The Best Face Wash for Your Skin Type, According to Dermatologists

A great skincare routine starts with the right cleanser.

best face wash for your skin type
(Image credit: Future)

Whether your skincare routine is 12 steps long or maxes out at three products, a cleanser should always be present. What that cleanser is? Well, it depends. Choosing the best face wash for your skin type isn’t a hoax—it’s easily the most important part of your routine. “The right cleanser can help support healthy skin function,” explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D. FAAD and board-certified dermatologist. On the other hand, “choosing the wrong type of cleanser can negatively impact your skin by worsening existing skin issues or failing to address specific skin concerns,” adds Pooja Rambhia, M.D. FAAD and board-certified dermatologist.

While you can never go wrong with a no-fuss, drugstore gentle cleanser to remove makeup, dirt, and oil, you might find a targeted cleanser helpful to address additional skin concerns. The ingredient makeup of the best face washes for dry skin or sensitive skin will likely be packed with ceramides and hyaluronic acid, while those for oily skin or acne-prone skin can contain detoxing, sebum-absorbing salicylic acid or tea tree extract.

To help you sort through the abundance of options, I tapped top board-certified dermatologists to share their tips on finding the best cleanser for your skin type. Here, Dr. Zeichner, Dr. Rahmbia, Robert Finney, M.D. FAAD, and Nina Desai, M.D. FAAD, share their favorite face washes for every skin type.

First Things First: What Is My Skin Type?

Step one in selecting the best face wash for your skin type is identifying it. If you’re not sure which of the skin categories you fall into, there’s an easy beauty hack to find out. “First, wash your face with a gentle cleanser—don’t apply anything to the skin. Wait 30 minutes and then see how your skin feels,” explains Dr. Desia. “If your skin feels dry and tight your skin type is most likely dry. If your skin appears shiny or greasy, then you are oily. If you notice a combination of oiliness in the T-Zone and dryness on the cheeks, you have combination skin. You have normal skin if your skin feels great and there’s no signs of oiliness or dryness.” Sensitive skin on the other hand typically looks red and has a burning or stinging sensation.

The Best Face Wash for Dry Skin

Because dry skin has less natural moisturizing oils naturally, you can be left with a complexion that looks a little dull and a texture that feels rough, inflamed or itchy. “Dry skin often feels tight, cracks easily, and is visibly dehydrated,” says Dr. Rambhia. As a result, you want to seek out deeply hydrating face washes. Look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides in a cream or lotion texture. “Cream cleansers gently cleanse the skin using natural oils and emulsifiers and are ideal for those with dry skin.”

The Best Face Wash for Sensitive Skin

As a sensitive skin girl myself, I can confirm that finding a cleanser to actively calm my complexion is a game changer. “Sensitive skin is more vulnerable to external irritants or allergens, such as dyes or fragrances, resulting in inflamed and itchy skin,” says Dr. Rambhia. You might experience stinging or burning frequently, which is precisely why looking for non-irritating cleansers is ideal. Avoid fragrances, dyes, and intense exfoliating acids.

The Best Face Wash for Oily Skin

Oily skin produces more oil, making your skin look greasy or shiny. “People with oily skin tend to be more susceptible to the appearance of large pores, acne breakouts, and blackheads and whiteheads, too,” says Dr. Rambhia. The plus side: “Those with oily skin tend to have fewer wrinkles.” Foaming and gel cleansers are ideal for oily skin types as they can effectively dissolve excess oil that can clog pores and lead to breakouts. You may also want to consider chemical exfoliant ingredients like salicylic acid or glycolic acid.

The Best Face Wash for Combination Skin

Combination skin is a little tricky. While you might find your T-zone—forehead, nose, chin—oily, your cheeks can be dry. Your skin’s balance can fluctuate with season, stress, or even hormonal changes. Finding the best cleanser for this skin type is more about texture than ingredients. “Gel, foaming, and oil-based formulas can work well, as they are able to balance cleansing oilier areas without over-drying other areas of the face,” says Dr. Rambhia.

The Best Face Wash for Normal Skin

Normal skin types are like the favorite child. Overall, you’ll be well-balanced; not too oily and not too dry. “Those with normal skin typically have smaller pores with an overall smooth skin texture and are not specifically prone to acen breakouts or sensitive skin,” says Dr. Rambhia. As such, picking a cleanser is pretty simple. Pick a no-fuss option with whatever texture you prefer.

Meet the Dermatologists

dermatologist
Joshua Zeichner

Dr. Joshua Zeichner is an Associate Professor of Dermatology and the Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He is one of the country's key opinion leaders in treating acne and rosacea, and is an expert in cosmeceuticals, skin care, and cosmetic Dermatology.

dermatologist
Pooja Rambhia

Pooja H. Rambhia, M.D. is a dermatologist, who is currently completing her American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) accredited Cosmetic and Dermatologic Surgery Fellowship at UnionDerm.

Dr. Rambhia is a Long Island, NY native who received her Bachelor’s of Arts degree in biochemistry and her Doctorate of Medicine at Case Western Reserve University, through their prestigious BA/MD pre-professional scholars program. During her medical school training, she completed an additional pre-doctoral fellowship through the National Institute of Health T32 training grant in investigative and molecular dermatology.

Dr. Rambhia has published numerous peer-reviewed papers in high-impact journals including Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, Dermatologic Surgery and International Journal of Dermatology. She has also presented on several national meetings including the American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery (ASLMS) annual meeting, American Academy of Dermatology annual meeting, and ASDS annual meeting.

Dr. Rambhia is an active member of the American Academy of Dermatology, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery, and Women’s Dermatologic Society.

dermatologist
Robert Finney

Robert Finney, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist, Fellowship-Trained in Hair Restoration and Aesthetics. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, Dr. Finney completed his undergraduate and medical degrees at Pennsylvania State University. He completed his internship and dermatology residency at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, PA where he served as chief resident during his final year. Following his residency, he completed an advanced fellowship in aesthetics, hair restoration, and skin surgery with renowned hair surgeon Dr. Marc Avram in New York City. Dr. Finney has authored several peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on hair loss. He frequently lectures both nationally and internationally on the topic, leading him to be sought after by major media outlets to share his expertise on skin and hair.

dermatologist
Nina Desai

Dr. Nina Desai is a board certified medical and cosmetic dermatologist.  She received both her undergraduate degree and medical degree from Brown University, working under some of the smartest minds in medicine.  Her passion to understand skin disease and how the skin heals led her to pursue research fellowships at both Harvard University, and Cornell University where she published numerous papers and book chapters on skin cancer and skin diseases, in particular in skin of color.

She understands that the world of skin and beauty is continually evolving and she is committed to keeping up to date on all that is changing in dermatology and aesthetic medicine. She is a member of many relevant national and international organizations including the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery, American Academy of Dermatology, and Women’s Dermatologic Society.

Beauty Editor

Samantha Holender is the Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she reports on the best new launches, dives into the science behind skincare, and shares the breakdown on the latest and greatest trends in the beauty space. She's studied up on every ingredient you'll find on INCI list and is constantly in search of the world's glowiest makeup products. Prior to joining the team, she worked as Us Weekly’s Beauty and Style Editor, where she stayed on the pulse of pop culture and broke down celebrity beauty routines, hair transformations, and red carpet looks. Her words have also appeared on Popsugar, Makeup.com, Skincare.com, Delish.com, and Philadelphia Wedding. Samantha also serves as a board member for the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME). She first joined the organization in 2018, when she worked as an editorial intern at Food Network Magazine and Pioneer Woman Magazine. Samantha has a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. While at GWU, she was a founding member of the school’s HerCampus chapter and served as its President for four years. When she’s not deep in the beauty closet or swatching eyeshadows, you can find her obsessing over Real Housewives and all things Bravo. Keep up with her on Instagram @samholender.