Choosing the Right Face Wash

Picking the right face wash is an important part of designing your skin care regimen.  Different skin types have different needs when you wash your face, so there is no one size fits all best choice here.  Consider what you want from your facial cleanser.  Do you need to remove make up with it?  Will you be using it more than once a day to combat oily skin?  Do you prefer natural or organic ingredients?  Is your face prone to drying out?  Does your skin need exfoliation?  Do you have acne or wrinkles?


Most face washes, which come in bars and liquid/gels, cleanse with synthetic detergents and surfactants.  These substances are affordable and work really well to clean skin.  Recently, there has been a lot of discussion in skin care communities about the possibility of irritation from these detergents, specifically sulfates.  While some people may have difficulty with these ingredients, most do not have any problems.  These are very common ingredients that many of us have been using since childhood.  However, if you feel your skin is left dry or irritated by traditional cleansers, you may need to experiment with other options to find the right products for you.

Sodium laurel sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Ether Sulfate (SLES) are the most commonly seen sulfates.  Because of the bad press associated with the word sulfate, many people are scanning their face wash labels and not buying products that contain them.  In response, some manufacturers are now using sulfonates, like Olefin Sulfonate.  These ingredients are just as harsh as the sulfates or possibly more so, but are perceived by the consumer to be mild alternatives. Some gentle options are available though.  Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate or other Isethionates are high foaming and mild.  Decyl Glucoside is a gentle corn based surfactant, but can have a high pH.

The way the face wash is formulated can cause more problems than the specific detergent itself.  For example, not all detergents actually foam up, so a different ingredient may be added to produce suds.  Don’t hesitate to try a different cleanser with the similar ingredients because it might work totally differently for you.    If you need a facial wash with more mild ingredients, you may need a different type of cleanser, like a cream or natural soap.

Cream Cleansers

Sometimes a face wash won’t foam at all.  Cold creams or cream cleansers can remove dirt and makeup without stripping the skin of it’s own natural oils.  Cold creams are often thought of as a “grandma’s cleanser,” because they are well suited for aging skin.  But French women of all ages have preferred them for years because they are so moisturizing.  Some women remember aunts and grandmothers that have noticeably younger looking skin after using cold creams for decades.

Even if you don’t want to stop using a “normal” detergent based face wash, you can still incorporate cream cleansers into your routine.  And yes, even if you have acne prone skin.  Some people just use creams to remove make up and then follow up with their regular face wash.  It can be use as a weekly treatment instead of ever day.  If you have oily skin or are worried about residue, follow up with a toner or straight witch hazel.

Cold creams have been around for 2000 years.  It’s a shame that they aren’t being used as often now, because they are truly wonderful to moisturize and cleanse skin gently at the same time.  Try a cream cleanser, especially if you have aging, dry, or sensitive skin.

Exfoliating Cleansers

Some facial cleansers contain chemical and manual exfoliators like apricot, jojoba beads, or hydroxy acids.  These help smooth and polish the skin.  Apricot scrubs have become very popular, but they can be a bit much for dry or sensitive skin.  If you like exfoliation, don’t rely on a face wash as your only source for polishing.  It can be a great addition, but shouldn’t replace a microdermabrasion system or chemical peel.

Natural Options

There are natural face cleansers available for people who cannot or don’t want to use synthetics.  The most common is pure soap.  Not all bars or gels are technically soap, most contain detergents and are labeled with terms like body bars or face wash.  To be considered soap, it must contain oil, water, and an alkali without any added detergents.  Castille soap is a gentle choice and is readily available.  It comes in bars and liquid forms.  Liquid soap is usually milder because it has a lower pH.

You can also try a clay and grain based natural facial wash.  They are often dry and you mix them with water to create a mud, which you apply as a mask.  Most contain clays like green and kaolin clay along with oatmeal and other botanicals.  Some have ingredients like apricot or adzuki powder for exfoliation.

There is often a lot of trial and error when you’re choosing the best face wash for your skin.  Dry, aging, or sensitive skin can be irritated by a detergent based face cleanser and may need to seek out natural alternatives or try cold creams.  But don’t be afraid of surfactants or detergents because you’ve heard bad things, try them for yourself.