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Is your skin dry or oily? Here's how to choose the right cleanser for your skin type

Do you have oily, dry or combination skin? Dermatologists weigh in on the best facial cleanser for you.
Woman washing her face
If you have dry skin, avoid heavy foaming cleansers, which have the potential to strip away the skin’s natural moisture.UniversalImagesGroup / Getty

In what seems like an endless sea of cleanser formulas (foams, creams, jellies!) and ingredients (acids, oils, clays!), it can feel a bit overwhelming to decipher which one is ideal for your individual skin and needs.

“The right cleanser can rid skin of dirt and pollutants, excess oils and dead skin, as well as create an environment in which any active ingredients penetrate better,” explains Dr. Ronald L. Moy, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills.

Conversely, Dr. Moy cautions the wrong cleanser can have the potential to damage the skin barrier, causing irritation. “That’s why it’s so important to factor in your skin type when choosing ingredients and formulas,” he says.

In an effort to help you find "the one" and help you avoid shelling out big bucks only to make matters worse, we asked experts to help us create a step-by-step guide to finding the best cleanser for you.

If you have oily skin

If you already tend to produce an excess of sebum, Moy says you’ll want to avoid cleansers that are packed with moisturizers (such as petrolatum) or have a greasy feel to them as to not over-hydrate.

“Many of my patients with oily skin will also have acne, so I recommend ingredients like benzoyl peroxide to help clear up the skin and kill bacteria. Glycolic acid and salicylic acid will also chemically and gently exfoliate the skin and help remove oils,” Moy explains.

Dr. Nava Greenfield of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York is another believer in salicylic acid, as well as lactic acid and ingredients like charcoal or clay when it comes to keeping skin clear and dry. “In terms of formulas, I typically recommend an oil-free or foam cleanser,” she adds.

Try: DNA Renewal Foaming Gel Cleanser ($28) or Differin Deep Daily Cleanser ($10)

If you have dry skin

On the drier side? Opt for an oil or cream-based formula that will hydrate as it cleanses. “Ingredients like honey, shea butter, glycerine, lipids and ceramides work well when it comes to restoring moisture,” Moy suggests.

Dr. Greenfield adds that products containing both an oil and a gentle acid are also great for those with dry skin. “The acid will cleanse while, at the same time, the oil will contribute to the skin barrier and ensure the skin stays hydrated and moist,” she explains.

As for what to avoid, Moy recommends staying away from heavy foaming cleansers, which he says have the potential to strip away the skin’s natural moisturizers.

Try: CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser ($15) or Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($14)

If you have combination skin

Combination skin, typically defined as having both oily and dry zones, can get tricky, as you don’t want to use a product that contains too much oil or, on the flip side, is too harsh.

“A gel or micellar cleanser, ideally fragrance-free, water-based and containing gentle ingredients like aloe, can work well in these situations. These will help cleanse but are not too harsh as to cause the more sensitive areas of the face to dry out even more,” explains Greenfield.

While a bit more involved, Moy says you might also want to explore spot-treating oily zones with a separate cleanser and/or mask with the same properties suggested for oily skin above to help manage those areas without negatively impacting others.

Try: C’est Moi Gentle Foaming Cleansing Gel ($6) or La Roche-Posay Hydrating Gentle Soap-Free Cleanser ($15)

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