12 Best Cleansers: My Top Picks for Every Skin Type

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I pick the best by skin type & list them here from cheap to steep

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You can get a great basic face wash from any drugstore, but if you want the best, you can pay for it. I've done the research and found the very best cleansers and face washes on the market right now for 5 different skin types.

You'll find drugstore brands, boutique brands, luxury brands and some great organic picks.

I sort of have a rule that you don't need to spend a lot of money on a facial cleanser because why pay the big bucks for something that stays on your face for seconds? Plus, we journalists know that many drugstore brands are owned by luxury brands and include the same ingredients just in less fancy packaging.

But I'm guilty as others of falling in love with the luxury products and the way they make my skin feel. So really, it's all about finding the right cleanser for you at the price you're willing to pay.

You won't find a face wash in this list that's not universally beloved, but keep in mind that what works for one person won't work for everyone. The biggest secret to finding a great facial cleanser is choosing one that's formulated for your skin type: dry, oily, combination, sensitive or blemished. Unfortunately, few women really know their skin type. I explain how to tell exactly what yours is in my article, How to Tell What Type of Skin You Have.

Let's get started on this list, starting with my obsession, then moving on from the least expensive cleansers on up....

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Best Cleansing Oil for Dry, Aging Skin: Tracie Martyn Amla Purifying Cleanser

Tracie Martyn Amla Cleanser. Amazon

Buy it online from Amazon

When Goop's new beauty editor, the renowned Jean Godfrey June, mentioned in Goop that she only cleanses her skin with oils. I thought, "yes."

You see, I do, too. I only recently learned of the benefits of cleansing with oils. As someone who writes about beauty, I already knew how wonderful oils could be for moisturizing the face and body. And then I was introduced to Tracie Martyn Amla Purifying Cleanser while shopping in ABC Home and Carpet in NYC.

They sell some beauty products there and I was on a tear looking for hyaluronic acid products when I stumbled upon the Tracie Martyn counter. Long story short, the salesperson (who was a long-time Tracie Martyn product junkie and obsessee) sold me on this Amla cleanser and $65 later, I was the owner of my own bottle.

I've been using it now for quite some time (along with a few other Tracie Martyn products and the hyaluronic acid product my dermatologist recommended) and it's my new obsession. My drying, aging skin problems have cleared up. No more flaky skin. No more grease face from Pond's (my long-time love), no more tight skin feeling from the other cleansers I've tried that are really not for dry skin.

Pro tip: don't use 3 squirts as recommended. Use only 1. The product will last a long time. 

This is just one of many amazing oil cleansers. I list many more in my list of the Best Cleansing Oils for the Face. 

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Best Cleanser for Oily to Normal Skin: Purpose Gentle Cleansing Wash, $4.99

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Buy it online from Amazon

My beauty cabinet is full of cleansers from some of the priciest boutique brands, but the cleanser I use every day for years doesn't cost $60 or even $30, it costs $6 at the average drugstore. When my friend Laura spotted my bottle of Purpose Gentle Cleansing Wash in my bathroom, she emerged laughing. She couldn't believe THIS was my cleanser of choice. I had to explain that you don't need a lot of bells and whistles in a good cleanser.

This soap-free, oil-free liquid lathers away dirt, makeup and oil but can be drying on dry skin. I found as I got older, I needed a creamier cleanser, so I no longer use this on my dehydrated skin but I still recommend it for oily to normal skin types.

Purpose makes most of the "Best" lists in magazines and is recommended by dermatologists, including the expert I turn to, Dr. Maryann Mikhail.

See my list of the Best Affordable Facial Cleansers: 13 Under $10.

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Best Cleanser for Sensitive Skin: Olay Foaming Face Wash, $4.99

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Olay Foaming Face Wash, Sensitive Skin. Olay

Buy it online from Amazon

This basic drugstore cleanser works well for sensitive skin because it contains no harsh ingredients that will inflame skin.

See my list of the Best Affordable Facial Cleansers: 13 Under $10.

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Best Cleanser for Acne: Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash, $5.49

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Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash, Acne Treatment. Neutrogena

Buy it online from Amazon

Neutrogena is one of the best drugstore beauty brands, hands-down, and you can't go wrong with this simple acne wash for acne-stricken skin. It's an Allure Magazine Reader Choice Awards winner, as well. Readers love it because the salicylic acid gel is gentle and soothing -- spiked with aloe and chamomile. It also dries out breakouts without drying out sensitive, irritable skin, according to Allure.

See more cleansers for acne-prone skin.

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Best Moisturizing Cleanser for Dry Skin: Pond's Cold Cream, $6

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Buy it online from Amazon

Women with dry skin might do like the French (and my editor and me) and use a cold cream like Pond's cold cream cleanser to cleanse the face instead of cleansers rinsed off with water.

For years the French have have opted for super moisturizing cold creams. You simply massage this in and then wipe off with a tissue or a warm washcloth and you're left with super soft skin. It removes makeup without leaving skin feeling "tight." Plus, because you aren't using water to rinse the face, you might be saving your skin from the drying effects of water.

The dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross did a major study on water and its effect on skin and he found that the heavy metals in tap water can actually ruin the benefits expensive lotions and serums do for skin. Some cities (New York and L.A., for example) have worse water than others (Seattle, for example). While some dermatologists aren't buying his claims, (Patricia Wexler for one), you can fight the drying effects of water on skin by cleansing with cold cream, a practice common with European women. 

It gets 5 out of 5 stars on Drugstore.com.

Buy it online from Amazon or make your own cold cream with this recipe.

Also don't miss The Best Cleansers for Dry Skin.

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Best Cleanser for Dry to Normal Skin: Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser, $10.79

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Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser. Cetaphil

Buy it online from Amazon

Just as there are no bells and whistles with Purpose above, there are none with this baby-mild product that renowned dermatologists swear by. So why is this $10 cleanser such a must-have? It's creamy, simple and isn't loaded with chemicals or perfumes that can irritate the skin. Cetaphil products are revered in the industry and their cleanser is one of the best drugstore buys out there. Period.

Don't miss The Best Cleansers for Dry Skin.

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Best Cleanser for Oily Skin: Clinique Wash-Away Gel Cleanser, $20

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Clinique Wash-Away Gel Cleanser. Clinique

Buy it online from Amazon

Gel cleansers work well for oily skin because they absorb excess oils. This classic cleanser can be a bit drying, so test the product before you buy.

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Best Overall Cleanser for All Skin Types: Philosophy Purity Made Simple, $24

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Philosophy Purity Made Simple. Philosophy

Buy it online from Amazon

This facial cleanser is hugely popular on Amazon.com, on Sephora's Website and is a Readers Choice Winner for Allure Magazine. Users report it washes off every speck of dirt and makeup while leaving skin super soft and moisturized like a lotion. It's simple and effective and it doesn't get much more perfect than that.

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Best Cleanser for Combination Skin: Boscia Purifying Cleansing Gel, $26

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Boscia Purifying Cleansing Gel. Boscia

Buy it online from Amazon

Perhaps one of the most popular cleansers for combination skincare on the market today, Boscia's purifying cleansing gel works best for oily to normal skin types. It works by gently cleansing skin without stripping it and adding harsh elements to the skin. It can be a tad drying, so it works best on women with more oily spots than dry spots. You can also use it to cleanse your oily T-zone, but keep it away from your dry spots, where you may want to moisturize more.

See my full list of the best cleansers for combination skin.

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Best Organic Cleanser: Dr. Hauschka Cleansing Cream, $30

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Dr. Hauschka Cleansing Cream. Dr. Hauschka

Buy it online from Amazon

I get asked all the time about my favorite organic skincare products (find my full list here). It seems everyone is worried about putting toxins in and on their bodies. So for cleansers, I recommend Dr. Hauschka's Cleansing Cream. Organic and void of chemicals, the Dr. Hauschka line is super popular among those concerned with healthy skin. So what's in this magic cleanser? Sweet almond meal and extracts of anthyllis, calendula, chamomile and St. John's wort. This cleanser gently exfoliates while adding moisture to skin, which makes it great for aging skin, dry skin and combination skin.

And if this doesn't sell you, consider that this cleanser is mentioned in numerous articles as The Cleanser of Choice for some of NY's coolest women in the style industry.

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The Most Beloved Makeup Remover: Bioderma Sensibio H2o Micelle Solution, $34

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Buy it online from Amazon

One of my favorite beauty blogs Into the Gloss interviews dozens of amazing women on their beauty routine every year and this makeup remover was mentioned as a favorite by no fewer than 23 of these women. It's a cult favorite that you don't really read about in magazines or via beauty editors. 

Here's how it works: soak a cotton pad with Crealine H2o Micelle or Sensibio H2O and cleanse the face and eyes to  remove any makeup. Repeat the application until the cotton pad remains clean. 

Reviewers on Amazon.com and other sites swear by this stuff.

Another great way to remove makeup -- even waterproof -- is with an oil-based cleanser. See my picks in the Best Cleansing Oils for the Face. 

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Best Organic Alpha-Hydroxy Cleanser: MyChelle Fruit Enzyme Cleanser, $37

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MyChelle Fruit Enzyme Cleanser. MyChelle

Buy MyChelle online from Amazon

One of the secrets to great skin is to use an alpha-hydroxy acid cleanser. AHAs are made up of fruit enzymes, the acids of which unclog pores and help increase cell turnover without any harsh man-made ingredients.

MyChelle's Fruit Enzyme Cleanser is the best one I've researched. Reviewers love it because it contains the antioxidant Turmeric, which naturally calms skin down from any signs of irritation. 

Get the full list of Best Facial Cleansers for Acne-Prone Skin.

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Best Overall Organic Cleanser: Dr. Alkaitis Organic Facial Cleanser, $65

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Dr. Alkaitis Organic Purifying Facial Cleanser. Dr. Alkaitis

Buy it online from Amazon

Pretty pricey at about $65, Dr. Alkaitis's facial cleanser is worth the money because you don't need much for a wonderful cleanse and you're assured you're using one of the most renowned natural products on the market today.

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Next: The Best Facial Moisturizers

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Well, if you made it all the way here, you must have liked something you saw (or read). And the good news is there's much more information on this site about skincare.

Check out these goodies (I'm particularly fond of them):

  • How to Wash Your Face Properly
  • How to Cleanse Your Face the Expert Way
  • Can You Skip Washing Your Face in the Morning?
  • How to Tell What Type of Skin You Have