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Extra-Strength Cleansing: The Best Cleansers For Oily Skin

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As I see it, there are two types of cleansers in this world: gentle ones that help remove makeup and slight impurities, and the hardcore set that knows your skin can take a beating in order to get clean. This story is about the latter category. As someone with very oily, acne-prone skin, I need a cleanser with real grit and cleaning power. I'm basically a few steps away from washing my face with dish detergent, except packaging and branding are really important, so I stick with French drugstore brands, Dermalogica, and Mario Badescu instead.

To back up for a minute, the whole reason I cleanse my face is to get everything that’s on it off. Some of what I'm feeling—oil, dirt, general city muck—may be imagined. But either way, I want it gone. And I don't trust a cleanser that doesn't leave me feeling squeaky when I'm done with it.

Another thing that works for me: constant rotation. My cleansers take up a whole shelf of my medicine cabinet and each one has a purpose. The constant has and always will be Avène’s Cleanance Cleansing Gel. This guy sorta works whenever for me, it smells the best and is on the cusp of drying without going too far. It’s my LTR cleanser.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel is my second go-to. It's similar to the Avène, but can be slightly more drying, so I use it more in the summertime. That said, it's not quite as strong as the Vichy Normaderm Pore Unclogging Daily Scrub. It's the newest addition to my cabinet and I save it for when my skin feel extra dirty (maybe after a workout or a really stressful day).

For skin that's already congested, and maybe a bit abused, there's Mario Badescu’s Acne Facial Cleanser. I like using it on really sensitive breakouts because it has aloe vera and chamomile and I feel like my skin feels less fucked afterwards.

The last and most cherished is something I just picked up: Dermalogica Clearing Skin Wash. It's kind of spectacular but it's expensive, so I save it for special occasions. It’s sort of minty-fresh feeling—a good way to wake up just before you go out at night (and know that you'll probably wash your face again later). Really, a good middle-man.

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An update: So I wrote to you guys a little while ago about my favorite cleansers, and the response was great—almost 90 comments! Glad to hear we're all vibing on the same thing here. Some of your reviews were too good not to take to heart, so I did a second trial with a few more products. Here goes:

Boots Tea Tree & Witch Hazel Charcoal Facial Wash: I'm a big believer in the purifying power of charcoal, so shout out to Mary who suggested I try this. It's the kind of cleanser that can double as a mask, if you're feeling really grimy. The tea tree/witch hazel/charcoal is intense, but worth it.

Dr Dennis Gross Color Smart Cleanser & Mask: It's 'color smart' because it changes color to let you know that it's done working—helpful, because it's got active citrus enzymes doing their thing as soon as you apply it. LB recommends not rinsing it off immediately and keeping it on like a mini mask for maximum output.

Desert Essence Thoroughly Clean Face Wash with Sea Kelp: 'Thoroughly clean' is exactly what I'm looking for. It's got a lowkey antioxidant treatment in it, which is good if you live in a city like I do. But above all, it's one of the best face washes you can get for fewer than ten dollars. Reader Omara likens it to your standard organic cleanser with a little bit more power, but not necessarily squeaky clean.

Skinceuticals LHA Cleansing Gel: Equestrienne brought this one up and frankly, I'm glad she did. Skinceuticals consistently kills it with their product offering for oily skin. The LHA Cleansing Gel is on the pricier side but it's a do-it-all: cleanses, exfoliates, brightens, smoothes. No treatment needed for afterwards. But maybe a little moisturizer.

—Tom Newton

Photographed by the author.

Interested in a deeper clean? Let ITG show you how to brush up your masking.