When it comes to skincare, we believe in keeping it simple—and the American Academy of Dermatology thinks so, too.¹ So let’s simplify the most basic step in any skincare routine: washing your face.
Washing your face isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. With so many skincare products on the market, it’s not always easy to know which ones are best for you. But we think you can take a lot of the guesswork out of it, especially if you have normal or combination skin. We’ve whipped up this in-depth guide of some of the best cleansers for normal skin (and a couple of links for oily and dry skin, too), including products we recommend based on our in-house dermatologists’ criteria for non-pore-clogging, non-irritating ingredients.
“Normal” is a loaded word. Everyone’s skin is unique, so what does it mean to have “normal” skin? A better word for it might be balanced: skin that isn’t too oily, dry, or sensitive. "Skin type tends to vary depending on the location on your face, and skin type often changes throughout one's lifetime,” explains Dr. Julie Akiko Gladsjo, a board-certified dermatologist at Curology. “That said, normal skin is often described as having no signs of dry flakes or shiny oil. Skin tends to feel smooth and is not overly reactive.” Individuals with normal skin can still experience breakouts, but breakouts may not be an ongoing issue for them.
If this describes your skin, count yourself among the lucky ones! We know it isn’t easy to narrow it down, no matter what your skin type. But normal skin leaves you with plenty of skincare product options.
Wash your face gently, wait an hour, then check out your skin in the mirror.
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, so check the sheet each time you blot to see which part of your face is oilier.
Wait another 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. Here’s how your skin will look and feel, depending on your skin type:
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!)
Knowing which type of facial cleanser is right for you is daunting! The best skin cleansers should do a few things: remove any makeup, remove excess oil, and balance your skin. These five types of cleansers have specific textures and are what you’ll commonly find in the skincare aisle at your local retailer. Each texture has slightly different properties, making some better for sensitive skin and others better at removing makeup. Regardless of the texture you choose, look for fragrance-free products that are free of pore-clogging ingredients.
Milky lotion cleanser: This is often recommended for sensitive or acne-prone skin. It’s less likely to irritate your skin but still powerful enough to clean. Milky cleansers are formulated using emollient-rich ingredients and help remove dirt, makeup, and excess oils.
Gel cleanser: Try cleansing gel if you’re looking for an all-around, no-frills cleanser. Gels are commonly advertised as foaming cleansers. These foaming face washes have a sudsy quality. While they can work for all skin types, they’re often recommended for those with acne-prone skin because of their gentle nature and deep cleansing property to rid the skin of excess oil. Look at the ingredients before using, though. Some foaming cleansers contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which can dry and irritate your skin—more on that later.
Cleansing balm or oil: Cleansing balms and cleansing oils are perfect for breaking down SPF or a full face of makeup—including hard-to-remove eye makeup. They’re often formulated using natural oils that shouldn’t irritate the skin. Cleansing balms are applied to dry skin and removed with warm water after they work their magic.
Cream cleanser: Cream cleansers are a great option for your winter skincare routine or if your skin is on the dryer side. These facial cleansers are usually designed to hydrate and are gentle enough to work with any skin type. They gently remove dirt, sweat, makeup, and excess oil while moisturizing your skin.
Clay cleanser: Clays are a trendy option formulated to draw impurities from the skin. The powerful absorbing capabilities of clay deeply cleanse and brighten your skin without irritation. It draws out excess sebum from your pores. Different clays may have absorbent, exfoliating, and astringent properties, which may be perfect when you need a deeper clean or your skin feels extra oily.
Washing your face doesn’t mean just splashing on water and rubbing cleanser around. Here are some guidelines to washing your face that can make a difference in your appearance.²
Don’t use abrasive products. Okay, this seems obvious, but most of us have fallen for sugar scrubs with lavender flowers and oatmeal, or we’ve purchased products containing microbeads, which are not only terrible for the environment but can also be too harsh or skin, or alcohol (more on that in a minute). Avoid using scrubs regularly.
Use your fingertips. Avoid harsh washcloths and cleansing brushes (especially if you have sensitive skin). Splash lukewarm water on your face and use your fingertips to lather and gently massage the cleanser onto your face.
Limit washing to once or twice a day. No matter how gentle your cleanser is, keep its use to a minimum. Use water to wash off sweat in the middle of the day.
Use lukewarm (not hot) water. As tempting as it is to use hot water, don’t. Hot water can increase skin sensitivity, dry out your skin, and strip it of natural oils—your skin’s protective coat.
Cleanse for about 30-60 seconds. To properly remove dirt, oil, and makeup, it takes longer than a few seconds to properly cleanse the face. There isn’t an exact time recommendation, but 30-60 seconds should be plenty.
Gently pat your face dry with a towel. Pat, don’t rub. And avoid that worn-out terry-cloth face towel. Pat dry using a microfiber cloth or soft towel.
We should also mention that your skincare routine can change with the seasons. During the summer months, your skin might be oilier and require slightly different cleansers. We're often more prone to dry skin in the winter, so your winter skincare routine should do what it can to lubricate and moisturize your skin without drying it out more. And no matter what season it is, a good skincare routine includes a cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen with at least SPF 30. You can also use serums after cleansing and before moisturizing to address specific skin concerns, like anti-aging, redness, or blemishes.
Curology’s cleanser is designed to work for any skin type: it’s gentle enough for sensitive skin but cleans deeply enough for normal or oily skin. Our in-house dermatologists made sure our cleanser was formulated with non-comedogenic ingredients, free of parabens, sulfates, fragrances, and dyes, so it includes nothing unnecessary. Our cleanser is formulated using hyaluronic acid and glycerin. Hyaluronic acid acts as a humectant, helping the skin hold onto water.
One of the great things about having “normal” skin is that care is pretty straightforward—and we believe in keeping skincare simple for everyone.
If you have another favorite cleanser that your skin likes, feel free to continue using it. If you’re ready to try something different, we’ve got a few more face wash options for you to try.
We also recommend…
Alcohol. Unfortunately, many skincare products use alcohol (specifically alcohol denat), even though it can dry out the skin and may damage the skin barrier (which contains ceramides). Ceramides are lipids found in skin cells that are critical for maintaining skin barrier function. Ceramides are important for retaining moisture and preventing germs from entering the body. Watch out for alcohol (usually listed as “denatured alcohol” or “alcohol denat”) on the ingredients list, especially if your skin seems dry, red, tight, itchy, or irritated after using it. Some products have alcohol at the end of the ingredients list, which likely means there’s not much in the product. In that case, it may not irritate the skin, but it’s probably good to avoid it whenever possible.
Isopropyl myristate, myristyl myristate, and laureth-4. You’ll want to look at the ingredients list because these pore-clogging ingredients are pretty common. Avoid them whenever possible.
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). SLS can lead to dryness, and some people find it may lead to more acne. Many people can tolerate SLS in body washes, but we generally suggest avoiding it in your face cleanser.
Products not labeled with the 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—sometimes, a product labeled “non-comedogenic” will still contain a pore-clogging ingredient, but it’s a useful guideline. We recommend checking products labeled non-comedogenic for pore-clogging or irritating ingredients, just in case.
We highly recommend you review your current skincare products' ingredients' comedogenicity (potential for blocking pores). To help simplify reviewing your current skincare products and to help minimize the chances of using a product with pore-clogging abilities, we put together a list of common pore-clogging ingredients. Google the product to find its ingredient list, then check your products’ ingredients to ensure they don’t contain any pore-clogging ingredients.
Micellar water is a secret one-minute shortcut to clean skin. A skincare staple from French pharmacies, the particles in this water draw makeup, dirt, and excess sebum (oil) right out of the pores—so it’s perfect for removing makeup or simply freshening up your face. A few drops on a cotton pad will gently remove oil, dirt, and makeup in a hot minute. We recommend the micellar makeup remover by Curology for all skin types. If you’re looking for another option, the Bioderma Sensibio H2O also works well.
Even if you have “normal” skin, you might want to prevent or minimize the signs of aging or nip the occasional breakout in the bud. Whether you’d like to prevent wrinkles, reduce hyperpigmentation from sun damage, or improve your skin’s texture, you can do it with a custom formula containing active ingredients from Curology.
If you haven’t given us a try already, sign up for a free trial (you just pay $4.95 for shipping and handling) to get your very own custom cream! Just apply it at night after cleansing your face, and let it do the work while you get some beauty sleep.
A better word for it might be balanced: skin that isn’t too oily, dry, or sensitive. “Normal skin is often described as having no signs of dry flakes or shiny oil. Skin tends to feel smooth and is not overly reactive”, Dr. Julie Akiko Gladsjo, dermatologist at Curology.
Wash your face gently, wait an hour, then check out your skin in the mirror.
Pat a blotting paper on each area of your face: T-zone, forehead, chin, and cheeks. Check the sheet each time you blot to see which part of your face is oilier.
Wait another 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.
To help simplify reviewing your current skincare products, we put together a list of common pore-clogging ingredients. Google the product to find its ingredient list, then check your products’ ingredients to ensure they don’t contain any pore-clogging ingredients.
American Academy of Dermatology. Skin Care Tips Dermatologists Use. (n.d.).
American Academy of Dermatology. Face Washing 101. (n.d.).
This article was originally published on October 21, 2020, and updated on July 12, 2022.
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Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C