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The 10 Different Types of Cleansers and When To Use Them
Few things in this world are as relaxing as washing your face at the end of a long day.
Cleansing is the first step of every skincare routine. It’s how you remove surface-level dirt, makeup, and sweat – and it can feel heavenly. Your skin finally gets to breathe afterward. Without dirt sitting on top and blocking your pores, the rest of your skincare products can easily penetrate the skin. It’s super calming and one of my favorite parts of my daily skincare routine.
But because cleansing is so straightforward, it’s often an overlooked step when it comes to skincare. When we start breaking out or notice problems on our skin, we rarely look to our cleansers as the culprit and instead jump to investigate the other steps in our regimen. But much like serums and toners, cleansers can cause issues when they’re not compatible with your skin type or contain allergens.
There are so many types of cleansers all with different formulations and purposes. Finding the right one for your skin type is crucial to maintaining a solid regimen. As someone with sensitive skin, I know too well the challenge of going through different products before finally settling on the perfect one. It’s a trial and error process that is sometimes necessary, but it’s also pretty frustrating – not to mention hard on the wallet!
With all that being said, the process doesn’t have to take forever. We’re here to explain the different types of facial cleansers so you know which one is best suited for your skin type.
What are the different types of facial cleansers for oily skin, acne-prone skin, or sensitive skin?
With the number of options available, finding the right cleanser can be a tad overwhelming. Each type of cleanser has its benefits. Some are known for their exfoliating properties while others perform well on mature skin. Some are deeply cleansing while others gently exfoliate. Others even remove acne-causing bacteria.
There are facial cleansers fit to unblock clogged pores, micellar cleansers that are preferred for removing makeup, and cleansing balms that benefit oily and combination skin types.
Ready to find out what kind of face cleansers are your perfect match? Here, we break down the different types of cleansers and how to use them according to your skin type.
Foam cleansers are one of the most common types of cleansers available. They’re strong and can remove impurities on the face thoroughly and quickly.
A foam cleanser is usually cream-based and transforms into foam when combined with water. The lathering effect enhances the experience, making you really feel like you’re scrubbing off all the oil, sweat, and dirt off your face.
This makes it best for those with oily skin or combination skin as a foam cleanser can easily break down oils, allowing for the rest of your routine to be more effective. It’s also recommended for teenage skin and acne-prone complexions.
On the other hand, avoid foam cleansers if you have sensitive or dry skin, as some harsh ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium chloride can cause irritation and dryness. If you do prefer foaming cleansers yet have dry or sensitive skin, try to compromise with a sulfate-free foam cleanser.
Whether you have sensitive or oily skin, using a gel cleanser has some great benefits. Gel cleansers are perfect for easily irritated or sensitive skin because they’re very mild but remove dirt effectively. Foaming cleansers are also effective, but they can give you the too-tight, dry feeling afterward – especially if you’ve already got dry skin.
Gel cleansers work because they offer gentle exfoliation and acne-fighting properties, making the cleanser suitable for almost all skin types, including oily skin types, acne-prone skin types, and even dry skin types due to their antiseptic and exfoliating properties.
Apart from that, they also contain plenty of moisturizing compounds and soothing properties, preventing irritation, redness, and even possible breakouts.
Likewise, gel cleansers can function as makeup removers. The gentle formula of a gel cleanser helps it dissolve makeup while adding hydration to the skin.
Cream – Lotion Cleansers
Another wonderful option for most skin types is the cream cleanser. Cream cleansers are super creamy and lush, so generally, they feel really soothing to the skin and don’t dry you out.
These products are ideal for dry skin because they have a lot of emollient properties, but they can also work really well for people with oily skin or combination skin. A cream cleanser is also infused with a ton of moisturizing ingredients, cleaning your skin without stripping it of its natural oils.
Basically, if you want your skin to feel as smooth as a baby’s bottom after washing, go for cream cleansers.
Micellar Cleansers – Micellar Waters
In contrast, a micellar facial cleanser is super lightweight and watery in consistency. Where creamy cleansers have a lush texture, micellar water is very much what the name sounds like. It’s made up of mostly surfactants or cleaning agents and hydrating ingredients, too.
It is very gentle and is a favorite for those with normal skin to combination skin, or pretty much anyone who doesn’t fancy a harsh facial wash. Micellar water uses tiny lipid ions to attract grime and dirt from the skin, “lifting” impurities rather than scrubbing them away. It can be applied using cotton pads or your fingertips and can substitute cleansing wipes for a more gentle procedure.
If you’re looking for a mild, alcohol-free cleanser for removing makeup, a micellar cleanser will do the trick. It can also remove excess oil. Sadly, it’s not ideal for “deep cleansing” which is the method of cleansing recommended for those with oily or acne-prone skin – more on that later. But if you have normal skin and want to keep it healthy, micellar water would be a sensible buy.
For people who have trouble with excess oil in their skin, deep cleansing is what you’ll need to do. You can deep cleanse in a number of ways – you can do it with a foam cleanser which is great for removing excess oil like we mentioned.
But another great method is double-cleansing. You’ve probably heard of it because, by this point, almost everyone has attempted the 10-step Korean skincare regimen where the double cleansing approach was popularized.
An oil cleanser is the first step when you want to double cleanse. Removing makeup is super easy because the oil in the cleanser dissolves the oil on the makeup, and it really only takes a few seconds. After the first wash, you can proceed with other cleansers of your choice. The second step is for removing dirt directly on top of your skin. You can use any type of facial cleanser for this step, preferably the one that is most suited for your skin type.
If you really want to get into deep facial cleansing, another option is to use a powder cleanser. Less known in the modern skincare industry, powder cleansers usually contain fewer additives than their liquid forms. Some ingredients you’ll find in a powder facial cleanser are pulverized rice, oats, and minerals.
Powder cleansers are considered a 2-in-1 exfoliator and facial wash because of the enzymes and active ingredients found in their formulas. But that doesn’t mean they’re harsh – in fact, the lack of preservatives makes them a keen choice for those who have sensitive skin. The downside is that they contain fewer moisturizing properties than other cleansing products.
One thing we love about powder cleansers is their flexibility. You can control the cleanse by adjusting the amount of water added to the mixture. Less water equals more texture while more water means a gentler cleanse.
Have you tried or enjoyed clay masks? If so, you’ll absolutely love clay cleansers.
A clay cleanser is another great option for oily and acne-prone skin types. Unlike a foaming cleanser or oil-based cleansers that scrub off dirt, clay cleansers purify the skin by absorbing and drawing out oil, toxins, and dead skin cells from your pores without damaging your skin barrier.
Additionally, clay cleansers work well with sensitive skin types because they avoid harsh acids.
Cleansing balms are another fan-favorite among those with highly sensitive skin types. They’re often called “amped-up oil cleansers” because of their formulation – balm cleansers are oil-based but non-comedogenic, so they dissolve makeup and oil without clogging your pores.
Balm cleansers can be used on their own or as the first step of a double cleanse (in lieu of cleansing oils) and paired with water-based cleansers.
What we love about a cleansing balm is its moisturizing factor. Rarely can you find a face wash that is as soothing and hydrating, both for sensitive skin or oily and combination skin. Some common ingredients are coconut oil and sunflower oil which are both incredibly nourishing.
Milk Facial Cleansers
Milk facial cleansers are an emulsion of oils and fat that gently remove makeup, dirt, and oils. They’re very hydrating and leave the skin feeling moist and soft thanks to their creamy consistency. We recommend these for normal to combination skin, a.k.a. if you don’t really struggle with overproduction of sebum.
By now, most of us know that regular body soap or bar cleanser is disastrous for the face. But there are soap-free bar cleansers out there made with natural ingredients that can effectively remove grime from the face without messing up the pH balance. Just be sure to look for cleansing bars with a gentle formula that can moisturize the skin.
How Do I Clean My Face?
Sometimes the problem isn’t your facial wash, but how you’re using it. Here are 5 tips to cleanse the right way and ensure success in your journey to healthy skin.
1. Know Your Skin Type
Everything you know about cleansers explained above is useless if you don’t know what your skin type actually is! So before going shopping make sure you’re certain about it first, then you can find your perfect cleanser match.
2. Cleanse Every Night
Depending on your skin type, you might be able to go without cleansing in the morning. But it’s important that you don’t skip out on using a facial cleanser at night so you can remove oil and filth from settling into your skin while you’re asleep.
3. Don’t Use Generic Bar Cleansers
Bar soap contains harsh surfactants that can alter the pH levels of our face, making them drier and more prone to breakouts.
4. Stick to Lukewarm Water
It’s a myth that warm water opens pores and cold water closes them. Stick to lukewarm or room temperature water for the best results – and also to make your routine much simpler.
5. Include Your Neck
Dirt can build up on your neck, too. The next time you’re washing your face, don’t just stop at the chin and instead go all the way down to give your neck and jaw the love and care they deserve.
6. Use a Soft Towel
After you’ve rinsed off your cleanser of choice, take a gentle cloth (we recommend microfiber facial towels) and softly pat your skin dry. Avoid using harsh material and scrubbing your face clean as this can cause irritation.
Cleansing is the baseline of any effective skincare routine, so finding the right face wash is super important! If you’ve struggled with this in the past, we hope this guide can shed some light on the right cleanser for different skin types.
There’s not just one type of cleanser for every skin type, which is good because it means you get to experiment and see which one is your holy grail.
For more advice on building the perfect skincare routine, take a look at our guide to mixing skincare products.
Joey is an AB Psychology graduate of the University of St. La Salle – Bacolod. Her life’s passions include writing, film, and spending hours on end binge-watching fashion vloggers on Youtube.