If you've got dry skin, sensitive skin, or skin that always feels tight after cleansing, then you may want to switch to a cream cleanser.
Also known as cleansing cream, this type of formula is both gentler and more hydrating than other kinds of face wash, like foams and gels.
That's because these cleansers have a creamy texture, which doesn't produce a lather. Not only do they clean the skin without throwing off its pH or stripping its protective barrier, but they also deposit moisturizing ingredients.
But not all cream cleansers are made equal! Here's what I look for, plus the best products I've found to date.
What to Look for in a Cream Cleanser
When choosing a cream cleanser, you want to check the ingredients list for the following criteria:
- Sulfate-free: Sulfates are harsh detergents that are too stripping and irritating for a cream cleanser... or ANY cleanser, for that matter! Look for products with gentler surfactants, such as sodium cocoyl isethionate and cocamidopropyl betaine, or no surfactants at all.
- Silicone-free: Silicones are synthetic smoothing agents that leave an occlusive film on the skin surface that can be difficult to remove (and clogs pores!). For that reason, I don't think they belong in a cleanser.
- Petroleum-free: Usually listed as mineral oil, petroleum derivatives are also very occlusive and don't absorb. Dr. Ava Shamban even asserts that mineral oil can damage the skin barrier and cause water loss.
- Hydrating ingredients: Instead of silicones and mineral oil, cream cleansers should include emollients and humectants to bring moisture to the skin. Think: glycerin, squalane, coconut oil, fatty alcohols, shea butter, etc.
- PUFA-free or low-PUFA: PUFA stands for polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are unstable plant oils that quickly oxidize. Since you don't want to rub rancid ingredients over your skin, choose stable oils or an oil-free formulation. If you must use PUFAs in your cleanser, keep the product in the fridge and use it up within two months.
- Fragrance-free or low-fragrance: In a cleanser, fragrance isn't as problematic as it would be in a leave-on product (like moisturizer), but it's still best to limit your exposure if possible. Fragrance is the number one irritant in skincare.
Note: Some cream cleansers rinse clean with just water, while others require more careful removal. So make sure to check out my cleansing cream tutorial for tips on how to use them the right way!
The Best Cream Cleansers
Dr Roebuck’s Noosa Nourishing Creme Cleanser
Dr Roebuck's Noosa Nourishing Creme Cleanser is one of my favourites—a lightweight cream cleanser that would work for ALL skin. It's made with mostly natural ingredients, including jojoba and macadamia oils, and is free of fragrance except for a little bergamot oil (which gives it a lemony scent). In my testing, I found that it rinsed clean with just water.
Naturally Serious Major Moisture Gentle Cream Cleanser
Naturally Serious Major Moisture Gentle Cream Cleanser is a recent arrival to Sephora's clean beauty department, and it's formulated with "no B.A.D. ingredients"—meaning bad, ambiguous or debatable! You'll find coconut oil and a coconut-based surfactant in here, along with several plant extracts and antimicrobial probiotics.
Peet Rivko Gentle Cleanser
Peet Rivko Gentle Cleanser is completely fragrance-free, so there are no synthetic perfumes or even essential oils in here. It's from a new natural skincare line that's geared at sensitive skin in particular (but can be used on all skin, of course). The ingredients list is super short and includes glycerin, green tea and aloe vera.
Omorovicza Moor Cream Cleanser
Omorovicza Moor Cream Cleanser is not just for dry skin; it's also for oily, acne-prone and combination types. The star ingredient is a mineral-rich Hungarian Moor mud, which has both purifying and nourishing benefits. Plus it has zinc oxide, which may balance sebum production to help pores look smaller. I love this for a morning cleanse, or a second cleanse in the evening (after first removing makeup).
Arcona Four O’Clock Flower Gentle Cleansing Cream
Arcona Four O'Clock Flower Gentle Cleansing Cream is formulated for all skin, especially reactive skin. It's named for the Mirabilis jalapa flower, which helps calm and take down redness. The two types of clay will draw out impurities, while hyaluronic acid and seaweed will deliver hydration.
Lixirskin Electrogel Cleanser
Despite having "gel" in its name, Lixirskin Electrogel Cleanser is indeed a cream cleanser, and a very moisturizing one at that! Made with shea butter, glycerin and bentonite clay, its main point of difference is a negative electric charge that attracts and captures positively-charged free radicals, heavy metals and nanoparticles. I find this one definitely needs to be removed with a cloth. You can also leave it on for three minutes as a mask!
Beautycounter Nourishing Cream Cleanser
Beautycounter Nourishing Cream Cleanser is one of the brand's bestsellers. It has a light texture and can be applied to wet or dry skin, rinsing away easily with water. You'll find a mix of gentle surfactants, fatty alcohols and aloe vera in this formula.
The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser
The most affordable cream cleanser is The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser. Although they describe it as having a balm-like consistency, I'd say it's more creamy. But when you rub it between your palms for 10 to 30 seconds, it transforms into an oil. This effectively traps makeup and debris (but needs to go on dry, not wet skin). I find it rinses away well with water.
Pai Camellia & Rose Gentle Hydrating Cleanser
Pai Camellia & Rose Gentle Hydrating Cleanser is one of the mildest cleansers you'll find, perfect for sensitive skin and eczema. It is completely free of detergents, and instead is high in camellia oil, castor oil, glycerin and shea butter. So you'll want to use a warm, wet cloth to remove it properly—and it just so happens to come with one! The muslin side is for gentle exfoliation, and the other side is a soft terry flannel.
Kypris Cleanser Concentrate
Kypris Cleanser Concentrate is a unique concentrated cream cleanser that comes in a pot. A little goes a long way—all you need is a pearl-sized drop on dry skin. Then, by adding a few drops of water, it emulsifies into a milk. Like all the brand's products, it's loaded with plant extracts and oils.
First Aid Beauty Cleanser
First Aid Beauty Cleanser is one of my favourite lightweight cream cleansers, suitable for every skin type, from dry to sensitive to oily. It has a whipped texture that turns into a cream in contact with water, yet it's easily rinsed off. This one is also fragrance-free.
Kora Organics Cream Cleanser
Kora Organics Cream Cleanser is specifically made for normal to dry complexions. Miranda Kerr says it's her go-to cleanser for removing heavy makeup at the end of the day, without drying out her skin. I love that the base is aloe vera (not water), and it's high in glycerin and macadamia oil.
Kora Organics Gentle Cleanser
Kora Organics Gentle Cleanser is a richer cream cleanser designed for sensitive skin. It, too, is high in aloe, glycerin and macadamia oil, but with a more soothing blend of plant extracts and fewer essential oils. Miranda says she uses this one after travel or sun exposure.
Blume Daydreamer Super Gentle Face Wash
Blume Daydreamer Super Gentle Face Wash is from a new company specializing in chemical-free feminine hygiene products and self-care items. This cleanser is in fact one of the most natural formulations I've seen, and features olive oil, coconut oil, Moor mud and glycerin.
MV Organic Skincare Gentle Cream Cleanser
MV Organic Skincare Gentle Cream Cleanser feels so good, you almost want to leave it on as moisturizer (but please don't!). Rich in camellia, olive and coconut oils, it is nourishing and gentle for dry and sensitive skin, but also lightweight enough for oilier folks. They recommend that you remove it with a warm, wet cloth.
Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Miracle Cleanser
Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Miracle Cleanser is an award-winning creamy cleanser that takes off makeup and cleans your skin—you just need to use it in conjunction with a soft muslin cloth. It is quite aromatic, and boasts an all-natural ingredients list (including shea butter, cocoa butter and plant essences). This one can be used on all skin types.
Derma E Sensitive Skin Cleanser
Derma E Sensitive Skin Cleanser is suitable for all skin, especially sensitive skin and rosacea. The fragrance-free formula gently cleanses with a plant-based surfactant, and is packed with soothing, hydrating ingredients like glycerin, provitamin B5 and aloe vera.
Honua Hawaiian Skincare Pa‘akai Cleansing Cream
Honua Hawaiian Skincare Pa'akai Cleansing Cream is packed with tropical ingredients sourced sustainably from farms in Hawaii, such as local sea salt, seaweed, comfrey and hibiscus. (The latter is what gives it the pink colour!) It's suitable for all skin and can even be left on for 15 minutes as a mask.
Puremay Soft Velvet Cleanser
Puremay Soft Velvet Cleanser is your best bet if you're looking for a K-beauty option with clean ingredients. This is an unusual cream-to-foam formula that produces a rich lather thanks to its mix of gentle surfactants and plant oils. Since it's pH-balanced, it won't strip the skin.
Acure Seriously Soothing Cleansing Cream
Acure Seriously Soothing Cleansing Cream is very affordably priced, and formulated with gentle, non-toxic surfactants. It also contains hydrating and soothing ingredients like chamomile, calendula and coconut oil. Despite the creamy texture, it is said to rinse off easily with just water.
Schaf Facial Cleanser
Schaf Facial Cleanser is an amazing option if you're looking for natural ingredients and unisex packaging. I love how gently yet effectively it cleans, using a coconut-based surfactant. It leaves my skin feeling fresh and hydrated thanks to the aloe vera, hyaluronic acid, cucumber and chamomile.
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