The best face wash for your skin type: Why you should know the difference between oils, gels + more

best face wash skin type
Photography by Peter Stigter
best face wash skin type
Photography by Peter Stigter

With a recent wave of innovative facial foams, washes, gels and the like, it’s hard to decode one formula from the next. And what exactly is the dirty on these facial formulas? After all, these cleansing and clearing steps only really slather up our complexions for a minute before making their way down the drain. Enter a tidal wave of clarity: we’re breaking down the difference between soothing milks, foams and oil-based cleansers.

Moreover, we’re rolling out the reasons why you should expect more from the products that envelop your complexion for approximately 60 seconds. And in order to gain some clear skin clarity on the matter, we spoke with Founder and CEO Peter Thomas Roth, and Dr. Monica Schadlow, MD Manhattan Dermatology.When it comes to cleansing, there are basic benefits that are non-negotiables and should be working toward one common goal of cultivating your complexion sans sabotage.

This will act as “the foundation of a healthy skin care regimen,” notes Peter Thomas Roth. “The goal of all cleansing is to remove the environmental insults of the day. From excess sebum to shedding skin cells, but at the same time avoid the disruption of the delicate pH balance of the skin and the skin barrier,” says Dr. Schadlow. And while creating a skincare routine for these ingredients can feel slightly paralyzing, she notes, “I usually recommend washing one’s face nightly and in the morning as well, and a quick cleaning after the gym.”

Ultimately, it’s imperative to understand that cleansing your skin is important for two reasons. “One, for removing makeup, dirt and pollutants from the day. And two, for addressing concerns such as acne or aging,” concludes Dr. Schadlow. Of course, the intention of a cleanser is to expel dirt, makeup and sweat, without stripping or irritating our precious pores. And “although cleansing is important for the reasons mentioned above, people have a tendency to overdo it,” says Dr. Schadlow. While figuring out what formula works best for your skin type often requires immeasurable amounts of digging, a key piece of the puzzle is “finding a cleanser that does not make your skin feel tight and dry. Knowing your skin type, but also being realistic about your lifestyle. Do you routinely take 15 minutes for your skin, or do you fall into bed and consider yourself lucky if you take your makeup off? [These are] important questions,” she adds.

So start shopping for your skin type and your realistic routines, rather than a beautifully branded bottle. Keep in mind that “if you have dry skin, use a moisturizing cleanser, such as a cream, foam, lotion or milk cleanser. If you have oily skin, look for products that are oil-free and contain salicylic acid to help remove excess sebum. And if you have sensitive skin, try avoiding cleansers with acids, fragrances, dyes and other harsh ingredients,” notes Roth. And in the case of travel, where lackluster skincare conditions are eminent, a facial wipe will still not hold up against your cleanser. “Since you are not rinsing away the active cleansing ingredients in wipes, residue left behind may expose your skin to solubilizers, surfactants and emulsifiers which can be drying and irritating for some people. In addition, the wiping action combined with the abrasiveness of the cloth can be irritating to some people. If using a wipe, rinse with water when possible to remove irritating ingredients,” says Roth.

It’s important to understand that “on a daily basis, the right cleanser can be more effective and less expensive, and likely less irritating in the long run,” adds Dr. Schadlow. Solemnly swear that your skin needs to be made a priority, and start picking and choosing which facial formula you’d like to test drive this spring season.

best face wash skin type

Foam cleansers

This lightweight cleansers are a great solution for those looking to combat oily or acne-prone skin. Not only are they well equipped to calm an inflamed complexion, but they’re built to break down trapped dirt and debris. Dr. Schadlow says, “foaming cleansers in general are a little more drying, so I usually recommend them for oily skin or-acne prone patients. People tend to like the foaming cleansers because they feel very clean after washing. They also tend to last the longest because you need very little.” Additionally, as the formula is already in foam format so you can forgo an aggressive scrub and save your skin. If you’re looking for a regular and routine cleanse that can help combat impurities, this formula has your face all over it.

Jurlique Herbal Recovery Antioxidant Cleansing Mousse ($39,

best face wash skin type

Powder cleansers

This might actually take the cake as the newest and more interesting way to wash your face. This innovative beauty trend is creating quite the commotion and for good reason. The formula that is often reserved for baby bottoms and greasy hair has now made its way into our regular skincare regime because these new-school cleaners are getting the job done, and done well. Peter Thomas Roth says that “powder cleansers are considered multi-taskers as they are used as a cleanser and exfoliator in one. The more water added, the less harsh the exfoliants. With just a drop of water, the product works like a scrub. Apply ten drops and it works like a liquid cleanser.”

This innovative beauty trend will also prove to be “ideal for travellers who need to comply with liquid restrictions since they are packaged dry. Furthermore, the grains are fairly small so they are not as harsh as some scrubs tend to be. So if you’re looking to stay in control of your routine, investing in a powder cleanser will allow you to take the reigns. From creating your own consistency to dialing back on exfoliation, these powders are calling your name.

Peter Thomas Roth Camu Camu Brightening Powder Cleanser ($52,

best face wash skin type

Gel cleansers

Take the day off with these acne-combating cleansers that can help control even your most aggressive breakout. These formulas are perfect for purifying your complexion and “they are more gentle than traditional soap cleansers but can be used on oily skin as well. Often gel cleansers also contain active ingredients to help combat acne or to help to chemically exfoliate the skin,” notes Dr. Schadlow. “Gel cleansers work well for all skin types, [and] some people even use them as an all-over body wash,” adds Roth. If you’re combating acne or the occasional breakout, keep a gel cleanser stocked in your supply kit for when the time calls.

Clinique Acne Solutions Cleansing Gel ($23,

best face wash skin type

Oil cleansers

These over-achieving performers are a great solution for nearly all skin types, so don’t let the name scare you. These formulas envelop and pamper your skin with their bounty of beauty benefits, and “work well to remove makeup and waterproof sunscreen. Cleansing oils are generally used in the “double cleansing” method as the first cleanser and followed with another cleanser of your choice depending on your skin type,” adds Roth. Additionally, “these bind to the oils in your skin and makeup, and then rinses them away. This is especially true if the oil is massaged into the skin before rinsing to allow this binding to occur. They can also be wiped off with a cotton pad and can be super effective at removing makeup gently,” adds Dr. Schadlow. So if you’re looking an effective and clean that washes your day off without drying, this formula should be on your priority list.

L’Occitane Shea Cleansing Oil ($28,

best face wash skin type

Milk cleansers

This is a kinder way to cleanse your skin, and the milk is an effective way to zero in on your problem spots. The formula is “usually an emulsion of oil and water. The oily part of the milk again binds to make up and grease and rinses away. These are easy to use because they are rinsed, not wiped off and are great for people with dry or sensitive skin or combination skin, notes Dr. Schadlow. Those looking for a delicate clean, and an effective way to wash away environmental stressors and the like, look no further than this gentle cleanser. And no need for facial or wool pads, a simple massage with your fingertips will suffice, as this skin preserving and balancing formula will get right to work.

Clarins Cleansing Milk With Alpine Herbs ($34,

best face wash skin type


Consider this your best-kept secret, but of course we’re not referring to the tap kind. Facial water has been creating quite the buzz around the water cooler lately. We already know that water is great for us, and if packed with antioxidants and detoxifying ingredients, well that’s just a bonus. Recently spotted at Paris Fashion Week and dubbed a makeup artist’s must-have product, these gentle cleansers are creating a craze. Not only do these facial washes cleanse without irritating, but they also tone and refresh the skin without risk of drying or irritation. These no-frills formulas are quite basic and thus a prerequisite for those suffering with sensitive skin. So once you’ve lathered up with your water, ensure that you’re moving onto your next skincare cleaning steps for a more thorough cleanse and clearer complexion.

BELIF Cleansing Herb Water ($32,