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Cleanser vs face wash: Benefits and side effects

Do you know the difference between a cleanser and face wash? Find out what sets the two skin care products apart!

The beauty industry is evolving, and so are the skincare products. While there are so many new products out there, cleanser and face wash are two popular beauty products used as the first step in skincare routine. Many people use the two terms interchangeably because both of them can clean the face. But there are key differences between cleansers and face wash. Cleansers are often more gentle, like a lotion. They remove make-up and light dirt. Face washes, often foam, aim for deeper cleaning. Ever wondered which one is better for your skin? If you are confused, read on to know if you should use cleanser or face wash.

What is a cleanser?

Face cleansers, as the name indicates, cleanse the skin. Cleansers are like magnets for dirt and oil on your skin. They have special ingredients that help water wash away things you don’t want – like makeup, sweat, and even tiny flakes of dead skin. This leaves your face clean and fresh. Some people use cleansers before applying make-up in the morning to ensure a smooth, clean base.

A woman using face wash
Cleanser can give glowing skin. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock.

What are the benefits of a cleanser?

Here are some of the potential benefits of cleanser:

1. Gives clear and glowing skin

Cleansers remove debris, oil, sweat, and makeup, which can block pores and cause outbreaks. Pimples and blackheads can be avoided by cleaning them away regularly. Cleansers remove dead skin cells, giving radiant, healthier skin beneath. This can give your skin a natural glow.

2. Targets specific skin concerns

Cleansers are designed to address a variety of ailments, including acne, and dull, and dry skin. “Some cleansers, depending on their content and formulation, handle signs of skin ageing, particularly if they contain antioxidants,” says dermatologist Dr Seema Oberoi Lall.

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3. Protects your skin from sun damage

Sun damage can make skin thinner and more sensitive. These hydrating cleansers can help soothe irritation and rough patches that come with sun damage. So, it is important to use cleansers before you apply sunscreen to your skin.

4. Reduces irritation

Cleansers come in gentle formulas that won’t strip your skin of its natural oils. This can help soothe irritation and redness, especially for those with sensitive skin.

5. Helps remove make-up and dirt

When your skin pores become clogged with make-up, you may encounter acne, blackheads, and whiteheads regularly. This irritates your skin and dulls the surface since it prevents the discharge of dead skin cells. A cleanser will help you remove make-up easily.

Are there any side effects of cleanser?

While cleansers are generally safe for your skin, there can be some downsides.

1. Dryness and irritation

Harsh cleansers can deplete your skin’s natural oils, causing dryness, redness, and even itching. This is particularly true for individuals with sensitive skin, says the expert.

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2. Breakouts

Some cleansers, contrary to their intended purpose, can block pores and cause breakouts. This might occur if the cleanser is very greasy or leaves a residue on your skin.

3. Allergic reactions

Some people may be allergic to particular components in cleaners, resulting in symptoms such as redness, swelling, and burning.

What is a face wash?

Face wash is a type of cleanser that has been created exclusively for the face. Face wash is gentler than regular soap in removing grime, oil, sweat, and make-up while leaving your skin’s natural oils intact, according to a March 2024 study published in the International Research Journal of Modernization. It is often found in a liquid form that foams up when mixed with water. Face washes can be more focused than cleansers, with some aimed at eliminating excess oil for oily skin and others more moisturising for dry skin.

A woman using face wash
Face wash is gentler than regular soap. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock.

What are the benefits of face wash?

Here are some benefits of face wash:

1. Keeps acne at bay

A face wash has a stronger cleansing action and is ideal for oily skin. A good face wash contains exfoliating acids, which remove sebum and oil from the skin. Oil-controlling face washes clear the pores and reduce skin inflammation, resulting in fewer acne breakouts, as found in a 2023 study published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Analysis. Cleaning your face twice a day keeps your skin perfectly clean.

2. Gives deep cleaning

Face wash goes beyond just surface dirt. It removes sweat, oil buildup, make-up, and even dead skin cells that can clog pores and lead to breakouts. This deep clean helps prevent pimples, blackheads, and other blemishes.

3. Gives glowing skin

Are you looking for ways to get glowing skin? Try using face wash daily. Face wash removes dead skin cells, unveiling the improved healthier skin beneath. This can provide your face with a natural, radiant shine.

4. Fresher feeling

By washing away sweat and oil, face wash leaves your face feeling refreshed and invigorated. It’s like hitting the restart button for your skin! So, if you want an instant fresh feeling face after a hectic day, consider using a face wash.

5. Better product absorption

Clean skin allows other skincare products, such as moisturisers and serums, to enter deeper and work more efficiently. This allows you to get the most out of your overall skincare routine.

Are there any side effects of face wash?

Here are some of the side effects of face wash:

1. Dryness and irritation

Similar to cleansers, face washes with harsh ingredients can strip your skin’s natural oils, leading to dryness, redness, and even a tight, uncomfortable feeling. This is more likely with washes designed for oily skin.

2. Breakouts

Some face washes, particularly those for oily skin, can clog pores and cause breakouts if they are very drying or leave a residue on your skin, says the expert.

3. Increased sensitivity

Using harsh face washes regularly might make your skin more sensitive over time, causing it to react more easily to other products.

Face wash and cleanser are designed to remove excess oil, grime, dust, and pollutants from your face. However, the additional benefits and options vary depending on your skin type. You can also use both of them in whatever combination works best for you. Your skin must be clean for the other skincare products to be effective and deeply absorbed. Face wash is ideal for oily and acne-prone skin, while cleansers are appropriate for dry and sensitive skin.

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