Girl, Wash Your Face! (But Don't Spend A Fortune Doing It.)

by Kelsey Haywood Lucas
Originally Published: 
Three tubes of Burt's Bees Face Cleanser, Facial Wash for Sensitive Skin

I don’t know who needs to hear this right now, but… Girl, wash your face.

It’s the first piece of beauty advice your mom ever gave you, the vow you made to yourself in college even after a late night of studying (or partying), the title of an inspirational book you definitely saw posted all over Instagram in 2018. And it’s our plea to you, the mamas of the world who barely have a spare second to drink water—let alone splash it all over your exhausted faces.

How often should you wash your face?

To keep it short and sweet: twice a day, Mama! Morning AND night. We know you know this, but there are so many benefits to prioritizing that end-of-day cleansing session—even if you’d really rather just crawl straight into bed. Cleaner pillowcases mean fewer breakouts; a nightly ritual can help you relax and wind down from the day; your skin does its best repairing and regenerating overnight. Oh, and then there’s this:

“Throughout the day, the surface of the skin builds up dead skin cells, oil, bacteria, sweat, and other debris,” explains Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, a dermatologist based in D.C. “There is also microscopic soot in the air called particulate pollution that settles on the skin during the day that can be damaging.” Gross. But even worse, pollution can generate free radicals on the skin, which are highly unstable molecules that accelerate aging. Yes, they accelerate aging: This is not a drill!

It’s clear that cleansing is crucial, but what type of face wash is right for your skin—whether it’s sensitive, dry, or acne-prone?

Keep reading for everything you ever wanted to know about the best drugstore face washes under $20 (with a few splurges!)—including creams, gels, oils, balms, melts, micellar waters and more.

Best Drugstore Face Washes

Best Drugstore Face Wash for Acne

There are lots of face wash options in this category—so when using a drugstore cleansing gel or cleansing foam, make your selection based on what you’ll be doing to your face afterward. Following your cleanser with an exfoliating scrub, luxe face mask and your P.M. retinol serum? Stick to something gentle and simple when you’ve got a lot more active ingredients coming up next. But if it’s a low-key skincare night (read: maybe some moisturizer, maybe nothing else at all…) then pick a product that’ll do double-duty by cleansing and treating your biggest skin concerns, whether it’s acne or aging.

Drugstore Cleansing Balms

Balms work their magic by binding to grime and pulling it away from the epidermis—so you can easily rinse it all off with a few splashes of warm water to reveal soft, hydrated skin. To use a drugstore cleansing balm or cleansing melt, follow the specific instructions provided on the label (but in general, you’ll typically just scoop a dollop into your hand and mix with a bit of water to create a gentle cleansing milk, then proceed washing and rinsing as usual). They’re great for travel—no spills, and no worrying about pulling them out of your carry-on at airport security. Just keep in mind that some drugstore cleansing balms are meant to work as a pre-cleanse that removes makeup and oil before your regular cleanser…while others can be used all on their own.

Best Micellar Waters

When I tell people that I do not “wash” my face—ever—I love the look of horror I get. But a few years ago when I switched from sudsing my very sensitive skin with cleansers to just rinsing it thoroughly with micellar water, my skin finally cleared up—and I’ve never looked back. Micellar water looks like a toner, but it can be used as the primary step in your cleansing routine with no need to rinse afterward: The micelles are tiny balls of cleansing oil suspended in water, and they trap and remove all the dirt and oil from your skin.

Best Drugstore Cleansing Oil

Oils work similarly to balms—but because they’re more of a liquid and typically packaged in a bottle with a pump, they might be more hygienic. (No need to worry that your grubby, just-changed-a-diaper fingers contaminated whatever you’re about to rub all over your face.) Contrary to popular belief, they can work for every skin type: Whether you’re dry, sensitive, acne-prone or yep, even oily, an oil cleanser is the go-to for gently cleansing without stripping your skin of its natural oils (because, BTW, a cleanser that’s too drying will just make your skin produce more oil).

Now that you’re feeling fresh-faced, check out more of our beauty must-haves that will save your face from winter.


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