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 it has a thicker, richer texture and produces only a mild lather (or no lather at all). Not only does it clean your skin without throwing off its pH level or stripping its protective barrier, it can also deposit soothing and moisturizing ingredients.
But not all cream cleansers are made equal. Keep reading to discover the best cream cleansers on the market, why I chose them, and what you need to know about each one.
Editor’s Picks (At a Glance)
Best for Sensitive Skin
Best for Acne-Prone Skin
Best for Normal Skin
Best for Dry Skin
Best for Post-Procedure Skin
Best Clean Beauty
Best on Amazon
What to Look for in a Cream Cleanser
When choosing a cream cleanser, scan the ingredients list with the following in mind:
- Free of sulfates: Sulfates are harsh detergents that can irritate your skin. Instead, choose cleansers with gentle surfactants, such as sodium cocoyl isethionate or cocamidopropyl betaine, or no surfactants at all.
- Free of silicones: Rather than actually absorbing and hydrating, silicones just create a film on your skin surface. This can trap debris and congest your pores.
- Free of mineral oil: Petroleum derivatives like mineral oil also coat your skin in an occlusive barrier, which will prevent other products from penetrating and can exacerbate acne.
- High in hydrators: Rather than silicones and mineral oil, look for skin-friendly emollients and humectants such as squalane, glycerin, coconut oil, fatty alcohols and shea butter.
- Low in PUFAs: Oils with a polyunsaturated fatty acid profile are highly volatile and quick to oxidize (go rancid). Ideally, use cleansers that don’t have PUFA-based oils in the first five ingredients.
- Low in fragrance: Although fragrance won’t be as irritating in a cleanser compared to a leave-on product (like moisturizer), it’s still best to limit it wherever possible.
⚠️ Some cream cleansers rinse clean with just water, while others require more careful removal. See my cleansing cream tutorial for tips on how to use them the right way.
The Best Cream Cleansers of 2022
Best Overall: First Aid Beauty Face Cleanser
- What it does: First Aid Beauty Face Cleanser is a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser with a whipped texture that turns extra-creamy in contact with water. It can be used twice daily on damp skin, and then rinsed off with water or a damp cloth.
- Best for: All skin.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, stearic acid, fatty alcohol, allantoin, aloe.
- Editor’s notes: This was the first cream cleanser I fell in love with, and I always go back to it. It produces a creamy lather that feels calming and hydrating, but is surprisingly effective at cleaning your skin. It’s also pH-balanced, non-stripping and easily rinses off. This one is suitable for every skin type, from dry to oily to sensitive. See my full review here.
Best Budget: The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser
- What it does: The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser is a moisturizing cream-to-oil cleanser that removes makeup and cleans your skin without over-drying. To activate it, you’ll need to rub the product between your palms for 10 to 30 seconds; it can be used twice daily on dry skin and then rinsed off with water.
- Best for: All skin.
- Key ingredients: Squalane, glycerin, vitamin E.
- Editor’s notes: This is the most affordable cleanser on my list. Out of the tube, it starts out as a cream, but when you warm it up with your hands, it transforms into an oil that traps and dissolves debris. Although it does remove with water, due to the oily consistency, I would also follow up with toner to be sure it’s all gone (especially around your hairline and jawline). See my brand review here.
Best Hydrating: Blume Daydreamer Face Wash
- What it does: Blume Daydreamer Face Wash is a nourishing, oil-based cream cleanser with a lotion texture that won’t leave skin tight or dry. It can be used twice daily on damp skin, and then rinsed off with water.
- Best for: All skin.
- Key ingredients: Rapeseed oil, stearic acid, fatty alcohol, capric triglycerides, glycerin, chamomile.
- Editor’s notes: This cleanser feels like a moisturizer when you first put it on, and since it doesn’t lather, you might assume that it’s not really cleaning. But you’d be wrong—it does a great job of removing dirt, oil and makeup while leaving your skin soft and hydrated. Plus, when you rinse off, it doesn’t leave behind any icky residue.
Best Exfoliating: Tatcha The Rice Wash
- What it does: Tatcha The Rice Wash is a foaming cream cleanser infused with rice powder, which gives you an ultra-gentle exfoliation while you cleanse. It can be used daily on wet skin, and then rinsed off with water.
- Best for: Normal to dry skin.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, rice powder, algae, green tea, hyaluronic acid.
- Editor’s notes: This cleanser takes inspiration from Japan’s centuries-old “rice washing” ritual, which involved cleansing with the milky water leftover from cooking rice. As such, the formula combines rice powder with a blend of humectants for a luxe, creamy cleanse. The rice grains give it an ever-so-slightly grainy texture as it produces a soft lather, and then rinses clean.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Tata Harper Softening Cleanser
- What it does: Tata Harper Softening Cleanser is a soothing, hypoallergenic cream cleanser especially made for sensitive and stressed-out skin. It can be used twice daily on damp skin, and then rinsed off with water.
- Best for: All skin, especially sensitive.
- Key ingredients: Calendula, shea butter, glycerin, evening primrose oil.
- Editor’s notes: Like all the brand’s products, this cleanser is made with all-natural ingredients. But you might be surprised to learn that it is free of essential oils and fragrance (both of which can be irritating). As you massage, it produces a rich, non-stripping micro-foam, which dissolves build-up and then rinses away with just water.
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Versed Keep the Peace Acne-Calming Cream Cleanser
- What it does: Versed Keep the Peace Acne-Calming Cream Cleanser is a non-drying, foaming cream cleanser that helps to combat breakouts with salicylic acid. It can be used twice daily on wet skin; you’re meant to massage it in for 60 seconds and then rinse it off with water.
- Best for: Acne-prone skin.
- Key ingredients: 1.5% salicylic acid, stearic acid, rosewater, glycerin, blue tansy oil.
- Editor’s notes: This cleanser takes a gentle approach to breakouts. Unlike most acne cleansers, which strip away natural oils, it calms and moisturizes with blue tansy and fatty acids. By massaging it in well for a full minute, you’ll give the salicylic acid a chance to target blocked pores.
Best for Normal Skin: Kinship Naked Papaya Gentle Enzyme Face Cleanser
- What it does: Kinship Naked Papaya Gentle Enzyme Face Cleanser is a non-foaming, enzyme-spiked cream cleanser that gently brightens while it cleans. It can be used twice daily on damp skin, and then rinsed off with water.
- Best for: All skin.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, aloe, sunflower seed oil, lethicin, papaya extract.
- Editor’s notes: This cleanser looks, feels and smells like a creamy, tropical fruit smoothie. The base is hydrating but not heavy, and the fruit enzymes have a mild exfoliating effect. Like all the brand’s products, it also contains a probiotic complex to support your skin’s microbiome.
Best for Dry Skin: Pai Middlemist Seven Camellia & Rose Gentle Cream Cleanser
- What it does: Pai Middlemist Seven Camellia & Rose Gentle Cream Cleanser is an oil-based cream cleanser that is free of detergents, so it won’t disrupt your skin’s natural oils or pH balance. It can be used daily on dry skin, and then removed with a warm, damp cloth. (Each bottle comes with the brand’s Twin Flyer double-sided cloth.)
- Best for: Dry and sensitive skin.
- Key ingredients: Camellia oil, castor oil, sweet almond oil, glycerin, shea butter.
- Editor’s notes: Since it doesn’t contain any lathering agents, this is one of the mildest cleansers, perfect for sensitive skin and eczema sufferers. It’s high in an array of natural oils, so you’ll definitely want to use a cloth to remove them thoroughly from your skin. Depending on how sensitive your skin feels, you can either use the muslin side for gentle exfoliation, or the super-soft terry flannel.
Best for Post-Procedure Skin: SkinCeuticals Gentle Cleanser
- What it does: SkinCeuticals Gentle Cleanser is a non-foaming, emollient-rich cream cleanser formulated to be safe for post-procedure skin. It can be used twice daily on wet skin, and then rinsed off with water.
- Best for: All skin.
- Key ingredients: Glycerin, propanediol, fatty alcohol, orange oil, allantoin.
- Editor’s notes: As well as everyday use, this face wash can be safely used after laser treatments, chemical peels, microdermabrasion, IPL or injectables. It contains a 3% blend of skin conditioners (allantoin and glycerin) along with orange oil, which is soothing and antiseptic. But despite being so mild, it is still capable of removing stubborn long-wear makeup.