How to Pick The Right
Cleanser For Your Skin
One dermatologist offers advice on selecting your best face wash.
Selecting a facial cleanser can be pretty confusing—even for the clinicians and professionals who recommend them. There are so many choices, it’s difficult to keep up with them all and choose the best one for you.
As a dermatologist, I like to break them down into a few simple categories that are useful—and understandable—and then give my recommendations from there. But before I do, I look at what else is going on with their skin.
Are they applying medications or other treatments for acne, rosacea, or eczema? In that case, I’m going to look for a cleanser that won’t interfere with those treatments or contribute to skin irritation. What is this patient’s skin type? Oily? Dry? Does she have skin that’s easily irritated? These are all important factors to consider when picking the best facial cleanser.
Beyond that, the best facial cleanser for you is often a matter of preference. There are so many good cleansers on the market that it’s very hard for people to choose one over another. It comes down to how clean they think their skin is getting, and how it feels during and after cleansing. Here are my tips for narrowing down your search.
Consider any underlying skin conditions before choosing a facial cleanser
If you have skin conditions like acne, rosacea, or eczema, you’re probably on some type of topical medications, either over the counter or by prescription. When selecting the best facial cleanser to use in combination with these medicated treatments, you have to be careful to make sure you’re not picking something that’s going to sabotage the effects of the medication by causing irritation.
How do you know if your cleanser and treatment will work well together? If you’re on a regimen prescribed by a dermatologist or other skincare professional, it’s a good idea to ask what they’d recommend so you’re making sure your face wash won’t interfere with your treatments. If you’re choosing one on your own, play it safe with something basic and gentle that doesn’t contain other active ingredients or exfoliating agents, such as salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or lactic acid.
Factor in your skin type when choosing the best facial cleanser
Knowing your skin type is important. I’ll almost always ask my patients, “Does your skin tend to be dry? Is it sensitive?” And if they say yes, I’m going to select a facial cleanser differently than if they had oily skin or skin that’s not sensitive or easily irritated. The most obvious way to figure out if a cleanser is right for your skin is to look for the skin type right on the label. Most will say if they’re formulated for dry, oily, or normal skin. It’s a good starting point, since the best face wash for oily skin may have different ingredients than a cleanser designed for dry skin.
Leave room for trial and error when looking for the best face wash
Once you consider your skin type and other treatments you’re applying, it can be a matter of trial and error to find the best face wash. It’s good to have a starting point and then work from there in terms of what you like and don’t like. Individual perception of cosmetic elegance is so important in any product. Facial cleansers formulated for dry skin may be a bit thicker because they have lubricants and other moisturizing agents in them. Someone with oilier skin may not like the feel of this. Bottom line: You need to actually like the feel of your skin while cleansing and after you rinse the cleanser off.
Get trusted recommendations
Ask the professional who is treating your skin, whether that’s your dermatologist or a well-trained aesthetician, which cleanser they like. You can even get a recommendation from a friend to narrow down your search. It also helps to go with brands you like and trust. As a dermatologist, I’ll typically start with one of the products or product lines that I already know and have found that many patients are happy with.
Use a facial cleanser that protects your barrier
Harsh facial cleansers, which have astringent-like ingredients meant to dry the skin, can damage its outermost layer, known as the barrier, and make your complexion more sensitive. That’s why erring on the side of “gentle” is always a smart idea. The role of a cleanser is primarily to remove dirt, debris, and makeup without stripping the skin of its protective layer, and then prepare your face for treatment products that will be applied. Look for one that says ‘mild’ or ‘gentle’ on the label.
Think face cleanser, not treatment
You’ll see cleansers with active ingredients in them (retinoids, salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, to name a few), but because face washes don’t have a lot of contact time on the skin—you rinse them off pretty quickly—look for these active ingredients in a leave-on product instead. And if you’re already using topical treatments such as retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, or antibiotics, using a facial cleanser that also contains these ingredients may lead to more irritation.
James Del Rosso, D.O.
Dr. Jim Del Rosso is an internationally renowned dermatologist who has been practicing dermatology since 1986 and a member of the Acne Store Board of Dermatologists. He is Clinical Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, has published multiple peer-reviewed articles and textbook chapters, and was President of the American Acne & Rosacea Society, American Society of Mohs Surgery, and the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. He is Adjunct Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the Touro University Nevada in Henderson, Nevada. Currently, Dr. Del Rosso is Research Director of JDR Dermatology Research and practices at Thomas Dermatology in Las Vegas, Nevada and also serves as Senior Vice President of Clinical Research and Strategic Development at Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in Maitland, Florida. He served as Head of the Section of Dermatology at the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine after receiving his D.O. degree from the same medical school in Athens, Ohio, interning at Doctors Hospital in Columbus, completing a dermatology residency at Atlantic Skin Disease and Skin Surgery in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and completing a fellowship in Mohs micrographic surgery and cutaneous oncology at OSU.
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