This elite crop of face washes includes award-winning classics, dermatologist favorites, and innovative new formulas that transform the daily task from a chore to a treat.
Cleansing is hardly the most glamorous step in a skin-care lineup, but in many ways, it’s the most important. Whether your skin-care routine consists of a basic wash-and-moisture duo or you indulge in a 10-step ritual that your younger self would probably find very impressive, starting with a fresh canvas is vital. Only after you sweep away all of the dirt, makeup, and excess oil residing on your face, can your skin properly absorb and reap the benefits of all that skin-loving goodness — including, but not limited to, toners, essences, serums, and moisturizers — you layer on afterward.
To make this daily task a little bit more enjoyable, here are 19 refreshingly pampering options at a variety of different price points that do the job seamlessly and wash away without a trace. This elite breed of all-star face cleansers includes Best of Beauty-winning classics and Readers’ Choice gems that are gentle as can be, board-certified dermatologist favorites that pack numerous benefits, and some fancy finds for those who want to give your skin a spa-like treatment.
So, what sets this lineup apart from all other cleansers and puts them in a league of their own? The answer lies in the meticulous formulations that combine dirt-eliminating, makeup-melting cleansers with impressively softening hydration that leaves skin refreshingly clean but never over-stripped. The result is a fresh, supple, and glowy complexion that turns an everyday chore into a twice-daily treat.
Ready to feel more confident when reading your beauty products’ ingredient labels? Enter, the Allure Ingredient Index. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about the most in-demand (and under-the-radar) ingredients in your favorite skin-care products.
Wash a day’s worth of sweat, makeup, and dirt off your face and down the drain without over-stripping your skin of its natural oils with the Rose Ingleton MD SuperFruit Brightening Cleanser. This particular cleanser won a Best of Beauty Award (our most prestigious accolade, by the way) in 2022 for its cooling gel feel and moisturizing dose of hyaluronic acid and pro-vitamin B5. It also breaks down pore-clogging oils and dead skin with the help of chemically-exfoliating acids derived from citrus fruits like orange and lemon.
Usually, facial cleansers are gentle or they take off your makeup, but this gel formula is the best of both worlds. It easily removes a full face of makeup — mascara included — without any scrubbing, tugging at lashes, or post-cleanse cleanup required. The silky, aloe-infused formula also leaves skin softer, clearer, and soothed. Mascara almost melts off and the skin feels softer.
Mamina Turegano, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New Orleans, Louisiana, says Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser “has been a go-to cleanser recommendation by dermatologists for years for those with sensitive skin.” The ingredient list is short and sweet with purified water and glycerin up at the top and doesn’t include common irritants like dyes, fragrances, lanolin, parabens, and more. “If you deal with eczema, extra dryness, or are allergy-prone to various ingredients, try this one,” Dr. Turegano adds.
Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Enzyme Foam Cleanser
Redness is no match for Dr. Jart+’s Cicapair Tiger Grass Enzyme Foam Cleanser. This creamy wash lathers into a satisfying foam that is bursting with the formula’s star ingredient, Centella asiatica (also known as cica), plenty of moisture-boosting glycerin, and other skin-soothing ingredients like heartleaf (an ingredient popular in Korean beauty), soybean peptide, and moringa seed extract. As with any facial cleanser that’s ideal for rosy, sensitive skin, this green-tinted formula is proudly fragrance-free.
Neutrogena Skin Balancing Purifying Gel Cleanser with 2% PHA
Elyse Love, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, recommends Neutrogena’s Skin Balancing Purifying Gel Cleanser with 2% PHA, which clears pores without leaving skin feeling raw. “This is a great cleanser for those with sensitive skin who want to try an exfoliating cleanser,” she notes. “Polyhydroxy acids [PHAs] are less irritating than salicylic or glycolic acid but still provide some gentle exfoliation.”
Carbon Theory Salicylic Acid & Shea Butter Exfoliating Cleansing Bar
Even the biggest bar soap skeptic can admit that the 2022 Allure Best of Beauty-winning Carbon Theory Salicylic Acid & Shea Butter Exfoliating Cleansing Bar is quite impressive. Its $11 price tag is enough to grin about, but we also love the fact that it exfoliates skin with salicylic acid while shea butter conditions — leaving skin feeling buttery smooth.
Obagi Clinical Kinetin+ Exfoliating Cleansing Gel
Dr. Love’s favorite cleanser is Obagi Clinical’s Kinetin+ Exfoliating Cleansing Gel. “My skin always feels polished and refreshed but not irritated or stripped after using [this],” she says. That clean feeling can be attributed to a combination of chemical exfoliation (papaya extract or papain) and physical exfoliation (gentle wax beads). Cosmetic chemist Ginger King previously toldAllure that papaya extract “contains natural vitamin A and vitamin C to further exfoliate and brighten skin,” so the benefits of this fruit know no bounds.
PanOxyl Acne Creamy Wash
Looking to save a few bucks with a drugstore-friendly darling that targets blemishes and prevents future acne from popping up? One of Dr. Turegano’s go-to recommendations for acne-prone skin is the PanOxyl Acne Creamy Wash. Its main active ingredient is four-percent benzoyl peroxide, which kills bacteria as it oxidizes on the skin, while also reducing inflammation, opening pores, and clearing buildup. You can easily use it on your chest and back as well to combat any signs of back acne.
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser
Looking for a no-frills cleanser that gets the job done with rubbing your skin the wrong way — literally? La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser’s creamy, soap-free formula gently whisks away makeup and impurities without stripping your skin. It’s void of common causes of irritation, like fragrance, dyes, and sulfates, but rather includes soothing ceramides, niacinamide, glycerin, and prebiotic thermal water to amp up hydration levels and restore your barrier. Do yourself a favor and shell out the (reasonable) $16 to buy this 2021 Best of Beauty Award winner — and thank us later.
Our dermatologist friends also name this bottle as one of the best face washes on the market. Dr. Love says it’s “a great go-to cleanser for colder months that cleanses skin without stripping the skin” and Dr. Turegano is a fan of this particular formula for dry skin.
CeraVe Acne Control Cleanser
Powered by two percent salicylic acid and oil-absorbing hectorite clay, CeraVe’s Acne Control Cleanser is a gel-to-foam wash that clears dead skin cells, banishes blackheads, and helps prevent new breakouts from popping up.
Adding to the mix is a blend of essential ceramides, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid to restore your barrier and add much-needed hydration to your complexion. One of these bottles — which is a recipient of a 2021 Best of Beauty Award — will surely last you a very long time. We love a bang for our buck.
Mario Badescu Skin Care Cleansing Oil
A 2021 Best of Beauty Award winner, Mario Badescu’s Cleansing Oil has a surprisingly lightweight formula that expels the most stubborn makeup and dirt while soothing your skin after the long day it’s been through. Rice bran and evening primrose oils wash away with ease and leave your skin feeling clean, but not stripped.
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
It’s impossible to talk about all-star cleansers without mentioning Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Cleanser, which has been racking up award wins (seven Best of Beauty and five Readers’ Choice to date), dermatologists’ praise, and mom recommendations since it first hit the scene in 1947. The super-gentle, lotion-like formula is spiked with fatty alcohols that coat the skin to replace that typical post-cleanse tightness with skin-coddling goodness. “If you’re not sure which cleanser to get, try this one,” Dr. Turegano advises. “It’s gentle enough for all skin types.”
Youth to the People Kale + Green Tea Spinach Vitamins Superfood Cleanser
Youth to the People Kale + Green Tea Spinach Vitamins Superfood Cleanser sounds like a cold-pressed juice, smells like apples, and looks like dish detergent, but don’t be fooled, this face wash is something worth talking about — and clearing off some counter space for. The antioxidant-heavy formula is a 2022 Readers’ Choice Award Winner because it’s packed with everything it touts in all caps on the front of the bottle (kale, green tea, spinach, and vitamins — C, E, and K, to be exact). The ingredients work double-time to wash away daily grime, reduce inflammation, and keep skin bright and dewy.
St. Ives Deep Cleanse Cream Wash
Those with oily, combination, or acne-prone skin will appreciate the pore-unclogging abilities of St. Ives’s Deep Cleanse Cream Wash. This Allure Best of Beauty 2022 winner melts and removes dirt, oil, and makeup (yes, even waterproof formulas) through its tea tree oil-infused formula.
First Aid Beauty Pure Skin Face Cleanser
First Aid Beauty’s Pure Skin Face Cleanser is chock-full of antioxidants that help to balance your skin’s natural pH level and aloe to calm and soothe. “This creamy, gentle cleanser also has glycerin, a potent humectant that pulls water into the skin,” notes Ranella Hirsch, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who says it gets your face really and really soft.
Pai Light Work Rosehip Cleansing Oil
Just two to three pumps of Pai’s Light Work Rosehip Cleansing Oil melt away oil-based impurities like waterproof makeup, SPF, and sebum. This 2021 Best of Beauty Award winner contains a nourishing blend of eight oils — at the top of the list are olive, sunflower, and castor oils — that is super gentle on skin and leaves it feeling comfortably clean and plush after it’s rinsed off. Another key ingredient, rosehip fruit extract, contributes to your post-cleanse glow. Follow up with a water-based cleanser and witness just how clean and healthy your skin can look and feel.
Tonymoly I’m Rice Exfoliating Enzyme Cleanser
To combat a duller-than-usual complexion, sud up with Tonymoly’s I’m Rice Exfoliating Enzyme Cleanser to sweep away pore-clogging dead skin cells that are concealing your natural glow. (It just won a 2021 Best of Beauty Award, in case you need more convincing.) It’s a powder-to-paste formula — which activates once it comes into contact with water — packed with rice powder, rice extract, and papaya enzymes for gentle exfoliation that’ll improve your skin’s texture and soothe areas of irritation.
Alpha-H Balancing Cleanser
The ingredient list for Alpha-H’s Balancing Cleanser is pretty short and sweet and highlights aloe vera and vitamin E to calm, repair, and hydrate skin. As a result, this cleanser is perfect for dry, easily irritated skin — but normal, combination, and oily types would also benefit from this rich yet lightweight formula. This 2021 Best of Beauty Award winner also notably balances your skin’s pH levels so there are fewer chances of triggering inflammation or acne.
Skinfix Barrier+ Foaming Clay Cleanser
If you love the way your skin feels after a clay mask, you’ll love the Best of Beauty award-winning Skinfix Barrier+ Foaming Clay Cleanser. Made with two kinds of clay — Brazilian kaolin and Canadian glacial — this creamy cleanser foams up without sulfates to stop excess oil before it clogs your pores and makes sure no trace of makeup is left behind to gunk things up either.
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