Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Rupali Goswami (Beauty Expert)  on 12th Jan 2021

Are face washes and cleansers the same?

Are face washes and cleansers the same?

Every skincare product or ingredient is formulated to carry out a different function on your skin. These products and ingredients can be categorized according to various skin types such as normal, dry, combination, oily, and acne-prone. And can also be differentiated according to different skin concerns such as acne breakouts, fine lines, wrinkles, allergies, enlarged pores, to name a few.

We can see many new entrants in the skincare market with all the serums and eye creams and face oils with fancy ingredients that people have just started to incorporate in their skincare regime.

Glycolic acid, salicylic acid, retinol, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, ceramide are some of the popular ingredients that can be seen all over the market these days. Such ingredients are not limited to one product but can be included in several products, from face wash, toner, moisturizer to serums, eye creams, and sunscreens. The popularity of these ingredients is based on their versatility to adapt to almost every skin type.

Keeping aside all those fancy products and ingredients, everybody has a few staple products with any skin type or concerns daily. Some people might not use serums or facial oils, or toners daily, but everyone surely uses a face wash or a face cleanser.

The confusion arises as face wash and cleansers are two different products and perform different functions when cleaning your skin. Both are the base products that prepare your skin for other products you use after cleansing your skin, like toners, astringent, serums, moisturizer, and others. But still are very different in their properties, ingredients, and the ability to work on different skin types.

This article discusses how a face wash and a cleanser can be different and what would be the best choice for you. 

Face wash or face cleanser? Which should you choose?

Our skin goes through many difficult situations every day, from sun exposure, pollution, and other environmental aggressors. Also, the skincare and cosmetic products we keep applying sit on the skin throughout the day and need to be removed to avoid any blockage inside your pores.

Given all that damage, it is important to clean your skin to get rid of all that gunk to reveal a clean surface so that it would be easier to maintain it by providing the skin with proper hydration so that it remains fresh, glowy and youthful.

To do that, it is essential not just to use water to wash away all the worries but also a particular product designed to do that work for you. Yes! You got it! We are talking about face wash and cleansers.

Face wash and cleansers are not the same things. While both perform the activity to clean your skin, it can still differ on so many levels.

There are hundreds of face washes and cleansers out there, and here's how you differentiate between both: 

1. Purpose: 

Face Wash: 

A face wash's primary purpose is to eliminate all the skin's stubborn elements, such as dirt, impurities, germs, oils, etc. A face wash works by reaching deeper layers of the skin and pulling out the unnecessary elements from deep within the pores. The face wash is generally considered a substitute for soap because, unlike soaps, face wash can still help maintain the skin's pH balance. 


Whereas cleansers work more on the epidermis (top layer of the skin) by breaking all the tension from the skin's surface layer and removing excess sebum, leftover makeup, and dirt. If you are not looking for something too powerful like a face wash, you can opt for a cleanser instead. 

2. Consistency: 

Face Wash: 

A face wash can be a little heavy on the skin due to its function, and while a face wash is often compared to soaps, it is gentler than soaps, but some harsh ones still have the tendency to strip away the natural oils and can also mess with the pH balance of the skin. You can see a lot of foaming and bubbling when you use a face wash, which can sometimes irritate your skin.  


The cleanser is much more gentle than a face wash and can be seen in the form of a milky, gel, or cream consistency. The lightweight formula allows the skin to maintain all the healthy oils and without any dryness or dullness. Cleansers are easily spreadable and mostly contain natural components.  

3. Skin types/ skin concerns: 

Face Wash: 

Though everyone uses a face wash or a cleanser to clean their facial skin, it is important to keep in mind which skin family you belong to and if the product targets any particular skin issue. A face wash is generally advised to use for oily and combination skin as these are the ones that are more prone to damage and need extensive detoxification from time to time. A face wash can help remove all the dirt and impurities and clear out the excess sebum from deep within the pores.  


On the other hand, a cleanser works best for people with dry and sensitive skin as these skin types usually do not require deep cleaning but enough to clean the surface layer that protects the skin's barrier without taking away the moisture from the skin. 

4. Effect: 

Face Wash: 

Because face washes are meant to deep clean the skin, sometimes there are irritating and powerful ingredients in them that can be overly drying on the skin. That excessive dryness can have a negative impact that forces your skin to compensate to produce more sebum. That is the reason why face wash is generally recommended to people with oily skin so that they can be satisfied with the matte look without suffering from uncontrollable dryness.


Cleansers are more on the milder side. They can wash away all the impurities and, at the same time, will leave your skin with a hydrating effect. These are not too drying and not too oily, but just the right amount to keep the moisture intact in the skin. 

5. Ingredients: 

Face Wash: 

The list of ingredients is what makes a product whole. Every ingredient in a product defines how it can be beneficial for the skin. A face wash can contain harsh ingredients like fragrance and surfactants that are usually sulfate-based and can leave the skin feeling tight, dried out, or stripped. It does not mean that all face washes are the same; many different ones do not contain any parabens and are sulfate-free. 


Gentle cleansers are made with non-comedogenic ingredients so that your pores are clean, fresh, and can breathe freely at all times. All cleansers are made in a way that they contain little to no fragrance and are also hypoallergenic. Cleansers also contain surfactants, but those are way gentler and are mostly coconut-based and can do the job more mildly. 

Can you include both face wash and cleansers in your skincare routine?

Of course, you can! You can incorporate both face wash and cleansers in your skincare routine at the same time without creating a mess out of it. It will ensure that your skin is deeply cleansed with the help of a face wash and hydrated with the help of a cleanser. It does not mean that you should mix both of them, create a paste, and then wash your skin; please don't do that. You are supposed to clean your face twice at the same time.

This can also be referred to as the double cleansing method. A method that involves two separate products to clean your skin. How does that help? Well, it ensures that your face is free from all the gunk, impurities and that your skin is all prepped up for more products afterward like toners, serums, moisturizers, sunscreens, and others.

If you choose to include both face wash and cleansers, then always remember to start with the face wash to get rid of all the dirt, oils, and dead skin cells that are stuck deep inside the pores, and then continue using a gentle cleanser to clean the surface layer of the skin. This will finish off the cleaning process without leaving behind any dryness due to the ingredients in a face wash. Using a cleanser afterward will ensure that your skin remains hydrated, fresh, and glowy. You can repeat this in the daytime and the nighttime skincare routine


Cleaning your skin should be an essential part of your skincare routine. Just like primer is considered a base for your makeup, think of face wash and cleansers to start your skincare regime. Firstly, it will make sure that your face is all nice and clean, and secondly, the products you apply afterward will be able to absorb in a much better way. Whether you choose to clean your skin with a face wash or a cleanser, or both, your skin should feel comfortable even when it is dry.

Skin type plays a major role in deciding if you should consider using a face wash, a cleanser, or both. Some ingredients in both face wash and cleanser that may irritate your skin but not other people, and vice versa differ from skin type to skin type.