The Ultimate Guide to Gentle Yet Effective Cream Cleansers

These cream cleansers won't aggravate sensitive, dry or reactive skin.

The Ultimate Guide to Gentle Yet Effective Cream Cleansers
If you have dry, sensitive or reactive skin, it’s time to acquaint yourself with cream cleanser. Annie Sheehan for Observer

No skincare routine is complete without an effective cleanser, because what’s the point in applying even the best of products if there’s leftover makeup, dirt and debris clinging to your skin? You need a fresh canvas to start off your skincare routine, and while some people swear by only using a cleanser at night and simply using a little water in the morning (and I’m admittedly extremely jealous of said people and their casual, minimalist routine), I’ve never been able to get into that mindset.

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I’ve tried quite a few different cleansers over the years, and switch between a few depending on the state of my skin, which is generally sensitive, reactive and acne-prone, not to mention subject to rosacea flare-ups and occasional eczema. I realized that certain cleansers were seriously damaging my skin barrier, and I’ve found that when my skin is feeling especially dry and irritable, a cream cleanser is usually the best option.

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Different skin types have different needs, so there’s not a one-size-fits-all product, but if your skin is feeling sensitive, tight, dry or irritated, it’s time to consider alternatives to your go-to cleansers, and think about swapping in a cream cleanser. Cream cleansers are typically the most calming, soothing and moisturizing; they’re essentially like cleansing lotions. “Cream cleansers imply a higher order of moisturizer as compared to traditional liquid or foam cleansers,” board-certified dermatologist Dr. Anthony Rossi told Observer. “The idea is that when cleansing, instead of using a more traditional liquid cleanser or even true soap that will strip sebum and good oils from your skin, a cream or oil cleanser will cleanse via the act of washing, but also help leave the skin with moisture.”

Not all cream cleansers have the same benefits; there are different formulas for every type of concern, and certain cream cleansers are more powerful than others. Personally, I always use a cream cleanser in the morning, and usually use one at night, as well, though if I’ve worn any makeup or waterproof sunscreen (and I *always* use SPF), I’ll start with micellar water (this one is my absolute favorite) to remove any products or impurities, before washing my face with a gentle cleanser.

Cream cleansers tend to be more hydrating and gentle than other cleansers, which is why they’re a particularly good choice for those with impaired skin barriers. They are “great for all skin types, but especially important for those who have dry skin, sensitive skin, allergies, eczema or more mature skin,” Dr. Rossi explained. “Most people are over-cleansing their skin and actually drying it out. Added with over-exfoliation, many people are inducing dryness and irritation which leads to more redness.” Harsh winter weather only adds to these concerns, which is why now is the time to swap out a harsh exfoliant for a gentle cream cleanser.

Below, see the best cream cleansers that will not only wash away excess sebum and impurities, but also soothe, soften and moisturize.

All products featured are independently selected by Observer editors. When you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission that supports our work.

  • Tata Harper.

    Tata Harper Superkind Softening Cleanser

    I’m a huge fan of Tata Harper’s entire sensitive-skin Superkind line, including the gentle, fragrance free yet super effective Softening Cleanser. It doesn’t foam much, but don’t think that means it’s not working, as it manages to remove dirt and impurities while also soothing and softening skin.

    $86, Shop Now
  • Naturopathica.

    Naturopathica Marshmallow & Probiotic Sensitivity Soothing Cream Cleanser

    This non-foaming cream cleanser (it’s almost like a modern-day Pond’s Cold Cream) is ideal for sensitive skin, since it washes away the day while also soothing irritation and easing redness.

    $64, Shop Now
  • Dr. Jart.

    Dr. Jart Cicapair Tiger Grass Enzyme Foam Cleanser

    Dr. Jart’s creamy cleanser is one of my most-used face washes. It looks like a regular cream cleanser, but foams up when you massage it onto your face. It’s great for red, sensitized skin, as it calms irritation and reduces redness.

    $26, Shop Now
  • Clark's Botanicals.

    Clark's Botanicals Soothing Herbal Face Wash

    This moisturizing creamy face wash is a non-foaming formula that deeply cleanses without stripping skin dry. It contains cucumber, lavender and aloe to soothe, plus vitamin E to moisturize, as well as jasmine, which calms and helps naturally rebalance your skin’s moisture levels.

    $32, Shop Now
  • Jordan Samuel Skin.

    Jordan Samuel Skin The Matinee Cream Cleanser

    I love the texture of this gentle, moisture-rich cream cleanser; apply it to wet skin and then massage it in for a minute before washing off. It leaves you with a fresh, clean glow, and includes ingredients like sesame oil for a healthy skin barrier, allantoin to soothe and silt (yes, silt) to increase moisture while also absorbing excess sebum (aka too much oil) that’s sitting on your skin.

    $28, Shop Now
  • Tatcha.

    Tatcha The Rice Wash

    Tatcha’s cream cleanser is ultra-effective at washing away makeup, grime and dirt, though I personally prefer to only use it once or twice a week, since it’s one of the stronger formulas. It turns into a super foamy oil once you add water, and cleanses without stripping away natural oils.

    $36, Shop Now
  • Cle de Peau.

    Clé de Peau Beauté Softening Cleansing Foam

    Add a major dose of luxury into your skincare routine with Clé de Peau’s lush foaming cream cleanser. This is an ultra-gentle formula that cleanses while softening and hydrating, thanks to ingredients including hyaluronic acid, peppermint extract and antioxidants like raspberry extract. It leaves you with soft, smooth and moisturized skin, and also leaves you with a much-coveted glow thanks to an illuminator with the brand’s Platinum Golden Skin, which is, of course, just icing on the cake.

    $75, Shop Now
  • SkinCeuticals.

    SkinCeuticals Gentle Cleanser Cream

    This is a very gentle and mild non-foaming cleanser that’s amazing for sensitive skin, and it’s even approved for post-procedure skin. It softens, moisturizes and cleanses, while calming irritation thanks to the inclusion of soothing orange oil.

    $35, Shop Now
  • Valmont.

    Valmont Wonder Falls

    Apply Valmont’s rich Wonder Falls cream on dry skin and watch it turn into a powerhouse cleansing oil as you rub it in. It’s a great option for days when you need to remove a full face of makeup but don’t want anything too harsh, and it’s packed with prebiotics and probiotics, which aid in reducing pigmentation, removing residue and improving texture.

    $165, Shop Now
  • Amala.

    Amala Silkening Creamy Moisture Cleanse

    If you want a cream cleanser that also gently exfoliates, consider Amala’s Silkening Moisture Cleanse. AHAs remove dirt and unclog pores, while plant seeds and oil help moisturize and soften.

    $78, Shop Now
  • Trilogy.

    Trilogy Rosehip Cream Cleanser

    This rosehip cream cleanser is filled with only natural ingredients, including pure plant oils like primrose, carrot and jojoba, which gently remove makeup and residue without stripping skin dry or disrupting natural pH levels. It leaves skin feeling much softer, smoother and generally more balanced.

    $23, Shop Now
The Ultimate Guide to Gentle Yet Effective Cream Cleansers