Experts say that every great skincare routine starts with the perfect cleanser—here's the best that money can buy

Right this way to find your new favourite cleanser

Best Cleanser: Woman with clear skin looking over her shoulder
(Image credit: Getty Images/Igor Ustynskyy)

Everybody has their own opinion on the most important step of the skincare routine. But if you don't wash your face properly with the best cleanser for your skin's needs, then the rest is redundant, because the products that follow just won't work properly. (For what it's worth, cleanser and SPF are up there.)

Washing away the day's grime and make-up is essential. Not only does it help maintain healthy skin, but by removing build-up from the skin's surface the rest of the products can properly penetrate the top layers and get to work. Clean face = effective skincare regime.

Mimi Luzon, skin wellbeing expert, aesthetician and facialist to Bella and Gigi Hadid, couldn't agree more. "Cleansing is an integral step in your skincare routine, even more so if you wear make-up," she says. "Cleansing dissolves away excess dirt, make-up and bacteria on your skin; not cleansing is likely to leave your pores clogged and your skin more at risk of breaking out."

The really tricky thing is that there are thousands – maybe even hundreds of thousands on the market – and so finding the perfect one for you can be a bit of a minefield. Luckily, we've taken the liberty of breaking down the different types below along with team Marie Claire UK's favourites.

Different types of cleanser

1. Micellar water

What is micellar water? It's tiny droplets of cleansing oil suspended in water. It's a great option for skin that's sensitive, as it's extremely gentle and doesn't make your skin feel tight or dry after application. It's also perfect for when you can't be bothered to give your face a full-on deep cleanse. However, don't become reliant on this as your only cleanser as you won't be cleaning your skin completely. Simply pour some onto a cotton pad and wipe over the face to clean and cleanse.

2. Oil cleansers

Oil cleansers are really great at removing make-up, particularly breaking down stubborn mascara. "Cleansing oils are a favourite among many, however, I don’t like to use oils or oil cleansers on acne-prone skin," warns Consultant Dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto. "They can be highly comedogenic, so I’d avoid it if you’re prone to breakouts and blackheads."

3. Cleansing cloths

Elevate your standard flanneled washcloth with one of these cotton options. A sustainable alternative to your go-to cotton pads, look for double-sided options that are gentle on and cleanse the skin.

4. Cleansing balms

Balms are particularly thick and luxurious-feeling cleansers that remove makeup brilliantly and are particularly great for dry skin that needs that extra hit of nourishment. Some can leave a slightly oily residue, and therefore need to be rinsed thoroughly, so it's best to take to them off with a flannel or cloth. "Cleansing balms, such as the Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm, are great for dry skin types," advises Dr Mahto. "Once massaged into the skin, they work to dislodge any make-up, pollution or sunscreen that is left on the skin."

5. Foaming cleansers

A foaming cleanser is kind of the entry-level cleanser that you get given in your early teens. They get a bad rep because a number contains SLS, a foaming agent that can dry skin out. That said, it doesn't negatively affect everyone, and those with an oilier skin type and prone to blemishes often get on well with the formulas. They really lather up to help cleanse every nook and cranny.

6. Gel cleansers

If you have combination skin then a gel is a perfect middle ground of nourishing for drier skin, while being lightweight and refreshing enough for those oilier parts. They can be used at any time of day, but make great morning cleansers. Use on damp skin and work in before rinsing.

7. Cream and milk cleansers

Cream and milk cleansers don't foam, and so tackle dirt and grime best when applied directly onto dry skin. They work well if you have dry or dehydrated skin, because they're super nourishing but don't strip your complexion of all life. Very simple and gentle cream cleansers are a particularly great match for sensitive skin.

How to cleanse skin properly

"If you are looking for a deep clean then a double-cleanse could be the answer," explains Dr Mahto. "It involves using a cleansing oil, balm or micellar water to break down make-up, SPF and sebum on the surface of your skin first, then following it with a deeper water-based cleanse. This removes sweat, bacteria and old skin cells. The second round of cleansing will clean much deeper into the pores to remove any impurities."

The number one rule is to think about your skin concerns and to choose your skin ingredients accordingly. Salicylic acid is a great deep exfoliant for oily skin, while thicker, richer cleansers marry well with dry skin. "I believe less is more; there is definitely such a thing as too many active ingredients," says Dr Mahto. "Applying a large number of active ingredients onto the skin can trigger allergy, sensitivity or irritation."

If you have sensitive skin invest in a couple of different cleansers. "You can use different cleansers on different parts of your face," adds Luzon. "For drier areas use a nourishing cleansing cream, and for oilier areas stick with foams."

So, whether you prefer a cream cleanser, a thick balm, a lightweight gel or a nourishing cleansing oil, there's definitely a cleanser out there to suit your skin's needs (and your bank balance's). Remember to strengthen your treatment plan by arming yourself with the best toner, which follows your cleanser.

Should you use cleanser in the morning?

"I personally like to start my day by cleansing my face with foam or any other delicate product with a suitable PH level," says Mimi Luzon, celebrity aesthetician and skin wellbeing expert. "I also recommend starting your morning routine at least twice a week with an enzymatic exfoliation to remove dead skin cells and encourage skin glow," Luzon tells us. 

The best cleanser for every skin type and concern

The Marie Claire UK Beauty Team take cleansing very seriously. They have tirelessly tried and tested hundreds, if not thousands, of cleansers in their time and have decided that the below are the very best. Whilst trialling, they took the following into account - texture, ingredients, price and efficacy. These are their findings...

1. Cerave Hydrating Cleanser

Cerave Hydrating Cleanser - best cleanser

(Image credit: CeraVe)

Cerave Hydrating Cleanser

Best drugstore cleanser

Specifications

Cleanser type: Gel
Skin type: Any, but especially dry/dehydrated
Size options: 236ml, 473ml, 1l

One of the US's best-loved affordable skincare brands, Cerave's hydrating cleanser is packed with hydrating hyaluronic acid and ceramides to support skin's moisture levels and minimise dryness. The pump dispenser is super handy too. "I use this every single day," says Senior Beauty Editor, Katie Thomas. "I have never loved a cleanser more than this. It is gentle, it is affordable, it's kind to my skin, it removes make-up. I am totally devoted. Hook, line and sinker."

2. Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm

Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm - best cleanser

(Image credit: Clinique)

Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm

Best make-up removing balm

Specifications

Cleanser type: Balm
Skin type: Any, especially dry
Size options: 30ml, 125ml

This deliciously thick balm does exactly what it says on the tub, taking the day's make-up, SPF and oil off in a few easy sweeps, turning into an oil upon massaging that then rinses off easily with warm water. It's a reliable cult favourite cleanser for good reason, and won't strip your already dry skin of all its moisture. We love it.

3. Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water

Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water - best cleanser

(Image credit: Garnier)

Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water

Best micellar water

Specifications

Cleanser type: Micellar Water
Skin type: Any, including sensitive
Size options: 100ml, 200ml, 400ml, 700ml

Of all of the micellar waters out there (and boy, are there a lot of 'em), Garnier's is both exceptional and insanely good value. It's free of alcohol and perfume, making it a great choice for even sensitive skin, and makes light work of lifting away your best mascara and long-wearing eyeliner. Piece of cake. "Micellar water is wonderful stuff," says Katie. "But please, please, please don't use it as your only cleanser; It's an excellent make-up remover, but should be followed with another proper cleanse to remove things like excess make-up, dirt, pollution and SPF."

4. Youth To The People Superfood Cleanser

Youth To The People Superfood Cleanser - best cleanser

(Image credit: Youth To The People)

Youth To The People Superfood Cleanser

Best gel cleanser

Specifications

Cleanser type: Gel
Skin type: Normal to oily
Size options: 59ml, 237ml

This is a really, really good lightweight everyday cleanser. It works beautifully after a cleansing balm if you want to thoroughly cleanse the skin, especially in the summer when you've been wearing SPF. Or the winter for that matter, as you're more likely to wear richer creams.

5. Frances Prescott Tri-Balm

Frances Prescott Tri-Balm - best cleanser

(Image credit: Frances Prescott)

Frances Prescott Tri-Balm

Best multipurpose cleanser

Specifications

Cleanser type: Balm
Skin type: Any, especially dry
Size options: 20g, 70g

We really love this innovative product. It comes in a sort of deodorant-style twist-up tube that you work into your skin directly. Although it says it can remove make-up we prefer to use it as a second cleanse. Once applied, work it in to give skin a proper clean. You can then leave it on as an exfoliating mask. The reason it's called three in one is that it's so moisturising, you could leave it all day as your face oil. Genius.

6. Elemis Pro-Collagen Naked Cleansing Balm

Elemis Pro-Collagen Naked Cleansing Balm - best cleanser

(Image credit: Elemis)

Elemis Pro-Collagen Naked Cleansing Balm

Best for fragrance-free fans