The Best Face Cleansers for Your Skin Type

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You know better than to hit the hay in the evening without washing your face, right? Most skin-care experts agree that cleansing your face at night is the most important time to do it, but using the right products and a gentle process is also critical to keeping your skin healthy, radiant, and blemish-free.

"Knowing your skin type can help you choose the right skin-care cleanser to enhance your skin's appearance. You can help avoid adverse effects and improve your skin texture by knowing which ingredients to use for your specific skin type," says Joshua Fox, MD, medical director of Advanced Dermatology PC. If you don't do a good job cleansing your skin, then dirt, grime, pollution and day-old makeup can clog your pores and cause your skin to break out. [source:]


Read on to get customized tips for every skin type.

Normal Skin

How do you know if your skin is "normal?" Normal skin type refers to those (lucky!) people with not too oily or not too dry skin and few skin imperfections. Their skin is not affected very much by weather changes, has minimal enlarged pores and, most of the time, is radiant and healthy, says Dr. Fox. These individuals can use a wide array of cleansers without worrying too much about the ingredients. He recommends cleansers containing antioxidants, hydroxy acids, botanical anti-inflammatory agents and retinol. [source: Dr. Fox] If you have normal skin, Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser is a simple and gentle cleansing option recommended by many dermatologists. [source:]


Oily Skin

Oily skin is usually caused by overactive sebaceous glands producing too much sebum, which may make the skin feel even oilier and can clog pores, exacerbating acne. While you might think of oily skin as a daily drag, there is a benefit to having this skin type—it's actually less prone to wrinkling, says Dr. Fox. When it comes to cleansing oily skin, avoid products containing natural or synthetic oils, perfumes (fragrances) or additives.

If you have oily skin, your cleansers should contain the same ingredients normal skin needs: antioxidants, hydroxy acids, anti-inflammatory agents and retiniods. But it also needs a degreasing agent like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, which is usually found in a gel rather than as a creamy cleanser. Clay-based face masks may also be helpful, and you might want to consider washing your face in the morning and evening if you have oily skin. [source: Dr. Fox]


Deirdre Hooper, MD, dermatologist at Audubon Dermatology in New Orleans, agrees that using products with salicylic acid will help clean your pores and reduce oil buildup. And even though it's tempting to try to get that squeaky clean feeling, she suggests avoiding harsh bar soaps which strip your skin of oils skin and leave skin feeling dry and irritated. Dr. Hooper recommends Neutrogena Oil-free Acne Wash and Cetaphil Cleanser for Oily Skin as good choices for someone with this type of skin. [Dr. Hooper]

People with oily skin often benefit from slightly more acidic washes, says Miguel Sanchez, MD, associate professor of dermatology at NYU School of Medicine. They may also benefit from exfoliating and astringent cleansers. Some gentle exfoliating cleansers, such as Dove Gentle Exfoliating Facial Cleanser, are often well tolerated and usually help people with sensitive skin (who often break out) because it contains stearic acid that may improve the damaged skin barrier that allows water to evaporate abnormally. [source: Dr. Sanchez]

Acne-Prone Skin

Like oily skin, acne-prone skin is characterized by an excess of sebum in the follicles on your face. The sebum makes its way to the skin's surface, carrying dead skin cells and dirt that clog pores and cause zits. If you are more prone to red pimples, benzoyl peroxide will kill acne-causing bacteria, says Dr. Hooper. Watch out, though, because high concentrations of benzoyl peroxide can backfire and make your skin appear even redder. Look for cleansers that contain 4 percent benzoyl peroxide and list the ingredient lower in an ingredient list, she suggests. Neutrogena Clear Pore Cleanser is a good choice. If blackheads are more the problem, salicylic acid will help, and Neutrogena Oil-free Acne Wash and SkinCeuticals LHA Cleansing Gel are good choices for you. Cleansers will help you manage and treat acne, but depending on its severity, you may need to visit your dermatologist for prescription strength treatments. [Dr. Hooper]


Dry Skin

Individuals with dry skin should use cleansers containing ingredients rich in moisturizing properties. These ingredients create a barrier that holds in moisture and phospholipids and prevent dryness. "For best results, recommended cleansers should contain antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents and barrier-repair moisturizing ingredients," says Dr. Fox. [source: Dr. Fox]

Look for products containing alpha hydroxy acids, which will help exfoliate dull skin and allow moisturizers to absorb better. Liquid or foaming cleansers clean the skin gently without removing natural oils, says Dr. Hooper. She says that Gly Derm Gentle Cleanser and Aqua Glycolic Facial Cleanser are nice choices for this type of skin. [source: Dr. Hooper]


You can also try to amp up the moisture quotient by using a "milky" cleanser like Clinique 'Take The Day Off' Cleansing Milk. [source:] Oil-based cleansers that contain vitamin E, cocoa or Shea butter, and olive or jojoba oil are good for people with dry skin but should not be used by those who acne prone, says Dr. Sanchez. Avoid cleansers with surfactants, such as olefin sulfonate, that dissolve oily molecules and can further dry the skin.

Though high alcohol concentration should usually be avoided, one of the most recommended washes for people with dry and sensitive skin is Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser. It contains the fatty alcohols cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol, which may actually help lock moisture in. This product, however, should be avoided by someone who is allergic to parabens, a group of chemicals used as preservative to prolong shelf life. Gentle cleansers with humectants, such as glycerin or urea, retain water on the skin and can be beneficial for someone who has naturally dry skin. [Dr. Sanchez]

Sensitive Skin

Sensitive skin types have a tendency to get irritated when using products that contain harsh ingredients. That's why many most dermatologists recommend cleansers with mild ingredients, like aloe, cucumber natural extracts, anti-inflammatory agents and antioxidants in lower concentrations, says Dr. Fox. He recommends avoiding alcohol-based products, toners, scrubs, or things that rub your face too hard.

Some people need to be tested by a dermatologist for skin allergies which often eliminates skin sensitivity. [source: Dr. Fox] Dr. Hooper suggests looking for creamy, fragrance-free cleansers, like CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, which contains glycerin and ceramides to help restore your skin's barrier. [source: Dr. Hoooper]


Other experts suggest those with sensitive skin seek out cleansers that are hypoallergenic and fragrance-free, such as Avène Extremely Gentle Cleanser for Intolerant Skin. [source:] Dr. Sanchez agreed that people with sensitive skin should avoid chemicals that are likely to irritate and cause allergies, including fragrances. Some botanicals, such as aloe, may calm inflammation, but just because something is natural doesn't mean it won't irritate your skin.

For all skin types, though, it's important to always apply moisturizer in the morning with an SPF of at least 30 to protect your skin from sun damage. And if you feel like your skin is breaking out regularly, is irritated, or out of control, make an appointment with your dermatologist to get their recommendation for a customized skin-care routine. [Dr. Fox]

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Joshua Fox, MD, personal correspondence, October 14, 2013
  • Kolsky Hertzig, Alyssa. "Skincare Basics: How to Wash Your Face."
  • Deirdre O'Boyle Hooper, MD, Personal correspondence, Oct 1, 2013
  • Miguel Sanchez, MD, personal correspondence, Oct. 16, 2013.