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  5. Face Wash Vs Cleanser: Which One Should You Use?

Most of us often mistake a face wash for a cleanser. While both the skincare products help in cleansing your skin, how they clean is not quite the same.

It's important to make sure that either of the two products you are using fits your skin needs. And to help you do that, we have outlined the subtle differences between the two.

Read on to figure out which one or two you should be incorporating into your skincare routine.

What Expert Says

“Face washes are more suitable for oily skin than cleansers because cleansers are generally hydrating.”

Abhisikta Hati, Senior Product Development Executive, SkinKraft

Face Wash Vs Cleanser: Basic Function


Face wash



Removes debris from deeper layers of skin and cleanses pores

Removes the dirt, makeup residue and excess oils from the skin’s surface

Suited for

Oily and combination skin types

Dry and sensitive skin types


Usually well foaming



Gentler than a soap bar

Gentler than a face wash


Less hydrating and moisturizing

More hydrating and moisturizing


In the morning

In the night


Rinsing required

Rinsing may or may not be required


Formulations include gel and foam

Formulations include cream, lotion, oil, and powder

Cleansing Activity Of Cleansers And Face Washes

Face washes are water-based formulations available as gel, foam textures. Their foaming and astringent properties deeply clean pores and combat oil production. Cleansers, on the other hand, come in thick, milky, cream or clay texture and they primarily cleanse, hydrate, and soothe your skin [1].

Both cleansers and face washes contain synthetic detergents to wash away dirt. These detergents, also called surfactants (surface active agents), are composed of a hydrophilic (water-loving) and hydrophobic (water-hating but oil or grease-loving) tail.

The hydrophobic parts attach to the oil and dirt to form structures called micelles. These micelles that trap the dirt are washed away with a good rinse.

Can You Use Face Wash And Facial Cleanser Together?

Yes, you can use both face wash and facial cleanser in your skincare routine, depending on your skin type. If you are someone who is exposed to air pollutants frequently, consider using a cleanser first and then use a face wash afterwards to remove particles from your skin.

“By conventional definition face washes can be said to be more suitable for oily skin than cleansers because cleansers are generally hydrating. But now both the nomenclatures are used as interconvertible, serving the same purpose,” says Abhisikta Hati, Senior Product Development Executive at SkinKraft.

If you have oily yet sensitive skin, using both a face wash and a cleanser in your regimen can help to prevent irritation. Double cleansing is great especially if your skin is prone to acne and gets oily. Also, if you wear heavy makeup, double cleansing will help you get rid of the make-up residue on your skin.

You may want to use the face wash before starting your day for a deep cleanse and use a cleanser during the day between workout sessions and before bedtime to remove all the dirt. Later, you can use a toner to balance your skin’s pH and moisturize it to provide nourishment.

You can adjust your products based on whether your skin feels dry or oily after cleansing. With cleansers you do not need to rinse off the product. You can use a washcloth or a towel to wipe it off.

Should You Use a Face Wash Or A Cleanser?

Face washes suit best for oily, acne-prone skin due to their strong cleansing effects. The foaming action of face washes reduce development of breakouts and clogged pores [2] and remove deep-seated oils. You can opt for face washes that contain -

  • Salicylic acid: an effective anti-acne ingredient that helps to exfoliate your pores,
  • Green tea extract: a natural ingredient best known to control production of oil on skin.

In cases of sensitive skin, cleansers work best. They are mild and are especially helpful for those with conditions like eczema, rosacea, etc. Choose cleansers that contain -

  • Glycerine: hydrates your skin’s natural barrier and prevents loss of moisture,
  • Ceramides: increases hydration and improves appearance of dry skin.

If you have combination skin type, you may use both a cleanser and face wash to balance the oily and dry regions of your face.

How To Cleanse/Wash Your Face?

  • Wash your hands before you begin because the cleanser may lose its function due to your greasy hands.
  • Gently massage a coin sized amount of face wash into your skin for about 30-60 sec. Work your way upwards in small circles.[3].
  • Rinse thoroughly.

Ingredients To Avoid In A Cleanser or A Face Wash

A. Sulfates

Sulfates are salts that are formed when sulphuric acid reacts with another chemical.

Common sulfates used in cleansers or face washes are SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) and SLES (sodium laureth sulfate). They are produced from petroleum and plant sources like coconut and palm oil.

Sulfates create lather or foaming but can irritate your eyes and skin. If you have extremely dry or sensitive skin, it is best to avoid foaming face washes.

B. Parabens

Parabens are used as preservatives in cleansers or face washes to keep them fresh and germ free. Parabens belong to chemical families like methyl, butyl and propyl.

Parabens are hormone disruptors and can lead to breast cancer.

C. Phthalates

Phthalates are salts that are used in cleansers for easy spreading.

Phthalates are associated with reproductive and developmental toxins. They are endocrine disruptors.

D. Mineral oil

Mineral oil can clog pores and lead to breakouts. On the other hand, natural plant oils will nourish the skin without clogging the pores.

E. Fragrance

Fragrance is loaded with chemicals and might trigger allergic reactions in the skin. If you love fragrance-induced products, go for the ones with essential oils or plant extracts.

The Don’ts Of Cleansing

A. Don’t Wash Your Face With Hot Water

Hot water can remove the natural oils from your face, leaving it dry and tight. Use lukewarm water to wash your face.

B. Don’t Use Bath Soap on Your Facial Skin

The pH of bath soaps is around 10, whereas the skin’s pH ranges from 4.7 and 5.75 (slightly acidic). Soap bars can disrupt skin’s optimal pH value.

C. Don’t Rub The Cleanser Too Hard Into Your Skin

Excess rubbing while cleansing can strip off the natural oils from your skin and interfere with the skin’s pH. Use a toner after cleansing to neutralize skin’s pH.

D. Don’t Over Cleanse

You may be tempted to over cleanse your face if your skin type is oily. Over cleansing can strip off the top layer of your skin plus your skin's natural oils (sebum).

Wrapping Up

Both face washes and cleansers clear excess oil, dirt, and other pollutants from your skin, however, the additional benefits they provide depends on your skin type and needs. Depending on your needs, you may also choose to use both of them together to derive maximum benefits. Now that you’ve understood the differences between a face wash and a cleanser, we hope you won’t get stuck at the skincare section next time you are shopping.

Begin By Knowing Your Skin

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