An Esthetician’s Guide to Understanding Cleansers

Why they’re important and how to use them.

Dylan Mustapich

Esthetician at Atolla

Dylan Mustapich

Dylan Mustapich is a NYC-based lead esthetician who has been featured in New Beauty, Teen Vogue, Wired, and The Huffington Post. With a lifelong love of all things skin, he is incredibly knowledgeable about skincare ingredients, routine refinement, and personalized skincare, and follows emerging technology closely.



The humble cleanser does not get the respect it deserves. Its tasks are numerous and difficult: it needs to effectively remove oil, debris, and makeup, not throw the pH of the skin out of whack, and rinse without leaving residue all while not over-stripping the skin, which can impact its barrier function and lead to dryness. With this in mind, it’s surprising that cleansers don't get the same level of attention as all the buzzy serums and moisturizers. After all, your cleansed skin is the canvas for your entire skincare routine.

What texture works best for my skin?

Cleansers come in many different shapes and sizes. Between gel, cream, and oil cleansers, one of these is bound to fit your skin’s specific needs. 

Gel cleansers are ideal for those with complexions ranging from already balanced to oily. They effectively cleanse the skin and are particularly good for clearing out excess oil and debris. 

People experiencing dry skin may benefit more from using a cream or oil cleanser that will support the skin's natural lipids and oil production. The key is finding the right balance and not over-cleansing or under-cleansing your skin.

What ingredients should I look for?

Some cleansers may contain exfoliating ingredients such as AHA/BHA/PHA acids and fruit derived enzymes. This is a simple way to combine cleansing and exfoliating into one step and helps remove dead skin cell buildup that accumulates on the surface of your skin, without overdoing it. Following up a cleanser with an exfoliating peel or toner can be too harsh for many and potentially damaging to the skin barrier.

Other beneficial cleanser ingredients include Hyaluronic Acid for hydration and plant extracts such as Aloe to help soothe the skin.

How do I use cleanser?

It is recommended to cleanse twice daily, in the morning and before bed. Those with particularly dry or sensitive skin may opt to cleanse only in the evening and use water in the morning to remove excess product. The benefit to using cleanser in the morning is to set a good foundation to do the rest of your routine on top of, and ensure that you have the right canvas.

In the last few years, the concept of double cleaning, AKA using two different cleansers in rapid succession, has become popular. Other than for removing heavy makeup, this step can be excessive for most and potential lead to over-cleansing. If you do double cleanse, we recommend pairing an oil or balm with a gel or cream cleanser (you can see the Atolla skincare manager for more specific advice).  

At Atolla, we formulate your cleanser based on numerous factors, including your skin’s pH and moisture levels. This produces a cleanser designed to rebalance your skin's pH and can be used regularly, both morning and night, without the risk of over-cleansing. Customize your Atolla cleanser here.

Simplify your skincare with a custom, complementary routine.