

What Type Of Cleansers Should You Avoid?

soaps: cleansers to avoid

Soaps

So, you noticed I didn’t mention bar soap anywhere? That’s cos I’m no fan of soaps. They usually have an alkaline base (that means a high ph) that can disrupt the skin’s protective barrier, causing all sorts of problems, including dryness, irritations, and infections. So, stay away from them.

Related: Why You Should Never Use Soap To Cleanse Your Face

exfoliating cleansers: why you should avoid them

Exfoliating, Anti-Aging, And Anti-Acne Cleansers

Avoid those, too. They aren’t bad for your skin, but they’re bad for your wallet. The antioxidants, exfoliating acids, and acne-busters in them need to stay on the skin for hours to work their best. If you massage them on your skin for a minute or so, only a tiny amount will penetrate skin, and that won’t do much good.

One exception is exfoliating cleansers with microbeads, sugars, walnut or apricot particles (those are super irritating, by the way), etc. Those don’t need to stay on the skin for hours, obviously. But, I don’t like those either. It’s so easy to rub them on the skin that little bit longer and damage it.

Besides, they can only remove dead skin cells. Glycolic acid also hydrates skin and boosts collagen production, while salicylic acid also keeps oil production under control and the pores free from breakout-causing gunk. So, leave manual exfoliation to newbies, and invest in a good acid-based leave-in exfoliant, instead.

You’ll wonder why you haven’t done so before!

Related: Why You Shouldn’t Waste Your Money On Exfoliating Cleansers

The Bottom Line

Now you know how to choose the best cleanser for your skin type, you can clean your skin without fear of drying or irritating it, or throwing your money down the drain (literally).

Are you using the right cleanser for your skin type, or do you need to switch? Share your thoughts in the comments below.