Why Your Facial Cleanser Matters


All soap is not created equal, especially when it comes to your face. Here’s why you need a specific cleanser for that mug (hint: it's called cleanser!)

At first glance you may think all soaps are created equal. “Soap is soap,” you think as you smear hand soap on your face. “Body wash works just fine,” you say to yourself in the shower. You may skip washing your face completely, as many men do, splashing a bit of water on your face and moving on.

Some would argue that washing your face with anything is better than not washing your face at all, but that might not actually be the case. Using the wrong soap may cause more harm than good. The skin on your face has different needs than the rest of your skin: it can be more sensitive, produce more oil, and is more exposed to outside elements (like pollution, humidity, and sun). It takes special care to combat all of these issues. Enter: facial cleansers.

Face cleansers exist for a reason, according to dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. “True soaps have an alkaline pH that can disrupt the outer layer of skin,” he says. “It is important to choose cleansers that are pH balanced to the skin. The acidic pH of skin is known as the acid mantle and it is necessary for proper functioning of the skin cells themselves.”

This is particularly important on your face, where a balanced acid mantle and a robust skin barrier (the layer of healthy oils and lipids that helps protect against outside aggressors), can help prevent issues like breakouts, irritation, and dullness. Facial cleansers are specifically formulated to clean away dirt and grime while still preserving the integrity of the skin.

You know that dry, tight, squeaky feeling you get from using an intense body wash? We’ve been conditioned to associate that feeling with cleanliness, but it’s not something you want on your face. If your face feels tight and dry after washing, the soap you used was too aggressive. Switch to a cleanser that says “gentle” on the bottle. It will clean your face effectively but won’t strip away too much and leave your face feeling squeaky.

There’s a fine balance between over-cleansing and under-cleansing. Once you make the switch, you can be confident you’re putting your best face forward.

A gentle face cleanser of any kind is a good place to start, but “various skin types have different needs,” says Dr. Zeichner. “Your best friend’s cleanser may not be right for you.” If you have sensitive skin, look for a hydrating milk or cream cleanser, which “ are typically not strong enough to fully remove oil from the skin,” he says. For oily or acne-prone skin, he recommends looking for a foaming version with ingredients like salicylic acid to help get rid of excess oil. That, however, may be too strong for sensitive skin.

It’s good to look for a cleanser with natural ingredients as well. Aloe vera helps to soothe and calm irritation, witch hazel is a natural astringent that helps remove oil and control breakouts, and tea tree oil has natural antibacterial qualities. Some face cleansers even contain clay, which helps to draw dirt out from deep inside pores.

Ultimately, facial cleansers are an important part of everyone’s routine, but which one you use depends on personal preference. There’s a fine balance between over-cleansing and under-cleansing and it takes a bit of trial and error to find one that works best for you. Once you make the switch, you can be confident you’re putting your best face forward.


Maapilim Face Cleaner

Aesop Gentle Facial Cleansing Milk

Naturopathica Aloe Cleansing Gel

Biossance Squalane + Tea Tree Cleansing Gel

Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser

Kiehl’s Ultra Facial OilFree Cleanser

Bar Cleanser


Cover Illustration by Aviel Basil