Sometimes picking the perfect skin care can feel a lot like bad online dating. We can read online all day long about a cleanser, even admire all of key points on splash pages and maybe scour the comments for rave reviews, but we won’t really know exactly how it works until we can get our hands on it in person. And even then, someone else’s perfect cleanser may not work the same way for us, especially if our skin type differs. Never fear, we—along with some of the country’s top doctors—did the hard work and broke down cleansers by what’s best for different skin types. So go ahead, swipe right on these cleansers.
What Doctors Say: “Gel cleansers are typically recommended for normal to oily and acne-prone skin,” says Washington D.C. dermatologist Agnes Ju Chang, MD. “Gel cleansers have clarifying ingredients that are good for removing oil to deep clean the skin.” Newport Beach dermatologist Zenovia H. Gabriel, MD adds that gel cleansers are great for oily, normal and acne-prone skin types, bt says they work well for people with combination and sensitive skin, too. “A gentle, hydrating cleanser with a gel-like consistency is efficient at removing environmental pollutants and makeup without over-drying.” Omaha, NB dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD and founder of beauty brand LovelySkin says he loves their gel cleanser because “It works in synergy with the skin’s barrier. This ensures virtually no irritation, making it an ideal cleanser for rosacea-prone skin.”
What Doctors Say: “Foaming cleansers are safe for most skin types, except for sensitive skin patients, as these cleansers may cause some irritation,” says Dr. Chang. Washington D.C. dermatologist Noëlle S. Sherber, MD, who even recommends foaming cleansers as part deux of a double-cleansing routine.“Foaming cleansers are an excellent choice for the second step in double cleansing (which is an oil-based cleanser followed by a water-based cleanser).”
What Doctors Say: “Cream cleansers are the best for dry skin,” says New York plastic surgeon B. Aviva Preminger, MD. According to Dr. Sherber, “Cream cleansers are lovely as a stand-alone step for combination skin since they can remove sunscreen or makeup without stripping skin or leaving it feeling tight. For acne-prone skin they can also be a first step for double cleansing that’s lighter than an oil or balm cleanser.” But Dr. Chang and Dr. Schlessinger say this cleansing type is great for those with reactive skin, too. “Cream cleansers are great for the sensitive skin patient, especially those with rosacea-prone skin, as it helps with skin barrier function,” says Dr. Chang. Rockville, MD dermatologist Ronald B. Prussick, MD agrees: “They’re less drying, which makes them good for skin types that are dry, atopic (sensitive) or struggle with rosacea.”
What They Recommend: Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($10), Avène Clean-Ac Smoothing Cleansing Cream ($21), Tata Harper Refreshing Cleanser ($84), LovelySkin LUXE Gentle Cream Cleanser ($8), Revision Skincare Papaya Enzyme Cleanser ($33)
What Doctors Say: “Powder cleansers are great for all skin types and fantastic for travel, as you can add water to the powder to activate it,” says Dr. Chang. But beware of overdoing it, warns Dr. Sherber. “Some formulas can be gritty, so those with sensitive skin should avoid over-scrubbing.” New York facial plastic surgeon Edward Kwak, MD also praises these cleansers for their effectiveness on all skin types, but he specifically recommends them for acne-prone skin. “My favorite medical-grade rice-based cleanser from Dermalogica dulls debris and instantly leaves the skin looking noticeably smoother and brighter.”
What they Recommend: PLANT Apothecary Rice & Clean Gentle Facial Cleanser ($24) and Tatcha The Rice Polish: Classic ($65), Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant ($59)
What Doctors Say: “Micellar cleansers are made by suspending tiny beads of cleansing oil in water to remove makeup very gently,” says Dr. Sherber. “They are suitable for sensitive skin types, but those with highly reactive skin may do best to cleanse following micellar makeup removal to ensure that no residue is left behind.”
What Doctors Say: “Oil-based cleansers are dreamy for dry skin,” says Dr. Sherber. “They can be the first step in a double-cleansing regimen or the only cleanser needed, since they emulsify even waterproof sunscreens and makeup thoroughly. If using an oil-based cleanser as a single step, consider a damp muslin cloth or flannel to buff away all traces of cleanser thoroughly.” Dr. Prussick agrees: “Oil-based cleansers are good for dry or atopic skin.”
What Doctors Say: “Clay cleansers are great to use once or twice a week,” says Dr. Chang. “Most clay cleansers can remove dirt and oil from pores and have a pore-minimizing affect.” This drying effect actually helps those skin types that overproduce oil, according to Dr. Sherber. “Clay cleansers are optimal for oily or acne-prone skin since they absorb oil and deep clean pores,” she says. “The best formulas incorporate soothing ingredients to prevent skin from becoming inflamed from the drying effect of clay.” Dr. Prussick recommends this type of cleanser for sensitive skin types as a part-time exfoliator. “These cleansers are good if you can’t tolerate leave-on exfoliants like retinoids or alpha hydroxy acids,” he says.
What Doctors Say: “Cleansing wipes can be helpful for quick cleansing in a pinch, such as post-workout,” says Dr. Sherber. “For those with sensitive skin, be sure to follow with a rinse-off cleanser as soon as possible, since residue left behind may cause skin irritation.” Dr. Chang also notes that wipes are best used before your true cleanse. “Cleansing wipes are great to remove makeup and dirt at night before you use a regular cleanser. It is important to follow the wipes with an actual cleanser as makeup wipes can be comedogenic.” Additionally, Dr. Prussick advises that as individual ingredients vary from formulation to formulation, it’s important to read the label before you buy to avoid any irritants.
What Doctors Say: “Exfoliating cleansers are important because when the skin ages, the cell renewal process slows down and it creates a buildup of old skin cells, causing the skin to lose its radiance,” says Dr. Chang, who also notes that AHAs and BHA are particularly great for exfoliation.
What they Recommend: SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser ($47)