What I Look For In A Cleanser

I think it's fair to say that no cleanser is made equal, but whether we're talking a high street brand or the most expensive product you'll find in a department store beauty hall, it needs to clean your face. 


I know I go through a series of imaginary tick boxes before I invest in a new cleanser, so I thought I'd share the things I look for. 


First thing's first: what is the texture? 

This sounds very superficial, but the texture is often (but not always) a good indicator of what the cleanser can do. In general, oil-based cleansers will remove sun screen and make up, creams tend not to be able to dissolve sun screen, water resistant make up and other stubborn cosmetics. Some can remove make up, but not all cream cleansers are formulated to do this. Gels are more geared towards removing surface 'debris' like sweat. Micellar waters remove eye make up but, in my experience, not much else. 

So... what does it remove? 

I don't rely on just the telling texture alone, I want to check for an explicit claim that it will remove sunscreen and make up, especially when it comes to cream cleansers. Check the label, check the product description. Cleansers that aren't formulated to remove make up aren't bad, just that they're not really suitable for an evening cleanse, where the whole point is - obviously - to get rid of what's been on my face during the day. 

Does it contain actives? 

In my experience, actives (read here if you're not sure what I mean by actives) tend to be found in gel formulas, so this is where I'll mostly be thinking about my morning cleanse. Again, check the label, check the description, and see if you can identify any active ingredients. Scrubs are not actives, we're talking glycolic acid, salicylic acid, azelaic acid... among others. If you're new to using active ingredients, it's a good idea to gauge the strength to give you an idea as to how you should start introducing them into your routine (i.e use every other day, or just a couple of times a week.) There are three ways I gauge the strength of an active ingredient:

1. I check the marketing material and look for a % (I don't know of a rule of thumb for percentages, I know one acid might not be as potent at the same percentage as another acid, so I'd advise to do your research on a case-by-case basis.) 

2. Check the ingredients list. The closer to the top of the list, the higher the concentration of the ingredient. So if an active ingredient is quite high up, then it's probably quite a strong product and may initially need to be approached with caution. If it's near the bottom, there's only a small amount in there and so is probably fine for frequent use. Some companies may include a small amount of active ingredient just to have the marketing claims that come with it, even if, in reality, it's too weak to be substantially effective. 

3. Check the directions: if the instructions advise using at night, or following up in the day with a sunscreen, this generally indicates it's quite strong. I suspect products with active ingredients that advise using in the AM are weaker than night-time products. 

Now for the really superficial aspects and personal preferences... 

Is it runny, foamy, creamy, soapy? 

Most people will pass on a foaminy cleanser but I think the term 'foaming' is very broad and doesn't necessarily mean harsh and drying. Many gel cleansers will lather with water just by their nature, it doesn't mean it's time to run away. The only thing, I think, that would be a definite no from me would be a very soapy cleanser. Earlier this year I threw out Youth to the People Superfood Cleanser because it was just too astringent. 

How Easily Does It Rinse Off? 

Another must for me is rinsing off easily. It's just a big pet peeve of mine when you're persistently trying to rinse off a cleanser to no avail, you add a bit more water when you think its all gone and look - more lather! Simple Micellar Gel Wash is really bad for that. My favourite, most easy to rinse off cleanser is Pixi's Glow Tonic Cleansing Gel*, it's so easy to work with.  

Does it sting my eyes?

I know it might sound silly, because it's a bit like shampoo: the bottle says avoid contact with eyes, but it's around your face (cleansers are literally on your face) so it's inevitable it's going to get in your eyes at some point. Knowing this, I think brands should formulate facial cleansers to be gentle enough to not make your eyes feel raw and stingy, so it being very uncomfortable on the eyes - making them feel dry, tight and gritty etc - is a big no from me. 

Does it contain fragrance? 

I try to avoid fragrance in the rest of my skincare routine but when it comes to cleansers I don't mind too much, though I'd rather it was sans-perfume. Because of the short contact time, it's less likely to cause irritation, so I'll tolerate it here if anywhere. That being said, my favourite fragrance free cleansers are: 

Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Oil

Pixi Hydrating Milky Make Up Remover*

Agera Salicylic Face Wash

CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser

What is the packaging made out of? 

I'm not a vegan or a hardcore eco-warrior, so it's not a deal breaker for me I must confess, but I do make a conscious effort to at least try and make more ethical purchases, so I try to shop from brands where they have a clear commitment to the environment and reducing plastic. For example, Typology make their packaging using only recyclable ingredients, and Bybi manufactures all their products in the UK to reduce the carbon footprint of their supply chain. 

And, that's it: that's everything I'd look for in a cleanser. What are your favourite cleansers? 


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Disclaimer: links may be affiliate links and PR samples will be marked with *. Items marked with ^ indicate a brand which I have received PR from, but this particular product was purchased by myself.      

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