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The best cleansers and face washes

Cream cleansers, oil cleansers, face washes, cleansing balms - the world of facial cleansing can seem like a minefield at times. We've compiled everything you need to know, and the best products for cleansing, no matter your skin type or budget

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Nov 22, 2021

What's the difference between a cleanser and a face wash?

Sure, they both clean your face in some way or another, but there are a few key differences between cleansers and face washes.

If you've got skin that's on the drier side, you should opt for a cleanser – which are typically more hydrating and gentle. Cleansers are usually creamy, watery or oily and don't foam up. They can come in a range of textures – often balms, creams, oils or milks.

For oilier skin types, face washes are more effective at mattifying your skin – hence why they are often aimed at teenagers. They clean deeper into your pores, but this can be a bit harsh if you've got dry or sensitive skin, so be sure to moisturise after.

You can always combine both too – lots of people like to use cleanser in the evenings to remove makeup, and a face wash in the morning for a more invigorating clean.

Best cleansers

1. Superdrug Vitamin E Hot Cloth Cleanser, £4.99

Probably the most frequently recommended cleanser on Mumsnet Talk, this budget dupe for a certain high-end brand is excellent for sensitive skin. It's super rich and creamy, with a wonderful scent. Not only is it affordable, it's also vegan, and comes with two muslin cloths.

“I love the Superdrug hot cloth cleanser. Its great value for money and suits my sensitive skin. I switch between cleansers, some are more expensive than others, but I always have this in. I dont always use it with a hot flannel especially if my skin is more problematic but rinse it off with water”.

“Superdrug hot cloth cleanser convert here, only been using it a week and I've got rid of my expensive Clarisonic in favour of this budget cleanser”

2. Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm, £43

This higher end balm cleanser heats up in your hands, and when you rub it into your skin, it literally melts away make-up with ease. With a blend of natural oils including shea, almond and coconut, as well as vitamin E – it's packed with skincare's heavy-hitting natural ingredients. It also doubles up as a mask if your skin is in need of extra TLC.

“I swear by it and a little bit goes a long way. The full size lasts me 3 months. You can buy the trial size for £9.”

“Elemis is amazing – it leaves skin perfectly clean. Noticed a big improvement in the texture of mine”

3. The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser, £7.99

If you're even remotely interested in skincare, there's no doubt you've heard about The Ordinary over the last few years. Stripped back packaging, low prices and effective, simple formulas have meant they have taken the skincare world by storm. Sustainably sourced from olive oil, squalane is an oil similar to the oils your skin produces – meaning it stops your skin drying out. If you're a fan of changing textures, this one is another good choice – it comes out of the tube as a cream, and after 10-30 seconds of body heat, it turns into a lovely silky oil.

“I've tried a few things but my favourite is the squalane cleanser.”

4. SKINFOOD Black Sugar Perfect Cleansing Oil, £21

No skincare list would be complete without at least one Korean or Japanese option. This cleansing oil provides a deep clean, removing even waterproof mascara without drying skin out. It contains real black sugar crystals which melt into the skin for exfoliation without those dreaded microbeads.

“Skinfood Black Sugar Cleansing Oil -awesome stuff! I have oil cleansed for ages (using almond oil) but this is lovely and the fact that it emulsifies is a revelation.”

5. The Body Shop Camomile Sumptuous Cleansing Butter, £11

Made from camomile extract from the fields of Norfolk, this cleansing balm is a Body Shop best seller. The tin looks small but a little goes a long way, and it has a lovely calming scent perfect for removing makeup before bed.

“The camomile cleansing balm really is amazing and great value.”

Read more: We've hand picked the best bars of soap for your bathroom. See why Mumsnetters are turning to this sustainable alternative to liquid soap. 

6. Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel, £32.50

This foaming cleanser from facial specialists Dermalogica is great for anyone with oily skin. It's certainly at a higher price point, but Dermalogica are renowned for their quality and this is one of their most popular products. Plus, you don't need a lot, so use it sparingly and it'll pay off.

“A second vote for Dermalogica Special Cleansing gel. I used to go for Dermalogica facials pre-babies and this sorted out my skin and left it feeling soft and really clean and clear. You only need a tiny bit so it lasts for ages which justifies the price in my opinion.”

Best face washes

7. Lancôme Gel Eclat, £21.55

Even a tiny bit of this mid-range option from Lancome turns into a lot of foam, and cleanses deeply without that tight dry feeling. Like most foaming cleansers, it's best suited to oily skin.

“It's quite pricey, but it foams up really well, so you only need to use a tiny bit and it lasts for ages.”

8. Cetaphil Oily Skin Cleanser, £5.66

Cheap and effective, dermatologists' favourite Cetaphil's Oily Skin Cleanser is soap-free and non-comodogenic. It foams gently, and is ideal for teenage acne-prone skin.

“I would recommend it. My skin gets dry and tight after cleansing but not with this. Also it’s the only cleanser that doesn’t make my face feel like it has residue on it – it’s plain, which makes me feel clean!!”

Related: Get great makeup and skincare direct to your door with the best beauty boxes with monthly subscriptions, all recommended by real parents on our forums. 

9. Neutrogena Visibly Clear Pink Grapefruit Facial Wash, £3.29

This zingy face wash is great for any citrus lovers. It's packed with acne-fighting exfoliant salicylic acid, which is great for oily skin – making it another great option for teen skincare. Plus, the scent is divine – especially first thing in the morning to wake you up.

“Neutrogena Visibly Clear Pink Grapefruit face wash is excellent. I have fairly spotty skin (even at the age of 32) and I really like it. I think the range is aimed at teenagers. Non-drying too – lots of face washes for spotty skin that I have tried have made my skin as a whole very dry and at times uncomfortable. This one doesn't.”

10. Simple Kind to Skin Refreshing Facial Wash Gel, £7.29 for two

Free from harsh ingredients like soap, perfumes, parabens and sodium laurel sulfate, Simple is a great high-street staple for sensitive skin. Despite being free from harsh ingredients, it still lathers up well if you like the foamy texture.

“I use Simple products – they seem to be very good quality, don't bring out my allergies and, as you say, they are very cheap.”

Want to see more products that Mumsnetters recommend? Head over to Swears By and see a whole range of products, from coffee machines to yoga mats. 

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