Ask any skin expert what the most important part of your skincare routine is, and hands down, you’ll find that the answer is always the same: cleanser. It’s no surprise, really. Cleansers are basically the cement that holds the rest of your products together. Get that first step wrong and the rest of your routine is likely to crumble. Not only do cleansers do the hard work of removing daily grime, pollution and makeup from your skin, but if you choose the right one, it can also do everything from sloughing away dead skin cells to calming breakouts. With so many cleansers out there, how do you really know which one is going to do the best job for your skin?
To start with, it’s important to really understand your skin type—something which can be genuinely confusing to the uninitiated. Simply speaking, the skin is usually broken down into four key categories: oily, sensitive, dry and normal (lucky you). If you’re not entirely sure which category you fall into, you can conduct a little bathroom experiment of your own to find out. Cleanse your face, wait a few minutes and then follow this rule of thumb as a rough guide as to your skin type: If your skin feels like you could skip the moisturiser and is already looking shiny, you’re oily. If your skin looks red and feels irritated, you’re sensitive. If the skin feels uncomfortable and tight, you’re dry, and if you’re feeling pretty good, your skin is probably normal.
With that taken care of, I enlisted the help of a few top skin experts to help on my quest to discover which facial cleansers are genuinely the best for each skin type—and what we should all be thinking about when choosing a new one.
Keep scrolling for their top tips and to shop the best cleanser for your skin type.
“Skin type is the most important thing to consider when choosing a new cleanser,” said skincare expert and facialist Lisa Franklin “Is your skin sensitive, oily, dry or combination?” “The art is to find the optimum cleanser that suits your skin because an essential daily beauty routine includes facial cleansing both morning and evening,” explained brand founder and skin expert Susanne Kaufmann. “There are many important factors to think about, such as what is your skin type and what kind of cleansing do you like. Also, what texture is important to you—do you prefer light, gel, milk or a foam?” Along with choosing a texture that you enjoy using, it’s also important to consider building a wardrobe of cleansers for best results: “I believe that people should own multiple cleansers,” said Tata Harper, brand founder and queen of green skincare. “I like to use an exfoliating cleanser in the morning to remove the dead skin that builds up while you sleep. At night, I like to double—or even triple—cleanse. First, I use an oil cleanser to breakdown any makeup or buildup immediately on the surface of my skin. Then I use something that goes deeper to actually cleanse the skin.”
Similarly, we should all be thinking about the time of day that we are cleansing, as our morning and evening facial cleansers will need to fulfil different requirements. “In the morning, use a gentle cream or gel-based, non-foaming cleanser. It should be nourishing in its formulation whilst also contain effective cleansing agents (surfactants) to successfully remove any buildup of oil, dead skin cells, bacteria and remnants of overnight skincare that have accumulated overnight,” explained Anita J Sturnham, general practitioner and founder of Nuriss. “Your nighttime cleanse works hard to remove makeup, environmental pollutants and toxins that have accumulated on the skin throughout the day. I believe your night cleanse should be more intensive and more active and should contain the skin benefits of deep acting pore-detoxifying ingredients.”
Getting into ingredients specifically, Anita shared her top tips on what we should be looking for when choosing a facial cleanser.
Water-based products: Look for aqua, water and deionised water at the top of your label.
Rose- or wheat germ–based cleansers: These will add nourishment and skin conditioning benefits.
Surfactants: Cleansing agents such as amino acids will do the trick.
Humectants: Look for glycerin and stearic acid, which lock moisture into the skin and help to strengthen its barriers as well as boost skin hydration.
Before we get into shopping for the right cleanser by skin type, I wanted to know if there was one universal cleanser that the experts would recommend to anyone and everyone. Kaufmann suggested, “a cleanser which is pH neutral and contains no alcohol,” while Colbert advised that “a one-size-fits-all cleanser would be a non-soap cleanser. The best advice is to use what doesn’t make your skin too dry.” “The universal cleanser I’d recommend is Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser,” advised Harper. “It’s our best seller and also happens to be my personal favourite. It gives you physical, chemical and enzymatic exfoliation without stripping your skin, so it’s the perfect way to start your morning routine.” For Franklin, the best option for all skin types is an effective micellar water, which will remove makeup and buildup from the day. Of course, while opting for a cleanser that’s really personalised to your skin’s needs is always preferable, it’s good to know that there are some options out there if you need to grab a facial cleanser in a rush.
This suits-all cleanser both cleans and exfoliates skin.
One of these soap-free cleansers is sold every minute worldwide.
A gentle cleansing water for all skin types.
Finding your formula
When deciding which formula will be best for your skin type, Franklin gave us some advice on which textures to opt for…. Oily skin: “The key to a cleanser for oily skin is one that’s both gentle yet effective. If a cleanser that’s too harsh is used on oily skin, it’ll strip it of moisture and cause the skin to create too much oil to compensate for the loss, resulting in even oilier skin. Try a gentle, oil-free gel cleanser.” Dry skin: “Dry skin suits a creamy or milky cleanser that doesn’t contain any irritants (perfumes, alcohol or soap). Like oily skin, a gentle formula is key to avoid further irritation to those dry patches. Sensitive: “Very similar to dry skin, gentle cleansers that are free of harsh irritants work for sensitive skin. Look for unscented products and avoid foaming products that contain SLS. Creamy and balm formulas are great for sensitive skin, and a gentle micellar water for a double cleanse.” Normal skin: “Normal skin doesn’t necessarily mean perfect skin! Those with normal skin still deal with the odd breakout or skin issue. The skin changes over time and with life events such as pregnancy. As a general rule, those with normal skin should use products that don’t make their skin feel overly oily or excessively dry, so trial and error are key here to find the one that works for you.”
A gently foaming cleanser that removes excess oil and makeup while exfoliating away dead skin cells.
This innovative gel cleanser actually warms up as you massage it into your skin to deeply cleanse and remove any pore-clogging impurities.
This gel cleanser is brimming with supergreens and prebiotics to leave your skin looking glowy—in the best way.
“The Nourishing Oil Cleanser is fantastic for dry skin,” said Harper. “The oils, esters and vitamins feed your skin and help soften and moisturise the skin without feeling too heavy or greasy.”
This rich cream texture is enriched with conditioning rose and avocado as well as lots of aloe vera to hydrate even the most parched of complexions.
This soap-free cleanser contains moisturising ingredients like Kirishima mineral spring water from Japan and rice germ oil that leave behind a protective veil on your skin.
Rose is renowned as being soothing for sensitive skin. This formula removes makeup and cleanses in a single step—no rinsing required.
Versed’s hard-working balm-to-milk cleanser melts away make up and impurities without stripping moisture from your skin. Vegan, cruelty-free, and clean, this formula made for anyone prone to skin sensitivities.
A dermatologically tested cleanser that’s free from soap, alcohol and fragrance and actually works to strengthen your skin’s barrier for less sensitivity long-term.
This creamy cleanser is infused with vitamin C as well as lactic and salicylic acids to boost radiance and brighten tired skin.
This cult cleanser removes all traces of makeup and dirt while the muslin cloth gently sloughs away dead skin cells for more luminous skin.
This cleanser helps to maintain your skin’s natural pH balance to keep your skin healthy from the inside out. Plus, Kate Moss loves this brand, so it must be good.
This post was published at an earlier time and has since been updated.