We all know that washing your face on the daily is de rigueur. But, you shouldn’t be reaching for just any cleanser. Just like what you eat, what you wash your face with can make or break your complexion. So, the obvious answer here is to grab a top-quality cleanser. Simple, right?
But here’s the catch: just because a cleanser is pricier, doesn’t mean it’s better for your skin—it sometimes means you’re just paying for fancy marketing. There are so many things to take into consideration: your skin type, the weather, and the ingredient list being the most important to highlight.
Some cleansers contain harsh additives that strip away too much of your natural oil, leading to dryness, discomfort, and irritation. “Sulfates, Pthalates, Parabens, Sodium lauryl sulfate and alcohol can strip the skin,” says Michelle Schlekewey, Esthetician and Director of Guest Programs and Services at the celeb spa destination GOLDEN DOOR. “You want your face to feel refreshed after washing it, not tight.”
“SLS and SLES gets a bad rap for irritation,” adds Victoria Fu, cofounder of Chemist Confessions. “Cocamidopropyl betaine [a synthetic detergent] is actually considered a gentle surfactant, but has been found to have a higher instance of irritation.”
“Our philosophy for cleansers is to pick solely for function, with the goal of finding that balance of good cleansing action and gentleness,” says Gloria Lu, cofounder of Chemist Confessions. “Those who are looking for gentle should look for surfactants like: Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Sodium Lauryl Sarcosinate, Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Sodium Lauryl Glucoside. Typically cleanser surfactants are blended with cheaper surfactants but look for these in the upper half of the ingredient list.”
Celebrity esthetician Eileen Feighny suggests making the switch to an oil-based cleanser for a more mild cleanse. “You want to stay away from foaming cleansers which may clean your skin by stripping away its delicate acid mantle layer,” she said. “Opt for an oil-based cleanser that will fortify and strengthen skin and look for naturally protective ingredients like Hemp, Pumpkin and Tea Tree, which help strengthen your skin’s natural barrier.”
According to Fu, even pH levels can play a part in finding your perfect facial cleanser. “If you’re trying to look for low pH cleansers, stay away from the soap based cleansers. You can pick these out by fatty acids ‘Palmitic acid, Oleic acid, Myristic acid’ paired with either sodium or potassium hydroxide. All in all, none of these are necessarily bad so don’t go throwing these away just yet. We always tell people that you know your skin best, so if a product has been working for your skin and you’re happy with results, you win the skincare game. Just stay the course.”
But, there is one thing Fu and Lu believe everyone should stay away from is a pricey product. “There’s no reason to pay for an anti-aging cleanser since those actives will most likely get lost in the wash,” they said. “Just save that budget for a solid anti-aging serum.”
If you’re looking for a top-notch cleanser that will give you a bang for your buck, shop some of our experts’ favorite cleansers below.
Schlekewey’s Pick: GOLDEN DOOR Soothing Cleansing Foam
Packed with lavender, oat, and antibacterial elderflower extract, this cleansing foam will give your pores the deep detox it needs without any tightness or irritation.
Lu’s Pick: Hada Labo Gokujyn Hyaluronic Acid Cleansing Foam
If you have dry skin, then you must grab Lu’s favorite cleanser. It’s packed with the moisturizing skin godsend hyaluronic acid, to give your complexion a radiant, plump finish. Plus, it’s less than $10, so why wouldn’t you stock up on this pick?
Feighny’s Pick: Tulura Revealing Botanical Oil Cleanser
“My go-to cleanser is our Revealing Botanical Oil Cleanser which is one of the few oil-based cleansers formulated with salicylic acid,” said Feighny. “It fuses nourishing oils with antiseptic Tea Tree to lift away impurities, makeup, pollutants and excess sebum, leaving your skin moisturized without an oily residue.”
Fu’s Pick: CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser for Normal to Dry Skin
This fragrance-free moisturizer also contains hyaluronic acid for a much-needed hydration boost. It’s also filled with ceramides, a compound that helps maintain and repair the skin’s barrier.