What the best facial cleansers have

  • No irritants. Ingredients like menthol, alcohol and witch hazel may feel refreshing on the skin, but they provide no benefit and can actually strip skin of essential moisture. Fragrances can also cause skin irritation.
  • Basic ingredients. A cleanser doesn't stay on the skin long enough for most active anti-aging and/or anti-acne ingredients to be of benefit; those aren't necessities.
  • Gentle detergents in low quantities. Cocamidopropyl betaine and ammonium laureth sulfate are gentle, while sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate can be potentially irritating, especially when listed near the top of an ingredients list.

Know before you go

What skin type do you have? People with dry or sensitive skin types may prefer a creamy cleanser that adds moisture to skin while cleansing. Liquid and gel cleansers are best suited to oily and combination skin types. Although most users prefer cleansers that lather generously, the amount of lather in a cleanser has no correlation to how well it cleanses skin. Skin-care expert Paula Begoun provides an excellent article that explains how to determine your skin type.

What issues you are trying to treat? Along with knowing your skin type, it might be helpful to establish what skin issues you'd like to treat with your cleanser. Some cleansers contain ingredients to help treat acne, even skin tone and even reduce the size of pores.

Do you prefer natural or eco-friendly products? There are no set guidelines to govern what counts as "natural" or "eco-friendly," so customers really have to do their homework in this category. Look for products that contain recognizable ingredients and are free of mineral oils, parabens and other chemical preservatives, coloring and fragrances. The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep Cosmetic Database is an in-depth resource that discusses the ingredients used in various cleansers as well as their environmental impact and whether or not animal testing is performed.

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