Every Single Type of Facial Cleanser, Explained

Different Types of Cleansers

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Cleansing is the first and the most important step in your skincare routine. Clean skin is healthy skin, but picking the right cleanser is just as important. Given that there are different types of cleansers with varying textures and consistencies, it may get confusing to pick the best one for your skin type.

If you’ve ever bought a cleanser only to find out that it broke you out, clogged your pores, dehydrated your skin, or irritated it, you might be using the wrong type of cleanser. But once you find the right formula, I promise you things will get much better for your skin.

In this article, you’ll get to know the different cleanser types, and how they work. You’ll also learn how to choose the right cleanser for your skin type. But first, here’s what a cleanser actually is, what it does, and its benefits.

What Is a Face Cleanser?

A face cleanser is a skincare product that removes dirt, oil, pollutants, and makeup from the skin 1. The word cleanser is sometimes used interchangeably with the word face wash.

From a skincare product category perspective, there’s no difference between a cleanser and a face wash because both aim to purify your skin.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Face Cleanser?

Obviously, the most important benefit of using a face cleanser is having clean skin. Well, if you’re new to skincare, know that there’s more to it. Here are the benefits of using a face cleanser 2.

  • A face cleanser keeps your skin free of dirt and pollutants that might lead to irritation and sensitivity.
  • It provides a superficial exfoliation, which removes dead skin cells from the skin, preventing those from clogging your pores.
  • A cleanser removes excess oil from the skin, preventing it from settling inside the pores and leading to blackheads.
  • It purifies your skin and allows your skincare products to absorb better and work better.
  • Clean skin allows you to apply makeup more easily and your makeup looks better and smoother when you apply it on clean skin as opposed to dirty skin.

Using the right cleanser is one part of the whole clean skin puzzle. The second part is the actual cleansing. So to get the most out of your cleanser, remember to learn how to properly wash your face.

Types of Cleansers

1. Gel Cleansers

Youth To The People Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser - Types of Cleansers
Youth To The People Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser

Gel cleansers are the most common types of cleansers. They’re usually lightweight and deeply cleansing. They have a bouncy-jelly texture and need rinsing off.

Gel cleansers can remove most makeup and clean your face from the day’s dirt. They’re perfect for cleaning out pores and getting rid of acne-causing bacteria.

As much as they’re potent and effective, they’re also equally gentle on the skin. For example, most face scrubs with tiny granules and exfoliating face washes made with hydroxy acids come in a gel form.

The gel texture is convenient for accommodating these active ingredients as well as hydrating ingredients to make up for potential dryness. This way, they don’t deplete the skin’s much-needed water.

Ideal Skin Type for Gel Cleansers

Gel cleansers are suitable for all skin types. Whether you have normal, combination, oily, acne-prone, or sensitive skin, you can comfortably use them! Gel cleansers are right in the middle of the spectrum and there’s one for everyone.

2. Foam Cleansers

Caudalie Vinoclean Gentle Foam Cleanser
Caudalie Gentle Foam Cleanser

Foam cleansers, sometimes called cleansing foams or lathering cleansers, form into a lather on the skin when combined with water. They remove makeup thoroughly and clear up the skin of any impurities.

This lathering action provides a great cleansing experience. Most people prefer these simply because of the foaming feel. We feel like the more it foams the better it works.

The ingredient that causes the foaming effect is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). But it’s also one of those skin-drying irritants 3. Not to worry though, sulfate-free foam cleansers are not too hard to find.

Ideal Skin Type for Foam Cleansers

Foam cleansers are more suitable for combination, oily, and acne-prone skin. They are amazing for instantly balancing and mattifying your complexion by getting rid of excess sebum. Gentle, SLS-free foam cleansers are available. That way, you can achieve squeaky clean skin no matter your skin type.

3. Cream Cleansers

SkinCeuticals Replenishing Cleanser - Different Types of Cleansers
SkinCeuticals Replenishing Cleanser

Cream cleansers, sometimes called lotion cleansers, come in a cream texture. They have a slightly heavier consistency. Some of them require rinsing whereas some require a wipe-off with a cloth.

Cream cleansers are deeply moisturizing cleansers. This makes them preferable for dry skin. But it also makes them the go-to cleanser in cold weather for all skin types.

After cleansing, some tend to leave this creamy feel which is good for dry skin but not so much for oily skin. The heavy texture has the potential to cause clogging if your skin is prone to acne.

Ideal Skin Type for Cream Cleansers

Cream cleansers or lotion cleansers are more suitable for normal, sensitive, and dry skin. They’re also great for other skin types during colder months when the skin’s extra dry or tight.

4. Clay Cleansers

Ren ClearCalm Clarifying Clay Cleanser - Types of Cleansers
Ren ClearCalm Clarifying Clay Cleanser

Clay cleansers got the idea from clay masks. They’re formulated with some type of clay. When applied to the skin, they tend to behave similarly to clay masks.

Clay cleansers are usually mattifying and are mostly known for their detoxifying benefits. They absorb excess oil which may potentially cause acne.

Clay cleansers are not particularly good at removing makeup, though. They’re mostly considered the second step of a double cleansing routine, especially for oily skin. It’s good for cleaning out pores and easing congested skin.

Ideal Skin Type for Clay Cleansers

Clay cleansers are suitable for oily, combination, and acne-prone skin. They can be too drying for dry skin.

5. Powder Cleansers

Dr. Barbara Sturm Enzyme Cleanser
Dr. Barbara Sturm Enzyme Cleanser

Powder cleansers are not as popular as gel or foam cleansers but they are highly concentrated and good for removing makeup as well as deep facial cleansing.

Powder cleansers come in a powder form and they turn a bit creamy or foamy when combined with water on the skin.

The small powder molecules don’t have anything around to turn them into a consistent texture. This means they contain fewer additives. This can be a blessing and a curse.

Fewer additive means fewer irritants. But it also means fewer benefits. For example, they can’t hydrate the skin as a gel cleanser would.

However, the most important benefit of powder cleansers is that they are highly customizable. When you use more water to activate the powder, the cleanser becomes gentle. When you use less water, it becomes more potent.

Common ingredients found in powder cleansers are enzymes. They dissolve the debris on the outermost layer of the skin and provide a deep cleanse.

They sweep off any impurities and scrape whatever is inside the clogged pores. Enzymes make these powder cleansers work like exfoliators, which is perfect for congested skin.

Ideal Skin Type for Powder Cleansers

Powder cleansers are perfect for combination and oily skin types. Even though they’re marketed for all skin types, you need to know your way around these cleansers to avoid dehydrating your skin.

6. Oil Cleansers

Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil - Types of Cleansers
Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil

Oil cleansers, also known as cleansing oils, are not used to cleanse the face per se but cleanse your makeup. They are used to remove makeup. They’re the first step of double cleansing.

The oils in these products simply stick to the oils on the face and dissolve them. They separate makeup and make it easier to rinse it off. They mostly serve as pre-cleansers.

The oils in these cleansers are generally highly beneficial and nourishing to the skin. The most important benefit of this type of cleanser is making makeup removal super gentle.

Ideal Skin Type for Oil Cleansers

Dry, normal, combination, and oily skin can benefit from oil cleansers. But as they’re for removing makeup, you should definitely use a regular cleanser for your skin type to completely get rid of any residue.

7. Balm Cleansers

Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm - Types of Cleansers
Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm

Balm cleansers, or cleansing balms, are similar to oil cleansers. The only difference is that these are in solid form and they turn into oil as you rub them onto the skin.

Likewise, cleansing balms are used for makeup removal rather than facial wash. Cleansing balms usually contain botanical extracts that are deeply nourishing and moisturizing.

They leave the skin feeling replenished. They simply melt on the skin and dissolve makeup. That’s why they fit perfectly into a double cleansing routine in colder months.

Ideal Skin Type for Balm Cleansers

Balm cleansers are ideal for dry and normal skin. And as long as you find the right formula, they work amazing for oily, combination, and acne-prone skin too. After all, these are for removing makeup. Again, if you have oily skin, make sure you use a balm cleanser only for makeup removal and you double cleanse with a regular cleanser afterward.

8. Milk Cleansers

Avene Gentle Milk Cleanser
Avene Gentle Milk Cleanser

Milk cleansers, or cleansing milks, do not contain milk contrary to popular belief. They’re called so because of the milky texture. These types of cleansers are slightly thicker than oil cleansers but thinner than cream cleansers.

Milk cleansers are moisturizing but they don’t leave a creamy feel like a cream cleanser would do. These are also considered preliminary cleansers. Some types need rinsing off and some types just need a wipe-off.

Ideal Skin Type for Milk Cleansers

Milk cleansers are ideal for dry, and normal skin. Combination and oily skin should approach any no-rinse cleansers with caution! Also, because milk cleansers are so gentle on the skin, they are ideal for people with sensitive skin.

9. Micellar Cleansers

Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water
Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water

Micellar cleansers, or micellar waters, provide very light cleansing. So how do they work? Basically, micellar waters contain tiny oil molecules that attract the dirt and grime on the surface of the skin.

They’re popular for makeup removal rather than deep facial cleansing. Micellar waters are applied with cotton pads and don’t need rinsing.

They usually leave the skin feeling smooth. But they don’t do a thorough job when cleansing is concerned. So after you remove your makeup with micellar water, don’t forget to wash your face with your cleanser.

Ideal Skin Type for Micellar Cleansers

All skin types; oily, combination, normal, dry, and even sensitive skin can use micellar cleansers. But again, you might want to use a second cleanser after this one.

10. Cleansing Wipes

Sephora Collection Cleansing Wipes
Sephora Collection Cleansing Wipes

Cleansing wipes are quick bandaid options when you need a superficial makeup removal. If we’re talking about cleaning dirt or excess oil, these lack the ability to do so. They are OK for removing makeup, but they definitely need a follow-up face wash!

Ideal Skin Type for Cleansing Wipes

All skin types can use wipes to clean the face of makeup. But they’re like the bare minimum! Additionally, the pulling and stretching while wiping don’t help with wrinkles.

11. Soaps and Bar Cleansers

Cerave Hydrating Cleanser Bar
Cerave Hydrating Cleanser Bar

The usual soaps, which were the standard for our grandmas, are extremely aggressive cleansers. They do the job, but they strip the skin off!

They’re too drying for the face. For the most part, their pH level is too alkaline for our skin which is mostly on the acidic side. This causes dehydration, sensitivity, and inflammation for almost all skin types 4.

Then there are bar cleansers that are soap-free. They’re formulated without the harsh ingredients of regular soap. But it’s like the no-makeup makeup look. It’s still makeup! Likewise, it’s still a soap!

If you have to use a bar cleanser, go for the soap-free ones. But considering that we have a range of amazing cleansers, there’s no reason to insist on using soaps for daily facial cleansing.

Ideal Skin Type for Soaps and Bar Cleansers

These types of cleansers are suitable for 80-something people who don’t get along well with change.

12. Cleansing Devices – Towels – Sponges- Loofahs

Shiseido Cleansing Massage Brush
Shiseido Cleansing Massage Brush

There are cleansing tools, which are complementary products to enhance the efficacy of your facial cleansers. For example, cleansing devices and cleansing brushes are used to work your cleanser into the skin to amplify the effects.

Additionally, there are cleansing loofahs and sponges, which can be used instead of a cleansing device. Other times, these are used for superficial physical exfoliation.

So these are all the types of cleansers out there. Now that you’re familiar with all of them, below is your quick guide to how to choose the right cleanser for your skin.

How To Choose a Cleanser

To choose a cleanser, you need to keep your skin type and/or your skin concerns in mind. Keep reading to learn how to choose a cleanser based on your skin type and your skin concerns.

If you have normal skin, you can choose and use pretty much any type of facial cleanser. A gentle gel cleanser will work just fine and you don’t even need to splurge on an expensive one.

If you have dry skin, choose non-drying facewashes for dry skin and focus on gel cleansers if you wear makeup. Alternatively, try cream cleansers for a replenishing cleansing step.

If you have oily skin, choose foam cleansers and gel cleansers for a thorough cleansing experience. Take a look at our round-up of the best face washes for oily skin and large pores.

If you have acne-prone skin, choose foaming cleansers to keep your skin clear. Alternatively, try clay cleansers to quickly manage excess oil.

If you have mature skin, choose a gentle, soap-free, gel-based cleanser that washes your skin but doesn’t dehydrate it.

If you have sensitive skin, choose non-drying gel cleansers or cream cleansers to wash your skin without irritation. Also, consider cleansers for rosacea if you’re prone to redness.

If you have uneven skin tone, choose cleansers with active ingredients that target dark spots and hyperpigmentation. You can try vitamin C cleansers as well as glycolic acid cleansers to help even out your skin tone.

If you have acne, try exfoliating cleansers such as salicylic acid cleansers. They calm inflammation and treat acne.

If you have wrinkles or fine lines, choose anti-aging cleansers made with skin-renewing ingredients.

If you have dullness, try gentle exfoliants like lactic acid cleansers to get rid of flaky skin and eliminate dullness.


  1. Mukhopadhyay P. (2011). Cleansers and their role in various dermatological disorders. Indian journal of dermatology56(1), 2–6. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5154.77542
  2. Griffiths-Brophy, S., Hasenoehrl, E.J. and Wei, K. (2022). Facial Cleansers and Cleansing Cloths. In Cosmetic Dermatology, Z.D. Draelos (Ed.). https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119676881.ch14
  3. Tarun, J., Susan, J., Suria, J., Susan, V. J., & Criton, S. (2014). Evaluation of pH of Bathing Soaps and Shampoos for Skin and Hair Care. Indian journal of dermatology59(5), 442–444. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5154.139861
  4. Mijaljica, D., Spada, F., & Harrison, I. P. (2022). Skin Cleansing without or with Compromise: Soaps and Syndets. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland)27(6), 2010. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules27062010
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