What should you look for when choosing a facial cleanser? Skin-care experts say a good cleanser should be water-soluble, meaning it will rinse off easily without leaving the skin feeling greasy or clogging pores. It shouldn't dry, burn or irritate the skin. Your skin should feel clean, and all makeup should be removed (including around the eyes) without needing to scrub. Facial cleansers with alpha or beta hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs) or topical disinfectants like benzoyl peroxide or triclosan aren't useful because they're rinsed down the drain before those products have a chance to work on the skin. Experts say facial cleansers usually have a pH that renders those ingredients ineffective anyway.
Although many cosmetics companies would have you believe that you get what you pay for in terms of quality skin care, experts say it's just not true. The cosmetics chemists at TheBeautyBrains.com (a beauty blog), for example, say there are many quality products available at the drugstore that are just as good or better than those at the department store. In fact, some of them are practically identical. Lancôme and L'Oréal, for instance, are owned by the same company that owns Estée Lauder and Clinique. Furthermore, many cosmetics companies share similar skin-care products between brands.
Purpose Gentle Cleansing Wash (*Est. $5.50 for 6 oz.) is one example of a highly reviewed and rated drugstore cleanser, and it tops our list for best facial wash. Experts and consumers alike recommend this as a gentle, water-soluble cleanser suitable for all skin types. Purpose cleanser has also garnered beauty magazine accolades by being named in InStyle magazine's Best of Beauty awards for several years and being awarded a spot on Allure magazine's Best of Beauty list in 2007 and 2008. Editors praise the cleanser for gently removing dirt, makeup and oil without drying out the skin.
Julyne Derrick, beauty guide for About.com, says although she has used several high-end cleansers, Purpose is her favorite cleanser for everyday use. She says it cleanses with ease but doesn't leave her skin feeling dry. Users at MakeupAlley.com and Drugstore.com also give Purpose high ratings, praising it for its affordable price and gentle cleansing. Note that if you can't find Purpose in your store, its formula is similar to Clean & Clear Foaming Facial Cleanser (*Est. $4 for 8 oz) ; both are made by Johnson & Johnson.
Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser (*Est. $10.50 for 16 oz.) is another gentle choice. Reviewers say it's a good choice for normal, oily or combination skin types. For those with dry skin, Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser (*Est. $10.50 for 16 oz.) is an option, but it doesn't seem to remove makeup as well as the daily version. A few users at Amazon.com say the Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser formula leaves their skin feeling tight, but both formulas get equally good ratings with users in general. Reviewers say it's easy to confuse the two because the bottles are nearly identical. User reviewers at TotalBeauty.com report that the Daily Facial Cleanser is a clear watery gel and contains masking fragrance and the original Gentle Skin Cleanser is a thick white liquid with no fragrance.
Ultimately, when it comes to drugstore brand facial cleanser, Purpose was chosen since it garners better user reviews and does a better job of removing makeup.
Gentle yet effective cleansers abound at department stores as well, but it will cost you. La Prairie Foam Cleanser (*Est. $75 for 4 oz) , for example, is a standard but good water-soluble cleanser, according to experts. One review, however, found that it didn't work any better than drugstore brands. Philosophy Purity Made Simple One-Step Facial Cleanser (*Est. $20 for 8 oz.) , on the other hand, costs less and is praised in expert and user reviews. The water-soluble cleanser is one of the highest-rated facial cleansers among users at MakeupAlley.com, TotalBeauty.com and Drugstore.com.
Users love that it cleans gently without stripping the skin of its natural moisture, but it is strong enough to remove even the most stubborn eye makeup. Only a few mention that the cleanser dried out their skin over time. This could be due to the rosewood and cinnamon oils as well as black pepper extract, which Paula Begoun says makes this cleanser too irritating for most skin. Several also like the light fragrance.