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True story: Not all face wash comes in liquid form. If you haven’t tried a powder cleanser yet, get on it. Long popular in Asia, this format is becoming more and more popular stateside and offers several unique attributes compared to its liquid counterparts.
“They’re a great two-in-one, both cleansing and offering gentle physical exfoliation at the same time,” says Dr. Fatima Fahs, a board-certified dermatologist in southeast Michigan and the creator of the Dermy Doc Box. Because they’re so gentle, they’re a prime choice for sensitive skin, even more so given that they also contain fewer potentially irritating preservatives, she adds. (Because they don’t contain any water, they’re less likely to harbor bacterial growth and, as such, don’t need preservatives.)
You can easily customize how "scrubby" you want the formula to be based on how much water you add, not to mention that they’re TSA-friendly and a great choice for travel, notes Dr. Fahs. In short, it’s worth hopping aboard the powder cleanser bandwagon.
Here are some of our favorite powder cleansers worth trying.
Best Overall: Tatcha The Rice Polish Foaming Enzyme Powder
One of Dr. Fahs’s top picks, this is a classic that recently got a revamp. It’s now available in the classic variant and three other versions: deep, gentle, and calming. Still, you can’t go wrong with the OG. It relies on nonabrasive rice bran (that’s the powder part) and lactic acid for just a touch of gentle chemical exfoliation. It’s extremely fine-milled and so silky that it’s hard to believe it’s exfoliating at all, but the super-smooth, glowing, and even skin you’ll see after using it is proof positive.
Active Ingredients: Rice bran | Skin Type: All | Size: 2.1 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byride Clean: Yes
Best Drugstore: Honest Beauty Skin Sweep Exfoliating Powder Cleanser
Absorbs excess oil
Can be drying
For some reason, powder cleansers haven’t made their way to the drugstore yet, making this option all the more noteworthy. It relies on both rice and oat powders as well as sea salt for physical exfoliation purposes, though it also contains kaolin clay, a great ingredient for absorbing excess oil.
Active Ingredients: Rice starch, oat flour, sea salt | Skin Type: Balanced to oily | Size: 1.4 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Clean Formula: Uncommon Beauty Daily Foaming Powder Cleanser
Yes, this is Kristen Cavallari’s new beauty line. And yes, the whole line is pretty good, but this powder cleanser is one of our favorites. Not only is it super clean, but the brand also abides by Credo’s list of banned ingredients, which is one of the most extensive lists of harmful ingredients. It also foams beautifully (not always the case with powder cleansers). It’s another rice-bran-based option and contains exfoliating papaya enzymes, too. Bonus points for the sifted top dispenser, which minimizes the likelihood of spills.
Active Ingredients: Rice bran | Skin Type: All | Size: 0.75 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Dry Skin: Josie Maran Argan Exfoliating Cleansing Powder
Great for those who like creamier cleansers
Can be a bit abrasive
While powder cleansers may not be the first thing you think of for dry skin, this one, another of Dr. Fahs’s recommendations, is a particularly good option for the drier crowd. Credit the addition of hydrating argan oil, which ensures this leaves your skin feeling smooth, soft, and clean but never stripped. (An attribute confirmed by happy reviewers.) To that point, it transforms into almost a milk-like texture when mixed with water.
Active Ingredients: Rice bran, argan oil | Skin Type: All | Size: 2 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Boosting Radiance: Babor Cleansing CP Enzyme Powder
Talc can be irritating for some
Because all cleansing powders gently exfoliate, they’re a good choice for helping to boost radiance and improve overall tone. However, this one is an especially great choice if you’re looking to get extra glowing results. Credit the addition of vitamin C, which is not only a great antioxidant and collagen-booster (a boon for those with more mature skin) but also is one of the best ingredients for helping to boost radiance.
Active Ingredients: Talc, vitamin C | Skin Type: All | Size: 2.6 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Budget: DHC Face Wash Powder
Lavender oil can be irritating for some
This Japanese beauty brand may be best known for its beloved cleansing oil, but don’t sleep on the cleansing powder. Despite the very wallet-friendly price tag, it’s still as effective as many of its pricier counterparts, relying on cornstarch to create a silky powder that lathers up surprisingly well when mixed with water. The addition of honey and sodium hyaluronate also makes it a great moisturizing option.
Active Ingredients: Cornstarch | Skin Type: All | Size: 1.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Runner-Up, Best Budget: Tosowoong Enzyme Powder
Can be drying
This pick is unique in its specially balanced pH of 5.5, the ideal pH for your skin (if it’s too alkaline, your skin can look dull and flaky). It, too, is very affordable, always a plus, and has papaya enzymes for an extra boost of chemical exfoliation with the mechanical.
Active Ingredients: Cornstarch | Skin Type: All | Size: 2.4 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Exfoliating: AmorePacific Treatment Enzyme Peel Cleansing Powder
Great for exfoliation
If you want your powder cleanser to really pull double duty as both a cleanser and exfoliant, try this formula. Not only does it contain chemically exfoliating papaya enzymes, like some of the other options on this list, but it also contains exfoliating green tea enzymes for an added punch of dead-cell-dissolving power. It also foams up nicely, though FYI, it does contain some ingredients (fragrance, artificial color) that could potentially irritate sensitive skin.
Active Ingredients: Cornstarch, papaya, and green tea enzymes | Skin Type: All | Size: 1.7 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Travel: Clinique Fresh Pressed Renewing Powder Cleanser with Vitamin C
Great for travel
Not the most environmentally friendly option
Powder cleansers are a travel staple—there’s no need to stress about the potential for spills or a TSA confiscation. But we’re especially partial to these individual packets of supremely silky powder, which are even more ideal for travel. Pop as many of the single-use options as you need in your suitcase; not only are they just the right size, but the packaging helps maintain the integrity and efficacy of the radiance-boosting vitamin C in the formula. Talk about a win-win.
Active Ingredients: Maltodextrin, ascorbic acid | Skin Type: All | Size: 28 x 0.01 ounce packets | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Powder cleansers are versatile multitaskers that are great for all skin types, sensitive included. What’s not to like? The Tatcha The Rice Polish Foaming Enzyme Powder takes the top spot in our book, a highly effective and luxurious-feeling pick that comes in several different variants. Drugstore versions are still tough to come by, but the Honest Beauty Skin Sweep Exfoliating Powder Cleanser is a rare drugstore find (and one that’s great for oily skin, thanks to the addition of kaolin clay). And if you’re looking for a completely clean option, try the Uncommon Beauty Daily Foaming Powder Cleanser, which also touts chemically exfoliating papaya enzymes.
Meet the Expert
What to Look for in a Powder Cleanser
Extra Chemical Exfoliating Ingredients
If you want to get a little extra exfoliating bang for your buck, you can seek out a formula with chemical exfoliants (though Fahs suggests steering clear of these if you have extra sensitive skin).
Powder cleansers are a great choice for those with sensitive skin, and most don’t contain fragrance, but it’s worth double-checking, just in case.
How do you use powder cleansers?
“Dispense a small amount into your palm, add a little water and rub your hands together to create a lather,” Dr. Fahs says. “If you want a stronger exfoliation, add less water to keep the texture grainy. If you want more of a foam, add more water to dilute out the powder.”
What are the benefits of powder cleansers?
For starters, you’re getting both cleansing and a little exfoliation: “Powder cleansers are a great way to physically exfoliate the skin without the harsh beads and grit that tend to cause microtears and irritation,” Dr. Fahs explains. And because they don’t contain water, they are travel-friendly and easy to pack in your luggage or a gym bag without any spills or mess, she adds.
Are powder cleansers safe for sensitive skin?
According to Dr. Fahs, “The exfoliation provided by powder cleansers is usually much milder than traditional scrubs since the particles are much finer, making them suitable for sensitive skin.” (And by using a higher water-to-powder ratio, you can make the exfoliating effects even milder.) They also tend to not contain the preservatives that can trigger irritation or allergies, she adds.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. While she tends to stick with liquid cleansers at home, she always packs a powder cleanser when traveling; the Tatcha option featured on this list is her personal favorite.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any powder cleansers from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will evaluate the product ASAP.
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