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Cleanser vs Face Wash: What’s The Difference For Men?

The difference between cleanser vs face wash is incredibly subtle. Admittedly, I’m the type of person who uses the two names and products interchangeably – that’s how similar they are. But if you have picky skin, knowing the difference between the two can make or break the success of your skin care routine.

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What Is A Face Cleanser?

A face cleanser is as gentle as it gets when it comes to cleaning your skin at the end of the day. Cleansers are specifically formulated to moisturize your skin while they wash away bacteria and debris. They’re made for sensitive and dry skin that can’t afford to lose any more moisture.

They’re often “thinner” than face washes. They don’t really lather, and they have a soft, liquid texture as opposed to a creamy or thick consistency. The easiest way to figure out whether you’ve just purchased a wash or a cleanser is to check the bottle label. Companies are usually good about telling you which they’re selling.

Here’s the catch: because they’re so gentle, face cleansers don’t dissolve the oils on your skin. That’s a big perk for guys with dry skin conditions, but it’s also a huge downfall if you have problems with excessive sebum (oil).

You’ll notice, lots of the best face cleansers for men are marketed interchangeably alongside face washes. Check the bottle description to make sure you’re getting the right product for your skin, especially if you’re an older man who’s trying to tighten your skin.

The Pros And Cons Of Face Cleanser For Men

To be frank, if your skin is well-suited for a face wash, then you should probably be using a face wash. Cleansers are gentle at the cost of their efficiency. Great for skin that needs to be treated with delicacy! But it lacks the cleaning-power that guys with hardier skin need.


• Cleansers are best for guys with dry or sensitive skin. They’re gentle and unobtrusive.

• Cleansers double as moisturizers, so they’ll hydrate your skin. They’re essentially 2-in-1 products, especially good for guys who forget to use a moisturizer.

• Cleansers effectively wash away bacteria and the layer of debris that accumulates on your face throughout the day.


• Cleansers do not dissolve the oils on your face, and they’re only so-so at unclogging your pores. Not my favorite product for preventing breakouts.

What Is Face Wash?

Face wash does not moisturize your skin, but it does wash away oil, bacteria, dead skin, makeup, and more. If you’ve read up on face wash vs face scrub, you can think of the hierarchy as cleanser, face wash, then exfoliant, from softest to roughest.

I tend to recommend face washes over cleansers because they’re more effective at fighting breakouts (as long as your skin is compatible with a face wash). Acne forms when the dead skin, oil, and bacteria resting on your face form a little cocktail that clogs your pores. Face wash is better at clearing away each of those ingredients.

But here’s the one big catch: you have to use a great moisturizer after you wash your face. Because face wash strips away your natural oils, you need to replace that natural barrier with a moisturizer to protect your skin from dryness and keep it from producing more oil.

The Pros And Cons Of Face Wash For Men

If you have average or oily skin, face wash is probably a better option for you. Some perks and downfalls to keep in mind:


• Face wash dissolves acne-causing oils.

• Face wash can scrub away some dead skin.

• Face wash is better suited to prevent 

• Guys tend to enjoy the thick lather and consistency of face wash. It’s satisfying to use.


• Face wash does not moisturize your skin. It actually does the opposite. You need to pair it with a moisturizer to avoid dryness.

Is Cleanser Better Than Face Wash?

Don’t think of cleansers and face wash as competitors. When it comes to skincare products, it’s always a matter of choosing the right cleaners for your skin.

If you have dry or sensitive skin, cleanser is the way to go. It’s gentle, and it only cleans as much as necessary. Face wash is significantly better for average and oily skin. You need to dissolve the oils on the surface of your face to avoid breakouts. Guys with combination skin will need to experiment to figure out which is better.

But if I’m being biased instead of helpful….face wash will always be better than cleanser in my book.

Do I Need A Face Wash And A Cleanser?

You don’t really need both a cleanser and a face wash. The only good reason to keep both on hand is if you have a skin condition that randomly rears its head.

Cleansers are good for those days where your skin just doesn’t want to be messed with, but you know you need to wash away the built-up debris. Face wash is good for just about every other day when you need to dissolve oil, clear dead skin, and kill bacteria. It’s a better breakout-fighter.

If your skin can handle using a daily face wash without a cleanser, then I wholeheartedly recommend using one of the best face washes for men to keep your skin in tip-top shape.

What Goes First, The Cleanser Or The Face Wash?

For the handful of guys who need to keep both a cleanser and a face wash on hand to keep their skin happy, most skin care experts recommend using the cleanser first – but proceed with caution when you’re using that advice.

If you’re using a cleanser instead of moisturizing your skin, you’ll want to use it after your face wash to avoid skin dryness. Really, you should cleanse, wash, use your toners/serums/creams, then moisturize at the end. But I know some of you like to skip steps in your skincare routine. In that case, go face wash then cleanser.

For those of you who don’t have especially picky skin, you don’t need to use cleanser and face wash together. Just pick one depending on how you’re feeling.

Cleanser vs Face Wash: What’s The Difference For Men?

The cleanser vs face wash debate is simply a difference in preference. Cleanser is gentler and moisturizing. Face wash fights acne and oily skin.

Whichever you choose, always be sure to read the ingredient label, patch test your skin, and stop using it if you experience any negative reactions. And don’t forget to pair either one with one of the best men’s exfoliants. They’re the secret ingredient to soft, clear skin.

Frank Edwards is a men's grooming & style expert who is "internet famous" for being able to simplify complicated grooming routines into easy, yet effective rituals any man can do. As a professional analyst, he has spent years researching the biggest brands, products, experts, best practices, and breaking news in the space. He takes this analysis, tests it out on himself, and then documents everything in his writing. As a result, his experience-based articles are considered by some to be the gold standard in men's grooming and men's style.