For the most part, the term skin cleanser applies to facial cleansers rather than to soaps that are used for the whole body. These products are often used to remove dirt, makeup, and normal skin oils from the face. Skin cleansers are generally categorized by the type of skin they are suited to, or how the cleanser works on the skin.
Some facial cleansers come in bar soap form, but most are formulated as a liquid. Many of these are thick and creamy, with oils or other types of lipids used as the main cleansing and moisturizing ingredients. Some cleansers create a foam when applied to damp skin, and most must be rinsed off after application.
The most basic type of skin cleanser is one formulated for normal skin. Normal skin is considered to be skin that is neither too dry nor too oily. Most normal skin cleansers are water soluble, meaning they wash off easily in water, and do not leave a residue on the face. Some contain a light moisturizer to hydrate the skin.
Another type of skin cleaner is one that is formulated to be gentle for use on sensitive skin. Sensitive skin typically refers to skin that easily has an allergic reaction to chemicals. These cleansers usually do not contain perfumes, harsh cleansing chemicals, or exfoliants. Some may even omit lipids, the basic ingredient for most soaps.
A skin cleanser that is formulated for oily or acne-prone skin may include a drying agent. This type of skin typically produces an excess of oil that clogs pores, creates acne and other skin blemishes, or may even cause infection. Facial cleansers that help with acne typically try to remove oil and dirt from the skin by using drying ingredients, such as witch hazel, peppermint, or menthol. Some dermatologists do not think these drying formulas are highly effective, suggesting that drying oily skin may stimulate more oil production by the skin’s glands.
Sometimes, a skin cleanser is categorized by how it works or what it does to the skin. Daily cleansing cloths are small, single-use towelettes that contain a facial cleaning solution. An exfoliant is a type of cleanser that is purported to remove the outer layer of dead skin cells, usually through the inclusion of a coarse material, like ground seeds or tiny polyethylene beads.
Not all cleansers are formulated for the skin of the face. There are several types of cleansers that are designed for use on other parts of the body. Bars of soap and body washes commonly fall into this category. Some exfoliants are marketed for full body use.