The Face Washes You Should Avoid If You Have Combo Skin—and What to Use Instead
If you have combination skin, you know caring for it is often a balancing act between oiliness and dryness. "Combination skin is dry in some areas and oily in others," explains board-certified dermatologist and founder of Maei MD Rebecca Marcus, MD. "Combination skin is often acne prone, but also dry, so it is essential to choose appropriate skincare products that are hydrating but also noncomedogenic."
You'll want to prioritize hydrating and moisturizing ingredients for combination skin. "Hyaluronic acid is an excellent humectant—a hydrator that pulls water into the skin," Marcus says. "It's non-greasy and noncomedogenic. Niacinamide is an anti-inflammatory ingredient that can be soothing to dry skin and can also help to regulate sebaceous glands and normalize oil production. Glycerin is another excellent hydrating ingredient that is helps to relieve dryness and is not too heavy for oily skin. Using an exfoliating AHA and/or BHA product a few times a week can be helpful to keep dead skin cells from accumulating on the skin’s surface. This can help with oil production and also with hydration."
Tammy Fender, holistic wellness practitioner and creator of Tammy Fender Holistic Skin Care, also likes to use vitamin-rich rose-hip seed oil (to prevent dry skin) and jojoba oil (which helps balance sebum production).
As for daily skincare, Joie Tavernise, medical aesthetician and founder of Manhattan clinic JTAV Clinical Skincare, recommends exfoliating your entire face with a product that contains glycolic acid. She even recommends looking for a cleanser that contains glycolic acid, which can make your daily routine even easier. After cleansing and exfoliating, she suggests treating your entire face with a hydrating product (like some toners and serums). Look for hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid (which we went over above), panthenol, willow bark, ceramides, and fatty acids. "For oily areas, products that will reduce oil and diminish the appearance of large pores are retinol, AHA and BHA, and salicylic acid," Tavernise says. "Be sure to only use these products on the oily areas of your face, and avoid the dry areas. As a treatment, clay-based masks can also be used weekly to help absorb excess oil and impurities. Lastly, you should finish your routine with a lightweight, oil-free moisturizer to hydrate and nourish the skin without clogging pores."
Cleansing is the most important step in your skincare routine, Tavernise says, because it sets your skin up to properly receive the rest of the products in you routine. She says that the best cleanser should reduce oil in the T-zone and leave your skin feeling fresh and hydrated.
"A gentle face wash is best. It should effectively remove makeup, sunscreen, and dirt, while not over-drying the skin," Marcus says. "I recommend choosing a fragrance-free formula. I like enzyme cleansers, as they are a gentle and effective means to thoroughly cleanse the skin. Cleansers containing salicylic acid are helpful because salicylic acid effectively breaks up sebum in pores but is not harsh or drying."
As for the types of face washes and cleansers you should avoid if you have combination skin, you'll want to stay away from anything super harsh. "A natural response to seeing excess oil and large pores is to think that using a harsh product to cleanse the skin will magically rid it of these concerns," Tavernise says. "The truth is those with combination skin have to be very selective when it comes to the cleanser that they use. Again, treating combination skin is all about bringing balance. Cleansers with strong and harsh ingredients can strip the skin of its natural oils, which in turn prompts the skin to produce even more oil. When these cleansers are used on the dry areas of the face, it can further exacerbate tightness and flaking."
When trying out a new cleanser or face wash, Tavernise recommends waiting 10 minutes after washing your face before applying the rest of your routine. If you skin feels too tight, then you're probably using a product that's too strong.
And in general (for both face washes and other products), you'll want to stay away from anything fragranced. "I would avoid using most oils on oily skin, especially those that are known to be comedogenic," Marcus says. "Specific commonly used ingredients to avoid include coconut oil, cocoa butter, palm oil, and vitamin E oil. Although, this list is certainly not exhaustive. I would also avoid products with alcohol that may exacerbate dry skin."
To find out what face washes and cleansers are best for combination skin, check out our list below.
"The salicylic acid breaks up oil and clears pores, while mineral water balances and soothes the skin," Marcus says. "This is an excellent cleanser for balancing the oily aspect of combination skin while also ensuring skin is not overly dried out and retains moisture."
I love the Tammy Fender Purifying Cleansing Gel, blended with energizing peppermint and nutrient-rich alfalfa leaf in a soothing aloe leaf base," Fender says. "It's a full sensory experience, thoroughly cleansing away any impurities, and bringing a freshness to the complexion, without ever over-stripping the skin's naturally protective barrier."
"[This] is a powder cleanser that features a stabilized rice bran enzyme that gently but thoroughly cleanses skin, completely removing sunscreen, makeup, and dirt without being overly drying," Marcus says.
"[It's] formulated to be well tolerated by sensitive skin while also completely removing oil, dirt, and other impurities from the skin’ surface," Marcus says. "It helps to maintain dry skin's delicate balance while simultaneously ensuring that excess oil is cleared away."
This gentle face wash is formulated for normal, combination, and oily skin types. It gets rid of dirt, makeup, and excess oil. But it won't dry out the skin thanks to hyaluronic acid, a triple-ceramide blend, and aloe.
I love this face cleanser because it's just so good at removing makeup. And even though my skin type is dry, it's good for combination skin and pretty much all other types. The amino acid–rich soy proteins and rosewater in the formula also have a toning effect.
The key ingredient here is prebiotic- and probiotic-rich Greek yogurt, which is nourishing and balancing. It also contains amaranth seed extract to protect and sea water to hydrate.
"This product is a soothing and gentle foaming cleanser that gently dissolves dirt and impurities," Tavernise says. "The formula contains arnica and organic aloe to calm inflammation while deeply clearing pores without irritation. Additionally, allantoin, apple amino acids, and fatty acid–rich broccoli seed oil hydrate, soften, and nourish the skin to prep it for the rest of your skincare routine."
Designed for normal to oily skin, this cleanser is fragrance-free, noncomedogenic, non-drying, and non-irritating. It removes dirt, impurities, and excess oil, but it won't strip the skin dry since it's enriched with essential ceramides, niacinamide, and hyaluronic acid.
With a creamy texture, First Aid Beauty's cleanser is so gentle yet effective at cleansing. It's formulated with an antioxidant blend to protect the skin and calm any irritation.
Tatcha's cleanser combines Okinawa red algae, hyaluronic acid, and Japanese rice powder to refresh and moisturize the skin, leaving it glowy. Combination, normal, and dry skin types will benefit from this product.
SkinMedica's product features both chemical and physical exfoliating benefits—alpha and beta hydroxy acids remove dead skin cells and impurities, while jojoba spheres gently exfoliate.
While this face wash works well on all skin types, it's especially helpful for normal and combination skin. Ingredients include java plum, orange, and lavender extracts to dissolve excess sebum; clove, burdock, and mandarin to brighten the complexion; and rose Damascena and jasmine to soften.
This gentle product is formulated with glycolic acid to slough off dead skin cells, resurface, and promote cellular regeneration.
"This is one of my top favorite cleansers of all time," Tavernise says. "The exquisite formula gently activates skin regeneration and supports cell metabolism while deeply detoxifying the skin for a refreshed, matted, even, and glowing complexion."
"This cleanser calms and relaxes the skin while removing excess dirt and oil," Tavernise says. "It maintains the natural moisture content of the skin and keeps the pH levels at an optimum value. After using, skin feels fresh and renewed.
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