Jun. 2023
The 2023 SELF Healthy Beauty Awards: The Best Facial Cleansers, Scrubs, and Balms

Whether you’re waking up with an invigorating morning scrub or wiping the day away with a balm at bedtime, you probably know that a good cleanser is the bedrock of any skin care routine. We mean that quite literally: Your favorite toners, serums, moisturizers, and oils do their best work on a clean canvas, so it’s worth your time to find a face wash that can get the job done—while playing nicely with your skin type and personal preferences, of course. 

That’s why, for the 2023 SELF Healthy Beauty Awards, we took a close look at the most exciting cleansers currently on the market, from silky-smooth oil-based options to exfoliating polishers to derm-approved drugstore brands. Though you’ve got no shortage of options, not all are created equal—and after putting dozens and dozens of products to the test, we can officially recommend the ones we stand by, featured below. 

The Best Oil Cleanser: Byoma Milky Oil Cleanser

Byoma’s Milky Oil Cleanser takes on a rich, creamy texture to gently (but effectively) wash away dirt, oil, sunscreen, and makeup—at an excellent price point, no less. Its hydrating formula rinses off with little to no residue. If you’re a fan of double cleansing, use this as your first step.

Bonus points, per the experts: This product contains squalane, a hydrating ingredient that’s particularly well-suited to people with dry skin.

One tester said: “The difference I noticed when using this cleanser was in the way my skin felt afterward: The squalane and moringa seed oils leave my skin feeling silky and hydrated, whereas my everyday cleansing oil makes my skin feel dry by comparison.”

The Best Cleanser for Sensitive or Irritated Skin: Paula’s Choice Calm Ultra-Gentle Cleanser

This cleanser from Paula’s Choice lives up to its name thanks to the refreshing, soothing formula that removes dirt and makeup without leaving skin feeling tight and dry. Its texture is almost lotion-like, according to one tester, who said their sensitive skin remained calm and happy during consistent use. 

Bonus points, per the experts: This product contains glycerin, a lightweight hydrating ingredient that prevents moisture loss.

One tester said: “I’d call this the ideal morning cleanser—it’s exactly what you need to refresh and start your day and not strip your skin in the process.”

The Best Cleanser for Dry Skin: Cetaphil Hydrating Foaming Cream Cleanser

If you thought having dry skin meant you needed to avoid foam cleansers, think again. This option from Cetaphil gets satisfyingly sudsy without sapping you of all that good moisture. And it washes and rinses away with ease. 

Bonus points, per the experts: This product contains hydrating glycerin and calming niacinamide, two ingredients that are great for sensitive and dry skin alike.

One tester said: “I tried it both on its own and as the second step in my double cleansing routine, and it was equally effective in each scenario. My skin felt clean but not stripped, and it didn’t irritate my eyes.”

The Best Cleanser for Mature Skin: Womaness Clean Slate

Made with menopausal people in mind, Womaness’s Clean Slate applies smoothly, softens rough patches, and nourishes dry complexions. Its non-sudsing formula is gentle enough for sensitive skin types but highly effective when it comes to melting off makeup. 

Bonus points, per the experts: This product contains hyaluronic acid, a humectant that boosts elasticity and helps skin retain moisture. 

One tester said: “This is a nice cleanser. It goes on the face easily, and while it doesn’t lather, it does the job [of] cleaning without drying the skin. And the packaging is cute and eye-catching. The overall results are great—I would use this on a continuous basis.”

The Best Foaming Cleanser: Malin + Goetz Foaming Cream Cleanser

This cleanser’s packaging looks like a toothpaste tube—which makes it easy to squirt out and a wonderfully fun and campy addition to your bathroom counter. Expect to be just as delighted when you use it: The cream-to-foam formula is refreshing and effective.

Bonus points, per the experts: This product contains moisturizing ceramides and vitamin E to help ensure it doesn’t dry out the skin.   

One tester said: “I noticed the positive effects of using this cleanser quickly: It really evened out my skin and kept it feeling refreshed.”

Just so you know: Vitamin E is comedogenic, meaning it can clog pores and potentially cause breakouts in acne-prone skin.

The Best Gel Cleanser (Splurge): Orpheus Skin Resurrection Serum Slip Cleanser

The Orpheus Skin Resurrection Serum Slip Cleanser lathers into a fine foam, cleanses without drying the skin, and is packed with a bunch of expert-approved ingredients. It’s a worthwhile purchase if you’re looking to spend a little extra in order to make your cleansing routine feel several degrees more luxe.  

Bonus points, per the experts: The product contains vitamin C and niacinamide for a brightening effect; it also contains hyaluronic acid for added hydration. 

One tester said: “It’s gentle on the skin and cleanses deeply but doesn’t leave my complexion feeling dry or taut. In fact, my face always feels hydrated while I’m using this product.”

The Best Balm Cleanser: Saturday Skin Melt + Cleanse Makeup Melting Balm

The most stubborn, caked-on makeup is no match for this balm, which transforms into a rich oil upon application and dissolves cosmetics and residue with ease. One tester said they were thrilled to finally use a product that didn’t require scrubbing to get their makeup to budge. And it earns major bonus points for the included tiny spatula, which ensures a proportionate scoop every time.

Bonus points, per the experts: This product contains moisturizing glycerin and an antioxidant blend that can help boost brightness.

One tester said: “It does exactly what the product name promises: It’s super gentle, easy to apply with the applicator, and literally melts makeup off like butter.” 

Just so you know: This product contains coconut oil, which some folks find can clog their pores.

The Best All-Purpose Balm: Alo Beauty & Wellness Magic Multi-Balm

We never knew we needed a product that could cleanse, moisturize, repair, and highlight until we found the Magic Multi-Balm from Alo. (Yes, the brand makes more than yoga clothes!) A balm with this level of versatility should be a welcome addition to most people’s skin care routines, whether you need something to melt away makeup, condition chapped lips, or lend a subtle glow to your cheekbones.

Bonus points, per the experts: This product contains hydrating glycerin and aloe. 

One tester said: “This is a powerful moisturizer that left my skin feeling silky smooth without looking greasy. I love that I can use it as a makeup remover as well, and it doesn’t require much product to get rid of all traces of makeup after a long day.”

The Best Micellar Water: Bakeup by Jo Baker Daily Wipe Out

Bakeup by Jo Baker’s ultragentle Daily Wipe Out can dissolve makeup without rubbing or scrubbing—just putting some on a washcloth or cotton pad and wiping your face will do the trick. A micellar water that works as well as this one doesn’t also need to look cute, but the pink bottle with a neat applicator pump was a hit with testers. 

Bonus points, per the experts: This product contains glycerin to help moisturize the skin.

One tester said: “It really took all of my eye makeup off with just one pump and one swipe, which is saying something because I wear multiple layers of eye products and many of them are waterproof.”

The Best Exfoliating Cleanser (Physical Exfoliant): Philosophy Microdelivery Exfoliating Daily Facial Wash

Presented in a convenient pump bottle, the Microdelivery Exfoliating Daily Facial Wash from Philosophy addresses buildup and rough skin without being harsh or drying. It left our testers’ skin soft and smooth, and some even found it gentle enough to use on a daily basis.

Bonus points, per the experts: The fine grains in this scrub can be helpful for cleansing oily skin.

One tester said: “It totally kept my small bumps at bay, and when I stopped using it for a week (due to travel) I noticed a clear difference. Bonus points for the pump, which is really nice in the shower.”

Just so you know: Physical exfoliants can be especially irritating to people with dry or sensitive skin, so patch test this product first and use it sparingly if you’re worried about potential irritation.  

The Best Exfoliating Cleanser (Chemical Exfoliant): Current State Salicylic Acid + Green Tea Exfoliating Cleanser

Looking to prevent acne and breakouts without drying out your skin? Current State’s Salicylic Acid + Green Tea Exfoliating Cleanser strikes the right balance between deep cleansing and calm. It leaves skin looking downright glowy with no flakes or dryness in sight.

Bonus points, per the experts: This product contains salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid (or BHA) that gently exfoliates skin and unclogs pores.

One tester said: “It was cleansing while maintaining hydration and exfoliating without feeling like my skin was totally stripped. While I don’t think it cleared any breakouts, it didn’t cause any either—which I’m grateful for.”

Just so you know: Salicylic acid can be drying or irritating depending on your skin’s sensitivity.

The Best Chemical Exfoliant: Peach & Lily Glass Skin Face Polisher

For smoother, more radiant skin, go for the aptly named Glass Skin Face Polisher from Peach & Lily. The unique formula dispenses as a powder that takes on a creamy consistency when blended with water. It gently removes dead skin cells and reduces dullness, leaving noticeably softer skin behind. 

Bonus points, per the experts: This product contains salicylic acid, a chemical exfoliant that helps prevent acne. It also contains green tea, which can help calm sensitive skin. 

One tester said: “It left my skin feeling soft and smooth, and was exfoliating without drying. The exfoliating effect seemed to last, too, and I only felt the need to use it every few days, which is best for my dry skin.”

Just so you know: Chemical exfoliants like salicylic acid can be drying or irritating, especially for dry and sensitive skin types, so patch test this product before using it.

The Best Face Scrub: Pacifica Glow Baby Super Lit Enzyme Scrub

The Glow Baby Super Lit Enzyme Scrub uses both physical and chemical exfoliants to buff away dead skin, dissolve excess oil, and soften any rough spots. Its refreshing feel won’t leave you overly dry or irritated. That said, dry, sensitive types may want to use it less frequently than those with oily or combination skin. (And remember: Chemical exfoliants can be drying or irritating, so patch test before using!)

One tester said: “I love the scent of this scrub—but what I really enjoyed most was that it wasn’t too rough. It had a nice balance, working to both moisturize and exfoliate, which made it a pleasant product to use.”

The Best Face Scrub (Splurge): Dr. Brandt Microdermabrasion Renewing Age-Defying Face Exfoliator

Dr. Brandt’s Microdermabrasion Renewing Age-Defying Face Exfoliator will get you as close as you can get to a spa-like exfoliation experience at home. Thanks to a blend of physical and chemical exfoliants, it gets rid of dead cells to reveal the smoother, brighter, and fresher skin underneath.

Bonus points, per the experts: This product contains lactic acid and glycolic acid, which can smooth skin and address excess oil. (That said, chemical exfoliants can be drying or irritating, so be sure to patch test first!)

One tester said: “I love that it really mimics the microdermabrasion procedure with a formula that makes the exfoliating process nearly unnoticeable (as in, you don’t feel any large particles scratching against your skin). When you rinse off the product, you’ve got instant results—instant!”


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