Chances are, you've been washing your face yourself since you were 6 years old. But do you know what to wash it with? One of the most common questions patients ask me is whether to use bar soap or liquid face wash. Here are some tips on choosing the best facial cleanser for your skin:

Bar soaps are less expensive than liquid soap, and they usually lather very well. The problem is, they can disrupt your skin's normal pH balance, because most bar soaps tend to be alkaline (higher pH) compared with your skin, which is normally slightly acidic (lower pH). Because an alkaline environment encourages the growth of acne-causing bacteria, using a bar soap can make breakouts worse. In addition, the higher pH disrupts your skin's natural barrier function, so water evaporates more quickly and dry skin becomes even drier. However, if you prefer a bar soap to liquid, at least look for one that's gentle and nondrying, like Purpose Gentle Cleansing Bar with glycerin, or Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Bar, which is nonalkaline. If your skin is sensitive or easily gets red and itchy, try to avoid sodium lauryl sulfate, a common skin irritant. I also like L'Occitane Shea Butter Milk Extra Gentle Soap, which is made with a vegetable base and 20 percent shea butter. As for the deodorant bar in your shower, save it for your feet and your armpits; most deodorant soaps are too harsh to use on your face.

Liquid cleansers are pricier, but they're less harsh on your skin and their pH is closer to your skin's normal pH level. For oily skin, choose a gel or foaming cleanser, which will dissolve oil and makeup and rinse off clean. Try Bliss Fabulous Foaming Face Wash or Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser. These are particularly good for those who are taking prescription acne medications, because they won't dry out skin or interfere with topicals. For mild breakouts (if you're not using any prescription acne creams), try Aveda Outer Peace Foaming Cleanser with salicylic acid, which helps unclog pores. For dry or sensitive skin, look for a milky or creamy cleanser, which will leave your skin soft and moisturized. Try Cetaphil Original Gentle Skin Cleanser, Olay Definity Illuminating Cream Cleanser, or Shiseido Pure Cream Cleanser.

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