Washing your face isn't rocket science, right? Not so fast. "It's essential to cleanse the right way for your skin type," says New York City dermatologist Heidi Waldorf. "That way, you'll address your skin's unique issues and prep it to better absorb any subsequent products you apply." Here's how to wash your way to a clear, radiant, photo-ready face — plus the skin-saving answers to some of your most-asked complexion questions.
For Oily Skin...
You've heard that benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are great for your acne-prone skin. But they're not interchangeable, says Waldorf. BP is an antibacterial that dries out blemishes but doesn't eliminate oil; salicylic acid unclogs pores and reduces grease and shine. Look for a salicylic-based foaming cleanser, like Clinique Acne Solutions Cleansing Foam, which will remove dirt and makeup without stripping your skin. (That's super important because over-drying leads to increased oil production.) *(Acne Solutions Cleansing Foam, $20, Clinique) *
Can You Use Acne Face Wash on Back Breakouts?
It's better to use a body wash, which is specifically formulated for tougher skin. Alternate between one with salicylic acid (to exfoliate) and one with benzoyl peroxide (to kill bacteria).
For Dry Skin...
Rinsing your face can leave skin extra parched, so skip that step entirely. (Yes, really!) Instead, try one of the new micellar cleansing waters. These rinse-free liquids contain oil molecules suspended in water. Applied with a cotton pad, they remove dirt and makeup without dehydrating skin. We like Caudalie Make-Up Remover Cleansing Water. (Micellar Cleansing Water, $28, Caudalie available at Sephora)
Are Oil Cleansers Just a Gimmick?
"Nope. Oil is one of the best ways to remove makeup," says Waldorf. One caveat: It should be reserved for those with normal or dry skin, as it doesn't do much to reduce oil production. We like Burt's Bees Facial Cleansing Oil. (Facial Cleansing Oil, $16, Burt's Bees available at Ulta)
For Hyperpigmented Skin...
While a face wash alone can't reduce dark spots — "It's not on your skin long enough," Waldorf says — an exfoliating formula like Eve Lom Cleanser will slough off dead skin to help spot-fading treatments penetrate better. Just switch things up with a gentle wash at night to ensure you don't overscrub. (Eve Lom Cleanser, $80, available at Sephora)
Can Facial Wipes Replace Cleanser?
"If you have normal skin and don't wear a ton of makeup, yes," says Waldorf. Otherwise, best to save them for nights when you're really tired. We love Sephora Collection Express Cleansing & Exfoliating Wipes (Express Cleansing & Exfoliating Wipes, $9, Sephora)
For Sensitive Skin...
Look for a milky cleanser with a soothing ingredient like glycerin, chamomile, or soy (we like La Roche-Posay Toleriane Dermo-Cleanser), then apply it gently in circular motions with your hands, as anything textured can irritate. Pat — don't rub — with a soft towel, and follow immediately with moisturizer. (Toleriane Dermo-Cleanser, $24, La Roche-Posay)