HOW TO CHOOSE A CLEANSER for oily acne prone skin

In this post:

What to look for in a cleanser – ingredients to look for and avoid
How to choose the right cleanser
How to test if a cleanser is effective
Do I need a toner?


Choosing a right cleanser for oily acne prone skin is important in forming an effective routine. Cleansing gives your skin a reboot and allows your subsequent skincare product to absorb better into the skin and be more effective.

A good cleanser for oily acne prone skin should remove all impurities but leave behind the skin’s natural barrier. Remember, we want to avoid that squeeky clean feeling after cleansing.


For oily, acne-prone skin, it is beneficial to adopt the double cleansing method (link). The 1st cleanser removes all surface impurities and the 2nd cleanser cleanses the skin and restore its pH. Read more on skin pH and why it’s important here.


What To Look For in a Cleanser

1st Cleanser – Cleansing Oil/Balm

An oil-based cleanser removes sunscreen, makeup and other impurities on the scientific basis that like dissolves like. They come in the form of liquid oils and balms and work the same way apart from its consistency. Cleansing oils and balms contain additives to emulsify the product when water is added so that they rinse off easier.

Balms need to be massaged and melted into the skin while oils come in bottles that are ready to be used as is. Both balms and oils are used on dry skin to dissolve makeup and sunscreen products.


What it should contain:

Nourishing plant oils with high linoleic acid contents – e.g. grapeseed/sunflower/rosehip seed oil. They should be pure and cold-pressed oils.


What it should not contain:

Mineral oils and highly occlusive oils with high oleic acid contents – e.g. coconut/olive/avocado oil.


2nd cleanser – Foaming/non-foaming gel/cream water-based cleansers

Cleansers like these have gathered a bad rep over the years because they typically contain sulphate. And sulphates are pure evil.  However, 2nd cleansers are necessary because oils don’t have a pH, a 2nd cleanser will have to be the one to ‘neutralise’ the skin’s pH.

Fact: Sodium laureth sulphate is a much gentler and milder variation of sodium lauryl sulphate. It is the lesser evil but it can still be irritating to some skin.

Keep an eye out for these ‘bad’ ingredients and steer clear of them. Even if you do come across a cleanser that contains sulphate, just make sure that they are not high on the ingredients list. The higher it is on the list, the more of it is in the product.

If sulphate is one of the last products listed, the cleanser could still be gentle enough to be used. Some cleansers are formulated with moisture replenishing ingredients like glycerin to counteract the drying effects and avoid that squeeky clean feeling after cleansing.


It’s important to ensure that the pH of the cleanser isn’t too high. There are studies that show cleansers with high pH really messes up your skin. We discussed the importance of skin pH here.


What it should contain:

Glycerin, salicylic acid, clay, glycolic acid.


What it should not contain:

Alcohol, menthol, sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), sodium laureth sulphate (SLES). However, a tiny amount of sodium laureth sulphate wouldn’t kill you.


How to Choose The Right Cleanser

The only way you can be sure that a cleanser is right for you, is to try it out for yourself. Adverts are often after monetary gains and reviews, although can give you a good idea of the quality of the product, can only take you so far because each skin is different.


Here’s a useful guideline to help you choose the right cleanser to try for your skin.

  1. Make sure that the cleanser is formulated for oily, acne prone skin. This is obvious – if a cleanser is specially formulated for dry skin, it is highly likely that it is too emollient and not suitable for your skin. You will have better chances with one that is formulated for all skin types.
  2. Check that it doesn’t have any of the ‘bad’ ingredients. If sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), sodium laureth sulphate (SLES), alcohol or menthol is listed, make sure they are one of the last on the ingredient list. If not, pick a different cleanser.
  3. Test out the cleanser and see how your skin feels after washing it. If it feels tight and dry or makes a squeeky sound, the cleanser is too stripping. If still feels like the cleanser is just rubbing the oils around or if you need a toner to remove excess cleanser and dirt after cleansing, you need a better cleanser. Your skin after cleansing should still feel like before it is cleansed, only lighter.


How to Test if a Cleanser is Effective

After cleansing with a cleanser, use a cotton pad soaked with micellar water or non-alcoholic toner and swipe across the skin. The skin has been cleansed properly if there are no residues on the cotton.


Do I Need a Toner?

It depends.

Toners in the more traditional sense is usually used as an astringent and a safety step to make sure that the skin is properly cleansed. If your cleanser is doing a good enough job, you won’t need a toner to further cleanse your skin.

Toners in the Asian market neutralises the skin’s pH and a first step to boost its hydration. This kind of toner can be beneficial to layer on the hydration for your skin.



  1. Double cleansing is beneficial for oily, acne-prone skin. 1st cleansers remove sunscreen, makeup and excess sebum, 2nd cleansers cleanse the skin and regulate its pH.
  2. Oil cleansers should contain high linoleic acid oils and not mineral oils or oils with high oleic acid levels like coconut and avocado oils.
  3. 2nd cleansers should contain as little sulphates as possible, avoid alcohol and should contain beneficial actives like salicylic acid, clay and glycerin.
  4. Your skin after cleansing should feel like your skin before cleansing, only lighter.
  5. You may not need a toner if your cleansing routine is effective enough unless it is a moisturising toner.
  6. To test if you need a toner, swipe a cotton pad soaked in micellar water or non-alcoholic toner across your skin. If there is no residue, you don’t need a toner.


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