Face Cleanser Types: Gel, Cream, Foaming, Oil – Which is Best?


With so many face cleanser formulas lining store shelves, choosing the right cleanser for your skin can feel overwhelming. Should you use an oil, cream, foam or gel cleanser? What ingredients make certain cleanser types better for different skin needs?

To breakdown the key differences between cleanser formulas, we’ll explore the pros and cons of popular face cleanser types. Discover which variety – gel, cream, foaming, or oil cleansers – suits combination, oily, dry or sensitive skin.

Face Cleanser

How Face Cleansers Work

Before diving into specific formulas, let’s quickly cover how cleansers work to remove dirt, oil, and impurities from skin’s surface.

Cleansers contain surfactants – ingredients that break down and lift away debris and makeup when mixed with water. Common surfactants in cleansers include sodium laureth sulfate, cocamidopropyl betaine, and cocamide MEA.

Depending on the cleanser type and surfactants used, they balance and remove oil with differing levels of strength. Harsher surfactants can strip away too much natural oil leading to dryness and irritation.

Now let’s explore how ingredients and textures determine the best cleanser type for each skin need.

Gel Cleansers

Light gel-like textures are ideal for those who don’t want residue left behind. The gels liquefy quickly with water. Glycerin is typically added to help offset stripping effects of surfactants.

Best For:

  • Oily, acne-prone skin needing deep cleansing without dryness
  • Combination skin to remove oil without stripping dry zones
  • Clearing away makeup, dirt, and excess oil residue


  • Gel textures thoroughly cleanse without leaving oily residue behind
  • Glycerin helps maintain moisture balance
  • Easy to dispense, lather, and rinse away entirely


  • Can be drying to very dry skin types if harsh surfactants overstrip natural oils

Examples: CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser, La Roche-Posay Gel Cleanser, Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash

Face Cleanser


Cream Cleansers

Creamy, lotion-like textures maintain moisture as they cleanse. They emulsify easily with water. Creams often rely on gentler surfactants plus skin conditioners.

Best For:

  • Dry, mature skin needing hydration and gentle cleansing
  • Sensitive skin prone to irritation from harsh ingredients
  • Removing light makeup and environmental debris without stripping


  • Hydrating formulas avoid over-drying delicate skin
  • Nourishing ingredients like glycerin hydrate as they clean
  • Gentle on reactive, irritation-prone complexions


  • May not dissolve heavy makeup or completely purge excess oils
  • Richer textures can leave a greasy finish if not rinsed fully

Examples: Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, Cerave Hydrating Cleanser, Caudalie Makeup Removing Cleansing Oil

Foaming Cleansers

These cleansers transform into a foamy, soapy lather. Many contain sulfate-based surfactants that powerfully dissolve oil and makeup. Can be drying if overused.

Best For:

  • Oily, acne-prone skin that benefits from deep cleansing
  • Removing heavy makeup including waterproof mascara and foundation
  • Cleaning clogged pores and removing surface oil buildup


  • Foaming action lifts away pore-clogging debris
  • Sulfate surfactants cut through makeup, sunscreen, and oils
  • Cleans without leaving residue behind


  • Can strip healthy oils leading to dryness if overused
  • Sulfate-based formulas may irritate sensitive skin

Examples: Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser, Cerave Foaming Cleanser, La Roche-Posay Toleriane Foaming Cleanser


Oil Cleansers

Apply dry then emulsify with water – oils effectively dissolve makeup and sunscreen without stripping. Nourishing oils hydrate as they cleanse.

Best For:

  • Dry skin needing gentle yet deep makeup removal
  • Skin struggling with flakiness, irritation, or sensitivity
  • Deeply cleansing clogged pores without stripping skin


  • Thoroughly melts away stubborn makeup and sunscreen
  • Hydrating oils like grapeseed, jojoba, and olive nourish skin
  • Leaves no greasy residue if emulsified and rinsed fully


  • Not ideal for oily skin prone to breakouts
  • Takes a bit more rinsing to remove oil residue

Examples: DHC Deep Cleansing Oil, Simple Hydrating Cleansing Oil, Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm

Face Cleanser

How to Pick Based on Skin Type

Now that we’ve broken down the profile of each major cleanser formula, how do you choose based on your skin type?

  • Oily complexions do best with gel or foaming cleansers that deeply purge excess oil without over-drying. Avoid rich oils and creams.
  • Dry, sensitive skin requires gentle hydrating cream cleansers with minimal irritation. Avoid sulfates and alcohols.
  • Normal or combination skin can use a mix like a gel cleanser targeting oily zones and a hydrating cream for dry spots.
  • Mature skin needs nourishing cream cleansers that hydrate aging skin as they cleanse. Avoid drying foaming formulas.

Give your skin exactly what it craves by choosing a cleanser texture and ingredients tailored to your unique skin needs. With the right match, you’ll look forward to washing your face.

Other Cleanser Formulas

Beyond the major categories, you may come across these specialty cleansers:

  • Cleansing milks – Thin, milky liquids that gently cleanse and require little rinsing
  • Cleansing balms – Solid balms transform into hydrating oil-like textures when massaged
  • Cleansing waters – Micellar water formulas cleanse dissolving makeup without harshness
  • Cleansing wipes – Disposable wipes with cleansing ingredients provide on-the-go cleansing

The ideal cleanser feel comes down to your preferences. Sample different formulas until you find your perfect match. Your ideal face cleanser is out there!

FAQs About Choosing a Face Cleanser

Still have questions about picking the perfect face cleanser for your skin? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

How often should I cleanse my face?

Most skins benefit from cleansing twice daily – both morning and evening. Cleanse after wearing makeup or sunscreen to prevent clogged pores.

Do certain cleanser types target acne better?

Foaming or gel cleansers help purge excess oil and bacteria causing acne without over-drying. Avoid heavy oils.

Is a squeaky clean feeling good?

Not necessarily! Feeling too tight or dry post-cleansing indicates your cleanser is stripping healthy oils. Find a gentler formula.

Should I use the same cleanser morning and night?

You can use the same formula morning and evening or opt for a deeper cleaning gel or foaming formula at night only.

How long do open cleansers last?

3-6 months for milk, gel, and foaming cleansers. Oil and balm cleansers last 6-12 months. Discard if smelling off or discolored.

We hope this breakdown makes selecting your ideal cleanser formula incredibly easy. Give your skin exactly what it needs with the right cleanser match. Happy washing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Next Post

Plum Vitamin C Serum for All Your Skincare Needs

A vitamin C serum is one of the most powerful ingredients your skincare routine can contain. The cult favorite Plum Vitamin C Serum in particular has developed a loyal following for its ability to tackle a range of skincare concerns thanks to its high 15% vitamin C content. Formulated especially […]
Plum Vitamin C Serum

Subscribe US Now