As far as one’s beauty routine goes, washing your face is about as simple as it gets. Lather, rinse, towel dry, and move on. What’s not so simple, though: finding a great cleanser. For such a humble item, there are hundreds and hundreds of options out there—all of which seem to target a different skin type or concern.
To help you hone in on a great all-purpose formula, we narrowed the list down to the highest-rated gentle cleansers for skin that’s “normal”—neither dry nor oily. During our testing process, we found a clear winner: CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser(available at Amazon). This non-foaming cleanser is infused with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and glycerin to be ultra-hydrating and gentle enough for sensitive skin. Beyond its fantastic cleansing abilities, it’s one of the most cost-effective face washes we tested.
These are the best face washes we tested ranked, in order:
CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser
Burt's Bees Refreshing Foaming Cleanser and Natural Face Wash with Cucumber and Mint
Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
Clinique All About Clean Liquid Facial Soap
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Gel Facial Cleanser & Makeup Remover
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Facial Cleanser
Clean & Clear 2-Pack Day and Night Face Cleanser
Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser
Simple Water Boost Micellar Facial Gel Wash
Philosophy Purity Made Simple One-Step Facial Cleanser
Aveeno Ultra Calming Foaming Cleanser
CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser
The CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser is one of the most budget-friendly products on our list when we factored in cost per ounce. But it proved to be more than a value pick, earning a perfect score all around.
Everything about my experience with this cleanser was overwhelmingly positive. The formula is easy to get out of the pump bottle, and because it’s so easy to spread, a pump or two goes a very long way, which undoubtedly stretches your dollar even further.
If I had any complaint about this product, it’s that it didn’t lather as much as I personally like, but that’s to be expected, considering it’s a non-foaming face wash. Perhaps more important than the lather, my face felt incredibly soft and clean after rinsing the formula away. In fact, nothing remained of my signature makeup look—a Dermablend CC cream and Thrive Causemetics Liquid Lash Extensions—without using a makeup remover first.
I'm Brigitt Earley, a lifestyle writer and editor with nearly 12 years of experience testing all different types of beauty products. I don’t have any pressing skincare concerns, but if anything, my skin leans more dry than oily. When shopping for a cleanser, I gravitate towards hydrating picks that are easy to find and relatively budget-friendly.
When it comes to face wash, I’ve never been brand-loyal. So when presented with the opportunity to test a handful of products to find the most effective, non-drying cleansers, I jumped at it. Was there something out there that might become my go-to for years to come?
I checked out bestseller lists across retailers and other editorial lists to find the top facial cleansers. Then, I put each one to the test, pitting the top-rated brands against one another to find the best of the best.
The testing process was straightforward: I evaluated each cleanser for bottle functionality, then lathered and rinsed. During each test, I assessed things like how the face wash suds up, plus how my skin felt and how clean it looked after cleansing. When I finished testing all of the face washes, I teamed up with Reviewed’s in-house experts to score and weigh the results on a scientifically calibrated rubric.
During the process, I considered a few attributes:
Bottle functionality: Does the bottle have a locking mechanism or a cap to avoid spills?
Usability: How easy is it to get the formula out of the container? What’s the consistency like? How much does the face wash lather? What kind of scent, if any, does it have?
Performance: How clean does skin look and feel after use? Does any makeup remain?
What You Should Know About Face Wash
When it comes to face washes, a few considerations may influence your purchasing decision:
Skin type: Pick a skin concern—wrinkles, acne, dark spots—and you’ll find a product made to address that need with its active ingredients. But if you just want a reliable cleanser that focuses on removing excess makeup, oil, and impurities regardless of skin type or concern, there are plenty of formulas out there that offer a great bang for your buck.
Cleansing power: It’s important to note that, in general, cleansers aren’t meant to remove makeup. While our testing showed many cleansers will take off some makeup (particularly light makeup like tinted moisturizer and regular mascara), you’ll likely need a separate makeup remover, like a micellar water or cleansing balm, for heavier makeup looks, especially ones that include waterproof mascara.
Cost: Like other beauty products, cost varies tremendously. For the purpose of our tests, we focused on readily available and relatively affordable cleansers that ring in at less than $3.50 per ounce. Our top pick—one of the most budget-friendly on the list—earned a perfect score all around, proving our hypothesis: You don’t need to splurge on a high-end cleanser to get the job done.
Other Facial Cleansers We Tested
Burt's Bees Refreshing Foaming Cleanser
The Burt’s Bees product wasn’t on my radar until I noticed it on several bestseller lists. And once I tried it, it was easy to see why it wins so much praise.
The first thing I noticed was its delicious and invigorating—but not at all overpowering—cucumber and mint scent. It felt like a treat to wake up to this pleasant aroma for my morning face cleanse and I didn’t find it too bold for use before bed.
But the cleanser continued to impress me in more important areas, too. It’s easy to get out of the pumpable container and spreads well on the skin, so you don’t have to use much formula with each wash. It also lathers well, which made me feel like my skin was getting plenty clean.
Even more importantly, upon rinsing, my skin looked just as clean as it felt—there was little-to-no makeup left. My only small complaint is that my skin felt tighter after washing with this than it did after using our Best Overall pick, but it wasn’t anything some moisturizer couldn’t fix.
Like other great cleansers we tested, Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser is easy to get out of the pump bottle, spreads well, and lathers nicely. It earned perfect scores in all questions related to cleansing power, too. After using the face wash, my skin felt nice and clean, and was makeup-free. I also didn’t experience any drying or tight sensation; instead, my skin felt supple and soft.
There’s no denying Vanicream is a solid cleanser all around, but I had a hard time getting past its medicinal scent. It’s worth noting that, for some, this is a boon. The smell that I disliked so much is actually the natural scent of the product—it doesn’t contain any fragrances or ingredients that could be potentially irritating to those with ultra-sensitive skin or conditions such as eczema.
Has a strong medicinal smell that can be off-putting
Even more affordable than our Best Overall pick, the Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser is a solid budget-friendly option.
The formula feels milky and silky on your fingertips and it spreads very easily. And although it doesn’t really lather (a downside, in my opinion), it’s easy to massage into the skin and provides a thorough cleanse. It’s also a cinch to wash off—something that can’t be said for all milky cleansers.
After use, my skin looked clean—there was no hint of makeup left—and felt super soft and hydrated. Even after drying my skin, I didn’t experience any uncomfortable tightness. This cleanser was great and would be good in a pinch—I just preferred the CeraVe.
This product has been on my radar for years—in fact, I have a few friends who have been using this cleanser religiously since high school (upwards of 15 years ago). After testing, I can understand why.
Clinique’s creamy formula dispenses easily out of the pump bottle. I needed more cleanser than I would have expected, especially because it didn’t lather, but it spread with ease.
Once I rinsed the product away and towel-dried, my skin felt really clean—I didn’t see any signs of oil or makeup residue. Just as importantly, my skin felt comfortable with zero dryness, tightness, film, or residue. Still, the CeraVe is a more affordable choice and boasts equally great results.
This gel-based Neutrogena cleanser is easy to get out of the bottle, but I needed quite a few pumps’ worth of formula to adequately cover my entire face. This isn’t ideal considering the only available size contains just 6 ounces—less than half that of others on this list for a similar price. That said, once I had enough formula, it spread well and lathered lightly, which I enjoyed.
Unlike others on this list, this formula is billed as both a cleanser and a makeup remover, but it didn’t meet my expectations in either area. Though I didn’t see much makeup left behind, the slimy consistency of the product left a bit of a residue on my skin, which contributed to an overall feeling of wanting a deeper clean.
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Facial Cleanser
The La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Facial Cleanser is very milky and soft, but I needed more product than I expected because, even though it spreads well, it doesn't lather at all. As a result, I felt like I wasn’t covering my whole face without reaching for an extra pump or two.
The product rinsed off easily and my face looked and felt clean, but not as soft as it did with others (namely our Best Overall pick). I also experienced skin tightness for a minute or two after washing that only dissipated after I used moisturizer.
Clean & Clear Morning Burst Day & Night Cleanser 2-Pack
This product deviates from others we tested because it’s a set of two different cleansers—one intended for use in the morning, the other for use in the evening.
Each cleanser has a different scent and an altered ingredient list. The AM formula contains brightening vitamin C, while the PM formula has minerals and extracts like sea kelp that claim to be purifying.
Overall, I didn’t notice much of a difference between the two products—aside from the fragrances. (I much preferred the bright, citrusy morning scent to the evening scent, which was a little intense in a synthetic lavender sort of way.) Both were easy to get out of the container. And, although I needed a little more product than I would have expected in both cases, the formulas spread well with a decent amount of lathering.
After rinsing, my skin looked and felt clean, but I experienced some tightness, particularly after using the nighttime product. Though I considered this a negative, I believe the added drying sensation can be attributed to the fact that the PM wash is meant to deliver a deeper clean than the AM one. Having two separate cleansers seemed unnecessary to me and I'd trade both for our Best Overall pick.
Once upon a time, I swore by the Glossier cleanser. It has a nice, smooth texture that glides onto skin like butter. But once I pitted the formula against nearly a dozen others, I realized that, while I like the cleanser as a whole, I was probably overpaying, considering there are other much less expensive options I liked just as much.
As mentioned, Glossier’s cleanser feels nice on the skin, but it’s not without its downsides. It doesn’t come out of the pump bottle as easily as some other formulas, plus you need a fair amount to coat the skin—a costly proposition, considering it’s the second most expensive product tested.
What’s more, it didn’t seem to fully cleanse—I still had a hint of mascara on after rinsing—and it left my skin feeling more taut than most of the other cleansers tested.
While the Simple Water formula is almost too easy to get out of the squeeze tube—the consistency is thin and the cleanser squeezes out too quickly and with hardly any pressure. The texture is also goopy and feels extremely slimy once on the skin. I found the sensation off-putting, and it wasn’t helped by the lack of lather it produced.
To top it off, my skin didn’t feel—or look—all that clean after using this face wash, as it was hard to fully rinse that slimy residue off.
If you like an invigorating face wash, this Philosophy product may be for you. It has a very strong aroma that you can smell, taste, and feel—and, for me, this wasn’t a good thing. The lemongrass-like essence was so overpowering that it almost tingled, plus it was so powerful that it was hard to avoid tasting it as it ran down my face. It was off-putting enough for me to put the bottle down for good, but if you’re not sensitive to fragrances, there’s a chance it might not bother you.
However, the negative qualities don’t end with smell: You need a lot of this formula to cover your entire face and it doesn’t lather much to help with spreadability. Plus, if your experience is like mine, your skin won’t feel totally clean after use, yet somehow will feel parched.
Though a somewhat decent cleanser, my experience with the Aveeno Ultra Calming Foaming Cleanser was fraught with hiccups right from the start. The pump is stubborn, which renders it difficult to get the cleanser into your hands—especially if your hands are already wet.
And once dispensed, the foam is extremely light and doesn’t spread well. As a result, you need to use a lot of product to fully cleanse the face—not ideal when the only bottle size is 6 ounces in total.
All that in mind, it’s unsurprising that the cleanser didn’t seem all that effective. After rinsing, my skin felt smooth, but it wasn’t a welcome tradeoff, considering I had much more mascara residue remaining than with other formulas.
Brigitt Earley is a freelance writer and editor based in NJ. Her work has appeared in a number of lifestyle publications, including Real Simple and Apartment Therapy. She’s a new mom, runs an Instagram account full of the most delicious food she can find, and loves to hate a good barre class.
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