For most of us, washing our face has become an ingrained habit since our pre-teen years of pop-art-zit-zapping clearasil commercials. Water, lather it up, maybe laugh, maybe cry, rinse, pat dry, repeat in 12 hours. I distinctly remember sulking in a Rite Aid while my mom refused to buy me any trendy face washes, insisting that my skin was too sensitive for the harsh (but oh-so-cool) brands. Fifteen years later, I am just now ready to admit that she was right. A few years ago I converted to K-beauty and got turned onto facial cleansing oil, and sure, I’ve dabbled with some French drugstore cleansers, but overall, I am committed to my double-wash, cleansing + cream routine.
Cleansing oil is the only road to enlightenment
Bear with me while I nerd out, but the science behind facial cleansing oils is fairly simple and using oil for beauty has been traced back to those top-notch Roman days; oil clings to oil. It might feel counterintuitive to put a cleansing oil on your face, but this will cling to the oily matter on the skin, known as sebum, lifting up dirt and impurities out of pores. By way of emulsifiers, oil cleansers take all of the unmentionables with them upon rinse, thereby working with the natural rhythm of your skin.
Water-based cleansers are naturally at odds with the skin’s natural surface and can strip the skin of protective barriers. That squeaky clean feeling you’ve had washing your face? No bueno. You want to feel a gentle refreshing cleanse that is nourishing and hydrating. Cleansing oils are generally free of surfactants, which are typically used as foaming agents or detergents in traditional cleansers and can be harsh on the skin.
My go-to oil cleanser is Natural Rice Water Light Cleansing Oil Moisturizer for Dry or Oily Skin from the Face Shop. It’s affordable, made of natural ingredients, and touts a natural moisture balance. I have sahara-level dry skin, and this brand keeps my face from cracking off.
Cleansing oil is double-duty
I haven’t used a makeup-remover since I transitioned to oil-based facial cleansers. If you fall into the heavy-handed mascara camp or opt for waterproof eyeliner, you might need to do a double oil cleanse or wipe away with a cotton pad after cleansing, but for the most part, cleansing oil is fantastic for removing makeup. For best results, massage thoroughly and you’ll want to feel like you’re melting off the day. Give extra love to the areas where you wear the most makeup.
The TATCHA One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil is a powerful facial oil cleanser that can wash away even the toughest of stubborn waterproof makeup.
The new way to wash your face
Forget what you’ve learned about washing your face. With oil-cleansers, you should apply the oil directly to dry skin with dry fingers, no water. I recommend warming up the oil in your palms for a few seconds before massaging it into your skin. Use this as a self-care moment and really massage it all in for about a minute. After you feel nice and lubed up, wet your hands with warm water and massage a bit more, roughly for 30 seconds. This will usually make the cleanser turn white and give it a milky consistency that is easily rinsed away. And then the moment we’ve all been waiting for… Rinse your skin with warm water.
For a real K-beauty adventure, double-cleanse with a gentle foam cleanser. This should be water-based and ensure a real cleanse. This one should match your skin type, and by all means, if you already have a cleanser you love, stick with it, just use after an oil-cleanser. I use the counterpart of my oil based cleanser, The Face Shop’s Bright Cleansing Foam.
All skin types welcome (even oily skin)
Cleansing oils mixing with preexisting oils on your face helps keep the natural pH balance of the skin in order. By gently rinsing the “bad oils”, your face will be in its natural element, instead of being stripped of natural oils and going into overdrive to reproduce oils. Which is a recipe for disaster to the delicate ecosystem of one’s face.
And while you might be envisioning slapping heavy olive oil onto your face, the reality is that these cleansing oils are exceptionally lightweight, nicely scented and usually complimented with naturally antibacterial essential oils. They won’t leave your skin feeling greasy or heavy, and if properly rinsed, should not leave a residue.
That being said, this is the best facial cleansing oil for each skin type:
If you have acne, I recommend researching what kind of acne you have to better navigate products.
Comedonal Acne = whiteheads + blackheads. Think of finding “deep clean” pore cleansers.
Inflammatory Acne = pimples that look inflamed. Think of calming the inflammation with gentle green tea or chamomile.
Cystic and Nodular Acne. Think of sensitive, no-fuss oil cleaners. This mild cleansing oil will extract all of the gunk that’s lingering deep in your pores without causing further irritation or redness.
Opt for more expensive products that do not have mineral oil as the oil source as it is known to clog pores, which is what you’re trying to prevent. Look for cleansers that contain grapeseed, argan, lavender, or coconut oils, which are lighter. Also, steer clear of any added fragrances, as they can cause irritation and allergic reactions.
Top pick for Acne Prone skin:
If you have acne-prone skin and want to jump on the double cleansing trend, then use a water-based foam or cream cleanser as a second step. For acne-prone skin, you should always reach for a purifying cleanser that isn’t too harsh on your skin. One of my favorite picks is the Bioderma Sebium Foaming Gel.
Combination skinner’s will want the goldilocks pick for balancing out any issues. This cleansing oil not only feels great, but hits all of the check boxes for combo skin. It won’t leave any oily residue and won’t dry out pores. It’s that “just right” cleanser that will leave your pores feeling refreshed, without causing that unbearable tight feeling.
Top pick for combination skin:
Looking to dabble into double cleansing? For your combination skin, try following this oil cleanser with the Omorovicza Cleansing Foam. It helps balance oil while hydrating your skin, giving you the balanced clarity your combo skin deserve.
I know what you’re thinking — oil cleansers for oily skin, really? It may seem contradicting, but using an oil cleanser is actually a great grease-sloughing alternative to harsher cleansers. Think about it: oil and water never mix, so trying to wash away oil solely with a water-based cleanser is not going to work. Instead, start off with an oil cleanser to help rid your skin of excess sebum and grease, then grab your water-based cleanser to wash away any lingering dirt and impurities.
Top pick for Oily:
Since oilier skin types should reach for a more intensive oil cleanser, try sticking to a gentler second step. The French Girl Rose Cleansing Wash is powerful enough to get rid of any stubborn dirt, but gentle on skin so you won’t suffer from tightness or dryness.
If anti-aging is a top concern, look for a softening, and deep hydrating cleansing oil that incorporates antioxidants. Tata Harper’s Nourishing Oil Cleanser is a great pick for it’s fusion of vitamins A, C, E plus omega 3.
Top pick for Anti-Aging:
For an extra boost of hydration, use a water-based cleanser as a second step. The Bioderma Hydrabio Milk is a great source of extra moisture for your skin, and excludes any harsh chemicals so your delicate skin can wash without caution.
Those with dry skin will want to look for a high-quality cleansing oil that is going to leave their skin refreshed and comfortable. Products with avocado, jojoba, or sunflower oil are best suited for fellow desert-facers. This facial cleansing oil from F. MIller is powered by nourishing botanicals like jojoba, sunflower, and camellia oils to keep your skin hydrated while feeling purified.
Top pick for Dry Skin:
When it comes to dry skin, hydration is key with your cleansers. So, add an extra moisturizing boost to your cleansing routine with a hydration-packed cleanser, like the Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Cleanser.
For our sensitive-skinned friends, we recommend finding a formula that’s stripped down to the basics. Anything with harsh preservatives and fragrances will only cause more harm than good, so the shorter ingredient list, the better. Bonus points if your facial cleansing oil contains soothing components like almond oil, andiroba oil, and fatty acids.
Top pick for Sensitive Skin:
For sensitive skin, using a second cleanser can get tricky. Just like your oil cleanser, your water-based cleanser has to be ultra-gentle to avoid irritation or flare-ups. I know that double cleansing sounds intimidating for your delicate skin, but when there’s a will, there’s a way. Your key to a irritant-free double cleanse: the Caudalie Gentle Cleansing Milk.
If you are wary of incorporating cleansing oil into your routine, try adding it in as a first step, continue cleansing with your normal cleanser as a second step, and maintain your normal routine for a month or two. If all is clear, by all means continue on. Post-cleanse, I find it best to gently pat dry, and then immediately add in my serums while the pores are ready with open arms. Followed up by a eye cream, a hydrating toner, a nice thick layer of moisturizer, and the mandatory SPF slather. Personally, I am jonesing to test out BIOSSANCE’s Squalane + Antioxidant Cleansing Oil next as I’ve been using the Squalane Peptide Eye Gel for a few months and love it.