7 Gentle, Yet Powerful, Cleansers To Remove Even the Thickest Sunscreen for Clean and Happy Skin

Photo: Stocksy / Lucas Ottone
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The best sunscreens are designed to last. They stand up to the elements and stay put whether you're sweating on a run or hopping in and out of the ocean. So after applying layer after layer over the course of the day, your skin is left with a thick coating of SPF that needs to be thoroughly removed before you head to bed.

"Oftentimes you're applying sunscreen, especially during the summer, caked in with sand, sweat, dirt, insect repellent—just the grime of having a great time," explains Ivy Lee, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Pasadena, California. "So it's important to really clean our skin so that we maintain that healthy skin barrier and decrease the risk of any of those products either irritating our skin or inducing acne."

Experts In This Article

While a gentle milky cleanser is sometimes just enough to get your skin clean, when you're removing sunscreen, you need something that can do a bit more heavy lifting.

"The best cleansers to remove sunscreens, whether they are chemical inorganic sunscreens or physical organic sunscreens are hydrating foams or those that fall under the double-cleanse method," says Dr. Lee. These options allow you to gently, yet effectively, remove sunscreen and anything else that's on your skin without overdrying it.

Once you grab one of the below cleansers to remove sunscreen from both your face and body, be sure to fully emulsify it before you put it on: Wet your hands and mix a drop of cleanser between your palms for a few seconds until it's creamy and thick, then apply. "Just as long as you're really building up that lather, and then massaging it into the skin, and then doing a good rinse off, that's the most important thing," says Dr. Lee.

Shop the best cleansers to remove sunscreen from your face and body

Hydrating foam cleansers to remove sunscreen

"I like hydrating foam cleansers because they pretty much remove everything," says Dr. Lee "So not only oil-based products, but also water-based products."

Pavise, Gentle Amino Powerwash — $64.00

This face wash was specifically designed to remove sunscreen, and it does an amazing job. So good, that we crowned it the “Best Luxury Cleanser for Removing Sunscreen” during the 2023 Well+Good SPF Awards. It’s infused with amino and glycolic acids to gently cleanse and exfoliate away layers of sunscreen without leaving your skin stripped and dry.

CeraVe, Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser — $18.00

“I’m a big fan of CeraVe and one of my favorite cleansers is [this one] because it pretty much removes everything,” says Dr. Lee. “So not only oil-based products, but also water-based products.”

Double-cleanse pairings to remove sunscreen

"Some people want two products instead of one, and that's the double-cleanse method," says Dr. Lee. "We'll often use either a cleansing oil or a cleansing balm, and that basically breaks down oil-based skin-care products and then use a foaming or water-based cleanser to remove the water-based products."

Sahajan, Essential Cleansing Oil — $48.00

Right now, this is my go-to cleanser to use as the first step in a double cleanse. I like that it comes in a bottle so I don’t have to worry about gunking up a jar and that it’s lightweight yet effective. It breaks down sunscreen, makeup, and any other oil-based products on my face so I can rinse them off with ease.

Keys Soulcare, Golden Cleanser — $22.00

Once I’ve used the oil cleanser above, I go in with this water-based one. It gently cleanses my skin with the help of activated charcoal, while turmeric, manuka honey, and chamomile soothe and nourish.

e.l.f., Holy Hydration! Makeup Melting Cleansing Balm — $11.00

For a more wallet-friendly double cleanse, start with this balm from e.l.f. It will melt away your sunscreen, while nourishing and hydrating your skin with a blend of hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and peptides.

La Roche-Posay, Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Face Cleanser — $17.00

Follow up the balm above with this hydrating cream cleanser from La Roche-Posay. It’s water-based and pumped up with niacinamide to soothe your skin, while gentle surfactants cleanse.

Body wash to remove sunscreen

"With how much sunscreen we're putting on if we're out for a day, oftentimes I recommend using one of those silicone scrubbing pads to break down the product and get in those crevices," says Dr. Lee. "But if someone has gotten a little too much fun and gotten sunburned or if they have cuts or scrapes, I have them take it easy and not use any exfoliating brushes or pads because again, you're trying to protect and maintain that skin barrier."

Leila, Silicone Body Scrubber — $5.00

This scrubber has flexible bristles to gently exfoliate, promote blood circulation, and reveal smoother and healthier-looking skin. It comes in a variety of bristle styles and colors.

Olay, Cleansing & Firming Body Wash — $12.00

Dr. Lee is pretty neutral on which body wash you use so long as you can work it to a good lather. A personal favorite of mine is this wash from Olay that’s made with soothing niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3 commonly used in skin-care products. Once you’re done in the shower, amp up the moisture by pairing this wash with the Olay Revitalizing and Hydrating Hand and Body Lotion ($10). “You need to get a good regimen,” says Kate Biberdorf, PhD, a chemist and brand ambassador for Olay Body. “If we can get into the habit of using the same products every day—wash our body and then use that lotion twice a day, we will get better skin.”

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