Cleansing is an essential step in every skincare routine, vital for removing makeup, product residue and excess oil, as well as for prepping skin for future product application and targeting concerns like dullness and congestion. “Washing your face really is the cornerstone of a great routine and glowing skin,” says facialist and skin expert Charlie Perry. "If you aren't cleansing your face properly with the best cleanser for your skin's needs, it’s very hard for everything that follows in your routine to go right.” Choosing the right formula can make a vital difference to your skin, with options ranging from balms and oils through to gels, milks, and foams. However, the best cleansers don’t necessarily need to be expensive or packed full of pricey active ingredients in order to be effective.
“‘You get what you pay for’ is true of many consumer goods, but not necessarily beauty,” says beauty journalist and brand founder Sali Hughes. “I love many luxury beauty brands and their products, and I always will, but it’s important to remember that for every fancy jar, magnetic lid, beautiful ad campaign and gold-foil box, pennies and pounds are added to the price you ultimately pay from your purse.” It’s always worth keeping in mind that a product’s price tag is often dictated by these factors and so doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of the ingredients used or the product’s formula. “I think increasingly, people are paying more attention to what matters,” adds Hughes. “The product at the heart of the fantasy. That’s what needs to be great. The rest is delicious detail.” It’s true; take a look at the offerings of affordable skincare brands like The Ordinary, CeraVe, and Beauty Pie, and you’ll see that there are plenty of standout affordable face washes out there. They may not have luxurious packaging, but it’s what’s inside that counts.
Hughes herself recently collaborated with beauty brand Revolution to create her own line of affordable skincare products. “It was my number one priority to make this product range available to as many people as possible, and that meant keeping the prices as low as I could squeeze them without compromising on quality and ingredients,” she says. “I just very strongly believe that great, effective, high-quality and intelligently formulated skincare formulas should be available to the overwhelming majority of people who have to consider and prioritise where their hard-earned cash goes.” We are, after all, in a cost-of-living crisis, and so it makes sense to cut down where it’s possible to do so. “A cleanser is always the product I'd recommend saving rather than spending on,” says Perry. “It's not on your skin for long, so pricey actives have a short time frame to work their magic, and the best formulas don't need huge amounts of actives to be effective.”
If you’re building a budget-friendly skincare routine and looking for affordable versions of your favourite luxury cleansers, look no further. With like-for-like textures, formulas, functions and hero ingredients, these cleanser dupes are just as good as (if not better than) their more expensive counterparts.
If you love: Augustinus Bader The Cream Cleansing Gel
Try: Revolution Skincare x Sali Hughes Clean Sheet Morning Cleanser
With a dense, dessert-like texture that has the weight of a balm but the texture of a gel, this cleanser is quite unlike any I've ever tried before. Above all, it feels a thousand times more luxurious than the £10 price tag dictates, and it leaves my skin with exactly the same soft, comforted sensation as the above.
"I love cleansing balms for removing makeup and sunscreen at night, but using one in the morning is overkill—like cracking an egg with a hammer," says Hughes. "Your morning skin needs cleansing of last night’s skincare, very light dirt from a pillowcase and perhaps a little perspiration, so something light, refreshing and gentle is all you need. I made Clean Sheet to fit the bill exactly, except I packed it with hydrating humectants to combat that horrible tight dryness you get with so many face washes." She recommends massaging Clean Sheet into dry skin, adding some warm water to turn it into milk, then removing with a wet flannel. "That’s it. You can even take it into the shower if you don’t have even one spare minute. Beauty fans of all ages and genders love it."
If you love: Kate Somerville Delikate Soothing Cleanser
Try: E.l.f. Skincare Pure Skin Cleanser
Also formulated with sensitive skin in mind, E.l.f.'s Pure Skin range draws upon the soothing benefits of ingredients such as allantoin, niacinamide, and oat extracts to target signs of skin sensitivity. The gentle milky texture of this face wash means that even the most reactive skin types can cleanse without worrying about causing further irritation.
If you love: Fresh Soy Face Cleanser
Try: Byoma Creamy Jelly Cleanser
If you love: Eve Lom Cleanser
Try: By Beauty Bay Chamomile + Oat Lipid Cleansing Balm
If you love: Dermalogica Clearing Skin Face Wash
Try: CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser
If you love: Tatcha The Camellia Cleansing Oil
Try: The Body Shop Camomile Makeup Cleansing Oil
If you love: Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm
A cult cleanser—and a true Who What Wear UK favourite—Elemis's most iconic cleanser melts from a balm to an oil then emulsifies into a milk with the addition of water. It's packed with essential oils (lavender, chamomile and eucalyptus), which help to upgrade your cleansing routine to a spa-like experience.
Try: Beauty Pie Super Healthy Skin Hot Oil Cleansing Balm
Fans of Elemis's cleansing balm will also love Beauty Pie's affordable version. It doesn't have the same aromatic benefits, but it does have the same silky texture, powered by baobab and rice bran oils, and melts all traces of makeup right off skin.
If you love: SkinCeuticals LHA Cleansing Gel
Try: The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Cleanser
Arguably one of the best face washes for oily and acne-prone skin (and totally affordable), this gel cleanser uses salicylic acid to break down the dead skin cells and sebum that build up in pores and result in breakouts. Use it as a face mask if you want to experiment with short contact therapy, an aesthetician-approved cleansing technique.
If you love: Oskia Renaissance Cleansing Gel
Melting from a gel to an oil to a milk, Oskia's cleansing gel offers up one of the most luxurious and spa-like cleansing experiences. Dry skin types especially will benefit from the nourishing ingredients within, which include omegas, chamomile, pumpkin enzymes, and vitamins A, C, and E.
Try: The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser
Although it has a much simpler formula, this cleanser has a similar gel-balm texture that melts onto skin for a surprisingly luxurious cleanse. "This makes for a wonderful balmy first cleanse to remove daily grime and makeup whilst retaining moisture," says Perry. "I find squalane agreeable with most of my clients."
If you love: Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip
Try: Skin Proud Wonder Clay Cream Cleanser
If you love: Bioderma Sensibio Cleansing Micellar Water
A French pharmacy favourite and a staple of both makeup artists and beauty editors, this micellar water is ideal for removing heavy makeup before cleansing. The deceptively water-like formula utilises particles called micelles, which act like magnets to remove impurities—no scrubbing required.
Try: Garnier Micellar Cleansing Water