17 Water-Based Cleansers to Try In 2024

March 26, 2024
Writer Lauren Levinson
By: Lauren Levinson | skincare.com by L'Oréal
17 Water-Based Cleansers For Clean, Fresh-Feeling Skin

Cleansing is one of the simplest (and, we’d argue, most important) steps in your skincare routine. But in order to give your skin what it needs to look and feel its best, you need to pick the right formula—after all, not all cleansers serve the same purpose. There are two main types of cleansers—water-based cleansers and oil-based cleansers—and while both will help remove dirt and grime, they offer distinct benefits. The advantages of water-based cleansers, in particular, are vast—there are formulas available for every skin type and concern. Here, we’ll introduce you to 17 of our favorite water-based face cleansers, from exfoliating options to gentle formulas designed specifically for stressed skin. Plus, we’ll share a few key facts about water-based cleansers worth knowing before you shop. Find it all ahead.

17 Water-Based Cleansers We Love

Water-Based Cleansers for Skincare Routine

Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water All-in-1 Waterproof Makeup Remover

Micellar water is a type of water-based cleanser that removes dirt and debris, as well as tough, waterproof makeup—no rubbing (or rinsing) needed. This soothing formula helps waterproof mascara slide right off, making it ideal for the sensitive skin around your eyes. To use it, soak a cotton pad with the micellar water and hold it over your eyes. Count to ten, then gently wipe the pad over your eye to remove your makeup. You can use your micellar water as your main facial cleanser, as part of your double cleanse routine, or even to fix makeup mistakes without having to start from scratch.

Water-Based Cleansers for Skincare Routine

CeraVe Hydrating Micellar Water with Ceramides For Dry Skin

This ultra-gentle cleanser removes makeup, hydrates, and cleanses the skin without disrupting the skin’s natural moisture barrier. It contains ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide and offers an effective cleanse without the need for water or rinsing. The soothing formula is even accepted by the National Eczema Association—so those with sensitive or dry skin can use it without worrying about it overdrying the skin.

Water-Based Cleansers for Skincare Routine

Vichy Pureté Thermale Fresh Cleansing Gel

If your home is prone to hard water (and installing a water softener isn’t in the cards), this cleanser can help reduce some of the damaging effects it has on the skin. The rich gel formula lathers up to help remove dirt, makeup, and even pollution while counteracting the drying effects of hard water. It features the French brand’s famous Vichy Volcanic Water as well as niacinamide and glycerin. Use it morning and night for brighter, healthier-looking skin from the very first use.

Water-Based Cleansers for Skincare Routine

Thayers pH Balancing Daily Cleanser with Aloe Vera

This water-based cleanser is comprised of 96% natural-origin ingredients, including aloe vera, sodium hyaluronate (also known as hyaluronic acid) and, of course, water. The jelly-like formula transforms into a rich lather that lifts away dirt, oil, and other impurities without stripping your skin. It also helps balance the skin’s pH levels and strengthens the moisture barrier—making it a great pick for all skin types, including sensitive skin.

Water-Based Cleansers for Skincare Routine

Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser

If you love water-based cleansers but want the nourishing feel of a richer, oil-based face wash, try this beloved cleanser from Kiehl’s. The gentle formula contains avocado oil and squalane (a botanical lipid made from olives). It dissolves dirt, excess oil, and other impurities while helping to balance the skin’s protective barrier for an effective cleanse that won’t leave your skin feeling stripped.

Water-Based Cleansers for Skincare Routine

SkinCeuticals Purifying Cleanser With Glycolic Acid

Address dullness and unevenness from the very first step in your routine with this water-based face wash. The glycolic acid-infused cleanser removes surface dirt and impurities while gently exfoliating the skin to help refine skin tone and texture. While it is mildly exfoliating, the hydrating formula is gentle enough for twice-daily use—just remember to follow your cleanse with plenty of SPF during the daylight hours.

Water-Based Cleansers for Skincare Routine

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Gentle Facial Cleanser

It’s not just any old water from the tap that features in this gentle face cleanser. Instead, it’s prebiotic thermal water that’s rich in natural minerals and antioxidants. The creamy formula gently removes dirt, oil, and other impurities and helps the skin retain essential moisture, making it a great pick for those with dry or sensitive skin.

Water-Based Cleansers for Skincare Routine

L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Derm Intensives 3.5% Glycolic Acid Cleanser

Cleanse, resurface, and refine your skin with this gentle drugstore cleanser. The exfoliating formula boasts a blend of alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids and helps brighten, smooth, and refine the skin as it cleanses. It’s suitable for all skin types and can be used daily—either to prep your skin for makeup or to take it off at the end of a long day.

Water-Based Cleansers for Skincare Routine

Lancôme Eau Fraiche Douceur Micellar Cleansing Water

Waterproof mascara isn’t the only makeup product that can be tricky to remove: long-wearing lipsticks can also be troublesome. That’s where this water-based makeup remover/cleanser hybrid comes into play. It’s designed for both eye and face makeup removal and makes easy work out of dissolving stubborn makeup—liquid lipstick included.

Water-Based Cleansers for Skincare Routine

Youth To The People Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser

This rich gel cleanser contains a farmer’s market-worthy blend of ingredients, including vitamin-rich spinach, kale, and green tea. It provides an effective cleanse and helps remove makeup and prevent build-up in your pores without drying or stripping the skin. Plus, it boasts a fresh, herbaceous scent that’s downright enjoyable.

Water-Based Cleansers for Skincare Routine

IT Cosmetics Confidence In a Cleanser

We love multi-tasking products, and this creamy, soap-free cleanser seriously delivers. Per the brand, it provides the cleansing power of a face wash with the hydration of a serum, delivering both immediate and long-lasting hydration. The ceramide-packed formula also helps support the skin barrier, and it’s suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin.

Water-Based Cleansers for Skincare Routine

SkinBetter Science Cleansing Gel

Finding a cleanser gentle enough to use after a skincare treatment like a chemical peel or microdermabrasion can be tricky. Thankfully, this cleanser is designed specifically for that purpose. It contains a blend of mild, sulfate-free surfactants and provides a thorough cleanse while remaining gentle enough for even compromised skin.

Water-Based Cleansers for Skincare Routine

Aēsop Amazing Face Cleanser

Combat excessive oiliness and humidity-induced shine with this refreshing cleanser from Aēsop. The gel cleanser produces a mild foam that leaves your skin feeling balanced and deeply clean. While we love the way the cleanser feels on the skin, we’re equally impressed with its fragrance: fresh and citrusy, thanks to a blend of mandarin rind and floral ylang-ylang.

Water-Based Cleansers for Skincare Routine

Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser

Baby-soft skin is within reach with this jelly cleanser, which contains a blend of nourishing ingredients, including rose water, allantoin, and pro-vitamin B5. The non-comedogenic, fragrance-free formula is suitable for all skin types and can be used daily to remove dirt, debris, and makeup—even around the delicate eye area.

Water-Based Cleansers for Skincare Routine

Om Organics White Willow Purifying Cleansing Gel

If breakouts are your main concern but find traditional acne-fighting ingredients too aggressive for your skin, try this gentle cleansing gel from Canadian brand Om. It contains white willow bark extract and helps remove pore build-up without stripping away your skin’s natural protective oils.

Water-Based Cleansers for Skincare Routine

Beauty of Joseon Green Plum Refreshing Cleanser

Korean beauty brands are well-known for their sheet masks and serums, but their cleansers deserve some love, too. We’re particularly fond of this gel cleanser from Beauty of Joseon, which contains 24% plum water and naturally occurring acids to help exfoliate the skin while delivering tons of moisture.

Water-Based Cleansers for Skincare Routine

Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip Cleanser

Level up your everything shower with this luxurious water-based face cleanser from indie beauty brand Sunday Riley. The plant-based formula provides an ultra-gentle hydrating cleanse and leaves all skin types feeling soft, fresh, and balanced.

What Is a Water-Based Cleanser?

A water-based cleanser is, quite simply, a cleanser that features water—rather than oil—as its main ingredient. The water acts as a solvent of sorts, diluting the other ingredients (like botanical extracts or acids) so they can be better tolerated by your skin. But water isn’t just a vehicle for the other ingredients to do their job: it’s also a natural hydrator and may help balance your skin’s pH. To identify whether a product is water-based, take a look at the ingredients. If the first ingredient listed is water (or aqua), then it’s water-based—even if the formula contains some oils.

What Are the Benefits of Water-Based Cleansers?

The benefits of a water-based cleanser will depend on the product you choose and your skin type. For example, micellar waters are ultra-gentle, so they’re great for use on sensitive skin. Cleansers with alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids, meanwhile, may help to reduce the appearance of clogged pores, brighten the skin, and improve skin texture.

The texture of your chosen formula plays a role in determining its benefits, too. In general, creamy cleansers feel more hydrating on the skin than gel cleansers, which are ideal for combination and oily skin types. These are all factors you should take into consideration when shopping for a water-based cleanser.

When Should You Use a Water-Based Cleanser?

You can use most water-based cleansers twice a day: once in the morning and once in the evening. Cleansing in the morning helps prepare your skin for your morning skincare routine and any makeup you may wear, while an evening cleanse helps remove all of the dirt, oil, and makeup that accumulate on your skin throughout the day. A water-based face wash can also be used following an oil cleanser as part of a double cleansing routine.

Of course, this is just a general guideline, and how to use a water-based cleanser depends on the specific product you’re working with. For a more accurate read on how often you can (or should) use any given cleanser, take a close look at the directions printed on the package or consult your dermatologist.

Next Up: How To Get Healthier Skin in 2024

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