For all the focus on serums, moisturizers, and anti-aging products, you may forget about an important piece of the skincare puzzle: a good face wash. “Cleanser is a really big deal, especially during the extreme times of year, like winter,” says Tina Alster, M.D., director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery and a clinical professor at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Why? The colder temps outside coupled with the dry heat inside is already zapping moisture from your skin—so adding a harsh cleanser into the mix can spell trouble for your complexion. Your face wash is designed to clean the skin, so many are often packed with surfactants: soaps that draw dirt, oil, and grime from pores. This can strip even more moisture from the skin and lead to dry, flaky patches. It’s not just a matter of flakiness or that uncomfortable tight feeling—dry skin looks sallow, dull, and highlights lines and wrinkles.
Even if you’re dealing with acne, be careful about drying out your skin. “This causes micro-injuries to skin in which bacteria can enter and worsen acne. Even those with acne-prone skin need to be aware of how the dry, cold winter air impacts their complexion,” says Dr. Alster.
That’s where a gentle, hydrating face wash can work in your favor. “Cleansers are an incredibly powerful tool when dealing with dry skin,” adds Deirdre Hooper, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at Audubon Dermatology in New Orleans. But how do you choose when there are dozens of options on the market? Here, dermatologists explain what to look for in an effective face wash for sensitive skin.
How to choose the best face wash for dry, sensitive skin
Go creamy: Many people switch to a gel cleanser in the summer months to help control oil and shine in the humidity. But a creamy face wash is more beneficial if have dry skin, says Dr. Alster. Look for labels that say “creamy” or “lotion,” appear white out of the bottle, or feel like a moisturizer when applied.
Avoid fragrances: It’s especially important to choose unscented products, as fragrances can spur irritation, says Dr. Hooper. Look for unscented or fragrance-free on the label. Sensitive skin products are another good go-to.
Look for moisturizing ingredients: Hyaluronic acid is a top-notch moisturizer because it attracts water to skin, says Dr. Alster. Glycerin and ceramides also deliver an extra boost of moisture, while aloe vera and soy can feel soothing.
Watch the anti-agers: Ingredients like glycolic or lactic acids may help fight the signs of aging (and keep pesky blackheads at bay), but they will strip dry skin of the oil it needs. Keep these ingredients out of your face wash.
Once you find a face wash you like, be sure to cleanse only once a day before bed if you’re feeling extra dry, says Dr. Hooper. (You can supplement with a micellar water or hydrating toner in the morning.) Immediately after when skin is still damp, lock in hydration with a good moisturizer for sensitive skin, she says.
How to find the best face wash for dry skin
When shopping for the best face cleansers for dry skin, including sensitive skin, choose a formula by looking for the same hydrating ingredients you’d find in moisturizers, like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and botanical oils and butters. On product packaging, seek out key words such as moisturizing, moisture, hydrating, hydration, nourishing, softening, and for dry or dehydrated skin to find formulas that are tailored to dry skin types. And don’t stop at face wash: “Dry facial skin will really require a moisturizer, since cleanser alone is not usually enough,” Dr. McMichael explains. (Luckily, we’ve got you covered with the best face moisturizers.)
Whether you prefer a liquid, gel, foam, cream, or balm formula (or something in between!), we’ve got an option for you. These best face washes for dry skin tested by the scientists in the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab and recommended by dermatologists and shoppers will help hydrate, smooth, and nourish your complexion in no time through any season, from winter and beyond.
Now that you know what to look for, you can revamp your routine. Here, the best face washes you can try if you have dry, sensitive skin.
CeraVe Hydrating Face Wash
Tara Rao, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City often recommends this fragrance-free, noncomedogenic face wash to patients who are susceptible to dry, sensitive skin. It packs in three hydrating ceramides (a.k.a., fats that are naturally found in your skin to prevent moisture loss), as well as hyaluronic acid to draw water into the skin and lock in hydration.
Dove Beauty Bar for Sensitive Skin
Most bar soaps are a disaster for dry skin, but this one from Dove will leave your dry face feeling soft and supple. In fact, one quarter of this unscented, hypoallergenic bar is packed with moisturizing cream. “It won’t strip skin of the oil it needs,” says Dr. Alster. Considering one pack contains six bars, this is also one of the most inexpensive ways to cleanse.
This face wash wins for how gentle it is while still being effective, according to Dr. Rao. The low suds formula washes away impurities without stripping moisture. It’s also unscented and noncomedogenic (so it won’t clog your pores)—making this an especially great face wash for acne-prone skin, too.
While this fragrance-free face wash has a whipped texture out of the tube, it transforms into cream once it is massaged into your skin with water. As it lifts away grime, it also hydrates and soothes irritation, thanks to a pro blend of glycerin, aloe, licorice root, and white tea extracts.
This creamy cleanser is soap- and dye-free, so it never leaves dry, sensitive skin feeling angry or tight. Aloe and cucumber work to soothe the skin, while the creamy lather gently buffs away impurities. The result? Baby soft skin that feels plump and clean.
“This is one of the gentlest cleansers,” says Dr. Hooper. Thermal spring water calms any redness or tightness, while the soap-, fragrance-, and paraben-free formula cleans without irritating the skin or clogging pores.
People rave about the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream—but the cleansing gel in this line should get just as much love. Packed with hydrating hyaluronic acid, just a little bit of this lightweight, soap-free face wash goes a long way. The gel turns into a smooth, creamy lather, easily washes off, and doesn’t leave the skin feeling tight.
Free of soaps, parabens, oils, and fragrances, this creamy face wash from La-Roche-Posay gently buffs away makeup—even eye makeup!—and dirt while offering a boost of moisture, thanks to thermal water, ceramides, and glycerin.
This face wash from Fresh has somewhat of a cult following. Those with dry, sensitive skin will benefit from its list of A+ ingredients: soy (to reduce redness), aloe vera and cucumber (to soothe), glycerin (for a hit of hydration), and sunflower and borage seed oils (to prevent that tight feeling). Free of fragrances and soaps, this makeup-melting cleanser kind of does it all.
Another gentle option, Dermalogica’s Special Cleansing Gel never leaves skin feeling dry or oily. Simply pump a small amount onto your hand and massage onto the skin, working into a soft, creamy lather. Mint and lavender work together to soothe the skin. The result? A refreshed, hydrated complexion that’s perfectly prepared for a great moisturizer.
Daily Facial Cleanser
When the GH Beauty Lab conducted a test on 17 different cleansers, this was the consumer favorite. Though it’s labeled for normal to oily skin, it ranked the high among testers with dry and sensitive skin. “This didn’t overdry or make my skin feel stripped,” a Lab tester reported. “My face even appears smoother,” another said.
Ultra Gentle Hydrating Cleanser
This creamy fragrance-free, glycerin-based Neutrogena face wash is a dermatologist favorite. “I really like this formulation because it’s very gentle,” says Rajani Katta, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and author of Glow: The Dermatologist’s Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet. “While it does cleanse, it does not strip away the skin’s natural oils,” she says. “It also contains very few of the ingredients that can trigger allergic reactions, such as fragrance additives, which is important for those with dry, sensitive skin.”
Soy Face Cleanser
This cult favorite Fresh gel cleanser made with softening soybean oil and aloe was the least irritating among all those in the Beauty Lab’s test, and was particularly popular among testers with dry skin. “I have extremely sensitive skin and had no reactions to this,” one shared. Plus, there must be a reason why it has more than 5,o00 five-star reviews from Sephora customers.
Soothing Cleanser Foam
This light foaming cleanser made with glycerin had the best texture in the Beauty Lab’s test. “Instead of feeling tight and dry, this facial wash left my skin feeling much more silky, nourished, and smooth and rinsed off easily,” one tester noted. “But it didn’t feel like it was rinsing off all of my natural oils.”
Purely Coconut Face Wash
Amazon buyers love how this botanical-based liquid face cleanser infused with coconut oil feels on their skin. “I have very sensitive dry skin and have been using this face wash for a few years now,” said one shopper. “My skin has remained clear the whole time I’ve used it.”
Makeup Remover Cleansing Balm
This Good Housekeeping Beauty Award-winning Pond’s cleansing balm doubles as a makeup remover. This unique face wash in solid form morphs into an oil on skin. It left one tester’s complexion feeling “supple, as if I’d applied moisturizer.”
Among the nearly 700 five-star reviews, many Ulta customers raved about how this CeraVe formula with three types of ceramides relieved their dry skin. “I have dry skin and this face cleanser leaves my skin hydrated and plump,” wrote one reviewer. “I no longer buy my high end face wash because this is just as good!”
A Good Housekeeping beauty editor all-time favorite face wash formula, this buttery cleansing balm from Elemis is packed with nourishing botanical oils, including sweet almond, elderberry, lavender, coconut, geranium, and chamomile. “This cleanser melts in, softening uncomfortably parched skin,” she says. “And it smells like an aromatherapy treatment at the spa.”
Many Sephora shoppers have turned to this foaming cleanser for hydrating relief. “Two pumps wipe off all my makeup easily and leave my skin feeling clean and happy (with no dryness or tingling),” one buyer wrote.
Made with high levels of heavy-duty moisturizers like sweet almond oil, shea butter, and honey, this rich Naturopathica balm cleanser relieves dehydrated skin as it gently cleanses. “My inflamed face actually felt better — and the jar lasts,” a GH Beauty Lab tester said.
In the end, we would like to give a disclaimer that these products are chosen based on our own opinions, research, online reviews and other factors mentioned in the start of the article. To find the best face wash for dry skin, you should do your own research or talk to a professional (where applicable). This article is for advice or ideas only.