This post is all about cleansers and she is a long one so buckle up. Specifically, ones that you can incorporate into your double cleansing (washing your face twice, back-to-back) routine. Double cleansing is a must if you’ve been wearing makeup, even light makeup, and for breaking down sunscreen that you all better be wearing on a daily basis. I’m serious. Don’t make me come for you. And yes, this applies to everyone, no matter your skin tone.
Cleansing oils or cleansing balms (I will use them interchangeably throughout this article) should be the first step in your double-cleansing routine. Although micellar water is also fine, for the sake of this post, I’m sticking with traditional cleansers, oils, and balms.
Cleansing oils and balms are used to break up the makeup, sebum, sunscreen, etc. on the surface of the skin. They do this much better than a simple foaming or cream cleanser would do alone. They should always be applied to dry skin, while a foaming or cream cleanser should always be used after wetting the skin (which should already be wet from rinsing away your oil or balm cleanser 🙂).
Cleansing oils and balms must be followed with a foaming or cream cleanser because they get into the pores to get all of the grime and dirt out, while cleansing oils are more for breaking down products, and therefore, should always be used together. Getting your skin clean enough, especially at night, is important so that all of the great serums, moisturizers, and facial oils you apply after cleansing are given the best possible chance to not only work but work to their full potential so that your skin can repair itself while you sleep.
So how can you know how to choose a good cleansing oil or balm? A cleansing oil or balm must be able to break down makeup, it should emulsify (where it turns to a milky white color), and should rinse off completely, not leaving behind any residue. While normal, pure oils such as olive oil or coconut oil will break down your makeup, they don’t aid in the cleansing of the skin because they don’t emulsify and therefore they will not rinse off completely. So even if you are following up using a pure oil with a foaming cleanser, you won’t be getting all of the dirt and grime out of your pores because it has a harder time penetrating the film left by pure oils, leaving you susceptible to nasty breakouts. This is why using coconut oil on the face is not a good choice and will lead to further skin problems.
Curious about what exactly an emulsifier is and why we need it in our cleansing oils and balms? Yeah, I’m about to put my science hat on once again (you all know this is my favorite part). We know that normally, oils do not dissolve in water, which I previously discussed in my post about facial oils and why facial oils meant to be left on the skin should be applied last in a skincare routine (see that post here). But back to the cleansers… When your cleansing oil or balm emulsifies, it means that it has something called a lipophilic tail which binds to and dissolves in oil, and a hydrophilic head that binds to and dissolves in water. This process allows your oil or balm to dissolve in water so that it rinses off and leaves your skin clean, rather than leaving a layer of residue as a pure oil would. That milky-white color is a result of the little oil droplets that are now in the water and not on your face (#win).
As far as foaming cleansers are concerned, a foaming cleanser should always cleanse the skin thoroughly without stripping it of its natural moisture. Something to avoid in any cleanser (and skincare products overall) is fragrance. Typically, naturally occurring fragrances do not irritate the skin because they are naturally occurring in the ingredients of the product. These fragrances are typically fine but synthetic or irritating fragrance compounds like ones that contain drying alcohols or essential oils are not.
But I thought essential oils were a good thing? They can be, but usually not in skincare and it depends on the type and amount used. Want to know if you have these fragrances in your skincare? Look for things such as “linalool,” “linalyl acetate,” and “limonene” in your product’s ingredients list. These essential oils are associated with contact dermatitis and skin irritation and a lot of people are unaware that essential oils are easily affected by light and air and can turn toxic. This is why we should try to avoid these added fragrances whenever possible to avoid irritation, or at least keep them to a minimum, as they are widely used in the skincare industry.
Now that we’ve all aged exponentially after taking the time to read this entire introduction, let’s get on to the good stuff. I have listed my favorite cleansing oil, balms, and traditional cleansers (and in that order) so that you can build a solid double-cleansing routine. Check out my recommended products below.
Deep Cleansing Oil Facial Cleanser
This is the only cleansing oil on my list because it’s the only one you need. Best for people with dry skin but can be used by anyone, this oil is light and emulsifies very well. It also doesn’t strip the skin of all its moisture, leaving it feeling tight or dry. There’s a good reason this is one of the most highly rated cleansing oils available. It’s the perfect product to kick off a double cleanse.
Cleansing Oil Balm
This is one of the only affordable cleansing balms that happens to be polyethylene-free. Polyethylene, a plastic found in many cleansing balms, negatively affects marine wildlife and is unable to be separated from the water as say, a plastic bottle would. This cleansing balm does contain fragrance but the concentration is not high enough to irritate my sensitive skin (I can only speak for myself). This balm has a 100% natural origin formula, featuring green tea, and is formulated without parabens, phthalates, petrolatum, or SLS, it comes in recyclable packaging, and they use vegetable-based inks to print their labels so you can wash them off and reuse the container. Pretty nice.🙂
Makeup Remover Melting Balm
This is the second and only other drugstore cleansing balm that I have found that has not been formulated with polyethylene and it is a big reason as to why it has made it on this list. Like a good cleansing balm should, this Neutrogena balm starts as a silky balm and then transforms into an oil, and then emulsifies to melt away makeup. It contains vitamin E and leaves skin feeling nourished but not greasy or dry.
Youth to the People
Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser w/ Kale & Green Tea
This cleanser is vegan, cruelty-free, plant-based, sustainably sourced, it comes in a recyclable glass bottle. Just like Burt’s Bees, the label is printed in vegetable-derived ink that can be washed it off so you can reuse the bottle when it’s finished. It contains Vitamin B5 and Vitamin C that help to brighten the skin and build the skin’s natural protective barrier, protecting against environmental factors and preventing damage. While some skincare products are affected by exposure to sunlight, air, or age, this product is not. It’s assuring to know that it will not expire or go bad, which also prevents waste and allows us to get our money’s worth. This cleanser is awesome for sensitive skin because it contains alfalfa extract that soothes red, irritated skin and provides antioxidants. It is best for combination and oily skin because it cleanses without stripping it of its moisture.
Micellar Facial Gel Wash
Best for dry, normal, combination skin, and sensitive skin types, this cleanser has micellar cleansing bubbles and is infused with skin-essential minerals and plant extract. It delivers instant hydration and very gentle yet effective cleansing, making it perfect for sensitive skin (which is a difficult find, I know). However, if you’re a person with oily skin, this may not be enough for you if you’re in need of a deep cleanse. The hydrating water-gel formula is specially designed for dry, dehydrated skin. There is no over-drying or feelings of tightness that we all hate after using this face wash.
Skin Nourishment Gentle Foaming Cleanser
Perfect for normal to combination skin, this face wash is formulated with Royal Jelly that contains Vitamins A, B2, and E that work together to leave skin looking healthy and radiant. This facial cleanser has no parabens, phthalates, petrolatum or SLS. It doesn’t overly strip the skin, allowing it to retain some of the skin’s moisture. Similar to the Burt’s Bees Cleansing Balm, this foam cleanser does contain fragrance but at a low concentration so irritation should not be a concern, even for sensitive skin.
Facial Cleanser for Sensitive Skin
Unlike the Burt’s Bees Skin Nourishment Gentle Foaming Cleanser, the Facial Cleanser for Sensitive Skin is fragrance-free (yay!). I’m a huge fan of the Burt’s Bees Sensitive Skincare line, especially the moisturizers, and this product is no exception. This face wash is clinically shown to provide moisturization without causing redness or irritation. It’s filled with awesome ingredients like rice and root extracts and aloe to help calm and soothe skin (hence, why it’s for sensitive skin).
Toleriane Purifying Foaming Face Wash
Let me start by saying that this face wash is not for people with dry or normal skin, and although they claim it is suitable for people with sensitive skin to use, I wouldn’t recommend it. It is made specifically for people with oily skin and those are the only people who should use it, in my opinion. Its formula removes excess oil leaving the skin feeling clean and fresh, which can be a difficult find for people with oily skin. It is infused with ceramide-3, an essential ceramide naturally found in skin, glycerin, a moisturizing agent that naturally attracts water to skin, and niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3 with soothing properties.
Renewing Salicylic Acid Cleanser
Last, but not least is the CeraVe SA Cleanser. This cleanser was created with salicylic acid to exfoliate, detoxify, and remove dirt and oil while softening and smoothing skin, making it perfect for people with normal to oily, breakout-prone skin. Unlike some exfoliating cleansers, CeraVe Renewing SA Face Cleanser contains no harsh beads or grains (which is great news for both the environment and your skin) and is formulated with three essential ceramides (1, 3, 6-II) that help restore and maintain the skin’s natural protective barrier. This cleanser is also fragrance-free (yay, again). It helps with sebum production and does a great job of getting in and cleaning out pores but it’s not too harsh, as salicylic acid cleansers usually are.