All About Face Cleansers

Published on Jan 8, 2020 Last updated on Jan 8, 2019

Every skincare routine needs a cleanser. It is the indispensible tool for ensuring that your skin starts from a clean and fresh state each time you begin your skincare routine. After all, you don't want to be mixing your skin lotions and other products together with the grime and bacteria that your face collects throughout your day, right?

In the cosmetics and skincare industry, there are many different terms and concepts that may result in confusion for selecting your face cleanser, hence by the end of the article, you will have sufficient knowledge on how to choose your first cleanser, how to arrange it in your routine, and how to evaluate a cleanser.

What is a cleanser?

Cleansers remove dirt, oil, and bacteria from your face.

There is a subset of cleansers called oil-solvent cleansers. These cleansers can dissolve oils better than conventional cleansers, due to either being oil-based or having special formulations and properties that attract oil better than other cleansers. Makeup removers, cleansing oils and micellar water falls in this sub-category. These oil-solvent cleansers will be able to remove waterproof makeup and sunscreen better than other cleansers.

Cleansers can usually be applied to a wet face, allowing them to be used in the shower. Furthermore, they are usually dissolved and washed away with water. On the other hand, oil-solvent cleansers are usually applied on a dry face.

Cleansers are sometimes also known as a face cleanser, face wash, foaming wash, or cream cleanser. There may also be the term “water” included in the name, such as “water face wash” or “water cream cleanser”. If a product contains the words “oil”, “micellar”, “makeup remover”, or “sunscreen remover”, it will fall into the oil-solvent cleanser category. Usually, you will be able to identify if the product is a cleanser by its name.

How should a cleanser behave?

A cleanser does not necessarily need to be foaming in nature. Conventionally, people may associate foaminess with how effective a cleanser cleans the skin. However,

Choosing cleansers

As a beginner in skincare, the choice of cleanser can come from the range of skincare products at your nearest pharmacy or drugstore. If you do not have a drugstore nearby for reference, you can check popular online retailers such as iHerb and Amazon for popular cleanser choices.

Once you have a general list of popular cleansers, we will 2 different cleansers from the list. The first should address your main skin concern. The second would be an oil-solvent cleanser.

Even if you are not using makeup products, you will still need the oil-solvent cleanser to remove suncreen. We will be incorporating into the routine in subsequent articles. Fret not, we'll get to sunscreens. Follow the guide and it'll all be fine.

Note: the use of a normal cleanser and an oil-solvent cleanser together is called the “double cleanse” in the skincare industry.

As you are still a beginner, we will skip over the product researching step. We will refine your routine after getting the basics down. However, it is good to know that the effects of a cleanser will be largely dependent on its ingredients. Generally, the naming of the product will give you a clue about the intended effect of the product. For example, anti-acne cleansers may contain acne-combating ingredients of varying strengths. As you progress on with the rest of the skincare guides, you will gradually understand how to conduct product and brand research to filter out products that do not fit your skin concerns.


Have you selected the two cleansers yet? Remember, one of them needs to be an oil-solvent cleanser!

What to do with my existing cleanser product?

You should continue using this cleanser for now, as it will not help to introduce new products to your routine. Instead of choosing a new product, you will need to evaluate the cleanser's effects on your skin, to know if you will need to change it in the future. This will be discussed further below in the evaluation section.

As we will be using two cleansers, ensure that you have selected and obtained the other cleanser that you are short on.

Do not “haul” when buying the cleanser

Do not be tempted into “hauling” a huge amount of product along with this cleanser purchase. You may rationalize it as “oh, I want to try these products in the future, I might as well save on the shipping cost/travel time”. Although it is not a wrong rationalization, you have to remember that you are a beginner, and that beginners should take baby steps first. Figure out the base of your skincare routine (like your cleanser steps), before trying out other products.

Testing the cleansers

Once you have received your cleanser, you can now begin testing it! Hooray! Here comes the fun part.

Now, choose which cleanser to test out first. If you are already using makeup and sunscreens, you should test the oil-solvent cleanser first. If not using makeup or sunscreen, test the normal cleanser that addresses your skin concern first.

What to do with existing routine products?

If this is the first product that you are adding into your skincare routine, you do not need to worry about positioning, as it will naturally be the only product that you are using.

If you do have existing products in your routine and you want to incorporate your cleanser into the list, the first cleanser should be the first product used to clean your face. When a normal cleanser is used with an oil-solvent cleanser in the same routine, the oil-solvent cleanser should be applied first, as oil-solvent cleansers usually require application to a dry face.

As a rule of thumb, cleansers come before other product types. Then, oil-solvent cleansers are always first. This ensures a clean slate each time you cleanse your face, before applying other products.

Testing the oil-solvent cleanser

If the product is a cleansing oil, ensure that your hands and face is dry before applying the cleansing oil. Rub the oil into your face in circular motions with your fingertips. Don't be forceful, we're not trying to rub a hole in your face. Ensure that the oil is spread out to all areas where oil-based product (makeup or sunscreen) was applied.

If using miscellar water, you can use it with a cotton pad and wipe away the makeup and dirt. You may need to do two passes to ensure that you catch everything.

Depending on the product, you will need to either rinse the product off with water, or pat dry with a towel, or both. Check the product instructions to know what to do.

Testing the normal cleanser

You can use it before or after your shower. I do think that it would be convenient to do it in the shower, but this is up to you.

You can apply it to a wet or dry face, though most products usually instruct for a slightly damp face. When in doubt, check the instructions!

If your product advises for a waiting time and/or massaging into your face, do it. The timing does not have to be exact, of course, but try to be consistent!

Can I apply my cleanser multiple times if I still see dirt on my skin?

Avoid doing so, as it can lead to over-cleansing of your skin. Note that your skin should not be feeling sqeaky clean and completely dry and tight, which is a sign of overcleansing. It may result in a compromised natural skin barrier, which is undesirable in skincare. Too much of a good thing isn't always good, you know.

Why do I see that some routines around the Internet do not use a cleanser?

Depending on when you use the routine, you may not need to use include the cleanser into the mix. Usually, this is for when your face is not as dirty or you are not exposed to the elements or pollution. For example, when waking up, you're emerging from your bedroom. Unless your sleeping environment is very dirty, you do not need to cleanse your face right after waking up.

Can I use water for the mornings?

Yes, you can. You are the judge for your face cleanliness. Do note that your skin does not need to feel sqeaky clean and completely oil-free.

Testing and evaluating your cleansers

Once you have received your products and you are ready to start using it, stop and take note of how your skincare routine will be changing. Record down the before and after of your skincare routine. If you do not have any other products, then your “before” routine would be empty, and your “after” routine will consist of your cleanser. As we are trying to follow good product testing guidelines, ensure that only one product in your skincare routine changes at each time.

For example, if you are using makeup products,

Your Before routine would be: Nothing

Your After routine for testing the oil-solvent cleanser:

  1. Oil-solvent cleanser

Your After routine for testing the normal cleanser:

  1. Oil-solvent cleanser
  2. Normal cleanser

Next, referencing a calendar, block out 14 days for you to test each product addition. These 14 days will give you ample time to know if a product is compatible for your skin. You can cut short the 14 days if you are highly confident that the product works for you. However, as you are a beginner, this is discouraged. Baby steps.

Residual beauty products after using your oil-solvent cleanser

After using your oil-solvent cleanser, check for tell-tale visual signs of the residual product, such as smudging and skin tone difference.

To check for residual waterproof product left on your skin, you can watch the behaviour of water droplets as they roll down your skin. If the water droplets act as if they are on a hydrophobic surface, it would indicate that there is still product remaining. You can also verify this by swiping a wet finger over your skin and observing the behaviour of the water on your skin.

If the oil-solvent cleanser is not effective in removing makeup and sunscreen, and still leaves stains even after rinsing with water, the oil-solvent cleanser may not be effective enough for the makeup that you are using. Considering using a stronger oil-solvent cleanser.

How to know if the selected product is right for my skin type?

Check for dryness and tightness post-cleanse, after a ten to fifteen minute wait to let the water dry from your skin. If it is either dry or tight, your cleanser may be too strong for your skin. Consider switching the cleanser to a more mild cleanser. Milder cleansers are usually marketed to persons with sensitive skin and are formulated to be less stripping in nature.

If you feel dryness and/or tightness, you don't have to change the cleanser immediately. Takey your time. You can incorporate a moisturizer (talked about next) to counteract the dryness for now. Having at least some cleansing is better than having no cleansing, so even if it is a little strong, bear with it for now until you can change the cleanser. We have bigger fish to fry, especially if you are using makeup and other waterproof products.

Some Final Words

Don't worry about getting it right on the first try. If it is your first skincare purchase, there is no right and wrong, only a step in a positive direction. It is sometimes simpler and faster to take the starting step and begin experimenting, than to not do anything from analysis paralysis.