As fun as a casual drugstore beauty run can be, it can also feel a little risky. After all, how exactly are you supposed to know if that packaged tube of concealer is the right shade before buying it? That same lingering trepidation can creep into the face wash aisle too since it seems like those budget-friendly prices might cost us a blemish-free face. But, turns out there are plenty of drugstore face washes that do the job—and they don't need to be expensive.
"In general, cleansers shouldn't be expensive," Jennifer Herrmann, MD, FAAD, a Beverly Hills dermatologist, says. "It's better to invest in leave-on products with key ingredients like growth factors, retinoids, and vitamin C than pricey cleansers that minimally contact the skin."
Meet the Expert
Dr. Jennifer Herrmann is a board certified, fellowship-trained dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon as well as a lecturer with more than 20 peer-reviewed studies and book chapters.
We asked Herrmann for recommendations for finding the most effective drugstore face washes a few bucks can buy. She shared some general drugstore cleanser shopping tips plus her favorite product picks.
Choose Products for Your Skin Type
Herrmann says that you can make the most of your purchases by browsing the aisles according to your skin type. "Those with oily or acne-prone skin should look for products with salicylic acid that can help lightly exfoliate and encourage skin turnover," she says. "While those with rosacea or eczema-prone skin should use gentle, moisturizing, and fragrance-free cleansers."
Avoid These Drugstore Cleansers
Steer clear of beads or "sand" that can be too harsh on skin and may lead to hyperpigmentation. Herrmann also notes that it's a good idea to skip any alcohol-based items that can cause dryness or fragrances that can spur irritation. And while you're at it, don't pair your picks with cleansing towels, either. "I don't think most do a good job of removing makeup and pollution and many will leave a residue on the skin," she says. "Stick to a cleanser with cool to lukewarm water."
Pick the Best Ingredients for Your Age
Your skin's needs change as you age, so scan labels for ingredients that are best for you. "For younger, acne-prone people, salicylic acid is a good choice. For those in their 50s and 60s, hydrating cleansers or those with hyaluronic acid cleanse without stripping natural oils."
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Cleansing Gel
"Lightweight yet super hydrating with hyaluronic acid, this a gentle choice for those in dry climates or those looking for added hydration without pore-clogging oils," she says. "It gives skin a dewy glow after cleansing."
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit
"This is my favorite for acne-prone skin," Herrmann says. "It contains salicylic acid, which helps gently exfoliate, and vitamin C, which can help lighten post-inflammatory acne discolorations."
Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Daily Cleanser for Sensitive Skin
"An excellent choice for those with sensitive, rosacea, or eczema-prone skin," she says. "It doesn't contain soapy detergent, but effectively cleanses without stripping oils, leaving a residue, or leaving the skin feeling dry and tight."
Cetaphil Skin Cleanser
"Another excellent choice for those with sensitive skin," she says. "It's soap-free and cleanses without stripping oils. It's also gentle enough to use multiple times daily, if needed, after exercising or multiple makeup changes."
EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser
"This is my all-time favorite," Herrmann says. "Enzymes do the work for you! Simply lather and a gentle foam will remove makeup without stripping oils. It's a lightweight formula and leaves skin feeling refreshed."
Aveeno Positively Radiant 60 Second In-Shower Facial
"This newer product leaves skin glowing in just 60 seconds," she says. "Its moisture-rich, non-irritating soy and lemon peel extract work with shower steam to lightly and effectively exfoliate dead skin, excess oil, and products. It's a simple way to brighten without the mess of a traditional mask."
Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bars
"For those who like the feel of a traditional bar soap, this is a gentle option that can be used on all skin types without over-drying," she says.
Purpose Gentle Cleansing Wash
"This is another great option for those with sensitive skin," she says.
Bioré Deep Pore Charcoal Cleanser for Oily Skin
"The clay helps draw out skin impurities and clogged pores," Herrmann says. "Unlike many crude charcoal products, this one is light and foaming, making it less harsh."
CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser
"The SA [salicylic acid] in this cleanser helps brighten skin, but its ceramides prevent irritation," she says. "It's great for brightening complexions."