You Need a Grown-Up Face Wash: Our 9 Best Cleansers
Written by: Jean Godfrey-June
Updated: February 14, 2023
The sleepaway-camp adage that plain old soap and water is all skin really needs sounds so simple. In reality, soap is decidedly unhelpful when it comes to improving the health and look of your skin. Conventional soaps and cleansers are often made with industrial surfactants that strip and dry skin, and even the ones labeled “moisturizing” often just contain added moisturizer on top of the same industrial-surfactant base. Dry skin is not just unhealthier and less able to defend itself; it also looks older—less even, less plump, less dewy.
Even oily skin can be disturbed by strong surfactants, which can aggravate already-aggravated skin and stimulate oil glands to produce even more oil, says top New York dermatologist Amy Wechsler, MD, an advisor for Chanel skin care. In short, even the most antimakeup, least beauty-oriented person is better off without (aptly called) “plain old” soap.
Surfactants are what make soapy things foam up, so many of the best-for-skin cleansers don’t foam . It can take some getting used to, but once you’re into cream cleansers , it’s hard to return to the world of stripping, drying surfactants. Our favorite example: the unique soft-springy GOOPGLOW exfoliating jelly face wash. Made with antioxidant cloudberry and moisturizing squalane plus exfoliating bitter orange peel and fruit enzymes, the cleanser feels lush as you smooth it on skin, then rinses off easily, leaving your skin fresh, beautifully textured, and glowing.
For the healthiest skin, aim for dewy-clean or hydrated-clean instead of squeaky-clean: Skin has a protective barrier that keeps moisture in and bacteria (including acne bacteria), dirt, and irritants out, and you want to keep that barrier intact.
With that in mind, don’t assume you need to cleanse in the morning. In the evening, there’s stuff to remove—makeup, sunscreen, dirt, pollution—but when you wake up, your skin is in pretty good shape. “If your skin is clean at bedtime, it should still be clean in the morning,” says Wechsler. If you like cleansing in the morning, it certainly won’t hurt, but you can save money, time, and a bit of skin-protective barrier by skipping.
The right cleanser preps your skin for the treatment products that go on afterward—simply wetting your skin makes even prescription creams more effective, as water speeds and deepens the absorption of ingredients dramatically.
The form of a cleanser—cream, foam, etc.—doesn’t always dictate the types of skin it’s good for: Not all foams are surfactant-intensive. Cleansing oils can be counterintuitively amazing for oily skin, and gel formulas can be moisturizing.
THE BEST CLEAN FACE WASHES
The Best Balm Cleanser
Why we love it: This pale-yellow gingery-citrus balm is made with skin-calming turmeric, and it rinses off like an absolute dream, leaving your skin soft, fully cleansed, moisturized, and feeling so good.
The Best Oil Cleanser
Why we love it: This silky biphase formula comes in a tall, chic pump that makes it incredibly easy to use. No matter your skin type, it melts away dirt and makeup with a velvety blend of silver-ear mushroom, apple oil, and sunflower seed. You shake it to activate all the good-for-skin ingredients.
The Best Milk Cleanser
Why we love it: From one of the world’s top dermatologists, this calming milky gel cleanser is as amazing for dry, aging skin as it is for the breakout-prone. It also feels like a luxurious mask treatment you might get at a spa, and it smells like fresh mint.
The Best Exfoliating Cleanser
Why we love it: Super effective yet gentle enough to use daily, this powerhouse all but guarantees a good skin day. It cleanses, purifies pores, and removes all traces of dirt, makeup, etc.—and then goes above and beyond, exfoliating, softening, and glowifying. The bonus: The jelly texture just feels so good on skin.
The Best Face Wash for Dry Skin
Why we love it: If your skin tends toward the drier side, this whipped marshmallowy cream cleanser gives skin a soothing, hydrating, cooling sensation while it removes all traces of dirt and oil for the deepest, most satisfying cleanse. It’s made with tiny jojoba beads, which are suspended in the thick cream texture, to buff away dead skin; Juneberry to soften; and plant-based collagen to reinforce the skin’s moisture barrier—it’s just amazing.
The Best Face Wash for Sensitive Skin
Why we love it: What makes this cleanser so great for sensitive skin is not just what it’s made with (jojoba esters, calendula flower, maracuja-seed oil) but what it’s made without—more than 85 common skin irritants like soy, gluten, wheat, and nuts. It dissolves all traces of dirt, oil, and makeup while supercharging skin with moisturizing, brightening, soothing ingredients. The result? Noticeably smoother, not to mention dewier, skin with zero redness or irritation.
The Best Foaming Cleanser
Why we love it: Soothing turmeric and nourishing, calming ingredients like calendula and reishi mushroom combine in this fluffy foaming cleanser. It refreshes and cleanses thoroughly, leaving your skin dewy, comforted, and brighter.
The Best Face Wash for Aging Skin
Why we love it: The plump, dewy hydration you get from this gel cleanser is just fantastic—it’s rich but purifying at the same time. It floods skin with youth-boosting ingredients like TFC8 (a unique proprietary complex that firms and strengthens), rose water (tones and refines), and cucumber (nourishes) for beautiful, supple skin.
Best Cleanser for Oily or Combination Skin
Why we love it: Malachite and Brazilian fruit extracts do double duty to clarify and detoxify for fresh, clean, practically poreless skin. The gel texture feels spectacular, and we love how moisturized our skin feels after—the perfect base for serums or treatments to follow.
The Best Face Wash for Acne-Prone Skin
Why we love it: Breakouts are no match for this ultrasoothing super cleanser. It beautifully calms breakouts, deep-cleans pores, and exfoliates with willow-bark extract (a natural source of salicylic acid, which is an ingredient dermatologists love for blemishes).
How do we test clean beauty products at goop? First they have to pass our standards for clean (goop has some of the toughest standards in the industry). Only then do they make it to our editors’ showers, bathroom counters, and makeup bags, where they are rigorously tested (and road tested, if we happen to be going on a trip). The goop beauty department is made up of women of varied ages, races, and tastes—if we really love something, we’re pretty confident you’re going to love it, too.
We hope you enjoy the products recommended here. Our goal is to suggest only things we love and think you might, as well. We also like transparency, so, full disclosure: We may collect a share of sales or other compensation if you purchase through the external links on this page (including links to Amazon).