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Meet The New Generation Of Hero Cleansers

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There was a time, not so long ago, when I would have told you that your cleanser doesn’t matter. The act of cleansing may be a non-negotiable, but it should be pretty negotiable in terms of product. “It goes right down the drain!” I would have told you when considering any given product. “Don’t expect too much!”

Boy, do I feel silly now. It is with the 20/20 hindsight of someone who’s made a full 180º turn that I now tell you: These days, cleansers are incredible. Find the right cleanser for your routine and, pop-bang-whiz, you’re dealing with a whole new situation when it comes to your skin. Do I feel ashamed for misjudging cleansers so vastly? A little. But the sheer joy I get when cleansing outweighs it 20 to one.

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Plenty of cleansers can be heroes (I’m a big fan of the entire Avène line-up and most of Tatcha’s as well), but the real stars are the leave-ons. Turn your cleanser into a mask and double your results. I like to take my makeup off with micellar water, put on a thick cleanser and hop right into the shower, where after washing my body, I massage the cleanser into my face and rinse off—no muss, no fuss. This is particularly gratifying with iS Clinical’s Warming Honey Cleanser. I picked it up because of my unreasonable fixation on honey for the skin (it’s a humectant that’s also antibacterial!), but I keep it around for the sticky-but-not-too-sticky formula that feels like it’s actually sucking the dirt out of my face: Leaving it on is not in the directions, but it makes sense to me: The formula’s papaya enzymes and green tea extracts can better work their magic if I give them a moment. And it rinses off like a damn dream. Not the gooey mess you’d expect from honey right out the bear bottle.

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Diving deeper into the exfoliation world, you’ll find Cane + Austin’s 10% Glycolic Gelée Mask and Cleanser. The dermatologist brand behind some of the most effective glycolic products on the market (I’ve long championed their glycolic body lotion) now have a hybrid exfoliation product that won’t leave you with a residue like glycolic pads might. Layer on a thick layer and let the acid seep into your pores, ridding you of dead skin cells and other things that cause breakouts. Then wash off for very smooth results. It’s only a three times a week deal, but hey—you still want to have a face to show off, don’t you?

I know physical scrubs have gotten a bad wrap these past few years (I don’t disagree!) but when Victoria Beckham tells me she loves a brand, I am legally obligated to try it. That’s how I got on the Lancer train, particularly his two-part cleansing method. The real star is The Method: Polish, a superfine microdermabrasion scrub that oh-so-gently sloughs dead skin off and down the drain. Not a mask, but good to have around if you ever find yourself molting from the face and in need of a quick fix.

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But if you leave this story with any takeaway, it’s that Renée Rouleau’s new Rapid Response Detox Cleanser is a banger, particularly if you’re prone to breakouts, particularly if you get those breakouts when you’re traveling. I don’t know what possessed me to throw this guy in my bag before my most recent weekend trip away, but thank goodness I did. Day 1 I woke up with a little constellation of clogged pores on the right side of my forehead, threatening to all but ruin my no makeup approach to the trip. Turns out, Renée had planned for this. Her tea tree oil-heavy formula ( lactic acid, bentonite, and kaolin because we’re not messing around) can also work as an acne mask, zapping activity lightening fast. After a morning cleanser and an evening mask ’n cleanse session, I was back to smooth sailing. A miracle in our modern era. And it comes in travel-size, too!

—Emily Ferber

Photographed by Tom Newton.