While our grandparents only had soap or cold cream to wash their faces -- and Granddad wouldn't think of trying Grandma's cold cream -- today's men and women have many products that aren't soap to choose from. Which option is right for you depends on your skin type.
Lathering cleansers work well for normal to oily skin. They come in liquid or bar form, and they make a soapy-looking lather when you massage them onto your wet face. These cleansers are made with synthetic surfactants, which are much gentler than old-fashioned soap and closer to your skin's natural pH. These surfactants do a great job of removing dirt and oil, and they leave your skin feeling clean. They do compromise your skin's natural barrier a little, though, so they aren't a good idea if you have dry skin [source: Draelos 2010].
Emollient cleansers are a good option for men with normal to dry skin. They don't make suds when you mix them with water; they use emulsification (the blending together of two substances to form a stable mixture, such as eggs and oil emulsifying to make mayonnaise) to pull dirt off of your skin, so you can rinse it away without disrupting your skin's moisture barrier. Scrubs are emollient cleansers that contain exfoliating beads that remove dead skin cells. The extra exfoliation leaves your skin feeling smooth , but you should use a scrub no more than once or twice a week if you have sensitive skin [source: Draelos 2010].
Cleansing milks are good for very dry skin; cold cream fits into this category. You don't use water with these cleansers. You rub the cream onto your face and then wipe it off with a cloth or tissue. Cleansing milks are very gentle, but they don't tend to leave a clean feeling [source: Draelos 2010].
Toners are liquid solvents that clean skin and tighten pores. They're often alcohol-based, and they can dry out oily skin, which makes them popular with teenagers. Some toners have added moisturizers to prevent them from drying the skin too much, but most toners aren't a good idea for men with dry or sensitive skin [source: Draelos 2010].
Cleansing cloths combine cleansers with specially woven cloths that use friction to remove dirt. The cloths come with cleanser already inside them. The weave makes it possible to get the same level of dirt removal while using gentler cleansers that preserve your skin's barrier. Some cloths have petrolatum (a gel derived from petroleum) added to them; this actually improves your skin's barrier by sealing in moisture and smoothing your skin's surface. Different cloth and cleanser combinations mean that cleansing cloths can be tailor-made for many skin types. They are also convenient to use and the dirt on the cloth helps you see your results [source: Draelos 2010].
Now that you know all about the different types of cleansers, it's time to put down Dad's bar of soap and get the most out of your skin care routine.