If you haven't tried a new cleanser since the last royal wedding, it’s time to find a better, more modern match. The latest generation is packed with get-the-job-done ingredients and milder foaming agents, and there are formulations to please any preference, with milks for oily skin and gels for dry, so you’re no longer locked into a single consistency.
How to choose? The right one “won’t cause AWT, or after-wash tightness,” says Houston dermatologist Sherry Ingraham. In other words, the skin’s lipid barrier—a protective layer of ceramides, fatty acids, and cholesterol—will remain intact, leaving skin feeling hydrated, not taut, post-rinse. For a supple complexion year-round, you might need to switch products with the seasons.
Good habits are also key. Washing in the morning is optional, but nightly cleansing is non-negotiable; it eradicates daytime grime so treatments can do their work, says Manhattan dermatologist Whitney Bowe. Read on to find your new steady.
If you precleanse with makeup remover, spend time on the nooks and crannies around your nose and your hair- and jawlines to prevent pore-clogging buildup.
For Normal Skin
This even-keeled type may produce some oil in the T-zone, but it rarely feels slick by day’s end. Micellar waters, which contain tiny, dirt-grabbing oil molecules, are a smart daily option. Cycle in a gentle face scrub once or twice a week, but no more than that. “Even hearty skin can feel tested if it’s over-exfoliated,” says Boston dermatologist Ranella Hirsch.
TRY: Garnier SkinActive Micellar Foaming Cleanser is mild, fragrancefree, and meant to be rinsed off. $9, garnierusa.com.
For Dry Skin
“Flaking, tightness, and redness are the most common complaints,” says Hirsch. Cleansing milks with replenishing humectants, like hyaluronic acid and glycerin; and occlusive emollients, like coconut oil, quench skin. Rotate a mild exfoliating formula that contains glycolic or lactic acid into your routine every couple of days to remove dead skin cells.
TRY: SkinCeuticals Purifying Cleanser Gel has softening glycerin and glycolic acid to remove flakes. $34, skinceuticals.com.
For Sensitive Skin
To prevent flare-ups, embrace the basic. Fragrances, detergents, sulfates, parabens, and even exfoliating grains can trigger irritation. Seek out buffered formulations with barrier-strengthening ceramides, panthenol, or glycerin to help maintain your skin’s natural moisture balance, advises Ingraham.
TRY: Dove DermaSeries Dry Skin Relief Face Wash is gentle on eczema- and psoriasisprone skin. $7, dove.com.
For Oily Skin
If you notice a sheen soon after cleansing, or have enlarged pores, blackheads, or frequent breakouts, look for salicylic acid. It’s the proven go-to for blemishes because of its ability to penetrate the skin’s upper layer and soak up sebum. Clay also draws out dirt and oil without dehydrating skin.
TRY: Neutrogena Deep Clean Purifying Clay Cleanser/Mask works as a daily wash and a twice-weekly treatment. $9, neutrogena.com.
Whitney Bowe, a Manhattan dermatologist and author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin (Little, Brown). Dana Goldberg, a RealSelf.com contributor and Jupiter, Florida, cosmetic surgeon. Ranella Hirsch, a Boston dermatologist. Sherry Ingraham, a Houston dermatologist.