The Best Facial Cleansers

Despite its wholesome ring, "squeaky clean" is not the ideal state for your skin. To wash away any trace of naturally occurring oil is to let a key component of elasticity, dewiness, and protection go literally down the drain. The typical cause? A sudsy, detergent heavy facial cleanser. Although a foam fest is admittedly pleasing, it's not necessary; gentle, creamy cleansers are effective and often more skin-friendly.

Why? It's not strictly the suds that cause the problem; even creamy cleansers can contain natural surfactants (coconut oil and soap bark are two common ones) that eventually produce a lather. The problem ingredients are harsh surfactants that also foam up, such as sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate (aka SLS and SLES). Although the debate over the effects of these ingredients on our health and the environment is unresolved, there's little doubt that both are potentially irritating and drying.

Creamy cleansers find particular favor with mature, dry, and seasonally dry skin, owing mostly to a high concentration of plant oils and botanical extracts. Stricken from many cleansing products, oil is surprisingly good at removing dirt and grime, while leaving skin's natural moisture intact. Plus, herbs and essential oils can fight the effects of aging and promote cell regeneration. Whether you have thirsty or less-than-youthful skin, or just want a good, gentle cleanser, there are plenty of options. Here's the cream of the crop.

Fresh Milk Face Cleanser
A bounty of floral extracts gives this low foaming cream a clean scent. The nongarden-variety ingredients include milk, whey, and wheat-germ oil.

Espa Hydrating Cleansing Milk
With soothing chamomile and redness-reducing rose geranium, this cleanser treats irritated skin particularly well. Devotees say it even doubles as a light moisturizer.

Lush Ultra Bland
Comforting in every sense, this rich cleanser starts with four skin-softening ingredients: peanut oil, rose water, beeswax, and honey. The result is especially moisturizing, but you'll need a warm washcloth to wipe the cleanser away.

Juice Pure Comfort Cleansing Milk
With sweet orange and neroli oils, this light, nonfoaming cleanser has a citrusy scent. Less obvious at first whiff are other skin treats: avocado and sweet almond oils, glycerin, and herbal extracts.

Essencia Green Tea and Lemon Moisturizing Facial Cleanser
This fresh-smelling and relatively foamy cleanser starts out looking and feeling like a pomade, then creates a creamy lather.

Text by Abbie Kozolchyk; photograph by Karl Juengel

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