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Best Cleansers and Exfoliators

On the hunt for perfect, glossy and clear skin? Want to know exactly what the difference is between a face wash, cleanser, micellar water and exfoliator, which you’re supposed to use first and which is the best for your skin type? Read more…

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275 listings

Real-u Beauty Bundle

Real-u Beauty Bundle

4.7 from 141 reviews

This is a luxury 4-piece kit that clears acne and soothes problematic skin. It includes a cleanser, face serum, moisturiser and spot treatment to tackle blemishes.

  • Contains lactic acid

  • Is effective at targeting spots

  • 4 products included

  • No benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid

  • May not be suitable for sensitive skin

  • Premium price tag

  • Skin TypeDry Skin (1), Normal Skin (2), Oily Skin (1), Sensitive Skin (2) and Combination Skin (7)
  • Value for Money
    3.1 (13)
  • Causes Irritation Yes (4) · No (8)
  • Ease of Application
    4.3 (12)
  • Smell
    4.2 (10)
  • Personal PreferencesCruelty Free
  • Skin Type Combination, Dry, Normal, Oily and Sensitive
  • ApplicationFace
  • Cruelty Free Yes
Sand and Sky Brilliant Skin

Sand and Sky Brilliant Skin

4.4 from 474 reviews

A pink clay face mask that cleanses and refines the pores by drawing out impurities and pollutants. Comes with a brush for easy application.

  • Contains vitamins A, E and C

  • Uses witch hazel & lactic acid

  • Contains small brush for easy application

  • No sulphates or parabens

  • Doesn’t cause irritation

  • Jar tends to dry out

  • Small jar

  • Premium price

  • Skin TypeDry Skin (6), Normal Skin (8), Oily Skin (25), Sensitive Skin (18) and Combination Skin (47)
  • Value for Money
    4.3 (92)
  • Causes Irritation Yes (3) · No (93)
  • Ease of Application
    4.8 (97)
  • Smell
    4.6 (75)
  • Personal PreferencesCruelty Free, Oil Free, Paraben Free, Phthalate Free, Silicone Free and Sulphate Free
  • Skin Type Combination, Dry, Normal, Oily and Sensitive
  • ApplicationFace
  • Cruelty Free Yes
SkinB5 Next generation clear skin

SkinB5 Next generation clear skin

4.4 from 178 reviews

SkinB5 uses natural ingredients to tackle acne at the core with a range of products including vitamin tablets, cleansers, moisturisers and masks.

  • Controls breakouts

  • Natural ingredients

  • Suitable for sensitive skin

  • Premium price

  • Skin TypeOily Skin (4), Sensitive Skin (1) and Combination Skin (10)
  • Value for Money
    4.1 (17)
  • Causes Irritation Yes (0) · No (16)
  • Ease of Application
    4.8 (12)
  • Smell
    5.0 (5)
  • Personal PreferencesNo Artificial Fragrances, Paraben Free and Sulphate Free
  • Skin Type Oily and Sensitive
  • ApplicationBody and Face
St. Ives Apricot Scrub

St. Ives Apricot Scrub

4.3 from 106 reviews

This much-loved scrub uses a walnut shell powder to exfoliate the skin and leave it feeling smooth and clean.

  • Gentle exfoliation

  • Moisturising effect

  • Natural ingredients

  • Affordable

  • May not be suitable for sensitive skin

  • Skin TypeDry Skin (1), Normal Skin (1), Oily Skin (2), Sensitive Skin (1) and Combination Skin (2)
  • Value for Money
    4.3 (8)
  • Causes Irritation Yes (1) · No (6)
  • Ease of Application
    4.3 (6)
  • Smell
    4.3 (6)
  • Personal PreferencesOil Free and Paraben Free
  • ApplicationFace
  • Cruelty Free No
  • Fragrance FreeNo
  • Vegan Friendly No
Real-u Cleanse

Real-u Cleanse

4.0 from 98 reviews

A gentle foaming cleanser for those with sensitive and acne-prone skin which cleans skin without irritating or overdrying it.

  • Contains aloe vera

  • No benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid

  • Affordable

  • Some reviewers saw a limited difference after use

  • Skin TypeNormal Skin (1), Oily Skin (2), Sensitive Skin (1) and Combination Skin (2)
  • Value for Money
    4.2 (5)
  • Causes Irritation Yes (2) · No (4)
  • Ease of Application
    4.5 (6)
  • Smell
    4.4 (5)
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Girl smiling and using face cleanser

An effective skincare routine is important to your confidence, health and happiness. With more varieties of cleansers and exfoliators available on the market currently than ever before, where do you begin to start when going about choosing one?

Well, there is no one-size-fits-all in this case, the best facial cleanser and exfoliator for you depends on your skin type, goals and how simple or luxurious you want your skincare routine to be.

Types of face washing products

Face wash

Many people think cleansers and face washes are synonymous as they both clean the skin, but there are differences between them. Face washes are the most effective at removing debris from deeper layers of the skin and cleansing the pores - they are similar to body soap and foam when being used.

They are not necessary for everyday use, however those with very oily skin or acne can benefit from using face washes especially geared for them, often with salicylic acid.

Cleansers are much more gentle and effective at removing oils and makeup and can be used on an everyday basis. For a deep clean, you can use both in tandem - using a cleanser first to rid the face of impurities and then a face wash to get deeper into the skin.

Cleansers

Cleansers come in a host of varieties and forms. From most abrasive to lightweight, they are as follows:

  • Exfoliating cleansers: Come in two forms: physically exfoliating with small abrasive balls or chemically exfoliating. They are not to be used long-term on an everyday basis as it can irritate. Suitable for oily and combination skin.

  • Bar cleansers: Often look similar to bar soaps and are eco-friendly and travel-safe. Depending on the formula, they can be very drying for the skin, however the newest innovations claim to be more gentle. Suitable for oily skin.

  • Powder cleansers: Turn from a powder into cream, gel or foam after adding water and also have a gentle exfoliating effect based on rice starch or chickpea powder. They often come in sachets and are easily transportable. Suitable for oily and combination skin.

  • Foaming cleansers: Contain SLS to provide their foaming effect, they usually rid the skin of all dirt and oils but can be irritating to sensitive skin. Suitable for oily skin and combination skin.

  • Clay cleansers: Turn from clay into a mousse-like consistency and work in a similar way to clay masks by cleaning pores and absorbing excess oil. Suitable for oily and combination skin.

  • Gel cleansers: Give a deep cleanse while still providing some moisture. Some may also contain SLS as they can foam when in water. They are good for oily and combination skin.

  • Oil cleansers: Should be applied on dry skin as opposed to wet skin and then gently wiped or rinsed off. They use water-soluble oils to attract oil and debris and are suitable for all skin types.

  • Cleansing balms: Very similar to oil cleansers and should be applied on dry skin, but have a different consistency in the tube which melts into an oily consistency after application. They are effective at removing makeup while still being nourishing and are suitable for all skin types.

  • Lotion cleansers: Often labelled as ‘milk’ or ‘cream’ cleansers and are the least harsh of the cleanser types. They are non-foaming and use botanical oils and other moisturising ingredients to cleanse and nourish the skin. They are suitable for dry and sensitive skin.

Exfoliators and scrubs

Exfoliators are great to use 1-3 times a week to remove any build up of dead skin cells and smoothen the skin. They come in the form of facial exfoliators, exfoliating masks, body scrubbers and lip scrubbers etc. They work by unclogging pores and scraping away dead skin cells. They can improve the appearance of your skin in many ways, contribute to collagen renewal and improve the health of your skin as long as they are not used too often.

Scrubs can come in the form of oils, creams and clays which are chemical-based and break down the dead skin chemically. Alternatively, you can buy physical exfoliators which do the job manually by using grains of sugar, walnut shells or apricot pits etc to rub against the skin and loosen the dead skin cells.

There are many applicator tools that can be used to achieve this purpose such as exfoliating brushes, gloves or sponges.

Micellar Water

Unlike cleansers, this method doesn’t involve rinsing. You can simply wipe off the residue with a cotton pad, a facecloth or cleansing wipe. Micellar water uses oil molecules called micelles to attract dirt, oil and makeup away from the skin.

Because it is alcohol-free, it can be used on sensitive areas and is recommended for removing stubborn eye or lip makeup. It is suitable for all skin types but should be used in conjunction with a cleanser and not exclusively, as it’s not strong enough to provide an overall clean. It’s recommended to use before or after a cleanser.

Another convenient alternative is a face wipe, which similarly helps remove makeup and dirt without the need for rinsing. It is a great transportable short-term alternative to a cleanser but not a replacement.

How do face cleansers work?

Products that wash the face (and body) contain surfactants - little agents that are hydrophilic at the top and hydrophobic at the tail. Basically, their tails attract all the dirt and grime on your face to become things called micelles, which then get washed out as you rinse your face.

How drying your face cleanser is depends on the charge of your surfactants. Negatively charged surfactants (anionic) such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) are more effective at stripping the dirt and oils on your face than those surfactants with a mixed charge (amphoteric) or a positive charge (cationic). Often, you’ll find the latter used in cleansers for sensitive skin.

Can I just clean my face with water?

You could, and while it can feel refreshing, it won't remove dirt, excess oils and makeup. Even if you don’t use makeup, the general pollution in the air can build up on your face along with sweat and dead skin cells. It can be beneficial for everyone to incorporate a gentle face cleanser once a night into their routine for healthy, shining skin.

Best ingredients for your skin type

man using face wash in mirror

Everyone has a different skin type and different skins tolerate different ingredients. To find the cleanser most compatible with your skin, consider finding one with the suitable ingredients:

Dry skin: botanical oils such as jojoba, avocado, coconut, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, antioxidants, plant butters, lactic acid

Sensitive skin: aloe, Jojoba oil, green tea, oatmeal, chamomile. Avoid: alcohol-based, SLS & fragrant cleansers

Oily skin: clay, salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, vitamin C

Acne-prone skin: salicylic acid, glycolic acid, tea tree oil & other antiseptic astringents, retinol/vitamin A

If you’re lucky enough to have a normal skin type, you have a wider variety to choose from, but the seasons can also affect how your skin behaves and you might find it beneficial to use a more clarifying cleanser in summer and a gentle one in winter.

How many times a day should I wash my face?

It is recommended that you wash your face at least once a night to purify the skin from the toxins of the busy day by using a cleanser.

For those who wish to do so, the morning can be a good time to use a face wash or exfoliator to get a deep cleanse. If you have been working out or wearing heavy make, you can also wash thrice but be careful not to overdo it as that could lead to irritation and breakouts.

Can face cleansers cause pimples?

Cleansers, when used correctly, shouldn’t cause breakouts. However, common mistakes such as scrubbing too hard, using a cleanser that is too clarifying for your skin type, using extremely hot water, using too much product and washing your face too many times can strip your skin of its natural oils which can lead to excess sebum production and blockage. The breaks and tears in the skin from over scrubbing can allow bacteria to enter. For that reason, it’s important to listen to your skin and choose your cleanser accordingly.

Face washing best practices

Using warm, body-temperature water is the best course of action as it opens up the pores. Hot water is often an irritant for sensitive skin and cold water does not open up the pores as effectively. Using clean hands, place a 5 cent coin-sized amount of product into your palm and rub in circular motions around the face. Be careful not to scrub too hard. Rinse as required and pat the face dry with a clean towel.

Post-cleansing routine

There are many things you can do after cleansing to ensure that you get the best results for your skin.

Double cleansing & exfoliation

For those who want a thorough clean, double cleansing can be an option depending on the two cleansers used. It’s recommended to use a combination of a clarifying cleanser with a gentle, hydrating one to provide the best results.

It is also possible to use a gentle cleanser followed by an exfoliant for an extra-deep clean.

Toner

If cleansing just once, you can use a toner (or micellar water as a softer alternative) to rid the skin of any leftover impurities, brighten the skin and tighten the pores.

Moisturising

It’s important afterwards to follow up with a moisturiser, especially if you have dry or sensitive skin. Because your pores have been opened, the product will have space to work on your skin.

Final thoughts

Here are some things you should consider before buying the right cleanser for you:

  • Value for Money: Many high-end products do the same thing as drugstore ones but under the guise of fancy packaging. It’s useful to see how others rate the product in this category and if the product is worth the price tag.

  • Ingredients: By checking the ingredients, you can help figure out if this product will cause any irritation or be right for your skin.

  • Ease of Application: There are a variety of forms of cleansers and choosing the one that is the most convenient for you is important. Would you like it to be in the form of a transportable bar, micellar water without rinsing or a foaming cleanser?

  • Smell: If you’re into smelling a particular way, this could be an important factor to consider. This also rings true if you have sensitive skin or would generally prefer a non-fragranced product.

A great cleanser is the bedrock to achieving healthy skin and the first step you should take before any moisturisers, exfoliators or makeup can work their magic on your skin. The key to choosing a good cleanser depends on your daily routine and skin type and can be aided by informative reviews from others who have tried it.

You can read the highest-ranking cleanser and exfoliator reviews on our website today to help you make the best choice.