SOS: Facial Cleanser

Aug 20, 2014


I have a confession: I am a collector of face wash.  A closeted goo hoarder.  My cupboards and cabinets are full of expensive cleansers, cheap cleansers, bar cleanser, liquid cleansers.  I should open a store.

One of the biggest arguments in the beauty biz is whether you should splurge on an expensive cleanser or if any old product from the bottom of the drugstore shelf will do.  Proponents of the cheap stuff will tell you that you’re just washing it down the drain anyway.  But I’m advocate for finding a cleanser that you feel treats your skin right, because everyone’s skin has different needs.


Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser ($75). When the fine ladies at TH sent me some samples a few months back, I never thought this would be the product that I would love enough to buy with my own money.   It’s $75 face soap for heaven’s sake.  But I did some shuffling in my beauty budget (adios morning serum!), and found the money.  Why?

This soap has a gentle exfoliation like nothing I’ve ever seen.  It doesn’t strip the skin.  It doesn’t leave you feeling dry.  If just lightly removes dead cells and makeup residue.  It also leaves my skin feeling bright and fresher.  So now, I’m the weird girl who eats PB&J but uses $75 face soap.  Sweet.

Ole Henriksen Melting Cleanser ($34). If you wear full-face makeup and waterproof mascara every day, this cleanser is worth a try.  I picked up a sample last week and it’s the most effective all-in-one cleanser that I have ever used.  It works a bit differently because it’s a jelly, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll love it.  I also fall hard for any product loaded up on vitamin-C.

Philosophy Purity Made Simple ($23). This cleanser is the department store cleanser of choice for the sensitive skin set.  It’s gentle, but effective.  No dyes, no perfumes, no fancy extras.  Just a pure, pH-balanced, sudsy soap to take off most makeup.  (Never worked on my mascara, but few things do.)


Cerave Foaming Facial Cleanser ($13). The current trend is toward cleansers that don’t lather, since the same ingredients that produce bubbles can also strip skin. But some women just need lather.  If you’re one of those ladies, you need this foaming cleanser from Cerave.

This is my travel cleanser and my fall back.  It converted me from Cetaphil because it’s just as gentle, but sudsy.  Plus, it has hyaluronic acid to keep skin moisturized.

Yes to Carrots Daily Cream Cleanser ($8). For every woman who loves lather, there is one who craves a creamy cleanser.  This Yes to Carrots formula is rich and luxurious, but not heavy.  Like most of the cleansers mentioned in this post, it’s paraben free.  It also has aloe vera and shea butter for ladies with dry, sensitive skin.

Body Shop Pomegranate Cleanser ($14). While I like this cleanser, it is not for ladies with oily skin.  I use it in the winter to give my skin a burst of antioxidants without depleting what little oil my combination skin can hold onto on a windy January day.  If you need something for combination or oily skin, try the Body Shop’s Tea Tree cleanser.  Both products are inexpensive alternatives to the pricier Origins or Boscia brands.

So do you splurge or save when it comes to cleanser?  And regardless of price point, if you have one that you love share it in the comments.


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  1. Leigh says:

    About a month ago, I started using the Eclos Daily Facial Cleansing Oil, and it has transformed my skin. You put it on a dry face, massage it for a minute or ten, and then rinse it off. It’s great for getting makeup off (including my waterproof mascara), and if you spend several minutes massaging it into your face, you can literally feel your pores coming unclogged. Like, with your fingers. It’s a little gross, actually.

    This is the first cleansing oil I’ve tried, because my skin is on the oily side to begin with and I’ve been a bit wary of them. (This is despite the fact that I’ve embraced oils as moisturizers.) I haven’t found that it makes my skin oilier, and there is a drastic reduction in the amount of clogged pores and blackheads that I have. This is seriously the best my skin has looked in at least a decade, and the cleanser is only eleven bucks at Ulta.

  2. Em says:

    This was a great SOS, Belle. I have heard good things about the Tata Harper cleanser, but even for a skincare nut like me, the price seems crazy high. I think I do splurge for cleanser, but I try to stay in the ~$40 range. For a long time, I used Fresh’s Soy cleanser because it removed all my makeup and was gentle on my eyes. I recently switched to Luzern Labs Cleansing Gelee because I’ve starting using other products from their line, but it’s similar to the Fresh cleanser in gel texture and gentleness. I also like Luzern’s Micro Exfoliant cream scrub for a super gentle AM exfoliation. Now I have the urge to go wash my face.

  3. Sam says:

    I got the Jack Black Deep Dive Glycolic Facial Cleanser as a sample with a recent Sephora purchase. I tried it and loved it enough to buy the full-sized bottle, and I have been using it every day since. It is marketed to men, but it should not be limited to them. The texture has a fine grit, which makes for a good exfoliator, and it can also be used as a 10-minute mask. I have stopped using all my other cleansers for this one.

    • Rachel C says:

      I swear by the Jack Black SPF moisturizer! It’s the only SPF moisturizer I’ve ever found that doesn’t leave my skin feeling greasy and nasty.

  4. B says:

    I use a cleansing oil too to take off my foundation. My normal/dry skin loves Kose Softymo Cleansing Oil. I buy it from Amazon, it costs $12 and lasts me 6 months.

  5. Eleni says:

    My favorite go to is Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser. I’ve tried lots of different products from high to low end and I always come back to this.

  6. AP says:

    My dermatologist recommended new Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Cleanser (foaming version) and I fell in love. Fresh Soy cleanser has been my favorite in the past but the Neutrogena cleanser has the same feel and consistency for a much lower price. The “foaming” in the title is misleading as it has consistency very similar to Fresh Soy face cleanser. Highly recommend

  7. Addie says:

    I recently switched to all natural face date products (except my makeup) and I love Burt’s Bees deep cleansing cream. It’s very rich feeling on my face and I love the touch of menthol and that it’s not full of chemicals. I think it’s 8.99 but I buy it at Rite Aid and with my rewards card I almost always get some kind of discount off every item

  8. Kristen says:

    Lately I’ve been loving a combo of cheap black soap, and original Listerine – with some good old St. Ive’s scrub every few days. Sounds weird, but I was at my wits end with the summer humidity making me break out. My skin looks the best it’s looked in ages! Listerine on a q-tip makes a great spot treatment, too.

  9. GC says:

    Clinique Rinse-off Foaming Cleanser. Feels luxurious and doesn’t dry-out skin. I use it with my clarasonic as well and it keeps my skin feeling great!

  10. Amber says:

    I do both. In the morning I use Aveeno cream cleanser, and I use Purity Made Simple at night with my Clarisonic. I don’t really consider it a splurge since I buy the value sizes, making the per-ounce price pretty wallet-friendly.

  11. Emily R. says:

    My skin is currently loving Burt’s Bees Acne cleanser.

  12. becca says:

    I was devoted to Purity Made Simple, but then a friend recommended Neutrogena Naturals Cleanser plus Make Up Remover. It’s just as good as the Purity but at about a third of the price.

  13. Natalie says:

    I used to swear by Chanel’s Anti-pollution foaming cleanser because it really did clear up my skin and each bottle last an insanely long time so the price wasn’t too awful. But this last time, I ran out and picked up some cetaphil. And guess what, months later, my skin hasn’t gotten any worse.

  14. Meaghan says:

    My favorite is Bobbi Brown Extra Balm Rinse. It’s $60, so it is Not Fun to purchase. But, a little goes a long way, so it lasts forever. You massage it directly on to dry skin, and then I get a little water on my fingers and rub my face again to get a bit of a creamy lather (not sudsy at all), then either splash water on my face or use a washcloth to rinse it off. It leaves my face really soft and moisturized.

    • Rachel C says:

      Oh, I might need to try this. After using Purity for 10+ years, I made the switch to Bobbi’s Hydrating Facial Cream last winter because I needed the extra moisture. (I have crazy dry skin!) My facef feels amazing after I use it; however, this Balm Rinse sounds great. I wonder if I could use one at night and one in the morning.

  15. Bryony says:

    My mum turned me on to the Bobbi Brown soothing cleansing oil when she bought me a bit last year. At £31, it’s definitely a splurge, but I love that it takes off my mascara and doesn’t dry out my skin.

  16. Lisa says:

    By far and away my favourite ever, Mario Badescu Acne Facial Cleanser ( Its price is mid-range ($15 for 6 oz), but its effectiveness at controlling adult acne is better than any of the high-end cleansers I’ve ever tried (and having fought the acne wars for decades, I’ve tried most of them!).

    Tip: pair this with a Clarisonic.

  17. Robin says:

    I have acne prone skin and I’ve been having great luck with African raw black soap in the evening and Purity-made-simple in the morning, in conjunction with my Clarisonic acne brushes. Has anyone tried the new Clarisonic Deep Pore brush? Just curious how it works and whether it would help with my hormonal adult acne.

    • TR says:

      My experience with the deep pore brush is – meh. It isn’t horrible, but isn’t great. My blackheads have gotten better by starting to use a small amount of bpo acne cream once a day, the deep pore brush didn’t make a difference with them

  18. Meg says:

    I now swear by Juice Beauty’s blemish clearing cleanser, it’s a great balance between hydrating and clearing for the acne prone skin I’ve never outgrown.

    • CH says:

      LOVE the Juice Beauty products! I got a sample in a Birchbox about a year ago and got hooked. My skin is sensitive AND blemish-prone, and all of the Juice products I’ve tried so far have been great for sensitive skin.

  19. Sue says:

    I actually tried the Body Shop Camomile Sumptuous Cleansing Butter and really love it! I’m not a fan of the classic soap up the face and splash off types of cleansers, so this was great for me. It melts from a solid to an oil in your hand, you massage it in and then wipe or rinse off. It leaves my skin feeling very moisturized and hasn’t triggered my sensitive skin. It’s a bit expensive, but a little goes a long way so I think it’s worth it. Plus there are frequent Groupons for in-store credit and tons of sales, so I never pay full price.

  20. Jlee says:

    I currently live in Japan and if you can find it in the US, I highly recommend DHC deep cleansing oil. It removes the toughest of eyeliner and waterproof mascara and is very gentle. Some beauty sites list it at $30 but you can find a smaller bottle for less than $10! I’ll use this to remove makeup and then follow with philosophy purity and my clarisonic.

  21. Sara B. says:

    I recently received samples of Tata Harper’s skincare line and loved it so much that I’m gradually replacing everything in my routine with their products. As I run out of the TONS of skincare items that I have, I’ll just buy Tata Harper. I’m not even going to waste any more time trying other products unless I get a sample in a subscription box or something.

  22. I’m probably in the minority, but I loathe Purity Made Simple. It took my already dry skin to Sahara Desert territory. Works great at cleaning my makeup brushes, though.

  23. Brittany says:

    I used to use Cetaphil everyday. I have very sensitive skin and it was the only cleanser I could find that worked the best for me. Then I was introduced to It Works! by a sorority sister. I have been using their cleanser for months now, and I absolutely love it! It hasn’t irritated my skin at all and it even removes my full face make up. The smell reminds me of the way some Aveda products smell, definitely has a spa-like smell. My skin feels so much smoother and it has really helped with my complexion. I am so thankful she introduced me to it, I seriously swear by it now!

  24. Julia S. says:

    I love Dr. Hauschka’s Soothing Cleansing Milk. A little goes a long way – it’s great at removing makeup (although I use Simple makeup remover wipes – to save my towels), and my skin feels so soft afterwards. It’s very gentle and smells wonderful but doesn’t have any coloring or fragrance added so it’s soothing on my very sensitive skin. I use his facial toner too. I’m looking for a new moisturizer though – any thoughts? Sensitive skin, age 43, a few wrinkles, plenty of age spots, and I have normal-to-dry skin. Something under $40 ideally. Most drugstore brands irritate my skin.

  25. Laura says:

    Recently made the switch from Purity to CeraVe’s moisturizing cleanser (not the foaming one) paired with the Clarisonic. My skin and my wallet are in love.

  26. Angela says:

    I love the Ole Henriksen Melting Cleanser, too. So much better than a regular oil cleanser. I use Hada Labo Gokujyun (Super Hyaluronic Acid) Foaming Face Wash as a second cleanse. Softening, gentle, and self-foaming. I’m really curious about the Tata Harper now though!

  27. Bear says:

    As someone with oily skin, I had to comment. I’ve spent many, many years trying to get rid of the oil on my face. Harsh cleansers, really light moisturizers, never using anything with oil.

    This all changed when I tried MAC Oil TakeOff makeup remover. My skin really changed using that. It was clearer than ever, and the little bumps I’d had forever were gone.

    Now I slather on the thickest moisturizers, and even use a moisturizing oil by Caudalìe. My skin has never been less oily. It’s like fighting fire with fire instead of trying to strip all the oil away and having my body just make extra.

  28. Jenn L. says:


    Did you switch from Cetaphil Gentle? If so, it seems like that CeraVe product is up my alley – I’m guilty of being a foam-lover.

    I also really enjoy Purity, but currently Cetaphil is my day-to-day, Purity when I want to be, “fancy.”

  29. kjb says:

    Purity Made Simple is my favorite. I’ve been using it for 5 years and since I use prescription acne treatments that can be harsh on my face (Differin), I find it is the gentlest. I buy the big 32oz size with a pump and I find it to be ecumenical.

  30. Alexis says:

    African black soap from whole foods. It scares my friends but my skin loves it! And it’s cheap. I don’t think I’ve found anything that consistently works better :).

  31. Kelli says:

    Feeling like I need to call out the section on purity made simple. While I use this product and love how effective it is at taking off my makeup, it is FAR from pure and dye free. Ingredients includes parabans and other unhealthy ingredients such as urea and contains yellow 5 as a dye. I’m not saying I wouldn’t recommend it, because i do think it works well and I’ve been using it for a long time, but I think it is important to make sure you’re marketing something correctly so that people aren’t buying a product thinking it’s something that it isn’t.

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