At Curology, our opinion on cleansers skews toward “It’s Complicated.” So many cleansers out there have ingredients that can hurt more than they help your skin, such as fragrance (irritating), coconut oil (pore-clogging), and salicylic acid (drying/irritating). We’ve whipped up this guide with everything you need to know about cleansing your face.
You can use a cleanser or just wash with plain water. Sometimes, swiping a cotton pad soaked with micellar water is all you need (read more on micellar water below).
Whatever cleanser you try, pay attention to how your skin reacts to it. There are some pretty obvious signs it isn’t working for you.
After you use it, does your face:
Look shiny and feel tight?
Get red and/or stingy?
No matter what cleanser you use, here’s our professional advice: don’t wash your face with hot water. When hot water hits your face, it can strip your skin of its natural moisture barrier, leaving your skin damaged and vulnerable. Wash your face with lukewarm water—your skin will thank you.
If you like to take piping-hot showers, try turning it down a notch when washing your face. Or wash your face over the sink with lukewarm water before or after your shower.
Micellar water is a quick, easy, gentle way to cleanse your face, remove makeup, or freshen up if your face feels oily. It’s a non-rinse, soap-free cleanser, made of tiny oil molecules called micelles suspended in soft water. Micellar water pulls dirt, excess sebum, and makeup out of your skin, all in one step – and leaves skin slightly moisturized, too!
Micellar water is both gentle and effective enough for all skin types. Though if you have oily skin, you may want to use a regular face cleanser after using micellar water to remove makeup, just to make sure your skin’s been fully cleansed.
Curology makes a micellar makeup remover that’s pretty great. The micellar makeup remover by Curology is the Swiss army knife of makeup removal. It cleanses, removes makeup, and moisturizes all in one step by using tiny particles—micelles — that pull the dirt and oil out of your skin. Curology members can add it to their box for $8. New around here? You can try dermatologist-designed products recommended by our skin experts for free.
Bioderma Sensibo H2O – for normal, sensitive, dry, or acne-prone skin
Bioderma Sébium H2O – for oily skin
Bioderma Hydrabio H2O – for extra-dry skin
Bioderma Sensibio H2O Wipes – for cleansing on-the go
Cleansing Spa Water by Koh Gen Do – contains lactic acid, which can be good for oily and acne-prone skin that can stand up to some subtle exfoliation
Cleansing oil is good option for those with dry skin. Counterintuitive though it may be, certain oils are super-effective at cleansing your skin of both makeup and excess oil without stripping, drying, or irritating. Think of it this way: water and oil don’t mix, and not only does skin get oily, but lots of makeup is oil-based, as well. 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.
Whatever you do, don’t use coconut oil to cleanse your face — it can clog your pores!
A good gentle cleanser is hard to find. As a general rule, you want a cleanser that’s labeled fragrance-free and hypoallergenic. Curology's cleanser is both, plus it balances and soothes your skin with anti-inflammatory oat extract, and keeps your skin hydrated with a combination of plant sugars that creates a unique moisture-locking barrier effect. You can get our cleanser when you upgrade your Curology subscription to the set, which also includes our moisturizer and the custom formula, delivered right to your door!
The above cleansers are other good options. If you have another favorite cleanser that your skin likes, especially if is labeled gentle or formulated for sensitive skin, it is likely fine to continue.
Do be aware that ingredients such as botanical extracts and essential oils can be irritating for some skin types—”natural” treatments are not necessarily better for your skin. The takeaway here is: you’ll want to check out the ingredients before you use.
If you’re using bar soap, store it on a holder with perforations so that it doesn’t stay damp, and give the bar a quick rinse before you use it. Use it every day to cleanse anywhere on your body prone to breakouts, and leave it on for a minute or so before rinsing off.
If you're a Curology subscriber, you can also try our salicylic acid acne body wash, which is tough on acne, yet gentle enough to use every day.
If you want to take the guesswork out of cleansing, sign up for a free trial of Curology.
You’ll be paired with one of our in-house medical providers who can prescribe you a custom cream with a mix of 3 ingredients for your unique skin, plus our cleanser and your choice of moisturizer for no extra cost. Just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover the cost of shipping and handling on your first month of custom skincare.*
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.
Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Trial is 30 days + $4.95 shipping and handling.