What is the difference between a Cleanser & a Face Wash?

What is the difference between a Cleanser & a Face Wash?

What is the difference between a Cleanser & a Face Wash?


If you have ever shopped for skincare offline or online on your favorite online portal you must have seen that some products are labelled “Face Wash” while some are labelled “Cleanser”.


Try reading the instructions on the tube or the ingredient list to spot the difference. Chances are you ended up feeling even more confused.

The thing is this - both words are used interchangeably because in the end it’s just semantics. There are so many different types of products out there with which to clean your face. Some are labeled “face wash” while some may be called a “cleanser”. You may also see milks, gels, foams or even micellar water which is yet another form of cleanser.


Washing or cleansing your face is one of the most basic things you can do. It is the first step in the cleansing process. You can still get this basic step wrong.

Here are some of the most common products on the market with which you can clean your skin.


These are the most generic as well as the oldest face washes in the market. They primarily target oilier skins. They can also contain surfactants or foaming agents that remove oil from the skin. Read ingredients to ensure that your face wash of choice is free of sulphates. Sulphates strip excessive oil from your skin. This leaves your skin feeling excessively dry and prone to damage. To use, apply onto damp skin, massage for a few minutes and then rinse off.


Gel cleansers are typically kinder on the skin. They do not foam as much as the first category described above. A well formulated gel cleanser will not foam as much but it will clean your skin effectively. Your skin will feel moisturised and nourished after cleansing instead of feeling stripped and dry. Gel cleansers are formulated for different skin types. Here is a great cleanser for skin that is oily or combination as well as being acne prone. Our Vitamin C Face Wash is chock full of antioxidants and can be used by all skin types. To use, apply onto damp skin, massage for a few minutes and then rinse off.


These are very gentle emulsions of fat and water.


The name is thanks to the white, almost milk-like appearance of the product. Cleansing milks are very gentle cleansers. They may not be very effective at removing all traces of sunscreen, makeup and dirt. Milk cleansers are wonderful for an early morning cleanse if your skin is not too oily or for a second cleanse (as in a double cleanse) for normal to dry skin types. To use, massage a small amount into dry skin. Wipe off excess with a cotton pad and follow up with a toner.


Oil or balm cleansers are the first step in the double cleansing process. To use, massage onto dry skin. Then emulsify the oil on your skin using wet finger tips. Splash off once completely emulsified. Follow up with a cleansing milk or a gel cleanser depending on your skin type. Oil cleansers can be used by all skin types. Always follow up with an appropriate face wash or cleanser as the second step. The choice of product used in the second step depends on your skin type.


Micellar water cleansers consist of tiny droplets of oil suspended in water (the word for these droplets is “micelle” in French, hence the name). To use, first shake the bottle. They apply a small amount of micellar water on a cotton pad and use the pad to clean your face. There is no need to rinse post using micellar water. These are great for travel or for camping trips where you may have less water on hand. Can be used by all skin types especially for sensitive or eczema prone skin that need a very gently cleanse. If you have oily skin you may see micellar water as a makeup remover. Next follow up with your regular cleanser.


These are powders to which you need to add a small amount of water to “activate” it. This changes it to a creamy texture, thoroughly cleansing your skin while providing it with mild exfoliation. These are most suitable for normal to dry skin.


Cleansing is not rocket science.

Face Wash vs Cleansers

But it is important.

Here are five key things to keep in mind:

  1. Choose the right skin care product based on your skin type and on your lifestyle
  2. Clean your skin both in the morning as well as in the evening
  3. Give your face a relaxing massage while applying your cleanser
  4. Apply your next product within 30 seconds of cleansing. This can be toner, serum, moisturiser or facial oil.
  5. Ditch the cleansing wipes. Most are formulated with drying alcohols and contain artificial fragrance which irritate the skin.

To know more about effective cleansing read our blog on "How To Wash Your Face The Right Way?".

Wishing you happy and healthy skin days ahead!

Do you have any questions/suggestions? Let us know in the comments below.


Title Photo Credits:

Kavita Joshi Rai

Co-founder & Product Head at Vya Naturals, Kavita is a product development expert and self confessed skincare and beauty specialist. Her aim is to help consumers cut through the clutter of the retail world to find products that really work for them. In the past, Kavita has worked with brands like Nike, L'oreal, Kama, Kiehl's Clarins etc.


  • good products

    Hemant Zarkar on

  • That’s very informative.. You’ve made it clear about cleansing balm.. 👍

    Abinaya Sakthivel on

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