Cleansing is the first step in any skincare routine and there are so many options for removing dirt and makeup that builds up during the day. You need cleansing to remove makeup, dirt, and oil so they don’t build up and clog your pores.
When your pores clog, it can lead to pimples or blackheads. That’s something you don’t want to see when you look in the mirror!
So, take your cleanser seriously and look for ones that work with your skin type. Cleansers fall into five main types. Let’s look at each one and what you should know about each.
As the name implies, lathering skin cleansers generate lather when you use them with water. People tend to like lathering cleansers since the abundant lather they generate implies that they’re effective.
Although makers of these cleansers have tried to make them as gentle as possible, lathering cleansers may still disrupt your skin’s natural barrier that protects against moisture loss.
In general, lathering cleansers are best for people with oily skin and those who wear heavy makeup and need an effective way to remove it. However, some people like the lather too. If you have dry skin and love the lathery aspects of lathering cleansers, look for one with added emollients.
Unlike lathering cleansers, emollient cleansers don’t form a lather when you use them with water. Instead, make-up and dirt are encased within the emollients in the product and get washed away.
These cleansers are gentler to the skin and less irritating to dry or sensitive skin, but they may leave behind an oily residue. Therefore, they’re not appropriate for oil skin.
Unlike emollient and lathering cleansers, cleansing milks aren’t designed to be used with water nor are they removed with water. Instead, the cleanser dissolves dirt and oil on the surface of the skin, and you wipe the cleansing milk off with a tissue or cloth.
Because you don’t use them with water, they’re a good choice if you have dry, sensitive skin since the risk of irritation is lower.
Because there isn’t a rinsing phase, manufacturers can add additional ingredients, like moisturizers and vitamins, and they’ll remain on the skin. However, like emollient cleansers, they leave behind an oily residue or film on the skin.
Facial scrubs may be lathering or emollient in nature. What sets them apart is the tiny particles they contain that exfoliate the skin. Facial scrubs may contain natural particles from fruits, seeds, or grains, or synthetic beads.
When you scrub your face with them, they remove dead skin cells that cause the skin to look dull. After using a scrub, it’s not uncommon for the skin to have a slight glow.
The downside is the tiny particles or beads can abrade the skin if you use them too aggressively, and they’re not a good choice for people with very dry or sensitive skin.
A toner is a liquid that removes excess oil and makeup without water.
If you have dry or sensitive skin, a mild toner may be a good alternative to a cleanser that requires water. A gentle one is less likely to strip the skin of its natural oils.
It also helps balance the pH of the skin. Some contain ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids or glycolic acid that helps exfoliate and improve skin texture and brightness. Ones made for dry skin also contain humectants that attract and hold moisture to the skin.
The Bottom Line
This covers most of the types of cleansers you’ll encounter when choosing skincare products. Which one is right for you depends on your skin type. If you have dry or sensitive skin, an emollient cleanser, cleansing milk, or toner is your best bet. Lathering cleansers are too disruptive to the skin barrier and facial scrubs are too irritating for sensitive skin.
If you have oily skin, a lathering cleanser may be more appropriate since it is more effective at removing oils that clog pores and contribute to pimples. However, a cleanser that’s extremely drying isn’t a good choice either since stripping the skin of its natural oils can actually boost oil production.
Know what skin type you have so you’ll know what category of cleanser is best for your skin. Then, carefully research your options and choose one that best suits your needs.
Cosmetic Dermatology: Products and Procedures. Second edition. Wiley Blackwell. (2016)