Even for the most seasoned skincare buffs, the ever-evolving world of cleansers can be a confounding one. Not only do you have to figure out what the difference between all the various cleansers are, you also have to know which type of cleanser is best for your skin type. With insight from several dermatologists and an esthetician, we're setting you straight.
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Foam cleansers create a foamy lather (hence the name), and are ideal for removing oil, layers of makeup and even hard-to-wash-off sunscreen. They can be a little bit harsh since they’re made to slightly dry out the skin, though some are formulated with oils or emollients to provide a more moisturizing experience.
“With a foam cleanser, you'll do a typical cleanse,” says esthetician Meghana Prasad. “Wet the skin, dispense one to two pumps of the cleanser into your hands, and massage it over your face, then rinse it off. With any cleanser, you always want to follow with a moisturizer.”
This type of cleanser is ideal for people with oily skin, and also for those with acne-prone or teenage skin.
Foaming cleansers aren’t recommended for those with already dry skin, or skin that’s very sensitive. While some foaming cleansers do have oils or emollients added to them, as mentioned, you’re still better off using a different kind of cleanser.
Cream cleansers tend to be very gentle, very moisturizing, and non-sudsy. “Cleansing creams, like the famous Pond's Cold Cream, is formulated with water, occlusive ingredients like petrolatum and beeswax, or mineral oil,” notes dermatologist Fayne Frey. “[They] have been used to remove makeup and dirt at the same time.”
Sometimes cream cleansers don’t even require water and are instead applied and then wiped away with a clean tissue (Pond’s Cold Cream is a good example of this). After using this type, you should use a toner or facial wipe to remove reside. When using a cream cleanser that requires water, apply a dollop to wetted skin, massage and rinse before moisturizing.
Cream cleansers are excellent choices for sensitive skin and those with rosacea. They’re also a good option for really dry skin and mature skin.
Teenage skin and oily skin types will find better success with other cleansers.
“Micellar water is a very clever marketing term for a water-based, non-soap cleanser,” says Dr. Frey. “When oily dirt is mixed with a surfactant containing cleanser, the surfactant molecules arrange themselves into tiny clusters called micelles.”
She explains that all surfactants have a water-loving end and an oil-loving end. “When oil and water mix, the water-loving ends of the surfactants face outwards towards the water, and the oil-loving ends of the molecule face inward toward the dirt or oil,” she says. “The micelle is now water soluble and can wash the dirt away.
To use, apply the micellar water to cotton ball or tissue, then wipe all over your face. Follow with a moisturizer.
This type is best for sensitive or dry, acne prone skin. You can also use it as a follow up to a cream cleanser for an extra layer of gentle cleansing.
“I wouldn't recommend a micellar water to an oilier client or someone who wears very heavy makeup every day, as this won't meet their needs,” says Prasad.
“Oil Cleansers work on an ‘oil attracts oil’ basis, absorbing impurities and nourishing the skin,” says dermatologist Francesca Fusco.
They can also be part of a multiple-step cleansing process to get the “best clean” you can. For example, makeup wearers like to cleanse with oil to remove product and dirt, followed by a foaming cleansing to soak up excess oil and remove anything left behind.
To use, apply five to six drops to your skin, or one to two pumps, and massage into your skin before wiping away with a tissue. Instead of following up with a foaming cleanser, you could also use toner or micellar water.
This is best for makeup wearers, especially those who tend to wear primer, foundation and the whole shebang. It’s also “excellent for dry skin, eczema prone skin and sensitive skin,” says Dr. Fusco.
This isn’t the best choice for extremely oily skin types.Also, a word of caution from Prasad: “Make sure the oil you're using is non-comedogenic so it won't clog your pores and cause breakouts.”