It’s easy to think that a face wash and a face cleanser are the same, but they actually both have different functions. Whilst they do both work to remove dirt and impurities from your face, the way that they clean skin is different. Below, we investigate the differences between a face wash and cleanser and find out which one you should be using for your skin type. 

What Does a Face Wash Do?

Face washes are water-based and usually formulated as a gel, foam or bar. When used on damp skin, it will lather into a foamy texture that works to clean pores and deeply cleanse the skin. Face washes need to be rinsed thoroughly with water to remove all the residue from the skin.  

Face washes penetrate the deeper layers of skin for an intense clean. They often include astringent ingredients, which tighten pores and combat oil production. This means they rarely have moisturizing or hydrating qualities but will instead leave mattified skin. 

What Does a Face Cleanser Do?

Face cleansers usually come in a gel, cream, oil, or bar formulation. Cleansers clean the skin, removing dirt, makeup, and excess oils, but they also hydrate and soothe. Cleansers are usually more gentle than a face wash and will have a richer texture. 

Cleansers are often combined with other ingredients to nourish skin, giving moisture and hydration whilst also balancing the complexion. 

Should You Use a Face Wash or a Face Cleanser?

Face washes can be beneficial for oily or acne-prone skin, thanks to the way they deeply clean pores and remove excess oil. However, care should be taken – if the face wash is too harsh, it could strip the skin and result in more sebum being produced, leaving skin more oily. 

Those with dry, sensitive, combination or neutral skin types may find that face washes are too severe for them and will leave their skin too dry and tight. A face cleanser will provide a more gentle clean, removing impurities but also hydrating and nourishing skin. 

Those with oily skin could also benefit from a face cleanser, especially if using a face wash leaves their skin feeling dry and uncomfortable. It may be that a combination of both works best, with a cleanser used in the morning and a face wash at night to thoroughly remove dirt from the day. 

Ingredients to Look for in Your Face Washes and Cleansers

Face washes that contain salicylic acid are particularly effective at combatting acne, as the ingredient will help to exfoliate pores. Green tea extract is another ingredient to look for in face washes. This natural ingredient can help to control excess oil production in the skin for a balanced complexion. 

When looking for a facial cleanser, choose formulas that contain glycerin, as this will hydrate skin and prevent moisture loss. Also look for cleansers that contain niacinamide, as this will boost the skin’s natural barrier whilst also cleansing and firming. 

Ingredients to Avoid in Your Face Washes and Cleansers

When choosing a face wash or face cleanser, you should avoid those that contain sulfates. Sulfates are used to form a lather, but they can irritate the skin and cause it to dry out. They can be especially harmful to those with sensitive skin, causing redness and itching. 

You should also avoid face washes and cleansers that contain parabens and phthalates. Parabens are used as preservatives to keep the formulas fresh, and phthalates are salts that are used to help formulas spread evenly. However, both can cause disruption of hormones and there is also a concern about their link with increasing the risk of cancer. 

You should also try to avoid cleansers that contain mineral oil. This type of oil can clog pores by trapping dead skin cells and other impurities in the pores, which can lead to breakouts.

The Best Way to Wash Your Face

How often you wash your face will depend on your lifestyle. It’s usually best to wash your face twice a day – once in the morning and once at night. You might want to add in an extra cleanse after exercise to remove the dirt from sweating. It’s best not to over-cleanse your face as this can damage the top layer of skin as well as drying you out. 

Before you wash your face, make sure your hands are clean. Some face washes or cleansers will require your skin to be dry, whilst others will work best on damp skin – many jelly cleansers will remove makeup better when used on dry skin. Either way, gently massage the product into your skin, working outwards in small circles. Then rinse thoroughly with warm, not hot, water.