Finding a face wash for dry skin can be challenging. More often than not, cleansers strip the skin of moisture, so if you’re already starting out with dry skin, the wrong one can leave you totally parched. However, skincare brands are wising up and starting to release cleansers made with moisturizing ingredients to leave dry skin more hydrated than it was before.
In addition to having a great moisturizer and maybe a few other hydrating steps, having a nourishing cleanser is key for keeping your skin in good shape. That’s why we’ve selected the best cleansers for dry skin that are available online. If you can’t choose a favorite from our list, we also included a handy guide that’ll explain what to look for in a face wash for dry skin, along with tips on how to actually use one!
In this article:
- Our Picks of the Best Face Washes for Dry Skin
- How to Choose the Best Cleanser for Dry Skin?
- How Often Should You Wash Dry Skin?
Best Face Washes for Dry Skin Overview
- Best Overall: First Aid Beauty Pure Skin Face Cleanser
- Best for Double Cleansing: DHC Deep Cleansing Oil
- Best Cleansing Balm: Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm
- Best Two-in-One: Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser
- Best Budget: Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser
- Best for Sensitive Skin: Avène Extremely Gentle Cleanser Lotion
- Best Hydrating: CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser
- Best Foaming: Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser
- Best Probiotic: Tula The Cult Classic Purifying Face Cleanser
- Best Nourishing: Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm
- Best Milky Formula: HoliFrog Tashmoo Water Lily Nourishing Milky Wash
- Best Exfoliating: Fresh Sugar Strawberry Exfoliating Face Wash
- Best for Removing Makeup: Indeed Labs Watermelon Melting Balm
- Best Cleansing Oil: PCA Skin Daily Cleansing Oil
- Best Moisturizing: Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Cloud Cream Cleanser
- Best for Pores: The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser
- Best K-Beauty: Peach & Lily Power Calm Hydrating Gel Cleanser
- Best Creamy Formula: Lancôme Crème Mousse Confort Creamy Foaming Cleanser
- Best Lightweight: La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Face Cleanser
- Best Old-School: Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
- Best K-Beauty Cleansing Balm: Banila Co Clean It Zero 3-in-1 Cleansing Balm
Our Picks of the Best Face Washes for Dry Skin
A cream cleanser is a classic choice for those with dry skin because it relies on really gentle, creamy ingredients to simultaneously cleanse and moisturize the skin. This one is particularly lovely with a fragrance-free formula that’s also appropriate for sensitive skin. It includes a boatload of hydrating glycerin as well as soothing agents like licorice root extract and allantoin. While it doesn’t foam up, it will still rinse away with water. You can find it at Sephora.
This Japanese cleanser is a cult-favorite that all double-cleansers have heard of, and it’s one of the first oil cleansers to gain popularity in the West. Those with dry skin can safely use an oil cleanser without the need for a second cleanser. The main ingredient here is the deeply moisturizing olive oil, which also works to break down every last speck of makeup. Though it is oil-based, it contains a gentle emulsifier that ensures it will come off with water. Order it online from Dermstore!
This is neither the first nor last time that we will recommend this cleansing balm, which is one of the best options for removing heavy makeup, especially for dry and sensitive skin. It’s fragrance-free, and it relies on a blend of emollients and safflower oil to remove makeup. While it is very gentle and nourishing, it’s also non-comedogenic, so if you get the occasional pimple, it’s still a safe choice. Pick it up at Amazon!
With this product, Glossier combined features of both milk and gel cleansers to make a very unique formula that works quite well for dry skin. It combines mild surfactants with lots of hydrating humectants for a gentle, non-stripping cleanser. It works well to remove makeup, although waterproof mascara is sometimes too stubborn for it. Buy it directly from Glossier!
When it comes to budget products, this is the best cleanser for dry skin. The mild, fragrance-free formula might not be luxurious, and the packaging might be a little boring, but it’s ridiculously affordable, and it does a fantastic job of cleansing without stripping. The formula is somewhere between a gel and a cream, and it does lather up with water, albeit gently. It includes a lot of glycerin to keep moisture in the skin, and while it does rely on surfactants to cleanse, they’re all very mild and gentle. Get it from Amazon!
This cleanser is made for sensitive skin, but we also think it’s a fantastic choice for dry skin. It’s a lotion cleanser, so it’s nice and soft on the skin with a moisturizing texture. It’s very light, so it’s not great for makeup removal, but it’s gentle enough for those days when you left your skin bare and need the most soothing touch. It’s made with hydrating serine along with a very mild blend of detergents. Grab it from Dermstore!
This is another one of our favorite budget cleansers. You’ll find it in most of our top cleanser lists, and we love it for dry skin as well. Similar to Vanicream, it’s also a formula that combines gel and cream properties and features mild surfactants to cleanse the skin. However, it includes some really exciting moisturizing ingredients, like skin-identical ceramides and water-binding hyaluronic acid. It’s not the best makeup remover, but it’s more than enough to take off a light BB cream or sunscreen. It’s sold at Ulta.
Neutrogena is the kind of brand you can always fall back on, with this cleanser a particularly nice choice for dry skin. It is a gentle formula that foams up very slightly but is reinforced with glycerin to also add hydration. It comes in a pump bottle, which we love for convenience, and unlike other budget options, the packaging is pretty cute. It does a fantastic job of removing makeup, compared to other budget cleansers on this list. It’s available on Amazon.
Tula products rely on probiotic ferments to hydrate the skin, and this cleanser is no different. It’s a gel cleanser made with a combination of gentle surfactants, so it does lather up a little. However, it’s also very rich in various moisture-binders, from the aforementioned probiotics to glycerin to hydrolyzed rice protein. Finally, it contains a lot of soothing and antioxidant extracts to give the skin a bit of a boost. Shop for it at Ulta!
This is one of the richest cleansing balms we’ve seen with a formula primarily based on the deeply nourishing sweet almond oil. It has a thick texture, but it melts into a beautiful oil, and it not just removes makeup but also rinses away very easily. The formula includes other oils that have their own unique properties, like soothing coconut oil and anti-aging elderberry seed oil.
It does have a strong fragrance thanks to rose, lavender, mint, and geranium essential oils, so if you love aromatherapy, you should give it a try, but if you have sensitive skin, it might be too much. You can purchase it from Dermstore.
HoliFrog is pretty new on our radar, but they were quick to impress. This face wash, in particular, was made exactly to our specifications, with a milky formula at a 5 pH, which is super gentle and hydrating to dry skin. It’s free of sulfates and fragrances and instead includes light oils, hydrating amino-acids, and antioxidant-rich plant extracts with a soothing effect. Despite being so mild, it can still remove light makeup with ease. Find it at Dermstore!
We don’t usually like to recommend exfoliating face washes, but sometimes your skin feels grimy, and you want that dead skin gone – quickly. For those days, this is our favorite exfoliating cleanser for dry skin. The exfoliation comes from sugar crystals, which are as gentle as a physical scrubbing agent can be, while its base is super-hydrating thanks to glycerin and butylene glycol. The formula is reinforced by strawberry and black currant fruit extracts, which give a brightening boost. Order it from Sephora!
This balm cleanser for dry skin is particularly luxurious and fun, and it’s especially effective against very heavy makeup. It has a very moisturizing and emollient formula that is non-comedogenic nevertheless and even features soothing hemp seed oil. It’s fragrance-free, so it’s a safe choice even if your skin is sensitive. Pick it up from Ulta!
This is another oil cleanser that’s absolutely worth trying. It has a fairly light oil profile with grape seed oil and almond oil, so it doesn’t feel heavy when massaged into the skin. It glides lightly but thoroughly breaks down everything you want to be removed. The blend also includes fruit extracts for a skin-refining effect and a natural fragrance that’ll make you feel refreshed. Buy it from Dermstore!
With a name like ‘Water Drench,’ you know that this cleanser will be a treat to your dry skin. It’s creamy, and it lathers up nicely, although it manages not to dry out the skin. It includes both humectants (not just hyaluronic acid, but also a lot of glycerin) and emollient coconut oil, so it keeps the skin comprehensively moisturized. As a bonus, it’s fragrance-free. You can get it at Ulta.
Right now, this is The Ordinary’s only cleanser, so you can imagine that it’s gotta be versatile. The main ingredient in the cleanser is squalane, which is an oil-like emollient that has a high affinity for the skin. It strengthens and moisturizes in a very gentle manner without causing breakouts. However, unlike the oil cleansers we’ve recommended, this cleanser also includes a fairly high amount of surfactants, so it’s super easy to rinse off the skin. Shop for it at Sephora!
This cleanser is made with the best ingredients of K-beauty to deliver a gentle cleansing with a lot of nourishment. The formula is gel-based but mild enough not to strip the skin, and it even replenishes with a dose of centella asiatica, green tea, and hyaluronic acid. It was formulated specifically at a 5.5 pH, although it does contain some fragrance ingredients. Purchase it from Ulta!
This rose-scented cleanser will make you feel like royalty. It’s creamy and sumptuous on the skin, though it foams up lightly with water. It leaves the skin feeling soft and clean, thanks to a blend of mild surfactants with hydrating glycerin and moisturizing rosehip oil and shea butter. It also includes a touch of salicylic acid, which helps remove dead skin cells. It’s available at Ulta.
You can’t go wrong with La Roche-Posay, which is a French pharmacy brand that formulates simple, gentle, but effective formulas. This cream cleanser is especially lovely because it’s reinforced with ceramides that restore the skin and niacinamide, which aids in hydration. Because the formula is so light, it’s ideal as a second cleanser or to remove just light makeup. Grab it from Amazon!
This Cetaphil cleanser is pretty old-school, and while it’s not our first-choice face wash for dry skin, it can work in a pinch. It’s fragrance-free, and while it is technically a gel, it barely foams up in water, so it doesn’t strip the skin of moisture. It’s a safe choice that’s really no-frills and affordable, and if you find our other budget options too creamy, you might like this the best. It’s sold on Amazon.
This is our K-beauty pick for cleansing dry skin. It’s another balm cleanser because we really can’t get enough of this format. It’s comparable to Clinique’s Balm, but there’s a bit of added fun factor thanks to a gentle fragrance. We’d recommend the original formula for dry skin, although those with sensitive skin might prefer the fragrance-free purity version. Find it at Ulta!
How to Choose the Best Cleanser for Dry Skin?
Before getting into what you should look for in a cleanser for dry skin, let’s talk about what it means to have dry skin. Dry skin is a skin type that doesn’t produce a lot of sebum, which is the technical term for the oil that human skin generates.
Those with dry skin, especially in their youth, will have smaller pores (though as you age, the pores may become a little larger), so that’s the first thing to look at when trying to consider if you have dry or oily skin.
Otherwise, it’s a simple question of how shiny your skin becomes throughout the day. If your skin never gets shiny, greasy, or dewy on its own, then that’s a sign of dryness. There are also some unpleasant symptoms that can occur with dry skin, like tightness, flakiness, dullness, a higher tendency to turn red or irritated, and increased likelihood of getting dehydrated (which means losing water from the skin).
By the way, if your skin gets shiny and greasy, but you’re also dealing with flakiness or that uncomfortable tight feeling, then you probably have dehydrated oily or combination skin.
Best Types of Cleansers for Dry Skin
The best face washes for dry skin usually fall into one of these three categories: creamy cleansers, oil cleansers, balm cleansers, and gel cleansers.
Cream or Milk Cleansers
Cream and milk cleansers have a texture that’s very reminiscent of a moisturizer, and, in fact, they’re actually formulated in a way that is very similar to a typical moisturizer. They are rich in ingredients called “emollients” that fill in gaps in the top layer of skin, which makes the skin stronger and more resistant to external damage and also makes it feel smoother.
Those emollient ingredients are also not bad at breaking down impurities, including oils, dirt, and sweat. They can also break down makeup, although they’re sometimes not as effective as oil or balm cleansers.
Thankfully, cream cleansers still include surfactants, which are ingredients that force oils to bind to water. Surfactants help the cleansers break down makeup a little better, and they also make it possible for the cleanser to rinse away with water. They work best when applied and massaged over dry skin and then removed with water.
Next on our list are oil cleansers, which look like straight-up oil in a bottle at first glance. These cleansers rely on oils to break down makeup, dirt, and everything else, and they do a very good job of it while also moisturizing the skin. Almost all oils used in skincare have emollient effects, but some of them also act as occlusives, so they prevent water from evaporating from the skin, which combats dehydration.
Like cream cleansers, oil cleansers are also made with a few surfactants, so after they’re massaged over dry skin, they can be rinsed away with water. Sometimes they’re a little more stubborn, however, which is why people sometimes like to follow them up with foaming cleansers.
Lastly, we have balm cleansers, which are nearly identical to oil cleansers when it comes to function. They are made out of a blend of oils and surfactants, which make them super effective cleansers for dry skin that also keep the skin moisturized.
The main difference is that balm cleansers, unlike oil cleansers, also include ingredients like beeswax or carnauba wax that make them more solid at room temperature. As a result, they can be a little more convenient in some instances, like during travel.
Mild Gel Cleansers
Gel cleansers are not as gentle or moisturizing as the other cleanser categories, but they can still be a safe choice for dry skin. Those with combination-dry skin may prefer them, and they can work well as second cleansers if you find that your oil or balm cleanser doesn’t rinse away as much as you’d like.
Gel cleansers remove impurities from the skin with the help of surfactants, which bind oil-based impurities to water and allow for thorough cleansing and makeup removal. When made for dry skin, these cleansers will also include hydrating and oil-like ingredients to help nourish the skin and to prevent surfactants from stripping the skin’s natural oils.
Ingredients to Look for
When looking through the ingredient list of your cleanser, these are some of the ingredients you’ll want to see if you have dry skin.
Emollients are truly magical ingredients for dry skin. They mimic sebum to fill any gaps between the skin cells in the stratum corneum (the outermost layer of skin), which helps smooth and strengthen the skin.
There are a ton of different emollients that can be used in skincare, from natural plant oils, butters, and beeswax, to synthesized fatty acids like ethylhexyl palmitate or stearic acid. Plant oils and butters are especially nice because they also contain soothing and anti-aging compounds, but synthesized emollients often have nicer textures and are gentler on the skin.
Some of them can also have occlusive effects, which means that they lock moisture into the skin, but that’s usually not a useful quality in a cleanser since it gets rinsed away at the end.
After emollients, humectants are also a useful addition to a face wash for dry skin. These types of ingredients, which we often refer to as “moisture-binders,” are able to pull water into the skin from the atmosphere or from the products they’re in.
They’re integral for combating dehydration, and they help keep gel-based cleansers from stripping the skin. The most common humectants used in cleansers are glycerin, hyaluronic acid, butylene glycol, betaine, panthenol, and xylitol.
Bonus: Active Ingredients
So, in general, active ingredients are not particularly useful in cleansers. Antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, collagen boosters… they all get flushed down the drain once you finish cleansing. With that said, there is nothing wrong with having them in a cleanser, as long as the rest of your routine also addresses your various concerns.
Those with dry skin are often more likely to experience sensitivity or to deal with the early signs of aging, so soothing agents like allantoin or green tea extract and antioxidants like vitamin E or niacinamide can be a nice addition.
Stay Away from
There are a few sure signs that a cleanser won’t work for dry skin, so here’s an outline of each one and how to recognize it.
While there are a few exceptions on our list, in general, cleansers that get foamy once mixed with water are a poor choice for dry skin. That foam comes from various surfactants in the cleanser, and the most drying surfactants will usually generate the most foam. A bit of a lather is usually okay, but a cleanser that suds up like your dish soap is going to be way too harsh for your skin.
You have to actually test a cleanser or see a video of it in action to know if it’ll foam up a lot, but one hint that it might be problematic is its ingredient list. These days, we’re not totally anti-sulfates, but they’re certainly not a great ingredient category for those with dry skin.
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) used to be the most common sulfates used in face washes, but because of their drying effects, they’re not used as frequently anymore. If you see a cleanser with either SLS or SLES as one of the first three ingredients, we’d recommend avoiding it. If one of them shows up further down the ingredient list, then it’s probably not enough to cause problems.
The pH of your cleanser is very important, no matter your skin type. The skin’s optimal pH hovers between 4.5-5.5, which should also be the pH range for your cleanser. When used too many days in a row, a cleanser with a high pH will end up throwing off the skin’s own pH, causing it to get a little higher, at which point it’ll be more prone to infection and irritation. This can be problematic for everyone, but those with dry skin need to be even more careful since they’re more prone to sensitivity and dehydration.
Thankfully, nowadays, a lot of brands make sure to mention when their cleansers have a low PH, so finding a good fit is pretty easy. If you’re not sure, you can usually google the name of the cleanser “+pH level” to find out how it measures.
How Often Should You Wash Dry Skin?
If your cleanser is gentle and moisturizing, it won’t be harmful to cleanse both in the morning and at night, but cleansing twice a day with a foaming cleanser could wreak havoc on your dry skin.
Our general recommendation is to only wash the face with your evening skincare routine, no matter your skin type, but this advice is particularly useful for dry skin. Chances are your skin is still mostly clean when you wake up in the morning, and you don’t even have to remove an abundance of sebum like your oily-skinned friends.
Photos via Sephora, Nordstrom, Instagram