Best facial cleansers to suit dry, combination or oily skin

This should be the first step in your skincare routine

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Ellie Davis19 December 2023
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It’s the first step in your beauty routine and likely was the introductory skincare product on your bathroom cabinet, and yet, cleaners are often overlooked.

As the most important, staple step, cleansers wash away the dirt, grime, pollution and makeup from the day to leave your skin squeaky clean, and fresh and act as a daily detox from urban living.

What do cleansers do?

Dr Catherine Borysiewicz, Consultant Dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic, stresses, “Cleansing your skin is a very important part of your daily skincare regimen. It is required for effectively removing the likes of sunscreen, bacteria and more from your skin at the end of the day.”

“Throughout the day the skin on your face is continually covered with bacteria, pollutants, viruses, dirt and old (dead) skin cells”, Dr Natalie Geary, Founder of the Light Touch Clinic adds. “Cleansing facilitates the removal of dirt, oil, and other unwanted debris”.

Should you double cleanse?

“Double cleansing has become very popular,” Dr Catherine Borysiewicz explains. “In simple terms, this refers to firstly using a product to remove make-up such as a micellar water or oil-based cleanser, then rinsing it from the skin. It is not essential, but as a personal preference, I recommend a gentle micellar water cleanse, followed by a rinse-off cleanser to remove all residue from the skin. For some dry or sensitive skins, this may be too drying, so choose a routine that suits you.”

Dr Natalie Geary agrees, “You should always double cleanse. The first cleanse loosens up the makeup and dirt and the next sweeps it completely away, leaving your skin completely clean and ready for the next skincare step. A double cleansing method that works would be to massage in a balm which stimulates the skin to get rid of make-up, followed by a face wash depending on your type of skin.”

What texture suits your skin type?

There are so many different types of cleansers that finding the right one to suit your skin type can often feel like a hit-or-miss exercise. In terms of texture, this is often a matter of personal preference but for those with dry skin, you may want to avoid a foam that could be stripping or tight. There’s also gel, oil or balm.

Dr Catherine Borysiewicz reveals that “As a general guide; oily or congested skin may prefer a foaming or gel cleanser and dry or sensitised skin can be soothed with a lotion or cream cleanser”

Dr Natalie Geary breaks it down further:

  • Acne-prone skin: You’ll want to focus on a gel-like perhaps a salicylic acid-based cleanser. These ingredients really penetrate the pores.
  • Rosacea: Opt for a milky or creamy textures for cleansers and moisturisers.
  • Dry and dehydrated skin: Creamy and milky textures are best for maintaining moisture levels. Humectant-based toners are also great at providing a hydration hit and will only make the next steps more effective.
  • Combination skin: Hydrating cleansers that are usually water-based and have a lightweight cream texture are suitable for combination skin. The focus is on hydration because this skin type craves deep hydration in certain areas.
  • Oily skin: Gel cleansers are clear and have a gel-like consistency. Generally designed for deep cleansing, they are effective at decongesting clogged pores, removing excess oil and killing acne-causing bacteria, thanks to their antiseptic and exfoliating properties.
  • Oily and combination skin: Perfect for oily and combination skin, clay cleansers are also suitable for sensitive skin as they don’t usually have any scrubs or harsh acids.

What ingredients should you look out for?

When you opt for your choice of cleanser, consider the other ingredients that are included as it may be packed with other kind-to-skin powerhouses.

Dr Natalie Geary advises that “some of the best ingredients in facial cleansers include retinol, salicylic acid, ceramides, vitamin C, glycerin, and chemical and physical exfoliants. For acne-prone or oily skin, look for a cleanser with retinol or salicylic acid. For dry and sensitive skin, choose a cleanser with glycerin or ceramides.”

Dr Catherine Borysiewicz suggests to “avoid soaps as these strip natural oils from the skin and potential irritants including fragrances. Look for a pH-appropriate facial cleanser and useful ingredients can be sought depending on any underlying skin concerns. For congested or acne-prone skin, AHA/BHA can help exfoliate and cleanse pores and for sensitive or dry skin look for HA, ceramides and soothing nicotinamide”.

Shop the best below

Best gel cleansers

Biossance Squalane and Amino Aloe Gentle Cleanser


Biossance puts squalane at the heart of its products. The brand’s signature ingredient mimics squalene (that’s with an e) that is found naturally in the skin to bring hydration and moisturisation. In this gentle gel cleaner, it is paired alongside an amino acid complex, where with the added bonus of moringa extract, it makes light work of the cleansing process - no scrubbing required.

It does lather when it comes into contact with the skin and yet doesn’t feel stripping. Instead it removes dirt, pollution and oil as it imparts a healthy glow. This makes it better for a second cleanse. Combination, oily or dry skin types - the Biossance Squalane and Amino Aloe Cleanser may be for you.

Buy now£22, Cult Beauty

Fresh Soy Face Cleanser


Among those in the know, this cleanser plays a staple role in many beauty routines. Fresh is known for its use of natural ingredients and this product is no different - harnessing the power of soy in a reference to century-old practices. This makes the product gentle on the skin and yet tough on the likes of makeup and dirt.

Amino acids, soothing cucumber extract, calming rosewater extract and the nourishment of borage seed oil combine to leave you with a healthy, refreshed complexion. It shouldn’t dry out your skin and there is no artificial fragrance that could cause irritation so works well for those with sensitivities. The basics done right.

Buy now£32.99, lookfantastic

Augustinus Bader The Cream Cleansing Gel

Augustinus Bader

Augustinus Bader is a brand with the A-lister seal of approval. The label counts the likes of Kim Kardashian, Victoria Beckham and Jennifer Aniston among its fan base.

This cleansing gel comes from 30 years of research in order to provide a light lather that will clean the skin without stripping it of its natural oils. It appears like a cream but has the texture of a gel that then transforms into a milky solution. The ingredient line-up includes the brand’s proprietary TFC8 that combines vitamins, amino acids and synthesised molecules that act as a shield against external aggressors as well as encourage the skin’s own renewal process. It is combined with aloe leaf juice, rose flower water and cucumber extract, and so has soothing properties.

The Cleansing Balm is also worth having on your radar.

Buy now£54, Sephora

Bioderma Sensibio Soothing Micellar Face Wash Sensitive Skin


If you’re not yet familiar with Bioderma for cult micellar water, consider this your introduction. The French pharmacy skincare label changed the makeup removal process forever through its introduction of the aforementioned product.

After you have completed this step, the Sensibio Soothing Micellar Face Wash is next up. One for those with sensitive skin, it is a very gentle gel texture that has light foaming, while being free from both soap and fragrance as well as coming at the physiological pH. Keeping your skin clean and clear, it also makes it feel silky soft after use.

Buy now£8.80, Boots

SUMMER FRIDAYS Super Amino Gel Cleanser


SUMMER FRIDAYS has packed its gel cleanser with so many kind-to-skin ingredients that you’ll relish your twice-daily cleanse. You will find the combination of vitamin E, sodium PCA and sodium lactate to protect skin from the likes of pollutants as well as coconut and sunflower oils to give a boost of vitamins, nutrients and minerals while you remove your makeup. It’s also non-irritating so should be in your rotation if you have rosacea, dry skin or are blemish-prone.

Buy now£38, Cult Beauty

Malin + Goetz Go Grapefruit Face Cleanser

Malin + Goetz

While the exterior packaging gives an apothecary feel, don’t underestimate the pampering that the Malin + Goetz products provide. The cleanser has a light foaming - emphasis on the word light - where grapefruit extract acts as a natural antibacterial and gives a zesty invigoration when used as your morning cleanse.

Buy now£32, Space NK

Best oil cleansers

DHC Deep Cleansing Oil


One of the biggest beauty myths is that if you have oily skin, you should stay far away from cleansing oils - but that’s not the case. Thinking back to GCSE science, oil attracts oils. So, with this superb cleanser, you can lift every trace of dirt, grime, makeup and sweat with a deep clean no matter your skin type. Oil becomes milk when it comes into contact with skin and it effortlessly rinses, leaving a lovely glow.

Buy now£5, lookfantastic

Pai Skincare Light Work Rosehip Cleansing Oil


The benefits of rosehip on the skin are seemingly endless, from giving a radiance boost and anti-ageing properties, to counteracting irritation and fading scars. So, it seems only right that Pai puts this ingredient front and centre of its cleansing oil. Through an advanced CO2 extraction method, it retains its efficacy and nutrients so that you can maximise the benefits, nourishing skin while still doing what a cleanser should, well, cleaning.

Buy now£33, Cult Beauty

Best foam cleansers

The INKEY List Hyaluronic Acid Cleanser

The INKEY List

No-fuss, no-frills, just a good cleanser containing the hydration hero that’s hyaluronic acid. If you have tried foam cleansers in the past and found them to be stripping, The INKEY List is here to change that. Instead, it gives your skin moisturisation that should last 48 hours according to the brand. So while you are removing the likes of SPF, grime etc, you are also helping to support the skin’s barrier thanks to the named ingredient as well as an inulin compound. Sensitive and dry skins alike should be able to get on board with this one.

Buy now£10.99, Cult Beauty

La Roche Posay Effaclar Purifying Cleansing Gel

La Roche Posay

La Roche Posay is the brand to know if you have the type of sensitive skin where even the slightest fragrance or too harsh ingredient can cause redness, blotchiness or any irritation.

This product specifically has been created to offer impressive removal without disrupting the skin’s surface or leaving a greasy residue. It is designed for oily and blemish-prone complexions as it is tasked with controlling shine and clearing those pesky spots. There is no scent.

Buy now£22, Boots

Estée Lauder Advanced Night Micro Cleansing Foam

Estée Lauder

This cleanser comes as part of Estée Lauder's renowned Advanced Night range and as the name suggests, this is designed for your PM cleanse. For those with dryness, it will leave the skin clean without exacerbating the situation. Follow up with rich night creams and your skin will thank you come morning time.

Buy now£28, Harrods

Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Cleanser Daily Foaming Wash

Kate Somerville

This is one of the best products in the Kate Somerville range and comes as part of the brand’s ExfoliKate collection. This means that it takes cleansing to the next level by adding the gentle exfoliation of AHA acids like glycolic and lactic acid but not in a way that feels harsh in the slightest. By offering this process, it leaves skin refreshed and glowing, ready for your next skincare step. It also shouldn’t result in your skin feeling dry or tight as foaming cleansers may have done in the past.

Honourable mention also goes to the brand’s cult Goat Milk Moisturising Cleanser - a cream texture without the foam that removes makeup and impurities in one fell swoop.

Buy now£19, Kate Somerville

Best cleansing balms

ELEMIS Pro-Collagen Rose Cleansing Balm


Every morning and night as you reach for your ELEMIS Pro-Collagen Rose Cleansing Balm will feel like a spa-level experience. From the beautiful scent to the luxurious texture, it is just a pleasure to cleanse.

But aesthetics aside, the formula itself deserves all the praise as it works to dissolve any dirt or grime in its wake. The inclusion of English rose oleo extract is calming and soothing and provides that aforementioned subtle fragrance. Hydrated, smooth and clean - what more can you ask for?

Buy now£48, Cult Beauty

Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm


There is a reason why this cleanser forms the foundation of so many beauty routines around the world. It's a product that works and feels good while it's doing it. The balm has a unique texture that is lightweight. You apply it on dry skin where it lifts away impurities, grime and makeup - no matter how waterproof or long-lasting it claims to be. The formula is silky soft where a little goes a long way so you can contour, highlight and swipe mascara to your heart’s content without worrying about the removal process come evening.

Buy now£32, Boots

VERSO Cleansing Balm


Melt away your makeup, SPF and all your stresses with this cleansing balm from VERSO. It leaves skin clean, and soft and the added bonus of radiant and glowy. The biodegradable jojoba beads within the formula encourage your makeup or the result of urban living to wash away and do so while hydrating at the same time without feeling abrasive.

Buy now£35, Space NK

Best cream cleansers

Murad Soothing Oat & Peptide Cleanser


This cleanser is part of a new collection, specifically formulated for the most reactive and sensitive complexions, from doctor-founded skincare expert Murad. Rich without being gloopily thick or heavy, the creamy consistency gently removes grime and makeup (even from delicate eyelids) thanks to micellar cleansing peptides that are super-effective without exacerbating irritation or causing dry discomfort.

Perfect for complexions tackling post-procedure redness, the cleanser also utilises soothing, antioxidant-rich oat extract, plus a hydrating sugar extract and nourishing shea butter, both of which replenish and support the skin’s protective barrier. 

Buy now£42, Murad

Fenty Skin Total Cleans'r Remove-It-All Cleanser

Fenty Skin

On the whole, cream cleansers are the easiest way to ensure that you are removing your makeup. Applied onto the skin, the creamy textures take dirt, oil and makeup away.

One of the foundational products in the Fenty Skin range, this cleanser was designed to do away with makeup wipes to enhance your skincare routine by turning it into a luxurious process that you look forward to at the end of a long day.

The product gently lathers, cleaning pores and removing shine. It uses antioxidant-rich ingredients like Barbados cherry and coconut that also give it an addictive aroma. It’s an all-rounder too but best for oily, dry and acne skin.

Buy now£23, Boots

Aurelia London Miracle Cleanser


You will rarely see a roundup of the best cleansers without the inclusion of Aurelia London’s Miracle Cleanser which lives up to its name and the hype. You can expect one of the most thorough cleanses with this product which uses all natural ingredients to work its cleaning magic.

The nourishing combination of eucalyptus oil, bergamot and rosemary clears pores and gets you ready to take on the day - without the inclusion of nasties like parabens and silicones. Apply onto the skin, leave it for a minute and then wash away the remnants for best results.

Buy now£65, Aurelia London

CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser for Normal to Dry Skin


You’ve tried every cleanser on the market and can’t seem to track down one that won't stress your sensitive skin. Until now. US drugstore favourite CeraVe has been created with dermatologists to be a really gentle, non-foaming solution to irritated skin woes. It is made up of three ceramides that fortify the skin’s barrier as well as the hero that is hyaluronic acid that is known for being a tall glass of water for the skin. It doesn’t foam, have any fragrance and is non-comedogenic.

Buy now£17, Boots

Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser

John Lewis

An icon in the world of cleansers, if you’ve not yet tried Liz Earle’s Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser, you’re in for a treat. The creamy texture is applied onto the skin with its delicious combination of cocoa butter, rosemary, chamomile and eucalyptus. Balancing out stress, it also leaves skin brighter. The product goes hand in hand with the cotton cloth provided that has a gentle exfoliating action.

Buy now£25.50, Boots

Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip Cleanser 150ml

Sunday Riley

Best for: A healthier-looking complexion

Best suited to: All skin types, even the most sensitive skin

Known for its potent, rich and science-based formulas, Sunday Riley is committed to creating the highest quality products with as little impact on the planet as possible - and this cleanser is no exception. The silky plant-based formula pulls out impurities whilst pulling in hydration, leaving you with smaller-looking pores and a glowing complexion.

Buy now£26, Sunday Riley