You Need a Real, Grown-Up Face Wash
Written by: Jean Godfrey-June
Updated: August 24, 2022
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 New York dermatologist Amy Wechsler, MD, an advisor for Chanel skin care. In short, even the most anti-makeup, 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 the creaminess and comfort of nonfoaming, it’s hard to return to the world of stripping, drying surfactants. Our favorite example: the unique soft-springy exfoliating jelly face wash from GOOPGLOW. Made with antioxidant cloudberry and moisturizing squalane plus exfoliating bitter orange peel and fruit enzymes, the cleanser feels lush and soft as you smooth it on skin, then rinses off easily, leaving your skin fresh, beautifully textured, and glowing. And the foamless jelly formula is gentle enough to use every day (even in a routine with AHA, BHA, or vitamin C treatments).
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’s 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.
Every time you do cleanse, you want it to work, and not just for the obvious grime-off-face reasons. 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 absorption of ingredients dramatically. To further increase absorption, use a mildly exfoliating cleanser—like the GOOPGLOW jelly cleanser—to slough away dead skin cells, makeup, and grime to help clear the way for skin-care-ingredient delivery.
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, like our G.Tox Malachite + Fruit Acid Pore Purifying Cleanser, can be moisturizing. So shop for what sounds most delightful to use and great skin will almost inevitably follow.
THE BEST CLEAN FACE WASHES
True Botanicals Ginger Turmeric
Cleansing Balm goop, $48SHOP NOW
The Organic Pharmacy Carrot Butter Cleanser &
Organic Muslin Cloth goop, $83SHOP NOW
de Mamiel Restorative
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Dr. Nigma Cleanser No. 1 goop, $70SHOP NOW
KORA Organics Turmeric Glow Foaming Cleanser goop, $42SHOP NOW
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Alpyn Beauty Plantgenius Creamy
Bubbling cleanser goop, $36SHOP NOW
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Mary Allan Skincare Rosewater
Cleansing Lotion goop, $68SHOP NOW
goop Beauty GOOPGLOW Cloudberry
Exfoliating Jelly Cleanser goop, $35/$25 with subscriptionSHOP NOW
Dr. Barbara Sturm Enzyme Cleanser goop, $75SHOP NOW
Clark’s Botanicals Dual Charcoal Detox goop, $45SHOP NOW
Okoko Beauté Majestique
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Skin Design London Face Bath goop, $105SHOP NOW
Binu Binu Shaman Black Charcoal Soap goop, $22SHOP NOW
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