The Different Types of Face Wash Ingredients

Have you looked at the back of your face wash lately? If you have, you’re probably wondering what all those ingredients do to your skin and how many are actually beneficial.

Each ingredient plays a role, but the type of skin you have should affect the facial cleanser you choose. There are five skin types: normal, dry, oily, combination, and sensitive.

Choosing or avoiding certain ingredients based on the type you have keeps your skin healthy. You don’t want to dry out your skin or make a condition worse after all!

Learn all about the different face wash ingredients here so you can choose the best face wash for you.

Types of Face Wash Ingredients

You can break ingredients in face wash down into four types. These types include exfoliants, humectants, emollients, and surfactants.


Facial cleansers with exfoliants or scrubs remove dead skin cells and can transform dull and dry skin into brighter, healthier skin.

Exfoliants use tiny beads or seeds to scrub away dead skin and facial debris. You may see AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) like citric acid listed on the back.

Physical exfoliants that use beads or seeds tend to be less irritating than chemical exfoliants. On the other hand, they aren’t as powerful, and you don’t want to go overboard with the scrubbing.


Humectants let your skin retain moisture. Much like a magnet, they attract water molecules and moisturize the skin. As a result, the skin feels softer.

Common humectants include propylene glycol and glycerin.


Emollients also help keep skin hydrated and face washes with these ingredients can keep your face from feeling too dry or tight. These ingredients reduce how much moisture the skin loses after washing. Emollients can also help reduce inflammation and soften the skin.

You may see emollients such as lanolin, petrolatum, ceramides, or mineral oils.


Surfactants remove oil, dirt, and debris from your face. It’s short for surface-active agent, and it helps stabilize oil and water mixes. Surfactants keep oil and water from separating.

Face wash, along with shampoos, conditioners, and soaps, often have surfactants. They create the foamy reaction many people associate with a deep clean.

A common type of surfactant is sodium lauryl sulfate.


Now that we’ve covered the different types, let’s go over some other face wash ingredients you might see.

Retinols are vitamin A derivatives and an OTC (over-the-counter) retinoid. Retinoids stimulate blood vessel production and increase collagen, which can reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

As such, retinol is often in anti-aging products, but it can also help treat acne. If you need higher concentrations of retinol, you’ll need a prescription. However, even in small concentrations, retinol in your face wash can help improve the appearance of your skin.

Retinol can improve skin texture, reduce uneven pigmentation, and help prevent acne breakouts.

If you’re looking for the best face wash for different skin types, retinol is suitable for all types. However, if you have sensitive skin, you should consider starting with a lower concentration.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is one of the more common face wash ingredients you’ll see. This ingredient is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA). BHAs are exfoliants that help reduce signs of aging, like fine lines and wrinkles, while improving skin texture.

BHAs are less likely to cause irritation than alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), another one of the common ingredients in face wash.

Salicylic acid is most often in products that help combat acne. Facial cleansers designed to treat acne, such as this face wash, use salicylic acid to remove bacteria, clean and unclog pores, and diminish oil.

Products with this ingredient are best for people with oily or acne-prone skin. Make sure to practice sun protection, such as using sunscreen, if you choose a product with salicylic acid.

Vitamin C

Many people know that vitamin C is an antioxidant, but how does it help with your skin? Vitamin C decreases free radicals—the unstable molecules that come from the sun and pollution. Free radicals can damage cells and even cause illness and certain conditions.

As a result of fighting free radical production, vitamin C helps prevent premature aging and can improve the texture and appearance of skin.

Vitamin C is a beneficial ingredient for all skin types. If you have very sensitive skin, try starting out with a lower concentration, as this can help prevent dryness or irritation.

Are There Face Wash Ingredients You Should Avoid?

As you may have heard, there are some ingredients in beauty products you should generally avoid. While not all of these may be an issue for you, these common ingredients may cause some problems.


Parabens are a type of preservative. They are often found in beauty products like face washes, shampoos, moisturizers, and more. More research is being done on parabens and their effects, but certain studies suggest parabens may disrupt hormones.


Phthalates are chemicals you often see in cosmetics and beauty products like face wash. They help to remove dirt and oil in facial cleansers. Studies are looking into connections between phthalates and respiratory problems.


Sulfates, like the common surfactant sodium lauryl sulfate, help create that squeaky clean feeling. You’ll often see sulfates in products like soaps, shampoos, and face wash.

However, sulfates can dry out your skin and strip away natural oils. Your skin’s natural oils help create a barrier and keep your face moisturized.

Also, taking away too much of it can cause the skin to overproduce oil as a result.


While pleasant-smelling beauty products remain popular, fragrances can irritate your skin. People with sensitive skin should avoid fragrances in their face wash, as it can lead to rashes and breakouts.

The Best Choice Depends on Your Skin

Now that you know more about the many types of face wash ingredients, you can accurately identify what goes into the product you use every day. The best face wash for you depends on the type of skin you have. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to avoid certain ingredients.

Take a look at our other beauty articles for more tips like these, and be sure to check back for all the latest advice!

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