When it comes to beauty basics, washing your face regularly tops the list as a must for healthy, clear skin. Not so obvious? Knowing which cleanser to use—especially with an ever-growing abundance of choices on the market.
“Cleansing isn’t one size fits all,” says facialist Joanna Vargas, founder of Joanna Vargas Salon and Skincare Collection. Finding the best option for your skin type can go a long way toward helping you get a great complexion.
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There are some universals when it comes to cleaning your skin. Start by rinsing your face with lukewarm water, then putting cleanser in your palm and working it into a lather with a bit more water, advises Vargas. Massage your face using a gentle circular motion to stimulate circulation and remove dirt and makeup. Rinse again with lukewarm water. “People tend to not rinse the edges of the face properly, which leads to breakouts around the hairline,” cautions Vargas. Make sure you’re rinsing the eye area, especially if you wear eye makeup; the T-zone, which gets clogged faster; and the neck, which shows the first signs of aging, she adds.
Also crucial: Washing your face twice a day. “We know to rinse at night, but cleansing in the morning is also important. Your skin is in repair mode while you sleep, secreting toxins that can prevent your daytime products from working effectively,” says esthetician Renee Rouleau, founder of Renee Rouleau Skincare. Washing in the morning also removes nighttime products so that your daytime products can get into the skin better, since it will have a clean slate.” Check out the next page for everything you need to know to find the perfect cleanser.
Lather Up: “Foams are great for oily skin and are ideal to use right after a hard workout or a night out,” says Mona Gohara, M.D., a consulting dermatologist with Dove. That’s because they zap excess oil. Just make sure you read the label first: Look for a gentle formula without harsh ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, or ammonium laureth sulfate. These all have surfactants, a cleansing agent that robs skin of moisture.
Try: Zo Medical Foamacleanse Gentle Foaming Cleanser ($49, zoskinhealth.com)
Lather Up: Micellar water is made up of oil molecules called micelles, which draw out impurities without drying skin. “It’s mild enough for those with eczema or sensitive skin issues,” says Gohara
Try: Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water All-in-1 Makeup Remover & Cleanser ($9, ulta.com)
Lather Up: Great for oily, acne-prone, and normal skin, a sulfate-free gel cleanser gives your skin a nice fresh start for the day. Just don’t wash too vigorously, says Vargas. The gel is activated by water, so remember to dampen skin before applying.
Try: Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser ($18, glossier.com)
Lather Up: A quick fix for when you can’t get to a sink, but “you still need to use a real cleanser before bed,” says Vargas.
Try: Yes To Cucumbers Hypoallergenic Facial Wipes ($6, target.com)
Lather Up: “Perfect for those with dry skin who want a little extra hydration, oils also add the extra benefit of relaxation,” says Gohara. “Just make sure the oil is completely rinsed off or it can leave a barrier on the skin that may prevent the active ingredients in your serum or moisturizer applied after cleansing from getting deep within the skin where they provide the most benefits,” explains Rouleau.
Try: Caudalie Make-up Removing Cleansing Oil ($28, us.caudalie.com)
Lather Up: Gentle and hydrating, cream-based cleansers are ideal for dry or sensitive skin. “A creamy face wash is great for foundation makeup wearers, since it dissolves makeup from within the pores,” says Rouleau. Just remember to apply to dry skin, not damp, she adds. Rub in small circular motions for 30 seconds. Wet fingertips, work through again. Rinse well with lukewarm water because these products can sometimes leave a residue if you aren’t careful, cautions Vargas.
Try: Sea Radiance Gentle Cleanser ($35, searadiance.com)
Lather Up: The key is to use bar soap specially formulated for the face. “I wouldn’t use a drugstore bar of soap because it can throw off the delicate pH balance of the skin,” says Vargas. Her namesake bar uses lightly moisturizing olive oil and a coconut-derived fatty acid, plus the added charcoal is detoxifying.
Try: Joanna Vargas Skincare Miracle Bar ($25, joannavargas.com)
Lather Up: Daily use is too harsh, but swap in a facial scrub for your morning cleanser two to three times a week. “It helps to remove dead skin cells, revealing new ones that can make your skin look bright, smooth, healthy and glowing,” says Rouleau.
Try: Neutrogena Deep Clean Gentle Scrub ($6, neutrogena.com)
Dry, itchy skin is a common side effect of winter weather. And while body lotion can help, healthy skin starts in the shower. “Skin is already at its driest with high heat indoors and blistering cold outdoors,” says Gohara. “Look for pH-neutral products to maintain the skin-barrier function and avoid barrier-stripping soaps.”
Dove Deep Moisture Body Wash ($6, target.com) is packed with glycinate, a supermild cleanser typically found in face washes.
More of a bar soap type?
Caress Endless Kiss Beauty Bar ($3, amazon.com) boasts moisture beads to keep skin smooth.