What Is The Difference Between Face Wash and Cleanser?

What Is The Difference Between Face Wash and Cleanser?

Authored by : Shreya Dalela
  • 30 January 2024
  • 6 mins read

When it comes to skincare, choosing the right product can be confusing, especially with so many options out there. A common question is: what's the difference between a face wash and a cleanser? 

Both are used to clean your face, but they do different things. In this article, we'll make it easy to understand these differences. We'll look at what each product does, how they work, and who should use them. 

Whether your skin is oily, dry, or a mix of both, knowing which one to use can make a big difference in your skincare routine. Let's clear up the confusion and help you find the best option for your skin.

Face Cleanser vs Face Wash - What’s The Difference?

Simply put, a face wash is typically used for deep cleaning to remove dirt and oil, whereas a cleanser is generally gentler and used to remove makeup and dead skin cells without stripping the skin of its natural oils.

Let’s understand these differences in detail - 

Face Wash:

Purpose: Face washes are designed to cleanse the skin by removing dirt, oil, and other impurities. They are particularly effective for removing environmental pollutants and makeup.

Texture and Formulation: Typically, face washes have a gel or foamy texture. They often contain surfactants that produce lather, helping in thoroughly cleaning the skin.

Skin Type Suitability: Face washes are usually preferred for oily or acne-prone skin because they help in deep cleaning pores. However, formulations are available for all skin types.

Effect on Skin: They can be more stripping or drying, especially those formulated for oily skin. It's important to follow up with a moisturizer after using a face wash.

Read - Which Is The Best Face Wash For Women?


Purpose: Cleansers are designed to gently cleanse the skin, removing dirt and oil, but they are typically more hydrating and less abrasive than face washes.

Texture and Formulation: Cleansers can come in various forms, including creams, lotions, oils, or micellar water. They don't necessarily lather like face washes.

Skin Type Suitability: Cleansers are often suitable for dry or sensitive skin because of their gentle and hydrating properties. They are also effective in removing makeup.

Effect on Skin: They tend to be more moisturizing and less likely to strip the skin of its natural oils, maintaining the skin’s natural barrier.

Face Wash vs Cleanser - Which One To Choose?

Choosing between a face wash and a cleanser depends on your skin type, specific skin concerns, and personal preference. Here's a guide to help you decide:

Oily/Acne-Prone Skin: 

A face wash is generally better for oily or acne-prone skin. It can help to deeply cleanse pores, remove excess oil, and prevent acne breakouts. Look for face washes that contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.

Read - Which Is The Best Face Wash For Oily Skin?

Dry/Sensitive Skin: 

A cleanser, particularly a hydrating or creamy one, is more suitable for dry or sensitive skin. Cleansers are gentler and help to moisturize the skin while cleaning it, without stripping away natural oils.

Read - Which Is The Best Face Wash For Dry Skin?

Combination Skin: 

You might prefer a face wash if your T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin) is oily, or a gentle cleanser if your skin is drier on the cheeks.

Normal Skin: 

If you have normal skin, you could use either, depending on your preference for texture (foamy vs. creamy) and the level of cleanliness you desire.

Cleanser Vs. Face Wash: How Often Should You Use Them?

The frequency of using a cleanser and face wash depends on your skin type, your daily activities, and the specific product you're using. Here's a general guideline:

Usage Frequency:

Cleansers, especially gentle and hydrating ones, can be used twice a day – in the morning and at night.

Generally, face washes can also be used twice daily. However, if you have a face wash with strong active ingredients (like high concentrations of salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide), you might want to use it only once a day or every other day, especially if you have sensitive skin.

Morning Routine: 

In the morning, a gentle cleanser is often sufficient to remove oils that have built up overnight.

Evening Routine: 

A face wash might be better in the evening, especially if you wear makeup or sunscreen, as it can help to more effectively remove these products.

What Is A Face Cleanser?

A face cleanser is a skincare product used to remove makeup, dead skin cells, oil, dirt, and other types of pollutants from the skin. Cleansers help to unclog pores and prevent skin conditions such as acne. 

They are generally gentler compared to face washes and are formulated to maintain the skin's natural balance.

What Are Different Types of Face Cleansers?

Gel Cleansers:

  • They have a gel-like consistency and are designed to deep clean without stripping the skin's natural oils.
  • Ideal for normal to oily skin types.

Cream Cleansers:

  • Rich and creamy in texture, these cleansers are infused with moisturizing agents.
  • Best suited for dry or sensitive skin as they gently cleanse without removing essential moisture.

Foaming Cleansers:

  • These create a rich lather and are excellent for removing excess oils.
  • Suitable for combination or oily skin types.

Oil Cleansers:

  • Use oil-based ingredients to dissolve makeup and impurities gently.
  • Effective for all skin types, including oily skin.

Micellar Cleansers:

  • Contain micelles that attract impurities without drying out the skin.
  • Great for all skin types, especially sensitive or dry skin.

Clay Cleansers:

  • Incorporate clay ingredients to absorb excess oil and impurities.
  • Ideal for oily and acne-prone skin.

Bar Cleansers:

  • Solid bar form, less common than liquid cleansers but can be formulated for facial skin.
  • Vary in ingredients; some are suitable for sensitive skin.

Powder Cleansers:

  • Dry powder that activates with water, offering gentle exfoliation.
  • Good for sensitive, combination, or oily skin types.

Exfoliating Cleansers:

  • Include physical or chemical exfoliants to help remove dead skin cells.
  • Suitable for most skin types but used cautiously by those with sensitive skin.

What Is A Face Wash?

A face wash is a type of cleanser but is more specifically aimed at deep cleaning the skin. It's often formulated to create a lather or foam, effectively removing dirt, oil, and makeup from the skin's surface. 

It tends to be more powerful than a typical cleanser, making it ideal for oily and acne-prone skin types.

Read - Which Is The Best Face Wash For Glowing Skin?

What Are Different Types of Face Wash?

Gel Face Wash:

  • Light and gel-like, perfect for deep cleaning without over-drying.
  • Ideal for oily, acne-prone, or combination skin.

Foaming Face Wash:

  • Creates a foamy lather, excellent for thorough cleansing.
  • Best for oily and combination skin types.

Cream or Lotion Face Wash:

  • Hydrating and soothing, with a creamy texture.
  • Suitable for dry or sensitive skin.

Exfoliating Face Wash:

  • Contains physical or chemical exfoliants.
  • Good for all skin types but particularly beneficial for dull or uneven skin.

Clay Face Wash:

  • Includes clay for its oil-absorbing properties.
  • Great for oily and acne-prone skin.

Bar Face Wash:

  • Solid form and typically less drying than traditional soap.
  • Can be formulated for various skin types.

Medicated Face Wash:

  • Contains active ingredients to address specific skin concerns like acne.
  • Suitable for acne-prone or problematic skin.

Using Face Wash or Face Cleansers - Tips & Precautions

Listen to Your Skin: If your skin feels overly dry or irritated after using a product, consider reducing the frequency of use.

Adjust According to Season: You may need to adjust your cleansing routine with the seasons. For example, during winter, you might need to cleanse less frequently if your skin becomes drier.

Follow with Moisturizer: After cleansing with either a cleanser or face wash, it’s important to follow up with a moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated.

Use Sunscreen: In the morning, always finish your skincare routine with sunscreen.

Post-Exercise: If you exercise or sweat heavily during the day, you might want to use a face wash afterwards to clear away sweat and bacteria to prevent breakouts.

Remember, everyone's skin is different, so what works for one person might not work for another. It's important to pay attention to how your skin responds and adjust your routine accordingly.

About the Author
Shreya Dalela
Shreya Dalela

Shreya Dalela is a certified Yoga instructor and a professional dancer trained at The Danceworx. She’s passionate about Ayurveda and holistic living with over 6 years of experience in doing extensive research and content creation in the domain.

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