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The Ultimate Guide to Facial Cleansing

Facial cleansing sounds self-explanatory—just clean your face—that’s all there is to it, right? Well, that barely scratches the surface of the when, how, and what. When should we be cleansing our faces, how should we do it, and what we should be using?

Glowie Co is here to answer all the nitty-gritty (just like sebaceous filaments!) questions about facial cleansing that you might have!

When to Cleanse Your Face

Let’s first break down the when. In most skincare routines, cleansing your face once in the morning and once at night for a grand total of twice a day is pretty standard!

When you cleanse your face in the morning, you’re getting rid of all the residue from the previous night’s skincare routine and sweat you might have accumulated during sleep. And when you cleanse at night (double cleansing if you applied any sunscreen on makeup throughout the day!), you’re eliminating impurities stuck to your face from the environment, sweat and oil particles, and more.

There are two caveats to this, however:

  1. If you go to the gym, make sure to cleanse your face immediately after so your sweat and sebum don’t clog your pores. Some even go for both a pre-workout and after-workout facial cleanse, though this could up your facial cleansing to a whopping four times a day and potentially irritate skin. Keep in mind that any more frequently can dry out your skin and subsequently disrupt your sebum production.
  2. If you have sensitive and/or dry skin, consider skipping your morning facial cleanse. Simply rinsing with water rather than cleansing with face wash can allow your skin to recuperate from the effects of an overly harsh or stripping cleanser. (Though, if your facial cleanser is gentle, mild, and pH-balanced, this shouldn’t pose a problem.)

How to Cleanse Your Face

If you slap cleanser on your face and loosely rub for all of five seconds before rinsing it off with scalding hot water, we hate to break the bad news to you, but someone’s gotta do it: you’re doing it wrong.

Unlike shampoo, which often contains harsher surfactants like sodium lauryl sulfate that are able to work through hair grease much quicker, facial cleansers are, for the most part, formulated to be more gentle on skin. What this means is that you can’t just leave a facial cleanser on and expect it to unclog your pores by itself in the span of a few seconds.

Instead, massage your cleanser into your skin, taking great care not to drag your skin or scrub too hard. Focus on areas that tend to get clogged the most, such as your nose. Don’t forget around your hairline either, especially if it’s a hair-washing day and you’ve caked on conditioner closer to your roots.

Massage the cleanser into your skin for around 60 seconds. (Some dermatologists also recommend 20-30 seconds if your skin tends to get stripped easily.)

Facial cleansing tools like brushes are certainly useful to have, as the bristles are able to reach where our fingers can’t! But just using hands to cleanse your face is perfectly fine, so no worries if you don’t have tools at your disposal.

What Kinds of Cleansers to Use

Now for the fun part: all the different kinds of cleansers on the market in the 21st century! Truly a marvel in the history of mankind, we tell ya.

Facial cleansers are typically divided into two categories: oil-based and water-based. You can probably tell which is which from the ingredients list, as the first ingredient listed is almost always either a type of oil or water! If it’s still not totally clear, evaluate the texture of the cleanser. Does it feel emollient, waxy, buttery, and/or oily? Or does it feel foamy, gel-like, and/or slippery?

And within the oil-based and water-based categories are more subcategories based on their texture, like so:

  • Oil-based: cleansing oils, cleansing balms, cleansing butters, etc.
  • Water-based: gel cleansers, cream cleansers (could also be oil-based!), foam cleansers, water-activated powder cleansers, etc.

One weird in-between is micellar water, which is obviously water-based, but acts more like an oil-based cleanser since micelles bind to oil, dirt, and impurities from the skin to remove them.

When you double cleanse at night (a MUST if you’ve applied product on your face throughout the day or if you’ve sweat a ton), first use an oil-based cleanser on a dry face. After giving your skin a good massage with the oil-based cleanser, emulsify it by rinsing with lukewarm water. Then, wash with a water-based cleanser, repeat the massage, and rinse off again!

Our Best Facial Cleanser Recommendations

BEST CLEANSING OIL: Beauty of Joseon Ginseng Cleansing Oil

Beauty of Joseon Ginseng Cleansing Oil

Mesmerizing aesthetics aside, the Beauty of Joseon Ginseng Cleansing Oil is an absolute beauty of an oil-based cleanser in every way possible. It’s light, not too messy, easily spreadable, and rinses off like a dream, not to mention the ingredient benefits. Don’t get us started on the ingredi—it’s too late, we’re starting:

All the oils in this formula are ultra-nourishing for skin, like soybean oil, moringa seed oil, and ginseng seed oil! Soybean oil, the most abundant oil in this product, is underutilized in skincare if you ask us. It’s a great source of fatty acids and antioxidants, and also works to improve moisture retention and soothe irritated skin. The titular anti-aging superstar, ginseng, makes three separate appearances as panax ginseng seed oil, panax ginseng root extract, and panax ginseng berry extract.

Also, shout out to whoever on the Beauty of Joseon product design team said “hey guys what if we put an open/close twisty lock thingy on the pump????”, because that’s a total lifesaver when traveling! Spill-proof oil cleansers make the world go round.

BEST CLEANSING BALM: Banila Co Clean it Zero Cleansing Balm Original

Banila & Co Clean it Zero Cleansing Balm Original
When we say “KBeauty” and “cleansing balm,” what comes to mind? There’s zero chance it’s not Banila Co’s Clean It Zero Cleansing Balm! Hands down the most iconic cleansing balm in all of KBeauty (high praise, considering our vast love for both the Heimish All Clean Balm and the Beauty of Joseon Radiance Cleansing Balm), one Clean It Zero is sold globally every 3.1 seconds.

It’s ridiculously popular for its Zero Balance Technology, a proprietary blend of active botanicals, hot springs water, Vitamin E, and Vitamin C that effectively cleanses skin deeply without disturbing the skin’s natural moisture balance. This cleansing balm resets skin back to its most natural state of “zero,” hence the name!

We love this cleansing balm because it’s so easy to scoop, apply, and emulsify! It melts into skin but doesn’t straight up liquify, so no drippy mess to clean off your bathroom sink. The makeup removing powers on this one are seriously magical; no waterproof mascara or matte lipstick is safe from its sorcery!

BEST GEL CLEANSER: Heimish All Clean Green Foam

Heimish All Clean Green Foam

No, that’s not a typo. Heimish’s All Clean Green Foam is indeed our favorite gel cleanser despite its name suggesting otherwise! It foams up just a bit, but the texture and experience is very much so that of a thick gel cleanser. In fact, the All Clean Green Foam is so luxurious-feeling that we dare say it’s thiccc with three c’s!

The formula includes skin-loving goodies such as amino acid cleansing agents for a non-stripping cleanse, as well as the anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial witch hazel water and centella asiatica extract! As you can imagine, it’s extremely gentle on irritated skin and delivers a soothing effect. AND, it sits at a comfortable pH value of 5.5 for optimal skin health.

We should also point out how budget-friendly this cleanser is! At $12 for 150 ml of product, Heimish’s All Clean Green Foam gives you the most bang-for-your-buck by far.

For another equally budget-friendly low pH gel cleanser, we recommend the CosRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser! A KBeauty fan fave for sure.

BEST FOAM CLEANSER: Etude House Soon Jung Whip Cleanser

Etude House Soon Jung Whip Cleanser

We want to shout our love for Etude House’s Soon Jung Whip Cleanser from the highest rooftops! It was sent down from the heavens in our greatest hour of need (read: damaged skin barrier, stressed skin, and lack of moisture retention) to recover what once was lost (read: strong, healthy, moisturized skin).

The combination of panthenol and madecassoside soothes irritated skin while strengthening skin’s defense against environmental stressors. Peep the camellia sinensis leaf extract in the ingredients list, which contains polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals to maintain healthy skin! Ingredients aside, the weakly acidic formula of pH 6.5 helps fortify the skin barrier too.

The texture of this foam cleanser is rather dense, with tiny bubbles tightly packed together. Because of the foam density, it feels almost creamy on the face—the most satisfying foam cleanser you’ll ever try!

BEST CREAM CLEANSER: Naruko Taiwan Magnolia Brightening and Firming Cream Wash

Naruko Taiwan Magnolia Brightening and Firming Cream Wash

A cream-to-foam formula, the Naruko Taiwan Magnolia Brightening and Firming Cream Wash is doing the absolute most. Not only does it gently cleanse skin of all impurities, it also has brightening, anti-aging, and repairing ingredients in a 3:2:1 ratio!

Most notably, Taiwan magnolia flower water protects skin from sun damage and premature aging, while tripeptides tone loose skin texture for a firmer, plumper look. Tranexamic acid, Vitamin C, and niacinamide all work to reduce hyperpigmentation and brighten a dull skin tone!

While this cream cleanser does soften and moisturize skin in addition to brightening and firming, those looking for an extra dose of hydration should check out another Taiwanese cream cleanser: try 23.5°N’s Bamboo Ultra Hydrating Facial Cleanser! The bamboo shoot extract and hyaluronic acid in the Bamboo Ultra Hydrating Facial Cleanser effectively improve the moisture levels of skin for comfortable hydration.

BEST CLEANSING POWDER: Suisai Beauty Clear Powder

Suisai Beauty Clear Powder
Technically, water isn’t the main ingredient in this product. We’re still gonna count it as a water-based cleanser though, because it’s water-activated! How the Suisai Beauty Clear Powder works is sorta fascinating: when you mix one pod with a bit of water, it creates a dense foam that harnesses the exfoliating abilities of enzymes and lactic acid to brighten skin tone, even skin texture, and rid pores of impurities.

The enzymes and lactic acid really shine in this cleansing powder, but we also love the inclusion of lactobacillus/soymilk ferment filtrate here! A probiotic ingredient, lactobacillus/soymilk ferment filtrate scavenges free radicals and promotes better moisture absorption.

Although cleansing powders aren’t quite as popular as other forms of cleansers, we appreciate how convenient they are. Those constantly on the go should definitely check these out! Individually portioned and no spilled liquids sounds like a win to us!

Final Thoughts

Finding the right cleanser(s) is incredibly important—it starts your skincare routine off on a good note by setting a clean base for other products to absorb better into your skin! So do your research, test out different cleansers, and incorporate the best fits for your skin into your routine for healthy, happy skin.

Happy cleansing!