Face Wash vs Cleanser: The Matchup

If you're like me, you've probably gone most of your life without knowing there is a difference between a face wash and a facial cleanser. Crazy right?! I mean aren't they the same? Aren't they both used to clean your face? The answer is yes and no. Life is already stressful enough without having to worry about deciphering skin products and deciding what to buy, when to use what, etc. My goal with this post is to go back to the basics and better explain the matchup between a face wash versus a facial cleanser. By the end of this post, my hope is that you can decide on which product type is best for you so you can take another step in the right direction towards better skin care.

Face Wash vs Cleanser

Facial Cleanser: The More Gentle Option

The facial cleanser is a go-to product, an absolute must in any daily skin regimen. Its primary role is to remove make-up, dirt, and some skin oils without being excessive and leaving your skin dry and feeling tight. Generally, when you apply it onto your face, you're met with a really smooth consistency that does NOT foam up as you rub it onto your face (UPDATE: While foaming facial cleansers do exist, the general trend is that facial cleansers do NOT foam up upon application). It rinses off easily unlike thicker cleanser types (ie cream cleansers). You can read more about cream cleansers in my other post HERE. Some people say you can simply wipe off the cleanser with a towel and don't need to rinse it off. Personally, I think rinsing off with water is part of the invigorating experience of washing your face in the morning and/or at night.

One of the selling points of facial cleansers, especially to those of you who have sensitive skin is the fact that facial cleansers do NOT contain sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). This is why facial cleansers are generally considered more gentle-acting on your face when compared to face washes.

Other things to consider when choosing a facial cleanser is to find cleansers that are "soap-free" and don't leave your face oily. This last point can sometimes be a problem for those of you with oily skin because facial cleansers are generally more moisturizing and hydrating than your typical face wash. With that being said, facial cleansers are better suited for people with normal to dry skin types.

Face Wash: For Those Wanting "Heavy-Duty" Cleaning

Face WashThe face wash can almost be considered a more "heavy-duty" version of a facial cleanser. Unlike a facial cleanser, a face wash foams up when you apply it to your skin with water. Similar to the facial cleansers, these products typically rinse off without difficulty.

One of the primary reasons face wash products foam up upon application is because a majority of them contain the infamous Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (aka SLS). This compound has received increased attention over the years, for good reason I might add, because SLS has been shown to cause increased skin irritation, especially in people with sensitive skin. So if SLS causes skin irritation, then why do skin care companies include it in their products?

This is because of one main reason: SLS is really effective at allowing soap agents to access the skin to facilitate the removal of nasty dirt molecules, oils, and make-up. This is why it is no surprise that SLS is found in many cleaning products across your house including shampoo, body washes, toothpaste, and normal detergents.

With SLS increasing a face wash's cleaning capacity, it is typically better suited for those of you with oily skin, giving you a more matte look. People with normal to dry skin might feel their skin become too dry and irritated with continued use of a face wash.

It Doesn't Have To Be One Or The Other

Up until now, it seems as those using a facial cleanser of face wash might be a polarizing event where no mixing is allowed. However, this is NOT the case. Cleansers and face washes can most definitely be used together in your skin care regimen. Here are some general recommendations:

For those of you who tend to have dry skin, a facial cleanser can do you some good in keeping your skin feeling soft and smooth. When deciding how often to use a facial cleanser, you should look at how often you leave your house. Generally, if you go out more frequently, you will want to use a facial cleanser daily to remove the dirt buildup from the course of the day.

If you happen to have oily skin, a face wash is preferable to eliminate excess oils and provide much-needed nourishment. Daily use is recommended to thoroughly clean your skin.

If you do end up deciding that using both product types is optimal for you, it is better to use face washes more frequently than cleansers to keep your skin in tip-top shape. However, this generally does not apply to those of you who have sensitive skin. The bottom line is whether it is with a facial cleanser or face wash, you should make it a habit to wash your face before bedtime to remove the accumulation of pollutants and oils that have become entrapped in your pores. This is especially the case for those of you who wear makeup regularly. Using a facial cleanser or face wash allows your skin to breathe overnight to rejuvenate and revitalize itself.

Final Thoughts

Whew! We've covered a lot of ground so far. Here is a helpful table highlighting the main defining features between a facial cleanser and face wash for those of you who like visual aids.

Table Comparing Facial Cleanser and Face Wash
When finding the right facial cleanser/wash for you, like many things, it takes time and is truly a process of trial and error. I know it can be overwhelming and stressful to find a product(s) that work for you, but with determination, perseverance, and consistency, you'll be doing your skin a lot of favors in the long run. Your skin will thank you.

Let’s Stay in Touch

As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to leave a comment below or email me at the following address: kent@theclearskinsolution.com. If you found this post particularly interesting or you feel you learning something valuable that a friend or family member could benefit from, please share the knowledge on one of your social media outlets using one of the share buttons below or hovering in the left side bar.  All post shares are very much appreciated.



Hi everyone! I want to thank you for visiting The Clear Skin Solution. I'm currently a resident physician in Texas who just so happens to be very interested in skin care, nutrition, and overall wellness/healthy living. It is my hope that you will learn something from my website. I am very dedicated to providing you with relevant, accurate information so that you will be better equipped to make better informed, healthier decisions. Please feel free to contact me though my website email or social media outlets.

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7 thoughts on “Face Wash vs Cleanser: The Matchup”

  1. Thanks for your blog. Now I can impress my wife with my new knowledge. She is always urging me to look after my skin and I ignored her. Recently I saw an old friend and he looks about 5 years younger than me and knows all about face products. So I am now convinced that they work. Thanks again.

    1. Hi Dave! Thanks for checking out my post, I’m glad you got something out of it. I know firsthand how difficult it can be to incorporate a new product into your morning or evening routine. Even more difficult if you don’t keep up with a skin care regimen. However, as you saw with your friend, if you start a good skin care regimen and stick with it, your skin will thank you by staying looking younger for a longer period of time. Consistency is truly key … and I’m sure your wife will thank you as well :P. Please let me know if you have any questions, I’ll be more than happy to help. All the best. 


  2. This is a pretty good comparison of the two since I was looking out for some clear instructions on what and how are these two different.
    Honestly, the name face wash and cleanser, make it sound like the both of them are having the same functions but this post made the difference clear for me.

    1. Hi Shrey! Thanks for checking out my blog, I’m really glad you found it informative and were able to take something away from it. The skin care market can be very daunting and convoluted if you are not equipped with the right information. If you have any questions that come up, please don’t hesitate to email me at kent@theclearskinsolution.com

  3. Hi Kent,

    You are correct. Up till now, I really have no idea that face wash and face cleanser are two different products. When choosing either one, do your tips apply to teenagers as well? On top of this, does it make any difference for a boy and girl? Both my teenage kids have oily skin and occasional acne outburst. What is your advise?

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Sharon! Thank you so much for checking out my post, I’m glad you found it informative. With regards to your questions, yes, these tips do generally apply to teenagers as well, and for both boys and girls. The key word here is “generally” because there will be certain individuals that even with the right skin care regimen and seemingly doing everything right to promote healthy skin will struggle with significant acne. Each person’s skin is a little different, which contributes to the “trial and error” process of finding the skin product that works best for you. Since you mention your children have oily skin with occasional breakouts, I would suggest a face wash first, using it in the morning before school and at night before bed. If you find that the acne doesn’t improve, I would suggest to then try a facial cleanser next. Another thing to also consider is your childrens’ diet. Many people overlook the role our daily diet and nutrition (or lack thereof) plays in the health and integrity of our skin. Taking steps to cut out sugary foods and drinks like soda can really help improve our skin’s condition by reducing our body’s overall inflammation. Please let me know if these tips are helpful. Best regards.


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