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Which facial cleansers are best?

If you want a healthy, glowing complexion, it all starts with clean skin. That’s why finding the right facial cleanser is so important. The bar soap you use for your body is way too harsh for the sensitive skin of your face, so you need a formula that can effectively clean your facial skin without stripping it of moisture or clogging your pores.

Check out our buying guide to learn everything you need about choosing the best facial cleanser for your skincare routine. We’ve even included specific product recommendations to make shopping easier, including our top pick from EltaMD, which offers a pH-balanced, oil-free formula that effectively removes dirt, oil, makeup, and other impurities from the skin.

What to know before you buy a facial cleanser

Skin type

When you’re shopping for a facial cleanser, use your skin type as a guide. For example, oily skin usually requires a stronger formula than dry skin, which typically needs additional moisture to keep skin balanced.

  • Normal skin is naturally balanced, so it’s not overly oily or overly dry. Most cleansers work well for this type as long as they’re not designed for extremely oily or extremely dry skin.
  • Oily/acne-prone skin tends to look greasy, features large pores, and breaks out with acne rather easily. The right facial cleanser will remove oil and other pore-clogging debris without stripping the skin.
  • Dry skin often looks dull and features flaky patches. It can have a tight feeling, too, so a good facial cleanser contains moisturizing ingredients that help hydrate the skin while removing dirt and impurities.
  • Combination skin usually features excess oil on the forehead, nose, and chin but dry areas on the cheeks. The right cleanser can lightly remove oil but doesn’t strip the skin of moisture.
  • Mature skin features fine lines and wrinkles and usually lacks moisture. Opt for a hydrating facial cleanser with anti-aging ingredients like ceramides, green tea, hyaluronic acid, and glycolic acid.
  • Sensitive skin is easily irritated by common ingredients in skincare and makeup products. It’s usually prone to redness, flaking, and itchiness. Choose a facial cleanser with a gentle, mild formula that doesn’t contain any artificial fragrances or dyes.

Cleanser type

Facial cleansers are available in a variety of formulas that usually determine what skin type the cleanser is best for. Here are some of the common types of facial cleansers:

  • Bar facial cleansers are similar to the soap bars you might use to wash your body, but they’re formulated with ingredients better suited for facial skin. You typically can find bar cleansers that work well for sensitive, oily, and acne-prone skin.
  • Cream facial cleaners have a thick, rich consistency that can effectively dissolve dirt and makeup while adding moisture to the skin as well. They’re ideal for dry and mature skin.
  • Foaming facial cleansers are usually a liquid formula, but when you dispense them from the bottle, they transform to a lightweight foam. They can remove dirt and oil without stripping the skin, so they work well for oily, combination, and normal skin.
  • Gel facial cleansers have medium-weight consistency that usually turns into a lather when mixed with water. They can effectively remove oil and often contain acne-fighting ingredients, so they’re ideal for oily, acne-prone, and combination skin.
  • Oil facial cleansers can dissolve dirt, oil, and even waterproof makeup without stripping the skin at all. In fact, they can help hydrate your face, so they work well for normal, dry, and mature skin.
  • Micellar facial cleansers are a newer variety; they contain mild surfactants with extremely small molecules that help attract dirt and oil to remove them from the skin. They have an extremely thin water-like consistency and don’t have to be rinsed off, so they work well for travel — or any time you don’t feel like washing your face.

What to look for in a quality facial cleanser


Facial cleansers are available in a variety of packaging types. Many formulas come in pump bottles, which makes it extremely easy to dispense the ideal amount of cleanser when you wash your face. A pump dispenser can also protect the cleanser from air and light that might break down the ingredients. Other formulas come in squeeze tubes, which can work well but sometimes make it difficult to get out the right amount of product.


Parabens are preservatives that can extend the shelf life of facial cleansers and other beauty products. If you use a facial cleanser with parabens, your skin can absorb them, where they stay in the tissues for some time. Unfortunately, parabens have been linked to a disruption in hormone function that can increase your risk for breast cancer and reproductive issues. If you’re concerned about parabens in your beauty products, choose a facial cleanser that’s specifically labeled as paraben-free.

How much you can expect to spend on a facial cleanser

Facial cleaner prices usually vary based on the quality of the ingredients and the size of the bottle. Most cost between $4-$100.  Those available from the drugstore and other mass merchandise stores typically range from $4-$15, but you’ll usually pay between $15-$40 for mid-range options. Luxury brands offer facial cleansers that cost between $40-$100.

Facial cleanser FAQ

Q. How often should I use a facial cleanser?

A. Most people use a facial cleanser twice a day — once in the morning and once at night. However, if you have skin that’s easily irritated or stripped of moisture, you may only want to use a facial cleanser at the end of the day. In the morning, just splash your face with water to freshen it before applying other skincare products.

Q. How hot should the water I use to wash my face be?

A. When you’re washing with a facial cleanser, you shouldn’t use water that’s too warm. Hot water can rob skin of its natural moisture and leave it dry and flaky. Use lukewarm water to dampen your face before cleansing and for rinsing afterward.

What are the best facial cleansers to buy?

Top facial cleanser

EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser

EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser

Our take: May be too drying for some skin types, but this cleanser offers a generous lather and fresh scent, as well as customer raves for the way it leaves the skin looking and feeling.

What we like: Features an oil-free, pH-balanced formula. Can deep clean the skin effectively so it feels clean and balanced. Contains amino acids that help loosen makeup, oil, and dirt. Only requires a small amount of a cleanser to deep clean your face, so a bottle can last a long time.

What we dislike: May strip dry and mature skin of too much moisture. Some users experience clogs with the pump bottle.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top facial cleanser for the money

Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser for Normal to Oily Skin

Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser for Normal to Oily Skin

Our take: A budget-friendly cleanser that can clean a range of skin types effectively.

What we like: Offers a gentle, dermatologist-approved formula that won’t irritate or strip most skin types. Can be used daily. Doesn’t clog pores, so it works for acne-prone skin. Includes two bottles for the price, making it an excellent value.

What we dislike: Some users find the scent overpowering. Can sometimes leave the skin feeling dry, though most customers find it cleans gently and effectively.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser

Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser

Our take: An ideal facial cleanser for sensitive skin thanks to the oil-, dye-, preservative-, and fragrance-free formula.

What we like: Contains a few simple ingredients that are non-comedogenic. Dermatologist-recommended formula for individuals with sensitive skin. Creates a nice foam. Doesn’t contain any parabens or sulfates.

What we dislike: Isn’t a good choice for oily or acne-prone skin. May leave skin feeling tight if you have dry or mature skin.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Jennifer Blair writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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