Visit our Dry (Skin) January homepage for more dry skin essentials.
Washing your face is an essential step in any skin care routine, but for many people with dry skin, it can be one you may not look forward to. If you’re constantly feeling like your skin is stripped of its natural oils, dry or flaky post-washing, chances are you’re using the wrong cleanser for your skin type.
“Those with dry skin need to strike a balance between cleansing and hydration,” says Dr. Lela Lankerani, a board-certified dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology in Texas.
Wondering how to choose a facial cleanser that’ll be suitable for your dry skin? We spoke to experts about the best cleansers for dry skin and what to look for when shopping for one. We also put together a list of what to shop based on their recommendations and guidance.
How we picked the best cleansers for dry skin
A face cleanser for dry skin should introduce ample hydration while preventing moisture loss and protecting the skin’s barrier, according to our experts. When shopping they recommend keeping the following factors in mind:
- Formula type: Facial cleansers come in a variety of consistencies and textures. Foaming cleansers have a sudsy, light and airy consistency and are best for those with acne-prone or oily skin types since they deep clean the skin and remove excess oils, says Lankerani. “These cleansers usually contain SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate), which can be potentially irritating and drying, although there are soap-free options for those with dry skin.” Gel cleansers are typically thick, easy to glide on the skin and won’t strip the skin from its natural oils — these are best for those with normal to combination skin types. While a gel cleanser can work for dry skin, it’ll be more beneficial to find a formula that’s particularly hydrating, such as a cream cleanser, which has a milky texture. Cream cleansers gently cleanse using natural oils and emulsifiers to soothe, and they’re best for those with sensitive and dry skin, according to Lankerani.
- Type of moisturizers: When it comes to formula, it’s important to know what type of moisturizer — humectants, occlusives or emollients — are in the cleanser. “A humectant is a substance that attracts and pulls water to the surface of the skin from either the air or deeper layers of skin,” says Dr. Michele Green, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist based in New York City. “They’re used in cleansers to deliver moisture to the skin and promote hydration.” Examples of humectants include hyaluronic acid, urea and glycerin. If a cleanser has humectants in it, it’s important to ensure they’re used in conjunction with an occlusive (either in the cleanser formula or with a moisturizer on top) to keep that moisture sealed in. “Occlusives like petroleum jelly, mineral oil and silicone waxes prevent the skin from drying out by forming a protective barrier on the skin’s surface to trap and retain moisture,” says Green. Finally, look for formulas with emollients, which help repair the skin’s natural moisture barrier to soften, hydrate and maintain proper moisture levels. These include ingredients like jojoba oil, grapeseed oil and rosehip oil.
The best best cleansers for dry skin in 2024
We spoke to dermatologists about their favorite cleansers compatible for dry skin types and compiled their recommendations below. We also included a few products NBC Select staff love that are in line with expert guidance.
This fragrance-free cleanser from La Roche-Posay is excellent for cleansing dry skin while also keeping the skin hydrated and retaining moisture, says Green. It has glycerin that pulls moisture to the skin along with ceramide-3 and niacinamide to repair and maintain the skin’s natural moisture barrier, according to the brand. The pump applicator makes it easy to disperse product out, and it’s available in a hefty 13.52 fluid ounce bottle so it should last a while.
NBC Select updates editor Mili Godio loves this fragrance-free cleanser for its lightweight consistency, saying that it’s one of the only cleansers she’s tried that doesn’t leave her skin feeling dry or tight. “It’s also really gentle, which is great when you have reactive skin like I do,” she says.
Key ingredients: Niacinamide, thermal spring water, glycerin, ceramide-3 | Formula Type: Cream | Fragrance-free: Yes
Green recommends this foaming cream cleanser from Cerave for those with dry skin who are struggling with acne. It’s made with 4% benzoyl peroxide, an ingredient that clears acne and prevents new pimples from forming, she says. Typically, benzoyl peroxide can lead to increased dryness for those with already-dry skin, but this cleanser is also formulated with hyaluronic acid, niacinamide and three essential ceramides to help the skin retain moisture, says Green.
Key ingredients: Ceramides, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide | Formula Type: Foam-cream | Fragrance-free: Yes
While Eucerin recommends this cleansing gel for all skin types (even oily, since it’s noncomedogenic), it’s especially great for those with dry, sensitive skin types, says Lankerani. It doesn’t have any fragrance, alcohols or soaps that would otherwise dry the skin out — instead, it’s made with hyaluronic acid and glycerin to help keep the deep layers of the skin moisturized.
Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, glycerin | Formula Type: Gel | Fragrance-free: Yes
This cleanser is packed with antioxidants like blueberry, raspberry and apple extract, so your skin doesn’t just feel clean after washing, it feels soothes and hydrated, according to the brand. It’s a favorite of NBC Select associate updates editor Zoe Malin who says it doesn’t strip her skin and feels super gentle even on days her skin is feeling sensitive.
Key ingredients: Blueberry, raspberry, apple and cucumber extracts | Formula Type: Gel | Fragrance-free: Yes
To deep clean a day’s worth of sunscreen and heavy makeup, this oil cleanser from Fig 1 is up for the task. With antioxidant-rich grapeseed oil and hydrating squalane, it’s especially good for those with sensitive skin, according to the brand. Malin says it does not impart a burning feeling, even when skin is dry and raw. Use it as the first part of your double cleansing routine to remove stubborn sunscreen and makeup.
Key ingredients: Grapeseed oil, squalane | Formula Type: Oil | Fragrance-free: Yes
This face cleanser from Fresh is part of the brand’s soy line, which is infused with soy proteins to improve hydration and provide a more youthful-looking appearance to the skin, according to the brand. With a 4-star average rating from more than 8,000 reviews on Sephora, the fragrance-free formula also has soothing aloe vera and cooling cucumber extract, making it great for those with sensitive skin, according to Fresh. It also comes in three different sizes (mini, standard and jumbo) for those who are traveling or like to stock up.
Key ingredients: Aloe vera, cucumber extract, borage seed oil, soy proteins | Formula Type: Gel | Fragrance-free: Yes
This mild cleanser from SkinCeuticals comes recommended by Green and is great for those who need to slough away dead skin cells. It has glycolic acid, an exfoliating alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that’s considered milder than a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) since it works more on the surface of the skin and is less likely to be drying, says Lankerani. Aside from this, the cleanser has a creamy formula that soothes irritated skin with orange oil, says Green. It also has ingredients like allantoin and glycerin that soften and hydrate the skin, says the brand.
Key ingredients: Orange oil, allantoin, glycerin | Formula Type: Gel-cream | Fragrance-free: Yes
Lankerani recommends this cleanser from Cerave, saying that its hyaluronic acid, ceramides and glycerin help increase hydration in the skin. NBC Select associate reporter Bianca Alvarez also loves this cleanser. “My favorite thing about this is the creamy, silky consistency, which feels incredible on my dry, eczema-prone skin,” she says. “ It never leaves my skin irritated or dried out — I’ve repurchased it multiple times and even buy the mini version for travel.”
Key ingredients: Glycerin, ceramides, hyaluronic acid | Formula Type: Cream | Fragrance-free: Yes
Lankerani recommends this mild cleanser for extremely dry, sensitive skin types and even those with eczema since it has the stamp of approval from the National Eczema Association. It’s made without common irritants like fragrance and harsh cleansing agents (like sulfates), and because it’s oil-free you shouldn’t run the risk of clogged pores.
Key ingredients: Glycerin | Formula Type: Cream-gel | Fragrance-free: Yes
What is a facial cleanser?
Facial cleansers work to clean the skin on the face by getting rid of dirt, oil and sometimes makeup. There are several cleanser types available on the market, but not all will be suitable for dry skin.
“While foam cleansers can deeply penetrate pores to offer a deep clean, they can be overly drying and strip the skin’s natural oils,” says Green. Gel cleansers can cleanse the skin without irritation, but they may not be made specifically for dry skin and will therefore not have the hydrating ingredients that you need. Cream cleansers, on the other hand, are typically made with moisturizing ingredients, and because they’re naturally milky in texture, they’ll leave the skin feeling hydrated after cleansing.
How to shop for the best cleansers for dry skin
When shopping, our experts recommend looking at several factors, including the key ingredients in the formula and the cleanser’s function. Below, we highlight their suggestions of things to consider.
- Look at the ingredients. Look for hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, avocado, glycerin, ceramides, jojoba, aloe vera and olive oil, says Lankerani. It’s important for those with dry skin to be wary of certain ingredients, like fragrance. “Fragrances can disrupt the skin’s ability to retain moisture and impair the skin’s natural moisture barrier,” says Green. “When the skin’s barrier is damaged, tiny cracks can form, allowing for moisture to leave the skin and irritants to enter, which can lead to redness, itching and the worsening of dryness.” You should also steer clear from harsh cleansing agents like alcohol and sulfates as well as highly active ingredients like retinols and certain acids like salicylic acid, as they can potentially strip away natural oils and have a drying effect on the skin, says Lankerani. Additionally, those with dry skin should avoid parabens in a cleanser, as they can sensitize the skin and lead to irritation and itchiness, says Green.
- Consider its function. Cleansers are primarily made to wash away dirt and oil on the skin, but some products have benefits beyond this. Exfoliating cleansers work to remove dead skin cells to improve cell turnover and bring new, healthy skin cells to the surface, according to Green. That said, while they can help brighten up a dull complexion and unclog pores, certain acids can be quite drying on dry skin types, so it’s important to choose them carefully. “For dryer skin, AHAs are recommended as they are milder and work more on the surface of the skin,” says Lankerani. There are also cleansing oils, which are oil-based cleansers that help dissolve makeup and sunscreen in addition to clearing away dirt and sebum on the skin. Many cleansing oils are formulated with hydrating ingredients that won’t leave the skin feeling dry once rinsed.
How to use a cleanser
When using a facial cleanser, you should first wet your face with lukewarm water and apply the cleanser to your fingertips, says Green. “Gently massage the cleanser into your skin in circular motions across the face, making sure not to use too much pressure, as harsh scrubbing can irritate the skin.” Rinse the cleanser off with lukewarm water and pat your face dry with a towel. While there isn’t an exact length of time you should cleanse your face, a general rule of thumb is to cleanse for a minimum of 20 to 30 seconds, says Green.
Our experts recommend cleansing twice a day: once in the morning and once at nighttime. “Washing your face in the morning will remove any dirt or bacteria on your skin that was transferred from your pillowcase or hair as you were sleeping,” says Green. “Washing your face at night is extremely important for cleansing the skin of any dirt, pollution, oil or sweat that was accumulated throughout the day.” Additionally, you should wash your face after swimming or any activity that causes excessive sweating, notes Green.
Using an exfoliating cleanser requires different guidelines — you should use one less frequently since over-exfoliation can disrupt the skin’s natural pH, lead to irritation and cause tiny cracks in the skin that can further exacerbate inflammation and dryness, says Lankerani. You should follow the instructions on the specific product you’re using, but generally speaking, you can use an exfoliating cleanser once or twice a week if you have dry or sensitive skin, says Lankerani.
Another method of cleansing, called double cleansing, can be effective in the evening to get rid of makeup and prep the skin for your other skin care products like serums and moisturizers. The process involves using light pressure to massage a cleansing oil (the first cleanse) into dry skin, focusing on any areas that may have residual makeup such as the lips and eyes. After working the cleansing oil into the skin for a few minutes, rinse with lukewarm water, making sure not to pat the skin dry in order to prep it for the water-based cleanser (the second cleanse). For the second part of the cleanse, apply your cleanser of choice on wet skin, working in circular motions and using light pressure to get rid of any excess makeup or impurities. Rinse with lukewarm water and gently pat dry before moving on to the rest of your skincare routine.
Meet our experts
At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Lela Lankerani is a board-certified dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology in Marble Falls, TX.
- Michele Green is a New York City-based board-certified cosmetic dermatologist.
Why trust NBC Select?
Michelle Rostamian has more than 10 years of experience covering beauty and skin care topics. For this story, Rostamian spoke to board-certified dermatologists and included their direct recommendations and products based on their guidance along with NBC Select staff favorites.