Every Single Type of Facial Cleanser, Explained

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Different Types of Cleansers

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. With all the different options and textures out there, it may get confusing to pick the best one for your skin type. Hello, there are 12 different types of cleansers!

Cleansing is your skin taking off its bra after a long day at work, it feels great. And there are all kinds of cleansers to help you with that; gel cleansers, cream, balm, powder… But to avoid potential breakouts, clogging, dehydration, sensitivity, and the like, you should pick a cleanser suitable for your skin type.

Some things are a no-brainer when choosing your cleanser. It’s obviously preferable for oily skin to stay away from oil cleansers. But some things are not that obvious; it gets tricky. Selecting your ideal type of cleanser may not be enough.

It’s only half of the job. Besides the texture, you’ll have to pay attention to additives as well. It’ll make more sense in a sec. So, here are 12 types of cleansers explained in detail to help you choose the best one for your skin type.

1. Micellar Cleansers – Micellar Waters

Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water
Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water

Micellar cleanser/water is one of the lightest forms of facial cleansing. It’s almost water! So how does it work? Basically, micellar waters contain tiny oil molecules that attract the dirt and grime on the surface of the skin.

They’re usually applied with cotton pads and don’t need rinsing. They’re popular for makeup removal rather than deep facial cleansing. It’s kind of a lazy approach. They usually leave the skin feeling smooth. Most of them don’t dry the skin out. But they don’t do a thorough job.

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.

2. Gel Cleansers

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

Cleansers with gel formulas are lightweight face washes that are deeply cleansing. They have a bouncy-jelly texture and need rinsing off. A gel cleanser can remove makeup and clean your face from the day’s dirt. They’re perfect for cleaning out pores and getting rid of acne-causing bacteria.

Youth To The People Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser

There is a gel cleanser for every skin type and every issue! Gel cleansers usually contain hydrating ingredients. They leave the skin feeling moist and fresh. The gel texture is usually the base texture for most face scrubs and exfoliators as well.

Face scrubs with tiny granules and exfoliants with hydroxy acids usually come in a gel form. These gel cleansers enhance the effect of the product. And to make up for potential dryness, the gel texture is convenient for accommodating a hydrating ingredient as well. This way, they don’t deplete the skin’s much-needed water.

Ideal Skin Type for Gel Cleansers

Gel cleansers are suitable for normal, combination, oily, and sensitive skin. These cleansers are right in the middle of the spectrum, there’s one for everyone! The trick is to be aware of the additives. A simple hyaluronic acid gel cleanser can work great for sensitive skin. But a scrubbing gel cleanser might cause inflammation.

3. Foam Cleansers

Caudalie Vinoclean Gentle Foam Cleanser
Caudalie Gentle Foam Cleanser

Foam cleansers form into a lather on the skin when combined with water. They remove makeup thoroughly and clear up the skin of any impurities. They tend to be more drying than gel cleansers. Most people prefer these simply because of the foaming feel. We feel like the more it foams the better it works.

Caudalie Vinoclean Gentle Foam Cleanser

The ingredient that causes the foaming effect is sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). But it’s also one of those skin-drying irritants. People with combination/oily skin may tolerate this effect. But sensitive skin usually reacts to it. 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 and oily skin types. Even if you don’t mind the SLS, you should up your moisturizer game because SLS is pretty drying. See these facewashes for oily skin for more options.

4. Cream – Lotion Cleansers

SkinCeuticals Replenishing Cleanser - Different Types of Cleansers
SkinCeuticals Replenishing Cleanser

Cream/lotion cleansers have a slightly heavier consistency. Some of them require rinsing whereas some require a wipe-off with a cloth. They are perfect for removing non-waterproof makeup or just maintaining a clean face even if you don’t wear makeup.

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.

SkinCeuticals Replenishing Cleanser

Besides, cleansing is the first step of a basic skincare routine. It’s supposed to clear the way for what’s coming next. If you have a veil of residual cream on your face, your serum or toner won’t be able to penetrate the skin. So, beware!

Ideal Skin Type for Cream and Lotion Cleansers

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

5. Oil Cleansers

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

Oil-based cleansers, also known as cleansing oils, are usually 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 oil in these cleansers is highly beneficial and nourishing to the skin. After rinsing off your oil cleanser, make sure you use a regular deep-cleansing one. 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 more suitable for removing makeup, you should definitely use a regular cleanser for your skin type to completely get rid of any residue.

6. Balm Cleansers

Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm
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, it’s more of a makeup removal than a face wash.

They have no-rinse as well as rinse-off options. 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.

Ideal Skin Type for Balm Cleansers

Balm cleansers are ideal for dry and normal skin. But they’re too heavy for combination, oily, and acne-prone skin. They may cause breakouts and congestion. Even though these are nourishing cleansers, they’ll do more harm than good for oily and acne-prone skin. If you have oily skin, make sure you use a balm cleanser only for makeup removal and you double cleanse afterward.

7. Milk Cleansers

Avene Gentle Milk Cleanser
Avene Gentle Milk Cleanser

Contrary to popular belief, milk cleansers do not contain milk. 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.

8. 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. They’re usually mattifying and mostly known for their detoxifying benefits.

Clay cleansers absorb excess oil which may potentially cause acne. They’re 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.

9. Powder Cleansers

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

Powder cleansers are not as popular as gel or foam cleansers. These types of cleansers come in a powder form and turn a bit creamy or foamy when combined with water on the skin. They’re highly concentrated and good for removing makeup as well as deep facial cleansing.

These 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.

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. It’s 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, these are drying cleansers by default. So dry skin should be cautious. Additionally, enzyme cleansers are as exfoliating as it gets. They work best for oily skin. So dry and sensitive skin should simply stay away just to be safe.

10. Cleansing Wipes

Sephora Collection Cleansing Wipes
Sephora Collection Cleansing Wipes

These 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. But they’re like the bare minimum! Additionally, the pulling and stretching while wiping doesn’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.

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 and use them at your own risk.

Ideal Skin Type for Soaps and Bar Cleansers

These types of cleansers are suitable for 80-something skin which doesn’t get along well with change.

12. Cleaning Devices – Towels – Sponges- Loofahs

Shiseido Cleansing Massage Brush
Shiseido Cleansing Massage Brush

These are complementary products to enhance the efficacy of your facial cleansers. They’re not usually used on their own. But some loofahs and sponges can be used for exfoliation after face steaming. In that case, using a loofah can be enough.

But generally, cleansing devices and brushes are used to work your cleanser into the skin to amplify the effects. And for some people, it’s just practical to use these because they don’t want to use their hands.

Read Next: Drugstore salicylic acid cleansers for clear skin.

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