These Are the Best Cleanser Formulations for Every Skin Type

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This article first appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of New Beauty. Click here to subscribe

Whether it’s at CVS or Sephora, the number of cleansers lining beauty shelves these days is astronomical. Not sure which one to buy to best suit your skin type and concerns? Here’s a quick guide.

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GEL

What they are: Lightweight, jelly-like substances that effectively lift trapped grime from pores for a deep clean.

Skin types they’re best for: Oily and/or acne-prone skin. Many gel cleansers contain powerful actives, such as salicylic acid or glycolic acid, which helps address these concerns.

Expert tip: “Add a little water at a time until it really foams up— the bubbles help to slough out bacteria and dirt from pores and leave skin feeling very clean without stripping it,” says New York aesthetician Joie Tavernise.

One to try:
Alchimie Forever Purifying Facial Cleanser ($41)

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BALM

What they are: “Think of balms like a combination of an oil and a cream cleanser,” says Omaha, NE dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD. “They’re usually made with natural oils, like grape seed, which are great for removing makeup without stripping the skin.”

Skin types they’re best for: Dry, but new versions are being made to suit nearly all skin types, even oily.

Expert tip: “Let the balm melt slightly on your fingers as it adjusts to your body heat, then slowly rub it into dry skin using small circles,” says Tavernise. Opt for a muslin cloth or washcloth to make sure it’s fully removed.

One to try:
Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm ($64)

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OIL

What they are: “Oil cleansers often contain natural, nurturing oils and little to no surfactants, meaning they won’t suds up on the skin, but they are still useful for removing makeup,” says Dr. Schlessinger. “They are also becoming increasingly popular for their role in a double-cleanse routine (used as the first step).”

Skin types they’re best for: Normal, dry and sensitive

Expert tip: “Apply to dry skin and rinse with water, avoiding your eyes, as the oil can irritate them and cloud your vision,” Dr. Schlessinger adds.

One to try:
Go-To Skincare Fancy Face Nourishing Oil Cleanser ($34)

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FOAM

What they are: Light and airy, foams rely on surfactants (ingredients that create the lather, such as sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate) to cleanse skin.

Skin types they’re best for: Oily and acne-prone. “Nowadays, some foams can be used on dry or sensitive skin, too, as they are made with surfactants like betaines and sarcosinates, which do not strip the skin like sulfates do,” says New York dermatologist Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD.

Expert tip: “Foams can be drying, so look for formulas with moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid,” Dr. Levin adds.

One to try:
Hanskin Hyaluron Bubble Pop Cleanser ($20)

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CREAM, MILK & LOTION

What they are: Made with moisturizers like emollients and humectants, these cleansers are generally very gentle, but still effective at removing gunk, and often used as a second step after makeup removal.

Skin types they’re best for: Sensitive or dry skin. “I would not recommend them for oily or acne-prone skin, as they may be too heavy on clogged pores,” says Tavernise.

Expert tip: Apply them directly to dry skin, and then add a little bit of water as you work them around your face. Remove with a clean washcloth.

One to try:
Moon Juice Milk Cleanse ($32)

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MICELLAR WATER

What they are: Micellar waters look and feel like water, but contain tiny molecules called micelles that “surround makeup and dirt and gently remove residue off of the skin,” says Dr. Levin. Most of them are very gentle, contain hardly any additives and do not need to be rinsed off.

Skin types they’re best for: All skin types

Expert tip: Saturate a clean cotton pad and use it to remove makeup as the first step in a double- cleansing regimen, or to lightly cleanse bare skin if it’s makeup-free.

One to try:
Odacité Blue Aura Cleansing Water ($39)

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The Great Wipe Debate

As qualms about sustainability issues surround disposable wipes, many people are forgoing them altogether and relying on reusable muslin cloths or wash cloths instead. “Wipes are a convenient option for travel, after the gym or at the end of a late night, but they shouldn’t replace traditional cleansing, especially for those with acne-prone skin,” says Tavernise. And to minimize the economic impact, opt for biodegradable or compostable versions like Almay Biodegradable Micellar Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes ($6).

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