Personally, I believe that cleansing is the backbone in every skincare routine: all the wonder serums and miracle masks don’t stand a chance if our skin isn’t properly cleansed. While not a glamorous affair that promises glowy skin kissed by gods, cleansers handle all the dirty work that is crucial for a healthy complexion.
Why Do I Need to Cleanse Daily?
Even if your skin is free of makeup, it is important to cleanse daily. The world is a dangerous place filled with environmental pollution, dirt and debris that will not wash off with just water. Cleansers also help to rid the skin of any oil build up on the skin, along with the daily sunscreen that you (hopefully) applied. Without all these nasty pileups removed, any skincare product you apply will just sit atop the dirt and would not be as effective.
Types of Cleansers
Now that we have established the absolute necessity and importance of cleansers, let’s talk about its variants. For a seemingly no-frills product, there are a surprisingly (almost overwhelming) number of types. Each form works best on a different skin type, which is why it’s important to differentiate between them. Using the wrong cleanser formulation could also be the reason for your breakouts or compromised skin barrier.
1. Oil Cleanser
This form of cleanser has skyrocketed to popularity after the double cleansing method was popularised by Korea. And for good reason too — these oil cleansers are great at removing makeup, especially those clingy waterproof formulas. Those with oily skin should not shy away from this cleanser. Water repels oils, but oil attracts oil, making these cleansers an effective way to remove sebum and excess oil.
Cleansing oils also contain mild surfactants, which are cleansing agents that bind to dirt and gently remove them without hurting the skin barrier. The slip of the oil ensures that no tugging and dragging of the skin is required to remove buildup and makeup, making it one of the gentlest cleansers available.
Unlike your regular water-activated cleansers, oil cleansers should be applied on dry face with dry hands for maximum effectiveness. Some variants require you to use a washcloth to wipe off, but oil cleansers as of late can be emulsified (that’s why the oil turns white when it comes into contact with water!) and removed easily with water.
Best Suited For: Most Skin Types
This is one of those products that appears in almost every ‘best oil cleansers’ listicle, and its recurrence is backed up by multiple fawning reviews online. A formulation with a decade of experience under its belt, its mix of hydrating vitamin E and organic olive oil draws away impurities while moisturising the skin. The water-soluble formula also makes this cleanser easy to wash off with zero oily residue left behind.
2. Cleansing Balm
The travel-friendly sister to oil cleansers, cleansing balms have also been incorporated into many’s first step in double-cleansing. The solid nature of balms require some massaging into the skin, but this action helps to break down stubborn makeup for an effective cleanse. Similar to their oil counterparts, they generally do not strip away the moisture from your skin. Instead, they contain nourishing ingredients that hydrate.
Best Suited For: Most Skin Types
Friendly for all skin types (even children!), this Banila Co. balm is a cult favourite. And I’m a proud member of this cult! With just a small pea sized amount, makeup is effortlessly dissolved without any tugging necessary. My skin also feels nourished, instead of stripped, after using this product. This vitamin C-infused balm brightens your skin while removing oil and dirt of your face for an overall glowy, clean complexion.
3. Foaming Cleanser
Foam cleansers are probably the variation most people picture when facial cleansers are mentioned. A cream that lathers into thick bubbles with water — my teenage self had so much fun applying it on, thinking it was doing wonders for my skin.
But this sudsy nature has earned foam cleansers a rather controversial reputation. The agent that turns your cream into foam is also responsible for stripping away moisture from your skin. Luckily for us, the skincare market has addressed this issue with new formulations that are still as effective, but gentler on our delicate skin.
But it’s always good to be vigilant: check the ingredient labels and avoid anything with Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS). This is the main antagonist in most foaming formulas that causes your skin to go from a reservoir to a desert.
Best suited for: Oily and Combination Skin
This cleanser takes away oil, dirt and makeup without affecting your skin’s pH. Its antioxidant-packed formulation (from the matcha and hemp) also helps strengthen your skin barrier, making them more resilient against environmental pollutants. It’s free from harmful SLS too! Its gentle but effective nature makes it perfect for your morning and night wash.
4. Cream Cleanser
As opposed to foam cleansers, cream cleansers are thicker in consistency. In fact, you can think of them as moisturising lotions with a cleansing side hustle. Typically, they are free of foaming agents (sulphates), but still lather well like foam cleansers do. They also come packaged with words like “soothing” as their formulations are usually infused with hydrating ingredients. However, the focus on moisturising the skin does compromise slightly on its ability to remove the muck sitting on our faces at the end of the day. It is best go in with a cream cleanser after an oil or balm cleanser!
Best Suited For: Dry Skin
Dry, sensitive skin girls rejoice! This fragrance-free cleanser is infused with a botanical antioxidant blend to help amp up your skin’s defence against environmental aggressors while also calming irritation. Not to mention, its gentle formulation is non-stripping and pH-balanced, making inflammations a less-likely occurrence. It has a fun texture too — a touch of water transforms its whipped consistency into a luxurious cream that leaves skin feeling nourished after.
5. Milk Cleanser
Tired of cleansers causing irritation when they are supposed to prevent irritation from dirt in the first place? Then milk cleansers could be the solution for you, and no, they aren’t actually made of milk. Milk type cleansers do not foam, and while it might take some getting used to, it’s a good thing! That means it’s free of sulphates, which we have already established as the skin barrier killer.
Instead of relying on foaming agents, milk cleansers contain emollient-rich ingredients such as oils and vitamin E. This leaves your skin supple and hydrated even after a thorough cleanse. Similar to oil cleansers, this formulation latches onto oil and dirt without stripping away your skin barrier or moisture.
Best Suited For: Sensitive Skin
With a milky texture that glides onto the skin, this safe-for-eye-area cleanser removes impurities while nourishing the skin. Infused with sweet almond and cornflower, this cleanser protects the skin from drying out, resulting in soft baby-like skin even after a thorough wash.
6. Gel Cleanser
Gel cleansers have become a popular alternative for those who have sworn off foaming cleansers. As per their namesake, these cleansers are usually clear liquids that contain milder ingredients — none of that SLS that plagues foaming cleansers. Their lighter consistency, as opposed to the heavy nature of creams, makes it a dream for acne-prone skin or oily skin.
However, don’t be fooled by its unassuming exterior: gel cleansers are designed to deep cleanse without stripping the skin of its moisture. Usually, they are potent with active ingredients that target clogged pores and excessive oil production.
Best Suited For: Acne-prone or Sensitive Skin
This cleanser is your skin barrier’s potential best buddy. With a low pH similar to the natural pH of your skin, your skin barrier is safe to carry out its natural protective function without worry. The tea tree oil and salicylic acid provides an effective deep cleanse that also refines your skin texture. Despite its name, this cleanser is great for both day and night use, especially if you have sensitive, oily skin.
7. Micellar Water Cleanser
After stressing that water is not enough to cleanse the skin, it might seem hypocritical for me to be talking about a water cleanser. But micellar water is not the plain ol’ water you get from the tap — they are a 3-in-1 solution that is even more convenient than your coffee mix. Usually touted as a makeup remover, cleanser and moisturising toner, micellar water is a great portable product for individuals on the go.
Micellar water is a concoction of purified water, glycerin (a moisturising substance) and mild surfactants. It works by penetrating deeply into your skin to draw oils, dirt and makeup out of your pores. It’s alcohol-free formulation also promotes skin hydration while calming any irritation or inflammation. It tones the skin too!
Best Suited For: Most Skin Types
A hybrid between gel cleansers and micellar water, this cleanser acts like a magnet for everything you want out of the skin: dead skin cells, oils, dirt and makeup. Those with sensitive, reactive skin would find a liking for this formulation. Non-comedogenic and made with no sulphates, this cleanser relies on gentle PHA and salicylic acid to unclog pores, clear blackheads and dissolve sebum. I have tried this out and found my skin softer and clearer after just a few days of use. I had zero reaction towards it, and enjoyed its scentless nature. In fact, I find myself reaching for this instead of my regular cleanser!
8. Clay Cleanser
Lending help from the earth, clay cleansers is the lesser-known sibling in the cleanser family tree. This form of cleansing would be appreciated by those that love a deep, purifying cleanse but don’t have the time for a twenty-minute clay mask. This daily, rinse-off alternative is like a daily, milder skin detox. The rich minerals present in clay draws out impurities (especially sebum and oils!), effectively unblocking congestion for a clearer complexion.
Best Suited For: Oily Skin
Purify your complexion with this skin-balancing complexion. Made with deep cleaning French green clay and Moroccan clay, pores are (welcomely) stripped of their oil and impurities. While the clay works on the dirty, the Neroli essential oil calms and soothes the skin. For a stronger purification, leave the cleanser on for a minute (like a clay mask!) and let it work its magic.
9. Bar Cleanser
Bar cleansers are that one friend who brings around metal straws and their own tumbler at Starbucks. An environmentally-friendly alternative to the usual cleanser, they are typically more affordable and good for travels (no more being stopped for liquids in your carry-on!). Bar cleansers work just as well as other forms of cleansers — made from synthetic materials, they help to break down dirt. Improved formulations have also incorporated additional skin benefits, such as anti-ageing ingredients or exfoliants.
Best Suited for: Most Skin Types
Charcoal has long been known to be a strong purifier for your pores. This bar cleanser harnesses bamboo charcoal to draw dirt and toxins out of pores for a deep cleanse. Not to mention, it is gluten-free, paraben-free, sulphate-free so you can be rest assured that only the bad stuff is extracted.
10. Powder Cleanser
These cleansers are the dehydrated version of liquid-based cleansers. Given their powdered form, cleansing powders are potent, undiluted, and last far longer than its liquid counterparts. Not to mention, they are fuss-free travel companions — you only need to bring a small bottle or capsule with you.
The grainy texture of powder also means that they double up as gentle exfoliants for a more thorough cleanse. Best of all — you are your own skincare specialist with powder cleansers. If you are looking for a milder cleanse, simply add more water for a smooth lather. On the flip side, if your skin is congested with dirt, skimp on the water for a potent wash.
However, this buffing quality of powder cleansers also means that those with acne or inflammation concerns should take a rain check on them. The particles might be too harsh for your skin — but no worries at all, there’s 9 other options that you can choose from!
Best Suited For: Oily Skin
A J-beauty cult favourite, these little hexagonal packets hold just the right amount of cleanser per wash. All you need to activate it is some lukewarm water. Containing two different enzymes and amino acids, it removes keratin plugs (little white bumps) and roughness on the skin. Every wash reveals silky smooth skin that is prepped to fully absorb any skincare products layered on it.
Cleansing is one of the most important steps of our skincare routine, and it’s about time we start acting like it! Hopefully, this list of cleansers has helped you determine the cleanser best suited to your skin type and lifestyle. What are your personal holy grail cleansers? Let us know in the comments below!