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What Is a Cleanser and How Is It Different From a Face Wash?


If you’ve just started creating your skincare routine, all the product terminology can be a bit overwhelming at first. Cleansers and face washes are often a common challenge for skincare beginners, and it’s not hard to understand why. 

With so many brands and options available, getting some clear guidance on what products to use and when is always a welcome bit of insight. Especially when it comes to clearing your face of impurities, one of the most important parts of any routine. 

Fortunately, we’re here to give you all the scientific details on what differentiates face cleansers from face washes, and when to use each of them. Let’s take a closer look. 

Table of Contents:

  • What Is a Cleanser?
  • Types of Cleansers
  • What Is a Face Wash?
  • How Often Should You Wash Your Face?

What is a Cleanser?

To make sure you’re using the right products for your face and getting all the benefits out of them, let’s clear up a common misunderstanding. Some people believe that a face cleanser and a face wash are the same – but there are a few differences between the two.

Let’s start with the face cleanser. Face cleansers are, naturally, skincare products used to clean the skin, but that is not their only purpose. Face cleansers are generally gentle and should not strip the face of its natural oils. They can also help hydrate dry and sensitive skin, as they come in many shapes and sizes – light or heavy creams, oils, balms, gels, etc., and they all contain nourishing ingredients.

People consider skin cleansers as all-rounders when it comes to skin types, and they are recommended for normal, dry, combination, and even oily skin. For the latter, cleansers are only a good choice if individuals feel their skin dry and tight after washing their face. 

Types of Cleansers 

Choosing the right cleanser for your needs and skin type is not exactly an easy task, which is why we have listed below all types of skin cleansers and their characteristics:

  • Gel cleansers have a gel consistency and are colorless. They are ideal for oily and acne-prone skin because of their light consistency and deep-cleaning properties. 
  • Cream cleansers are good for dry and sensitive skin since they have a thicker texture and serve best for moisturizing. 
  • Foam cleansers are water-like in the bottle, but create foam when you push the pump. They are optimal for combination skin, as they remove the excess sebum.
  • Powder cleansers turn creamy when in contact with water. Since they come in the form of a powder, they are highly concentrated, but you get to control everything by how much water you use. They are also great for oily skin.
  • Clay cleansers are great for oily, acne-prone, or combination skin because they have mattifying and detoxifying effects. They are advertised for removing excess oil as well. 
  • Micellar water cleansers contain oil molecules that mainly remove make-up and act as toners. They are applied with the help of cotton pads and do not need to be rinsed out. They are good for all skin types, but particularly for dry and sensitive skin. 
  • Soap cleansers should be a friend of those with oily and combination skin, as they not only balance out the pH levels but also nourish your face. 
  • Cleansing oils work on virtually all skin types, maybe less on oily skin, although extra moisture can be what the face needs to stop producing a lot of sebum so as to protect itself. This type of cleanser is very efficient in cleansing the skin, removing makeup, and acting as an exfoliator as well, removing dead skin cells. 

What is a Face Wash?

Face washes are also products that cleanse the skin. But, because some face washes can be a bit harsher, they might not be suited for all types of skin. They are water-based products that produce foam once massaged into damp skin and help with very oily skin, removing excess oil. 

Because of their foaming aspect, and because of the astringent ingredients, face washes get deep into the pores to clean all the dirt and oil. Therefore, people with dry and sensitive skin might want to use cleansers instead of face washes, but it really depends on each person’s complexion. 

However, taking into consideration all the things that our sensitive skin is exposed to during the day, a good face wash once in a while might be beneficial for any skin type, as it acts similarly to how a clarifying shampoo acts on the scalp – by getting deep into the skin and washing off all impurities, dead skin cells and hardened sebum. This applies after using heavy makeup for a long time as well. 

With all that being said, employing a deeply purifying face wash, such as one based on apple-cider-vinegar extract or citric acids, is a good idea for a face refresher. 

If your face tends to absorb a lot of build-up and residue, these high-impact organic ingredients will serve in wiping the slate clean and preventing breakouts and other similar skin problems.  

How Often Should You Wash Your Face?

Truthfully, it all depends on your skin, but it’s optimal to wash or cleanse your face after you wake up and before going to bed. 

If you wonder why your face should be cleaned after a good night of sleep, the answer is simple. At night you involuntarily drool on yourself and your pillow, then change positions and rub your face in the pillowcase that you might not have washed for some days, resulting in dust accumulation and potentially sweat residue. After thinking about all these possibilities, washing your face in the morning is not too absurd, is it? 

As for washing at night, it’s only natural that you also sweat during the day, you take a walk outside and sweat, there are new particles of dust that accumulate on your face, and if you have oily skin your sebaceous glands produce excess oil, and the list can go on. The face needs a good cleanse after a long day too. 

Keeping Your Face Clean and Your Skin Happy

And now you know the difference between cleansers and face washes. But whether you’re a skincare newbie or a well-seasoned veteran, we always recommend you do some research on your skin type before applying any product to your face. 

Consult with your dermatologist, look for online communities of skincare enthusiasts, and most importantly, never forget to take a look at the ingredient list on the back of the label before purchasing that “wonder-cleanser” at the supermarket. Tale this advice to heart and your skincare glow-up will be a guarantee!

Marius Capra

Charismatic copywriter, intrepid linguist, and advertising aficionado. To make a long story short, writing has always been both my greatest passion, and the one thing that would always bring me comfort - whether it was in the form of short stories, poetry, or academic writing. I love to write because I live to express myself as authentically as I can, and I am a firm believer in the fact that words can always do you justice… if you choose the right ones of course.

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