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How to Buy Facial Cleanser

By Lisa Cohen LeeSHOP.COM Beauty Editor

You know the drill: Wash your face when you wake, and then again, before you turn in. So it's no surprise a face cleanser is crucial for healthy, fresh skin. Its job is simple, but direct: Take off a night's worth of oil, and a day's worth of makeup and grime. But how do you decide between a bar soap, scrub, gel or cream? Before you lather up, get the dirt on how to find the best face cleanser for you:

The Basics

Step 1Skin Type: To pick the proper cleanser, you need to determine your skin type, whether it's oily, dry, normal or sensitive. Try this test: Rinse your face with water. If it feels tight and dry afterwards, it's dry; if you still notice a shine, it's oily; if it feels no different, then your skin is probably normal. If your face tends to get red and irritated from moisturizer, makeup or sunscreen, you're sensitive.
Step 2Formula: Cleansers come in a variety of different formulas like a moisturizing milk, gel, foaming wash, bar, scrub, mousse and cream. It's usually a personal preference, though most formulas are specific to skin type, i.e. a cream base is more moisturizing, while a gel helps wash away oil.
Step 3Ingredients: . It depends on skin type, but a surfactant or cleansing agent will top the ingredient list, along with moisturizers, botanicals, extracts, anti-agers or anti-bacterials. If you're skin is sensitive, you'll want to make sure the formula is fragrance free, since fragrance is a known irritant.
Step 4Results: Keeping skin type in mind, seek out a face cleanser that has benefits. For instance, if you have dry skin, you'll want a moisturizing wash that won't strip skin of its natural oils.

The Lingo

Oil Free: Best for oily skin, this signifies that the formula is free of oil and emollient ingredients.
Exfoliating: If a cleanser has this term, it means it removes the dead skin cells that dull skin and clog pores. It exfoliates either physically (with beads or particles) or chemically (with ingredients like glycolic acid or enzymes).
Non-soap: A cleanser that can be a bar or a wash, and uses very mild surfactants. Generally, you won't find traditional, anti-bacterial ingredients like triclosan in a non-soap cleansers; they're optimum for dry, sensitive and mature skins.
Surfactant: The "detergent" that cleanses the skin. Some surfactants in cleansers include cocamidopropyl betaine, is almost entirely derived from coconut fatty acids and more expensive to use; and sodium laureth sulfate, a mild surfactant also based from coconut, but not as pricey.
Botanicals: Plant extracts in some cleansers that give skin benefits, like aloe for moisturizing, and chamomile for calming skin down.
Non-Comedogenic: In other words, this means that the formula contains ingredients that are known not to clog pores and cause acne.

The Experts

About.com says this about Cetaphil: There's no bells & whistles with this baby-mild product that even dermatologists swear by. So why is this $10 cleanser such a must-have? It's clean, simple & isn't loaded wtih chemicals or perfumes that can irritate the skin. It's just the best drugstore cleanser out there. Period. Source: Julyne Derrick, Beauty Editor, About.com
Allure says that Aveeno Positively Radiant Cleanser is their pick because "some cleansers can leave our skin flaky and dry. This oil- and soap-free formula deep-cleans. Soy extracts lift away dirt, oil, and makeup without leaving our faces so tight we're afraid if we smile, we might crack." Source: Allure.com Editor's Favorites

The Brands

Dove: Known for the moisturizing bar-a non-soap cleanser that's pure enough to clean even the most sensitive-Dove has an expanded skincare line with washes and creams for all skin types.
Clinique has been synonymous with healthy skincare since 1968. All of its skincare products are allergy tested and fragrance free.
Murad was created by Dr. Howard Murad, a renowned dermatologist and scientist. His cleansers are chock full of botanicals, moisturizers and anti-inflammatory ingredients.
Cetaphil has a line of no-nonsense, gentle, soap-free cleansers recommended by dermatologists.
Burt's Bees cleansers have effective, natural ingredients that are good for your skin and the environment at a reasonable price.

The Price

$: Avalon Organics Vitamin C Refreshing Cleanser. Most face washes in this price range are no-frills, in a tube, pump or bar, that do their job-wash away dirt and grime.
$$: Lancome Clarifiance Oil Free Gel Cleanser. Mid-price cleansers usually boast a higher concentration of botanical extracts, vitamins and other skin-benefitting ingredients.
$$$: Z. Bigatti Re-Storation Champagne Gel Cleanser. At a higher price, expect to find luxurious formulas with a high percentage of expensive anti-aging ingredients like retinol and gentle surfactants that are optimal for mature skin.