Picture this: you’re groggily starting your day, heading into the bathroom to (hopefully) splash the sleep out of your eyes with some lukewarm water, and start your skincare routine. You open your medicine cabinet, reach for your first product… what cleanser do you see? If you’re anything like I was during the first few years of my adolescence, you’ll quickly realize that choosing the right cleanser can be the difference between skin in a happy balance and what can only be described as the “oil slick to end all oil slicks.”
Identifying your skin type
In the journey to find your right cleanser, you’ll first need to identify your skin type. There are a few methods of determining your skin type, but they can generally be broken down into a few different categories:
- Normal Skin: If you’ve somehow been blessed by the universe to not have any issues with dryness, oiliness, sensitivity or breakouts, then 1. Let me be you, and 2. You’ll fall into the “normal” skin category.
- Oily Skin: This is probably one of the easier skin types to identify — while you may tend to have less wrinkles, you’ll also experience excess oil on the surface of your skin, and probably issues with clogged pores.
Dry or Dehydrated Skin: First, an important differentiation to make: dry skin is caused by a lack of oil, usually resulting in flaky, dry spots, and dehydrated skin is caused by a lack of water, meaning your skin will probably look tight and show fine lines more easily.
- Combination Skin: If you’re experiencing a few different symptoms from each category, you probably have combination skin. Combination skin typically feels oily in the T-zone (around forehead, nose, and chin) but dry everywhere else.
Acne-Prone Skin: A staple of adolescence that has cruelly followed many of us into adulthood, acne-prone skin is often caused when your pores tend to clog easily, leading to recurring breakouts and blemishes.
Sensitive Skin: When my uncle got married a few days after Halloween in 1998, I made my debut as a flower girl who was very badly concealing a facial rash in the exact outline of a glitter glue design that had once been a key part of my costume. All of this is to say that sensitive skin can be caused by environmental factors, genes, and, as demonstrated here, allergic reactions.
- Mature Skin: Everyone ages! Mature skin tends to show more signs of wrinkles and fine lines, as well as a loss of tightness.
Why do you need a specific cleanser for your skin type?
Despite being a very important first step in any skincare routine, it’s common to be unsure about what type of facial cleanser is best for your skin type. But why is it so important? All cleansers have the overall goal of cleaning your skin, but are formulated to serve different needs. Some are light and gentle to work with sensitive skin, some offer a deeper clean to remove clogged pores that cause oily or acne-prone skin, and choosing the wrong kind can sometimes make current skin issues even worse.
The different types of facial cleansers
Gel: As the name suggests, gel cleansers usually have a gel-like consistency and provide a deeper cleanse than most of the other options. They’ll work to both unclog pores and remove excess oil and grime on the surface of your skin, making this a classic choice for an all-over clean.
Cream: A hydrating cleansing cream usually has a thicker consistency than a gel cleanser, and offers more nourishing and moisturizing properties for your skin.
Foam: Light and airy, foaming cleansers offer a refreshing cleanse for your skin.
Cleansing Oil: The double benefit of an oil cleanser is that they can seamlessly remove your makeup while leaving you with softer, smoother-looking skin.
Bar: When it comes to a facial cleanser, don’t just use the same bar soap brand you grew up using on your body! While there are a variety of bar cleansers available (so check the ingredients to make sure they’re compatible with your skin type), they also have the benefit of being super transportable for your next vacation.
Clay: Clay facial cleansers are made to help remove surface dirt, grime and impurities: I think of them as a wash-off face mask.
Powder: Powder facial cleansers are activated into a face wash when combined with water — a perfect choice if you’re looking for a little exfoliation at the same time.
Cleansing wipes: I’ll often use a cleansing wipe as the first step in a double-cleansing routine, especially if I’ve worn makeup that day. And I’m sure most of us have had days (or more specifically, nights) where the swipe of a cleansing wipe is all you can manage before bed. Makeup removing powers aside, you shouldn’t depend on cleansing wipes alone as a part of your skincare routine, since you’ll probably need one of the other options to really remove oil, dirt, and grime.
- Micellar: Made from a combination of purified water and mild surfactants, micellar water works to gently dissolve and remove makeup, oil and any grime left on your skin. It’s a more delicate option than cleansing wipes, so it might be worth switching to if you’re experiencing skin sensitivity or issues with acne. But as is the case with cleansing wipes, you’ll likely need to follow with an additional cleanser (ex. Use the micellar water to remove makeup first) to ensure your skin is really clean.
What type of cleanser is best for your skin?
We’ve finally made it — it’s time to meet your skincare match. While bar cleansers and cleansing wipes can be used by most skin types, here are the rest of your options to choose from:
For normal skin: Depending on your preference, a gel, foam, cream or oil cleanser will work for your skin type.
For oily skin: Gel and clay cleansers are great for dissolving excess surface oil while helping to unclog your pores, and the exfoliating properties of powder cleanser can offer an additional boost. But if you're worried about over-cleansing (and therefore causing your skin to produce more oil), try a foam cleanser instead.
For dry or dehydrated skin: the nourishing and moisturizing properties of oil and cream cleansers are perfect for helping improve dry skin - also, try a Vitamin C booster to improve the radiance of your skin if it’s looking dull. If you have dehydrated skin, the hydrating boost of micellar water(paired with a hydrating face oil later in your skincare routine) can help restore lost moisture. And as always, remember to drink enough water!
- For acne-prone skin: Gel cleansers and micellar water will help to dissolve excess oil and clogged pores, helping you to get clearer skin. Consider occasionally mixing in a powder cleanser when you want a little extra exfoliation.
- For combination skin: Depending on the amount of oil or dryness you’re experiencing, try either a foam, cream or gel cleanser to see which works best for your skin type.
- For sensitive skin: Cream cleansers and micellar water are gentle enough to help you avoid any flare-ups with sensitive skin.
- For mature skin: Use a nourishing cream or oil cleanser to restore lost moisture and oil to your skin; and every good anti-aging skincare routine should also include a natural retinol serum.
By Lauren Hannel, staff contributor