What makes one skin cleanser better than another?

Unusual Skin Care Ingredients Image Gallery How well does your skin cleanser measure up to the competition? See pictures of unusual skin care ingredients.
Unusual Skin Care Ingredients Image Gallery How well does your skin cleanser measure up to the competition? See pictures of unusual skin care ingredients.
Compassionate Eye Foundation/Photodisc/Getty Images

There's been virtually no stone left unturned in the quest for a perfect skin cleanser. People have tried slathering pretty much everything on their faces at the slightest hint it might help them achieve a glowing, flawless complexion. Milk, yogurt, mayonnaise, oatmeal, cornmeal, rice bran, honey, sugar, tea, vanilla, thyme, fennel, nutmeg, cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, avocadoes, almonds, apples, lemons, limes, oranges, tomatoes, grapes and papayas are all among the cornucopia of items that have been hijacked from kitchens and put to work in bathrooms. So too have olive oil, coconut oil, castor oil, jojoba oil, hempseed oil, grapeseed oil, witch hazel and all sorts of other essential oils and extracts. For even crazier-sounding skin care treatments, take a peek at Top 5 Weirdest Beauty Cream Ingredients, but be warned -- these five formulas aren't for readers with delicate sensibilities.

Provided someone heads to the store for his or her facial cleanser rather than working some DIY magic, choosing which skin care products to buy can be a supremely frustrating chore. With practically unlimited options, it's hard to know what's best, and if it turns out you have hard-to-please skin, you might be forced to keep forking over cash until you find one that works well.


There are some basic guidelines people can follow, however, to increase their chances of choosing a cleanser that fits the bill. For example, skin type makes a big difference. Dry skin will not get the nurturing it needs from a facial cleanser geared to manage oily skin, and vice versa. On the next page we'll navigate the complicated categories of skin cleansers and see how they measure up against one another.

Survey Says ...

Choosing a cleanser with care can help your skin out a great deal.
Choosing a cleanser with care can help your skin out a great deal.
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Unfortunately, when it comes to competing skin cleansers, it's practically impossible to definitively rank one as better than all the others. Different cleansers are ideal for different people -- and even then, what works for someone when they're 20 is probably not going to be the best bet when they're 40, since people's skin changes as they age.

If dry skin is dragging you down, look for skin cleansers that hydrate and protect against additional moisture loss. The best thing you can do for your skin is to use a gentle cleanser and follow up each daily face washing with a creamy moisturizer to help lock in all the extra water you can. An oil-based cleanser could be the ticket to restocking low natural oil levels. Exfoliate infrequently, and don't be afraid to reapply moisturizer midday if necessary.


People with oily skin should usually go with a water-based or even an oil-free facial cleanser, pairing it with a lightweight moisturizer. Oily skin benefits from more frequent and thorough washings than dry skin, but too much attention and vigor can increase oil production, so customize your skin care rituals accordingly. Look for the term "non-comedogenic" on a cleanser's label, which means with any luck the product won't clog your pores. A few acne-fighting extras such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide can't hurt either.

If you've got skin that's oily in some places and dry in others, you might want to opt for two separate cleansers to address each issue, and again, mild is best. Normal skin can handle most types of skin cleansers, but for skin that's on the sensitive side -- whether it's prone to be dry, oily or normal -- choosing a cleanser which takes this into consideration is a must. Sensitive skin rebels in any number of unfortunate ways and is often triggered if cleansers are too harsh or contain fragrances, beads, granules, soaps and alcohols. Look for labels that read "hypoallergenic" or offer claims of calming additives. Plus, the shorter the ingredient list, the better.

Above all, be gentle with your skin. It's a sensitive organ that needs to maintain a delicate balance to function optimally. It might feel satisfying to scrub away, but that fresh clean feeling afterward is actually a sign that your skin is struggling.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • "12 Ways to Get Better Results from Acne Treatment." AcneNet. (12/15/2009) http://www.skincarephysicians.com/acnenet/twelve_results.html
  • "Benzoyl Peroxide Topical." WebMD. (12/15/2009) http://www.webmd.com/drugs/drug-1344-Benzoyl+Peroxide+ Top.aspx?drugid=1344&drugname=Benzoyl+Peroxide+Top
  • Bouchez, Colette. "Oily Skin: Solutions that Work." WebMD. Oct. 19, 2007. (12/15/09). http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/features/oily-skin-solutions-that-work?page=1
  • "Facial Cleansers: Recipes for Homemade Natural Skin Cleansers." Skin Care e-Learning and Resource Center. (12/15/2009)http://www.skincareresourcecenter.com/Facial-Cleansers.html
  • Kunin, Audrey. "Oily Skin." DERMAdoctor.com. (12/15/2009)http://www.dermadoctor.com/article_Oily-Skin_99.html
  • Lehrer, Michael. "Oily Skin." Medline Plus. Oct. 28, 2008. (12/15/2009)http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002043.htm
  • Libov, Charlotte. "Adult Acne: Why You Get It, How to Fight It." WebMD. (12/15/2009)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/features/adult-acne-why-you-get-it-how-fight-it
  • "Natural Facial Cleanser Recipes." Homemade Beauty Recipes. (12/15/2009)http://hmbeautyrecipes.homestead.com/SKINcleansers.html
  • Rudd, Maddie. "Spa-At-Home: Facial Cleanser and Scrub Recipes." Hub Pages. (12/15/2009) http://hubpages.com/hub/Cleanser_Recipes
  • "Saving Face 101: How to Customize Your Skin Care Routine With Your Skin Type." American Academy of Dermatology. Nov. 10, 2009. (12/15/2009)http://www.aad.org/media/background/news/Releases/Saving_Face_101_How_to_Customize_Your_Skin_Care_Ro/
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  • "Soaps and Cleansers." New Zealand Dermatological Society Incorporated. (12/15/2009)http://dermnetnz.org/treatments/cleansers.html