Cleanser vs. Face Wash: Which Should I Reach For?








Reference Lab.

JUN 05, 2022



If you don't know: there's a big difference between the face wash and the face cleanser you use daily. While you may have thought the difference between a cleanser and face wash was just a name preference for the brand, it's a lot more complex.

Here's what you need to know about cleansers vs. face washes and how they affect your skin type:

What is the difference between a face wash and a cleanser?

A facial cleanser is designed to do precisely that - cleanse your face. Face cleansers tend to be composed of a more mild formula with hydrating properties that contain a moisturizing agent to soothe sensitive skin. For a hydrating facial cleanser, the formula is typically thicker than a face wash and looks more like a gel or oil.
On the other hand, a face wash is typically a foaming formula with vital ingredients to help deep clean your face and wash off dead skin. This formula digs deeper into the pores and is designed to cut through and eliminate excess oil. Face washes are usually water-based and have a more latherable or foamy consistency.

What are the reasons to use a cleanser?

The benefits of cleansing your face are many, but most importantly, it’s an excellent choice for any skin type: oily skin, dry skin, combination skin, and acne-prone skin can all benefit from a regular cleansing routine. Some even follow a double cleansing routine with an oil cleanser and water-based cleanser. Cleansers tend to be gentle on the skin so that most people can use them daily without irritation. The right daily face cleanser will act as a primer for the rest of your skincare routine to give you glowing skin. But, along with choosing the right product for your skin type, understanding the proper face cleansing steps is a must for optimal results.

What are the reasons to use a face wash?

A face wash provides a deeper clean than a cleanser. This might be necessary for individuals with oily or acne-prone skin. A foaming face wash or face scrub will be able to clean out your pores and remove the impurities that can exacerbate sebum production and build-up.

What does a face cleanser do?

A face cleanser will clean your skin while leaving it feeling nourished and hydrated. The formula doesn't dig as deep into your pores and instead works to balance your complexion. Face cleansers typically don't contain harsh ingredients, so they're a good choice for many skin types. They also have less tendency to disrupt your skin's microbiome and natural lipid layer.

What does a face wash do?

Think of a face wash as a deep clean for your face. It will help you get rid of all that extra dirt and build-up inside your pores, but potentially at the expense of your skin's barrier function and natural lipid layer.

Should I use a face cleanser or face wash for my skin type?

A face cleanser is a choice that all skin types can benefit from. Even if you have acne-prone skin and use a face wash every night before bed, it can be a great idea to alternate with a cleanser in the morning to help balance your complexion and give your skin a break from harsh ingredients.
Because face washes tend to contain strong ingredients, it's always a good idea to give them a test before using them consistently to see how your skin reacts.

How do the ingredients differ between cleansers and face washes?

Face washes contain stronger ingredients that are more suited for individuals with acne-prone or oily skin. These ingredients are designed to break through excess face oil, help reduce breakouts, and reach deep into the pores for a full face cleanup. Some ingredients that you may find in your face wash include:
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): Is a cleansing agent that encourages a deep clean. This core ingredient provides a rich lather and can help fight bacteria, acts as a makeup remover, and cuts through face oil. SLS has a higher risk of irritation, especially for individuals with sensitive skin types. If using a product containing SLS, be sure to incorporate an essential moisturizer into your post-cleansing routine.
  • Alcohols: Many face washes use alcohol as a base ingredient to help other ingredients penetrate deep into the skin barrier. However, this can damage the skin's natural barrier and lead to accelerated skin aging.
Cleansers typically contain hydrating ingredients and specifically avoid sodium lauryl sulfate, a common skin irritant that can leave your skin feeling dry, sensitive, and red. When shopping for a new go-to cleanser, look for these common, nourishing ingredients:
  • Ceramides: are considered a lipid and act as a protective barrier over the skin. They help lock in moisture and keep the skin hydrated.
  • Vitamin C: is an antioxidant with skin brightening properties. It can help stabilize free radicals and keep your skin protected from outside factors.
  • Glycerin: is a humectant. It helps draw moisture deep into the skin and keeps your skin from easily drying out. Using a cleanser can help prevent skin irritation, maintain the skin barrier, and keep your skin hydrated.

Why do face washes lather better?

Face washes lather because they contain sulfates, one of the most common foaming agents. However, research suggests they can disrupt your microbiome and compromise your skin barrier. compromise your skin barrier. After using a face wash, you may notice your skin feels drier than usual. That's because sulfates can strip your skin of your natural oils.
Most ingredient labels list sulfates as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES). These ingredients can remove too much oil from the skin and strip the skin's protective barrier when used regularly.
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Key Takeaways

  • Face washes contain stronger ingredients that are more suited for individuals with acne-prone or oily skin and not recommended for sensitive to normal skin.
  • Face cleansers tend to be composed of more mild formulas with hydrating properties that help moisturize and soothe the skin. Face cleansers also have less of a tendency to disrupt the skin's microbiome, sebum balance, and barrier function.
  • Some ingredients to stay away from include: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), Alcohol, and other sulfates.


Sources:

  1. https://www.mdpi.com/2079-9284/8/1/6/pdf?version=1609921117

Reviewed by Alessandra Zonari, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) and Co-Founder of OneSkin

Alessandra earned her Master’s degree in stem cell biology, and her PhD in skin regeneration and tissue engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil in collaboration with the 3B’s Research Group in Portugal. Alessandra did a second post-doctoral at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. She is a co-inventor of three patents and has published 20 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.

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