Experts say the best facial cleansers are gentle and effective at removing dirt, oil and makeup without leaving the skin too dry. Those with normal to oily skin should look for a water-soluble cleanser, free of any irritating ingredients like fragrance. Creamy and oil-based cleansers with less foaming action also dissolve oil and makeup without drying out skin and they're recommended for those with dry skin. For those with extremely sensitive skin, a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser containing glycerin and/or hyaluronic acid is recommended.
Regardless of the commonly held belief that you get what you pay for, experts say high-quality facial cleansers abound at the drugstore. High-end cleansers, though they often come in pretty packaging with name-brand appeal, are no more capable of cleansing skin than lower-priced options. In fact, they usually contain the same ingredients.
The same can be said of the many skin-care lines created by doctors and dermatologists for profit. In fact, the American Medical Association has issued guidelines advising physicians not to sell health-related products for profit, recognizing the conflict of interest this creates. Skin-care expert Paula Begoun, in her highly acclaimed book "Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me," also points out that the phrases "dermatologist-tested" and "dermatologist-approved" are meaningless, because there's no standard for what these mean -- they often only indicate that one or two dermatologists tried a skin-care product at the manufacturer's request and liked how it felt.
To find out which cleansers are the most effective, we turned to several experts -- including Paula Begoun, ConsumerReports.org, Good Housekeeping and several women's lifestyle magazines. We also analyzed hundreds of user reviews at TotalBeauty.com, MakeupAlley.com and Drugstore.com to evaluate overall consumer insight. Both users and experts reviewed and tested cleansers based on their efficacy, performance and key ingredients.