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Facial Cleanser Reviews

By: Lisa Maloney on May 01, 2017

Editor's note:
Philosophy Purity Made Simple once again takes the top spot in our report on face washes, although more sensitive skin will prefer CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser. Men should try Jack Black Pure Clean. We've also got great recommendations for those with oily or acne-prone skin, as well as a terrific beauty splurge -- a Clarisonic brush.

Philosophy Purity Made Simple Review
Best Reviewed

Best face wash

Philosophy Purity Made Simple is a gentle, effective facial cleanser that works well for just about any skin type, but is still strong enough to remove the most stubborn eye makeup. Users say it feels like a rich, creamy lotion and leaves your skin feeling soft and completely clean, with a natural "woodsy" scent that many users like. A little bit of this cleanser goes a long way, so it's very cost-effective as well, in spite of its seemingly high price.

Buy for $31.64
Jack Black Pure Clean Review
Best Reviewed

Best face wash for men

Jack Black Pure Clean is formulated specifically for men, who say it leaves their skin feeling smooth and looking youthful. However, women can use it too; in fact, quite a few filch a little bit from the man in their life and end up loving it. This product is free of parabens, sulfates and phthalates, and has a few organic botanical ingredients. Users say it foams nicely, has a pleasantly mild herbal scent, and also works as a pre- or post-shave toner.

Buy for $19.00
CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser Review
Best Reviewed

Best face wash for sensitive skin

CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser is soothing, gentle and lightly moisturizing -- the perfect face wash for truly sensitive skin. It's devoid of common irritants and contains skin-boosting ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid and ceramides. No wonder this product receives so many expert accolades and has attracted such a loyal user following, including those with severe skin conditions such as acne, allergies, rosacea and seborrheic dermatitis. However, you may need to add a step to your routine to remove stubborn makeup.

Buy for $14.99
Yes to Cucumbers Review
Also Consider

Natural face cleanser

We couldn't find a true 100 percent natural face cleanser that performed as well as traditional products, but 98 percent natural Yes to Cucumbers Gentle Milk Cleanser comes very close. It's free of potentially harmful ingredients like parabens, phthalates and sodium laureth sulfate, and skincare expert Paula Begoun describes it as an outstanding option for people with normal to dry skin. Users with sensitive skin say they love this product too, although it's not meant to double as a makeup remover.

Buy for $9.97
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Review
Best Reviewed

Best acne face wash

Experts say that the 2 percent salicylic acid in Neutrogena's Oil-Free Acne Wash is strong enough to dry blemishes out and help keep them from recurring, while its aloe and chamomile content help reduce the drying effects on unblemished skin. It's a great value and non-comedogenic (won't clog your pores). Still, if your skin is at all sensitive or prone to dryness, you may want to alternate this strong cleanser with a milder, moisturizing face wash.

Buy for $19.68
Clarisonic Smart Profile Review
Best Reviewed

Best facial brush

The Clarisonic Smart Profile facial cleansing brush is a true beauty splurge. Interchangeable brush heads and four operating speeds, plus a turbo pulse mode, mean you can use this brush on your face, body or feet. It'll also adjust speed and power automatically, and tracks usage time to let you know when it's time to replace the brush heads. Users and experts agree that for most, it improves skin tone and lessens breakouts within just a couple of weeks.

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Types of Facial Cleansers

Facial Cleansers

The best facial cleansers are strong enough to remove dirt, oil and makeup without scrubbing, but gentle enough not to strip away your skin's natural moisture. For most skin types, the best face wash is water-soluble, so it rinses off easily and won't clog your pores. While men and women can both use any type of face wash, some may have feminine scents that men prefer to avoid. We recommend a couple of options specifically for men as well.

Facial Cleansers for Sensitive Skin

For those with very sensitive skin, specially formulated face washes help avoid the redness, irritation and breakouts that can result from contact with irritants like artificial fragrances, dyes and harsh detergents. Look for gentle, soothing ingredients like glycerin or hyaluronic acid. Natural face cleansers will be even more gentle on sensitive skin. One caveat: because many cleansers for sensitive skin are very light, they may not clean away makeup very well, you may need to add a makeup remover to your routine.

Face Wash for Acne

Teenagers are especially prone to acne breakouts, thanks to their rapidly changing hormones, but this condition affects adults too. The best face washes for treating acne balance the drying ingredients that eliminate blemishes, like salicylic acid,  with soothing, non-comedogenic ingredients that won't cause your skin to break out again.

Facial Cleansing Brushes

If you're ready to boost your skincare to the next level, consider splurging on a facial cleansing brush. These beauty tools use vibrating or rotating bristled heads to deep-clean and stimulate your pores. They're not for people with severe skin conditions like eczema or rosacea, and for most people they require a bit of a "break-in" period, during which your skin might actually break out more instead of less. But most people who stick with facial cleansing brushes long enough to get through that period say the results are amazing, with softer, cleaner and younger-looking skin.

You don't need to pay a high price for a great cleanser

With many of the product lines we evaluate, it's true that you get what you pay for. But in the case of high-end department store cleansers and doctor-endorsed face washes, you're paying for fancy labeling and big names on what usually turn out to be the same ingredients you'll find in drugstore brands. And believe it or not, those drugstore brands -- with an average price of about $1 per ounce -- beat out their pricier competitors in just about every category of this report.

It may still be tempting to pay extra for a cleanser line that's created (or endorsed for profit) by a doctor or dermatologist. But the American Medical Association has issued guidelines advising physicians not to sell health-related products for profit because it creates a conflict of interest.

Also, in her highly acclaimed book, "Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me," skincare expert Paula Begoun points out that the phrases "dermatologist-tested" and "dermatologist-approved" are meaningless because there's no standard for what they mean. Often, they only indicate that one or two dermatologists tried a skincare product at the manufacturer's request and liked how it felt. How well a face wash actually cleans, how it feels on your face, and how it leaves your skin feeling afterward remain the ultimate arbiters of which product really is best.

Finding The Best Facial Cleansers
Our Sources
"Skin Care: Cleansers"
"The 2017 Good Housekeeping Beauty Breakthrough Awards"
"Best Beauty Buys: Skin"

During our search for the best face wash for all skin types and the best face wash for men, we evaluated dozens of expert reviews, tests and roundups from sources like Paula's Choice and BeautyPedia.com (both run by Begoun), GoodGuide.com, Good Housekeeping, Vogue, Health.com, Allure and TotalBeauty.com. In addition, we consulted thousands of passionate user reviews from sites like Ulta.com, Sephora.com and of course Amazon.com. We also identify the best cleansing oil and moisturizing cleanser, the best natural face cleanser, the best face wash for those with acne, and the best facial cleansing brush if you want to add another boost to your skincare routine.

Ready for more skincare products to complement your new face wash? Click through to read our full reports on the best facial moisturizers, wrinkle cream, eye cream and body lotion.

The best facial cleansers

Believe it or not, simple -- and inexpensive -- sometimes really is the best. That's the case for our best-reviewed cleanser, Philosophy Purity Made Simple (Est. $28 for 16 oz.), which draws lots of user praise for being gentle and effective for all skin types, removing even the most stubborn eye makeup. This cleanser has a near cult-like following, and for good reason: user reviews say it leaves your skin feeling soft and completely clean.

Once consumers discover this cleanser, they tend to stick with it faithfully for a decade or more, and some even say it's helped with their acne breakouts. At about $2 per ounce, a bottle of Philosophy Purity Made Simple costs a little more than your typical drug store cleanser; but users say a little bit goes a long way. If you use it twice daily, the cost works out to about $5 per month.

Most characterize the Philosophy Purity Made Simple face wash as milky or creamy like a nice, rich lotion, and say it has a "woodsy" or "plant-like" smell that is either pleasant or at least inoffensive, depending on your personal taste. That scent comes from natural fragrance oils, which may explain the one caveat that comes with this cleanser: While it's generally great for oily, normal or combination skin, if your skin is already prone to severe dryness or sensitivity, it may leave you feeling drier or cause irritation. You can either add a moisturizer or use a more moisturizing, fragrance-free cleanser; we cover facial cleansers for sensitive skin elsewhere in this report.

Philosophy Purity Made Simple's makeup-removing acumen doesn't have to rule it out for men; we see comments from a few male users who say it leaves their face feeling fresh and clean, too. But if you prefer something that's designed specifically for the male complexion and skin tone, our best-reviewed pick is the Jack Black Pure Clean (Est. $19 for 6 oz.) daily facial cleanser, which is free of parabens, sulfates and phthalates, and even has a few organic ingredients.

Reviewers at AskMen.com say ingredients like witch hazel, chamomile and aloe help the Jack Black cleanser double as a pre- or post-shave toner, readying your skin for shaving and soothing irritation afterward. Editors at GQ choose this as the best face cleanser for men with dry or flaky skin; they say it cleanses effectively and moisturizes without stripping the natural oils out of your skin.

Again, whichever gender a product is labeled for doesn't have to limit its use: Some of the user reviews for this product are from women who say they've snagged some of this from the man in their life and liked it so much that they started using it themselves. Others say they've noticed that their guy's skin seems more smooth and youthful looking. Both genders report that Jack Black Pure Clean is useful for all skin types, and few even say it helps control acne breakouts.

The Jack Black Pure Clean face wash foams nicely and has a mild and pleasant herbal scent. The biggest user criticism we found was that the texture is a little thin, so purchasing the largest size, which comes in a pump bottle, makes it easier to control the amount you dispense. Also, some customers say that if your skin is prone to severe dryness, you might need a more moisturizing face wash -- interesting, in light of its pick as the best cleanser for dry skin at GQ. Jack Black Pure Clean averages a little more than $3 per ounce.

If you'd like an alternative to these two tried-and-true facial cleansers, cleansing oils have become a trendy staple for all-around skin cleansers. DHC Deep Cleansing Oil (Est. $28 for 6.7 oz.), a strong runner-up in this category, is a stellar example that costs a little more than $4 per ounce. Allure.com chose this product as one of their best face washes for dry winter skin; their consulting dermatologist, Jeanette Graf, says its olive oil base is appropriate for all skin types.

DHC Deep Cleansing Oil also receives a "best of" award and is ranked as the number 10 best facial cleanser in all categories at TotalBeauty.com, where user reviewers rave about its ability to clean pores and remove even the most stubborn eye makeup. Users love the way it both cleanses and removes makeup in a single step, leaving your skin feeling hydrated and radiant after a quick water rinse.

If you're new to using oil-based cleansers, it may take a little while to get used to the habit of applying the oil cleanser to your dry skin and massaging it for a few seconds before rinsing. However, users say it's more than worth that minimal effort; the oil is thin enough to glide on easily and rinse cleanly away and, unless your skin is extraordinarily dry, oily or sensitive, you probably won't need any extra toner or moisturizer afterward.

Recently Updated
Facial Cleansers buying guide

What every best Facial Cleansers has:

  • Gentle detergents in low quantities.
  • No irritants or drying ingredients.
  • Basic, proven ingredients.

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