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  • Your dermatology provider prescribes your formula

  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

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The complete guide to face cleansers for every skin type

Dermatology providers share what exactly to look for in this essential product.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Apr 10, 2024 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C
Curology cleanser on pink bathtub with running water and pink tile background
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Apr 10, 2024 • 10 min read
Medically reviewed by Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

How to determine your skin type
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If you’re trying to find the best cleanser for your skin, we're here to help. We break down which ingredients to avoid, and how to choose the right face wash for your skin.

Let’s start with two general guidelines for choosing a face wash. First, keep it simple! You don’t want to use a harsh soap that could throw off your skin’s natural balancing act. We recommend cleansers that are gentle enough and don’t contain potentially harmful or irritating ingredients.

Also, don’t worry about it if a certain product is “for women” or “for men.” Skincare is mostly gender-neutral, despite what advertising and branding likes to tell you. Here at Curology, we recommend the best skincare products and techniques for all genders—because your skin is unique, no matter who you are.

How to determine your skin type

The best face wash for you will depend on your skin type,¹ which can change from one week to the next. Your skin may be dry one day, oily, or combination the next. What’s the reason for this change? It could be hormones, your diet, or the time of the year. Your skin type may even be different on different parts of your face—you might have an oily T-zone, for example, but dry skin on your forehead (aka combination skin).

Step 1: Wash your face gently, wait an hour, then check out your skin in the mirror.

Step 2: Pat a blotting paper (gently) on each area of your face: T-zone, forehead, chin, and cheeks. It can be hard to tell whether what you’re seeing on your skin is oil, shine, or just glowiness, so check the sheet each time you blot to see which part of your face is oilier.

Step 3: Wait an hour. If oil has reappeared on your face, your skin type is likely oily skin or combination skin (if you’re only oily in certain places). “Normal” skin isn’t dry nor oily, but smooth and balanced.

Results:

  • Normal: Smooth, no signs of dry flakes or shiny oil

  • Oily: Slick and shiny, larger pores

  • Dry: Dry flakes, tight-feeling

  • Combination: Oily T-zone, with normal-to-dry skin everywhere else (fun fact: most people actually have combination skin!)

Tips for picking the best facial cleanser for each skin type

Once you’ve determined your skin type, it’s time to pick a cleanser. Here are some tips for choosing the best face wash for each skin type.

Best face wash for all skin types

The good news is that no matter what your skin type is, there’s a face wash that will work for it: The Cleanser by Curology. We designed this to be an all-purpose cleanser that’s friendly to all skin types. It’s gentle enough for the most sensitive skin, but also effective for oily, dry, and combination skin types.

The cleanser helps maintain your skin’s natural moisture barrier. It works great for sensitive, acne-prone skin because it’s formulated with non-comedogenic ingredients, and it’s free of parabens, sulfates, fragrances, and dyes. It simply cleans without clogging pores or over-drying the skin—the perfect daily face wash.

Hand holding Curology cleanser against a neutral background

Best face wash for oily skin

Think of your oily skin like a well-meaning friend who’s trying a little too hard to be helpful. It’s a good thing that our skin naturally produces oil (aka sebum), but sometimes it can overdo it!² That doesn’t mean you want a cleanser that will strip your skin of its natural oils. This could backfire on you by irritating your skin, compelling it to produce even more oil to compensate, or causing breakouts.

The best face wash for oily skin won’t be too drying but will remove the excess oil to keep your pores clean and clear.

Best face wash for dry skin

Dry skin needs a gentle touch—even if it looks flaky, you don’t want to over-exfoliate it. Instead, look for cleansers for sensitive skin, especially those with moisturizing ingredients.

Dry skin is typically lacking in water and/or lipid content, but no worries — you can replenish these with the right ingredients.³ The skin’s hydration managers, ceramides and hyaluronic acid, are building blocks that your dry skin might be missing out on.

If you tend to exfoliate often or use anti-acne or anti-aging skincare products that leave your skin feeling tight or dry, you might want to avoid those steps if your skin is suffering from too much dryness. It can be helpful to give your skin a break during seasonal transitions, too. Let it adjust at its own individual pace to help it maintain a healthy balance of its moisture levels.

Best face wash for sensitive skin

The typical anti-acne cleanser might contain ingredients that can irritate the skin. For sensitive skin, try a gentle, lightly hydrating, non-comedogenic cleanser that will leave your skin refreshed, moisturized, and balanced.

Curology’s Acne Cleanser is specially designed to work well for sensitive skin. It’s formulated to be non-comedogenic (translation: doesn’t clog pores), and it’s free of parabens, sulfates, fragrances, dyes, and other common irritating ingredients.

Best face wash for combination skin

Combination skin often means an oily T-zone, because the sebaceous glands (oil-producers in your skin) tend to be more active around your nose, chin, and forehead than on the other parts of your face. Combination skin isn’t limited to an oily T-zone, though—everyone’s different! For example, your unique combination skin could be a combination of dry and normal, with no excess oiliness involved. The best face wash for combination skin will be hydrating, to help with dryness, but also powerful enough to eliminate excess oil. (We share a few options here).

A word on oil-based cleansers

Oil cleansers are really helpful for dry and sensitive skin in particular. They’re gentle but effective, leaving the skin nice and hydrated with no need for scrubbing. Oil-based cleansers include not just straight-up oil but cleansing balms and oil-based cleansing creams, all of which can leave the skin looking and feeling more hydrated than traditional cleansers do. We’d recommend cleansing oils and balms for those with drier skin to lock in that extra hydration. Certain oil cleansers even work just fine for oily skin and acne!

Whatever you do, just don’t use coconut oil to cleanse your face. Coconut oil is a notorious pore-clogger!

Cleanser ingredients to look for

Hyaluronic acid: Hyaluronic acid is basically a magnet for moisture—this amazing molecule can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water!⁴ It’s naturally produced in the skin, but as we get older (or if we have dry skin), the body might not produce enough of its own anymore. Replenishing the hyaluronic acid in our skin with gentle cleansers and moisturizers (like the Curology moisturizer!) helps keep the building blocks of your skin, such as collagen, hydrated and happy.⁵

Ceramides: Another one of the skin’s building blocks, ceramides help restore moisture and resilience to dry, vulnerable skin.⁶ They’re often found in creams, serums, lotions, and other products you’d use after cleansing, but there are some ceramide cleansers out there, too.

Benzoyl peroxide, AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids), BHA (beta hydroxy acid): Benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid (BHA), and glycolic acid (AHA) are a few ingredients found in skincare products you can buy over the counter that might help clear out excess oil in your pores and treat mild acne breakouts.⁷ These can be irritating to dry and sensitive skin, however, so we recommend trying a custom formula like Curology to fight breakouts instead!

Ingredients to avoid in a cleanser

Alcohol: Alcohol is unfortunately used in a lot of skincare products, even though it dries out the skin and can damage its protective barrier!⁸ Watch out for alcohol—usually listed as “denatured alcohol” or “alcohol denat.”—on the ingredients list of your products, especially if your skin seems dry, red, tight, itchy, or irritated after using it.

Isopropyl myristate, sodium laureth sulfate, myristyl myristate, and laureth-4: You’ll want to look at the ingredients list because these pore-clogging ingredients are pretty common.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): SLS can often dry out the skin, and some people find it may lead to more acne when their skin is in frequent contact with SLS. Many people can tolerate SLS in body washes, though—just don’t use it on your face.

Products not labeled with terms “non-comedogenic”, “non-acnegenic”, “does not clog pores”, or “won’t cause breakouts.” The label “non-comedogenic” (or similar) indicates that the product has been designed with acne-prone people in mind. It’s no guarantee of safety, but it can be a useful guideline! We recommend checking even products labeled non-comedogenic for pore-clogging or irritating ingredients.

The key takeaways

  • The best face wash for you will depend on your skin type: normal, oily, dry, or combination.

  • Hyaluronic acid, ceramides, benzoyl peroxide, and hydroxy acids are all cleanser ingredients to look for.

  • However, skip cleansers with alcohol (too drying) and ingredients that can cause acne.

  • Oil-based cleansers can be helpful for dry, sensitive skin, but watch out for pore-clogging ingredients!

  • Curology has two non-comedogenic, dermatologist-designed cleansers: the Gentle Cleanser for everyday use and the Acne Cleanser to help fight blemishes.

When in doubt, custom skincare is what it’s about

If you’re having trouble finding the right solution for your unique skin type, it might be time to add on a custom formula of prescription ingredients with Curology. Your Curology Custom FormulaRx* is made with up to 3 proven, acne-busting ingredients picked for you, which can include tretinoin, azelaic acid, clindamycin, and more.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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To get started, just take a quick skin quiz and snap a few selfies.** If Curology is right for you, you’ll be paired with one of our licensed dermatology providers to prescribe your custom formula designed to help you meet your skincare goals. They can also answer any questions you might have and recommend complementary products for your routine.

FAQs

What is the very best face wash?

Everyone’s skin is unique, so there’s no one best product. The best face wash for you will depend on your skin type⁹ —whether that's oily, dry, normal, or combination. Listening to your skin’s needs and adjusting your choice accordingly will give you the best results.

What is the best dermatologist-recommended face wash?

We recommend our dermatologist-designed Gentle Cleanser for most skin types. Formulated with anti-inflammatory oat extract, this sulfate-free face wash soothes as you cleanse while helping keep your skin barrier balanced and healthy.

Which face wash is best for healthy skin?

We might be biased, but we recommend our lightly foaming Gentle Cleanser. Its gel texture is made for all skin types but is especially loved by those with sensitive skin. It features glycerin to help hydrate and oat extract to soothe and balance skin.

What is the most effective face wash for acne-prone skin?

Our dermatology providers recommend the Acne Cleanser. The Acne Cleanser is formulated with a lower level of 2.5% benzoyl peroxide (BPO) to treat and help prevent acne, while still being gentle enough for daily use. It also contains calming ingredients to further reduce the risk of dryness that comes with other acne cleansers.

Is it OK to use facial cleanser every day?

Yes, it’s perfectly okay to use a facial cleanser every day! In fact, it’s recommended to cleanse your face twice daily: once in the morning to remove any oils that have built up overnight, and once at night to clean away the day’s dirt and makeup.

P.S. We did the homework, so you don’t have to:

  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Skin Care Tips Dermatologists Use. (n.d.).

  2. Endly, D.C. and Miller, R.A. Oily Skin: A review of Treatment Options. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (August 2017).

  3. Gade, A., et al. Xeroderma. StatPearls. (2023, October 29).

  4. Juncan, A.M., et al. Advantages of Hyaluronic Acid and Its Combination with Other Bioactive Ingredients in Cosmeceuticals. Molecules. (August 2021).

  5. Juncan, A.M., et al. Advantages of Hyaluronic Acid and Its Combination with Other Bioactive Ingredients in Cosmeceuticals. Molecules. Ibid.

  6. Harwood, A., et al. Moisturizers. StatPearls. (2022, August 21).

  7. Decker, A. and Graber, E.M. Over-the-counter Acne Treatments: A Review. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (May 2012).

  8. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Your Winter Skin Survival Kit. (2021, May 27).

  9. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Skin Care Tips Dermatologists Use. Ibid.

Nicole Hangsterfer is a licensed physician assistant at Curology. She obtained her masters in physician assistant studies at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern in Chicago, IL.

*Restrictions apply. See website for full details and important safety information.

**Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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