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 produces only a mild lather (or no lather at all). 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, scan the ingredients list for the following:
- Sulfate-free: 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.
- Silicone-free: Silicones can leave behind a film on your skin surface, which can trap debris and congest your pores.
- Mineral oil-free: Petroleum derivatives can also coat you skin in an occlusive barrier.
- 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-PUFA: Oils with a polyunsaturated fatty acid profile are highly volatile and quick to oxidize (go rancid). Ideally, use cleansers with stable oils or that don't have PUFAs in the first five ingredients.
- Low-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 wherever possible.
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
Blume Daydreamer goes on like a creamy lotion, and since it doesn't lather, you might assume that it's not really cleaning your skin. But you'd be wrong—it removes dirt, oil and makeup while leaving you plump and hydrated. This calming, hydrating formula includes olive oil, coconut oil, glycerin and chamomile.
First Aid Beauty Face Cleanser
First Aid Beauty Face Cleanser was the first cream cleanser I fell in love with, and it's still one of the best. It has a whipped texture that turns extra-creamy in contact with water, and yet it's easily rinsed off. This one is suitable for every skin type, from dry to oily to sensitive, and it's also fragrance-free. See my full review here.
Kinship Naked Papaya Gentle Enzyme Face Cleanser
Kinship Naked Papaya Gentle Enzyme Face Cleanser looks, feels and smells like a creamy, tropical fruit smoothie. It cleans with natural surfactants in a base of glycerin and aloe, and is spiked with papaya enzymes to gently exfoliate and brighten. Like all the brand's products, it also contains a probiotic complex to support your skin's microbiome.
Tatcha The Rice Wash
Tatcha The Rice Wash takes inspiration from the centuries-old "rice washing" ritual, in which Japanese women cleansed using the milky water leftover from cooking rice. This formula combines rice powder with glycerin, algae, green tea and hyaluronic acid for a luxe, creamy cleanse. The tiny particles make it ever-so-slightly exfoliating as it produces a soft lather, and then rinses clean.
Dr Roebuck’s Noosa Nourishing Creme Cleanser
Dr Roebuck's Noosa Nourishing Creme Cleanser is one of the most hydrating cream cleansers, but it's not at all greasy, and any skin type can use it. 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). Best of all, it rinses clean with just water.
Omorovicza Moor Cream Cleanser
Omorovicza Moor Cream Cleanser is made with Hungarian thermal water and Moor mud, both of which are rich in minerals like calcium and magnesium. That makes this cleanser not only nourishing but also purifying. It also has zinc oxide to help calm inflammation. I use this for a gentle morning cleanse, or for a second cleanse in the evening (after first removing makeup).
The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser
The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser is the most affordable cleanser on my list. Out of the tube, it starts out as a cream, but when you rub it between your palms for 10 to 30 seconds, it actually transforms into an oil. This effectively traps makeup and debris—but it needs to go on dry, not wet skin. Rinse it off with water and then follow up with toner to be sure all residue is removed.
Versed Keep the Peace Acne-Calming Cream Cleanser
Versed Keep the Peace Acne-Calming Cream Cleanser takes a gentle approach to breakouts. Unlike most acne cleansers, which strip away natural oils, it calms and moisturizes with fatty acids, rosewater, glycerin and blue tansy. It also has 1.5 percent salicylic acid to help deep-clean blocked pores.
Pai Middlemist Seven
Pai Middlemist Seven is one of the mildest cleansers, perfect for sensitive skin and eczema sufferers. 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 throughly remove it—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.
Naturally Serious Major Moisture Gentle Cream Cleanser
Naturally Serious Major Moisture Gentle Cream Cleanser is formulated with "no B.A.D. ingredients"—meaning the brand doesn't use anything banned, ambiguous or debatable. So you'll find a coconut-based surfactant in here, along with coconut oil, fatty acids, glycerin, plant extracts and probiotics. Impressively, it removes even waterproof makeup without drying or irritating you skin.
Peet Rivko Gentle Cleanser
Peet Rivko Gentle Cleanser is geared at sensitive skin, but all skin types would benefit from this ultra-mild and creamy cleanser. It is completely fragrance-free, so there are no synthetic perfumes or even essential oils in here to irritate you skin. It also has a short and clean ingredients list, which includes natural surfactants, glycerin, panthenol, allantoin and aloe.
SkinCeuticals Gentle Cleanser
SkinCeuticals Gentle Cleanser was formulated to be suitable for "post-procedure" skin—so, you can safely use it after laser treatments, chemical peels, microdermabrasion, IPL or injectables. It contains glycerin and three percent allantoin to soften, soothe and hydrate. But despite its gentleness, it also removes stubborn long-wear makeup.
Arcona Four O’Clock Flower Gentle Cleansing Cream
Arcona Four O'Clock Flower Gentle Cleansing Cream is named for the Mirabilis jalapa (a.k.a. the "four o'clock flower"), which has soothing and calming properties. As such, it is ideal for reactive skin, as well as all other skin types. Besides the flower extract, which takes down redness, it has clay to draw out impurities, and hyaluronic acid and seaweed to deliver hydration.
Honua Hawaiian Skincare Pa‘akai Cleansing Cream
Honua Hawaiian Skincare Pa'akai Cleansing Cream is all-natural and packed with tropical ingredients sourced from Hawaiian farms, such as local sea salt, seaweed, comfrey and hibiscus. (The latter is what gives this its pink hue.) It cleans well, is suitable for all skin, and can even be left on for 15 minutes as a mask.
Acure Seriously Soothing Cleansing Cream
Acure Seriously Soothing Cleansing Cream is a budget-minded option with a lotion texture and sensitive skin-friendly ingredients. They include the gentlest surfactants, plus calming chamomile and calendula extracts, and hydrating coconut oil and other emollients. Despite how creamy it is, this one rinses off easily with just water.
MV Skintherapy Gentle Cream Cleanser
MV Skintherapy 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. I recommend removing it with a warm, wet cloth.
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