Woman washing her face - Is There A Difference Between Cleanser And Face Wash?

Is There a Difference Between Cleanser and Face Wash?


Christine Barbara


Article Cover Photo: © GlobalStock from Getty Images Signature via

When it comes to skin care, cleanliness is right up there on the list of priorities. Pretty much every skincare routine starts with washing the face to clean the pores, rinse off excess sebum and ensure that the skin is suitably prepped for any subsequent skincare products. Yet, gone are the days of using just any generic bar of soap to clean the face! Nowadays, cleansers and face washes have become a staple of all women’s skincare routine but the difference between cleanser and face wash is often not given the thought it deserves.

Many consider cleansers and face washes to be interchangeable skincare products, and whilst it is true that both products help remove dirt, makeup and other debris from the face, they each have their own unique qualities. In truth, there is actually a subtle difference between cleanser and face wash, and it’s all broken down here, complete with a buying guide at the end!

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What is the Difference Between Cleanser and Face Wash?

Naturally, both cleansers and face washes are products used to clean the face. Having such a similar function, can they really be so different, and does it really matter? Well, there are in fact a few subtle differences one should be aware of before investing in any facial cleaner – and choosing the right one will ultimately depend on personal skin type.

What is a Cleanser?

Facial cleansers perform a similar function to the typical face wash. Facial cleansers aim to deeply clean the face, but their creamy formula offers a hydrating and soothing function. Nourishing ingredients are typically added to cleansers with the aim of balancing out the skin and boosting its moisture levels. Due to their gentle and soothing properties, skin cleansers are suitable for a wider range of skin types and most importantly, they do not foam! Some choose to use a cotton pad to apply the cleaner to the face, others prefer to use clean fingertips to gently massage the cleanser into the skin.

**Editor’s Tip** whether using a cleanser or toner, we’re fans of using finger tips over cotton pads. Not only is it more environmentally friendly, but the none of the product will be absorbed by the cotton pad (and therefore wasted!).

What is a Face Wash?

Face washes come in many shapes and forms – gels, foams and special soap bars designed for the face – yet in all cases, a face wash is a product that involves wetting the face, and massaging in a product that gets foamy when applied to the skin. Facial washes often contains strong astringent ingredients and these, together with its sudsy quality, work to deeply clean the pores from any type of debris, fight excessive sebum production and are more targeted towards users with oily to combination skin.

Cleanser vs Face Wash: Which One Is Right For You?

Choosing between a cleanser and a face wash all depends on skin type. Whilst some would never replace their preferred face wash with a creamy cleanser, others might find a face wash too harsh for their complexion.

  • For sensitive skin. To strip away excess oil and deeply clean the pores, a typical face wash is formulated using harsh astringents. Whilst this works wonders for oily skin, people will sensitive skin will find that a face wash may be too harsh on their skin, causing uncomfortable dryness and irritation. In such cases, it is best to opt for a more soothing cleanser which gently cleans the skin whilst leaving it feeling lusciously soft and hydrated.
  • For acne-prone skin. A foaming face wash works best for oily skin which is prone to breakouts. Its astringent formula, which typically foams up when applied, is just what the skin needs to keep the pores clean from impurities and efficiently remove excess sebum (that oily residue upon the face).
  • For dry skin. On the other hand, dry skin will crave the creamy moisture that a soothing cleanser will provide. Its milky texture helps to maintain healthy, clean and well-hydrated skin that looks youthful and feels smooth to the touch.
  • For combination skin. When it comes to combination skin, it might be best to try both products. Incorporating a face wash as part of one’s evening routine and a creamy cleanser in the morning, should strike the perfect balance and help to achieve healthy looking skin.
5 Cleansers and Face Washes against a marble background
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Facial Wash and Cleansers: 5 Recommendations to Try!

After deciding which product to use, be it a deep-cleaning face wash or a soothing cleanser, there is still the daunting process of choosing which product to invest in. Here’s a list of top facial washes and facial cleansers, all of which come highly recommended.

1. The Rice Wash Skin-Softening Cleanser by Tatcha

This creamy face cleanser was inspired by the Japanese tradition of repurposing rice water for use in beauty rituals. Combining nourishing rice water – a rich source of vitamins A, B2, B12, and E – with red algae and hyaluronic acid, this cleanser aims to re-hydrate the skin leaving it feeling clean, soft and healthy. Unsurprisingly, one user of this cleanser called it “heavenly” and that she was “forever in love with this product”.

2. Papaya Sorbet Smoothing Enzyme Cleansing Balm & Makeup Remover by Glow Recipe

This cruelty free, Glow Recipe cleanser is a lightweight cream which gently cleans away makeup, dirt, and excess oil whilst leaving the skin hydrated and soft. Made from papain, naturally-occurring enzymes from the papaya fruit, and free from harsh fragrances, this skin cleanser is ideal for people with sensitive skin and even contact lens wearers who have sensitive eyes. To make it even more appealing, this cleanser is also a sustainable product that is PEG-free and sold in recyclable packaging!

3. Facial Treatment Cleanser by SK-II

SK-II’s facial treatment cleanser is ultra-hydrating foaming wash, containing over 50 micro-nutrients like vitamins, minerals, amino acid and organic acids. The ingredients also include white willow extract, a willow bark extract that contains BHA salicylic acid. This allows the product to effectively remove impurities deeply lodged within the pores, whilst the mild rose essence locks moisture into the skin and helps promote relaxation through its scent. One fan of this product wrote “this is by far the best cleanser on the market!!! I love the way it lathers, I love the way it purifies my skin and I love the way my skin feels after you wash it off!”.

4. Calendula Deep Clean Foaming Face Wash by Kiehl’s

The Calendula Foaming Face Wash is ideal for oily, acne prone skin. Laced with skin-soothing calendula flower extract and glycerine that protects the complexion’s moisture barrier, this wash deeply cleans the pores without stripping it of the moisture it needs to remain youthfully supple. Gentle yet effective, this product by Kiehl’s has been given glowing reviews by customers and described as “the best cleanser you could buy”.

5. Dynamic Resurfacing Facial Wash by Elemis

This facial wash by Elemis is a gentle and purifying foaming gel that aims to deeply cleanse and gently exfoliate the skin. Its unique formula is designed to target impurities and buff out any dirt and pollutants deeply embedded within the pores. It even uses Elemis patented Tri-Enzyme Technology to help clear away that stubborn layer of dead skin cells.

Full of antioxidant-rich moringa, this wash is paired with the soothing properties found in white truffle mushroom, making for a gently protective facial wash that has earned numerous five star reviews. One positive reviewer wrote: “Absolutely love this little gem! It gently encourages the skin’s natural cell renewal cycle which means it leaves your face feeling oh so baby soft and with a beautiful glow!”.

If you enjoy reading beauty and skin care content, be sure to check out other Dukes Avenue skin care articles on topics like dermabladingmicroneedling, retinol and hyaluronic acid in the Dukes Avenue Beauty section.

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