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The Buyer's Guide to Facial Washes

Cleaning your face: It's a simple act you've been performing at least once a day for many years, whether you give it little thought (grabbing whatever soap is handy) or seek out pricey cleansers that promise dramatic results.

But washing your face correctly is an essential part of your skin care. It's important, especially at the end of the day, to remove dirt, makeup, and excess oil. The right cleanser will leave your skin looking and feeling its best immediately. If skin feels tight and in need of moisturizer, your cleanser is too drying. If skin still doesn't feel clean, you're using one that's too filmy.

Don't expect your cleanser alone to perform miracles. "People put too much emphasis on the ability of a cleanser to fix a problem," says Mary Lupo, a dermatologist in New Orleans. "It's made to clean skin. It's not going to get rid of wrinkles or cure acne." Here's how to choose the right one for your skin type.

Aging Skin
A cleanser is not going to have a major effect on repairing aging skin. For that, use a treatment cream (such as one with retinoids), and choose a wash that complements it. "A cleanser with a mild alpha hydroxy acid will help exfoliate aging skin and make your treatment products absorb better," Lupo says. If retinoid treatments irritate your skin, counter that with a gentle cleanser.

DDF Glycolic 5% Exfoliating Wash, $35 (for an alpha hydroxy acid)
Burt's Bees Orange Essence Facial Cleanser, $9 (for a gentle cleanser)

Sensitive Skin
If your skin gets red and irritated easily, be careful about what you put on it. "Look for fragrance-free, soap-free creamy cleansers," says Lisa Donofrio, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine. Avoid foaming or sudsing cleansers, because they contain detergents that can irritate your skin.

Purpose Gentle Cleansing Wash, $6
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, $8

Blemish-Prone Skin
When skin has too much surface oil, your cleanser needs to contain ingredients designed to clean out pores. So look for facial washes with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Such ingredients will help unclog pores and kill bacteria, which can lead to fewer breakouts.

Neutrogena Acne Stress Control Power-Cream Wash, $8
Biore Blemish Fighting Ice Cleanser, $7

Dry Skin
When skin is lacking in natural moisture, you want to make sure you don't strip any away when you wash. Better yet, use a product that attracts moisture. "A face wash that contains glycerin will help pull water into the skin," Donofrio says.

OLAY Gentle Foaming Face Wash, $6
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Purifying Foam Cleanser, $18

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