Foaming face wash often gets a bad rep, with people avoiding it for fear it will strip their skin. We round up the best foaming cleansers that deliver a deep clean
Cleansing isn't normally what we'd describe as fun - satisfying maybe, but not fun. Foam cleansers can inject some joy into your skincare routine though, with clouds of frothy foam washes away your day.
Oily skins often love the light, squeaky clean feeling you get from a good dose of foam, but if you have dry or sensitive skin , it's likely that you've been advised to steer clear. "Foam-based cleansers have typically been thought of as bad for sensitive skin because of harsh foaming agents such as Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) that are often used to create the ‘foaming’ action," explains German dermatologist Dr Barbara Sturm. "These foaming agents can be more alkaline than the skin, (the skin is 4.45 to 5.5pH, foaming agents are typically 6) making them very drying and giving skin that ‘tight’ feeling post-cleansing."
However as formulations and specifically packaging have moved on, many foaming cleansers these days are SLS-free, instead creating that cloud-like texture with a pump that 'whips' cream into your hand as you dispense. If you have sensitive skin, "look for cleansers that use a unique applicator to create a foaming action, rather than harsh foaming agents," advises Dr Sturm. "These turn the fluid into foam right before use."
If you don't react to SLS, but want something less drying, Dr Rishika Sinha, consultant dermatologist at The Private Clinic advises a scroll through the ingredients list. "You can also opt for a formulation that has a low percentage of SLS in it, which is shown by it being lower down on the ingredients list."
Some formulations avoid SLS and instead use a milder detergent derived from coconut oil: sodium cocoyl isethionate or sodium coceth sulphate or similar.
The beauty of foam cleansers is that they can be adapted to however you like to cleanse - whether you use your cleanser in the shower or at the washbasin, a foaming cleanser can slot seamlessly into your routine. They're environmentally friendly too as you can rinse them off with your flannel - no need to use cotton pads.
The best foam cleansers
Dr Barbara Sturm Cleanser, £45 for 150ml
We tried a travel-sized version of this in a Dr Barbara Sturm discovery pack £130, and immediately loved the squeaky clean feeling it delivered. This gentle water-based, SLS-free cleanser refreshes skin without disturbing the skin's natural moisture barrier, leaving our face feeling soft. The ingredients include aloe vera for skin calming, salicylic acid for liquid exfoliation, lactobacillus - a probiotic to protect the skin barrier - and panthenol (or pro-vitamin B5) which attracts and binds moisture to the skin. It also contains purslane, an anti-ageing and anti-irritant plant extract featured in many Dr Barbara Sturm's molecular skincare products.
Elemis Pro-Collagen Energising Marine Cleanser, £47.94 from QVCuk.com
Elemis' Pro-Collagen collection is somewhat iconic in beauty circles for the hit of hydration it delivers (the Marine Cream is always a repeat buy for us) and we think this might get the same cult status. With a rose and mimosa scent, this is instantly uplifting and works as a great double-cleanse partner to Elemis' Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm . The gel texture is very refreshing on contact with the skin, before foaming into a cushioning lather to reduce surface oil and impurities and deliver a thirst-quenching cleanse thanks to algae padina pavonica, known for hydrating powers.
Arbonne Bio-Hydria Gel Cleanser UK, £21
Arbonne turns 40 this year, making it one of the oldest vegan and cruelty-free brands. It works a bit like Avon, in that the products are sold by consultants or you can buy direct from the website. This gel cleanser is a great intro to the brand if you haven't tried anything before. It transforms into a delicate foam, formulated with witch hazel to keep the skin feeling moisturised, not taut. It's very light, and while it does include SLS, it's lower down the ingredients list and says it's suitable for all skin types.
Revive Foaming Cleanser Enriched Hydrating Wash, £55 for 125ml
Revive created this foaming face wash to be suitable for all skin types, providing a satisfying cleansing lather but in a formula that nourishes and conditions the skin. It features mild cleansers, a balanced pH formula (to prevent stripping) as well as vitamin E, turmeric, aloe, chamomile and green tea, for a formula that can be enjoyed by all skin types.
The Body Shop Tea Tree Skin Clearing Foaming Cleanser, £6.50 for 100ml
Take your cleansing routine right back to basics with this 100 per cent vegan cleanser which foams courtesy of a pump. It suits oily skin types best and is enriched with Community Trade tea tree oil; it cleanses without over-drying, leaving oily skin feeling fresh and matte. It's without bells and whistles, but that's what we love about it.
Mavala Pore Detox Perfecting Foaming Cleanser, £12.50 for 165ml
We know Mavala better for their handbag-friendly nail polishes , but they actually do a pleasingly affordable range of skincare too. The formula transforms from a lotion to a light airy foam that gently cleanses away makeup, dirt and urban toxins from the face. This cleanser contains willowherb and witch haze l water to decongests pores without drying the skin, leaving behind a naturally radiant appearance. It's free from soap and parabens. It foams via a pump as well as sodium coceth sulphate which is similar to SLS but milder.
Dr Roebuck's Kibosh Weightless Foaming Cleanser, £23 for 100ml
Australian-born brand Dr Roebuck's makes results-driven, naturally-inspired skincare and this cleanser is a joy to use, creating a really cooling feeling on the skin. It includes sodium lauroyl sarcosinate, not to be confused with sodium lauryl sulphate. The former is much gentler than the latter - a safety assessment published in the International Journal of Toxicology deemed that sodium lauroyl sarcosinate was not expected to be potentially toxic or harmful, and had no irritating, or sensitising effects.
Cerave Foaming Facial Cleanser, £9 for 236ml
Affordable French pharmacy brand Cerave made serious waves when it first landed on UK soil with beauty editors breathing a sigh of relief that they'd no longer need to buy in bulk during New York Fashion Week. The Foaming Facial Cleanser is one of the hero products - when massaged onto wet skin the fragrance-free gel transforms into a weightless foam for an SLS-free deep clean. A potent blend of three essential ceramides and hyaluronic acid work to replenish hydration, whilst niacinamide soothes any irritation. This is our top pick for sensitive skin - the foam is generated by sodium lauroyl sarcosinate.
MORE GLOSS: Why hyaluronic acid should be in every sensitive skin routine
Estee Lauder Advanced Night Micro Cleansing Foam, £28 for 100ml
Our bedside table is already awash with Estee Lauder, so one more product from the brand can't hurt! This whipped mousse conditioning formula transforms into a soft, airy foam and removes your makeup and impurities, rinsing easily for a refreshed feeling. Apply nightly to a damp face for a luxe-feeling foam cleanse. The second ingredient on the list is the mild (foaming) detergent sodium cocoyl isethionate.
Dr Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Pore Perfecting Cleansing Gel, £17 for 60ml
This gel cleanser transforms into a foam on contact with water, for a clean and refreshed face that doesn't feel stripped of all moisture. This cleanser works that little bit harder thanks to the inclusion of alpha and beta hydroxy acids (including glycolic, mandelic and azelaic acids) these ingredients gently slough away dead, dulling cells on the skin’s surface to make your skin look more radiant post-cleanse. It contains the mild foaming agent sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate.
Balancing Lavender and Rosemary Foaming Cleanser, £69 for 200ml
Irene Forte's skincare range is created with ingredients sourced in Sicily, resulting in this cleanser being made from antioxidant-rich algae and soothing lavender water to gently buff and rejuvenate. Essential oils are added to help lighten dark spots and blemishes, and the formula is free from parabens, paraffin, SLS, SLES and artificial colours. The pump applicator creates the frothy foam we all know and love.
Lumene Nordic Hydra Arctic Aqua Foaming Cleanser, £14.90 for 150ml
We've loved Nordic skincare brand Lumene since we first tried the Pure Glow Cleansing Balm , and while this light, purifying foam cleanser from a pump couldn't be more different to the nourishing balm that introduced us to the brand, we know it'll become a firm fixture in our skincare routine. It has SLS high in the ingredients list, so not for one sensitive skin types - however for normal skin you can't go wrong with this. It's infused with organic Nordic birch sap (we're expecting to see a lot of birch products in 2020 - watch this space) and pure arctic spring water to complement skin’s natural moisture barrier, it leaves the complexion feeling clean, supple and refreshed.
Ole Henriksen T he Clean Truth Foaming Cleanser, £23 for 200ml
We love Ole Henriksen's brightening Truth Collection so knew we'd be big fans of this frothy foaming friend - powered by vitamin C this uplifting and antioxidant-rich cleanser brightens and revives the skin. The fluffy citrus-scented lather gently removes makeup, oil and impurities without stripping the skin of moisture, thanks to African red tea extract, vitamin C, carrot seed, orange and grapefruit peel oils, as well as pumpkin fruit and chamomile extracts. The foaming agent in this cleanser is sodium methyl cocoyl taurate, a gentle coconut oil-based lather-maker.
Institut Esthederm Osmoclean Pure Cleansing Foam, £26 for 150ml
This cleansing foam puffs out of the dispenser in a pleasing waft of cucumberesque scented clouds; the light, creamy foam feels ultra-moisturising thanks to foaming agent coco-glucoside, which relieves discomfort caused by hard water. It's sensitive enough to be used both day and night for an unmistakable clean feeling.
Simple Kind to Skin Vital Vitamin Foaming Cleanser, £4.95 for 150ml
When someone mentions foaming face washes, this one from Simple always springs to mind. SLS is high on the ingredients list so we wouldn't recommend it for anyone with sensitive skin, but if you don't suffer from sensitivity and you're looking for budget skincare give it a whirl.
Bobbi Brown Makeup Melter and Cleanser, £27 for 150ml
This SLS-free gentle bubbly cleanser with a large aerating pump is designed to be applied to a dry face; the airy foam melts away makeup with ease, leaving a soft, clean complexion just waiting for the next step in your skincare routine. It's infused with naturally soothing ingredients such as cranberry, blueberry and goji berry extract for extremely silky-feeling skin.
Sisley Radiance Foaming Cream, £81 for 125ml
This formula feels a lot denser than the others when it emerges from the pump, with a much creamier texture to really work into the pores to get rid of pollution. It feels so luxe it almost making makeup removal enjoyable (although avoid the eyes) and so it should for £81. There's no tight-feeling whatsoever, either, thanks to peony extract that brings softness and comfort to the skin.
Too Faced Hangover Wash The Day Away Gentle Foaming Cleanser, £14 for 125ml
Too Faced's foaming cleanser is a lot less... foamy than the others we tried, but what it lacks in foam it more than makes up for in glamour. The formula is iridescent pink and coconut scented, morphing into a rich creamy (non-bubbly) foam once water is added. It's SLS-free and uses hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin. Just like Ole Henriksen's cleanser, this utilises sodium methyl cocoyl taurate to create the much-coveted suds.
Neostrata Foaming Glycolic Wash AHA 20, £32.96 for 100ml
When Olivia Falcon recommends a cleanser, you just know it's going to be good. The founder of The Editor’s List says she uses this foaming glycolic cleanser as a single cleanse - no need to go in with a second. It's one of the few curated products she sells on her cosmetic surgery guide site. It includes 18 per cent glycolic acid and two per cent lactobionic acid for added exfoliation, providing a pH-balanced, soap-free formulation for deep cleansing without irritation. She tells us it's also loved by mean as it prevents ingrown hairs from shaving. It gives a really deep clean and the foam is a beautifully rich whip creamy thanks to the pump dispenser.
Herbal Essential Foaming Face Wash, £18
A few squirts of this onto my hand felt more like hand cream than face wash, it was that soothing. SLS free, this cleanser harnesses the power of white lily and ginger to deep clean skin and give it a radiant look. The packaging is clear with blue detailing, making it look as fresh and the cleanser made my skin feel.
MORE GLOSS: The best cleansers and face washes for sensitive skin