how to choose the right cleanser for your skin

“Think of your cleanser as the foundation to your skincare routine,” Dr. Josh Zeichner, board-certified dermatologist and Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, tells TZR. He explains that the goal of cleansing is to remove dirt, oil, makeup, and other impurities without compromising the integrity of the skin’s outer layer. “Using the wrong cleanser can interfere with optimal skin functioning,” he says. “Using one that is too light means that you won’t get enough off the skin, leaving you feeling heavy or greasy.” 

“There are cleansing bars, balms, cream cleansers, gel cleansers, sulfate-free cleansers, foamy sulfate-filled cleansers, and then there’s this oil-cleansing train,” Danielle Gronich, a clinical esthetician, San Diego Acne Clinic owner, and co-founder of CLEARSTEM Skincare, tells TZR. It can feel a little overwhelming — but don’t worry. Shopping according to your skin type can actually weed out a lot of products that inevitably won’t work for you.

Ahead, find the best type of cleanser for your skin type once and for all, and don’t forget to shop some of the expert-approved products while you’re at it.

“Dry skin is oftentimes also sensitive and prone to eczema,” Dr. Christine Choi Kim, a board-certified dermatologist in Los Angeles, tells TZR. That being said, Dr. Kim recommends creamy formulas without any acids, clays, or exfoliating beads. “If rinsing your face with water dries your skin out, you might opt for micellar water instead of a cleanser,” she adds. Additionally, Dr. Kim says to search for humectants such as hyaluronic acid, sodium hyaluronate, or glycerin, which attract much-needed water to the surface of the skin.

Dr. Howard Sobel, founder of Sobel Skin and Attending Dermatologist and Dermatologic Surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, suggests using a cleanser with glycolic acid on dry skin.

Dr. Kim recommends salicylic acid-based cleansers to almost all of her acne-prone patients. “Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that is oil-soluble and therefore can more deeply penetrate the epidermis to dissolve the mixture of dead skin cells and sebum that clogs pores,” the dermatologist explains.

Another option for those with acne-prone skin is a cleansing oil. “Oil-based cleansers can also benefit oily skin, surprisingly, as they keep the skin’s acid mantle balanced,” Dr. Graf says. When you’re shopping for a cleansing oil, the dermatologist recommends to keep a lookout for more naturally-derived ingredients like sweet almond oil, hazelnut oil, and rose oil. “I would stay away from cleansers with detergents, alcohols, and salts which can dry and irritate the skin,” she advises.

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