Cleansing Balms: The Good and The Bad

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Best Cleansing Balms - How to Use a Cleansing Balm

Cleansing balms had a moment in the spotlight a year or two ago, but I feel like their popularity is declining lately. Still, to me a good cleansing balm is worth its weight in gold: a well-formulated one can remove makeup and stubborn sunscreen particles that seem to cling to every pore, while conditioning the skin and preventing dehydration between cleansing steps.

That wasn’t a typo, I used plural for ‘steps’ because I believe that a good skincare routine should include at least two cleansers: an oil-based one and a foaming one. Possibly even a cleansing toner or micellar water as a third step if a more thorough cleanse is needed. I expect some beauty minimalists will argue with me there, and that’s okay, we all have opinions and all of them are important and valid. However, from my experience that stems from experimenting with different types of beauty routines, a two-step approach delivers the best results.

Today I decided to round up all of the cleansing balms I currently own and give them a performance review. I’m in the middle of some serious downsizing right now, so all of the products that I’m not totally happy with will have to go.

Best Cleansing Balms - How to Use a Cleansing Balm

Elemental Herbology Purify & Soothe Facial Cleanser ($52 or $20.8/1oz) – Labeled as a cleanser, this thick balm comes with a handy muslin cloth for easy removal. The formula is quite thick – perhaps too thick for tube packaging – so squeezing it out can be a challenge, especially if the product is kept in a cool environment. The balm transforms into a liquid oil when it comes in contact with the skin, dissolving non-waterproof makeup and lifting impurities with ease. It’s not ideal for removing waterproof mascara, but for everything else the balm performed quite well. Because the formula is more natural, the balm leaves a thin veil on the skin, which I prefer to remove with a foaming cleanser or a gentle soap.

Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm ($64 or $17.29/1oz) – I really enjoy this cleansing balm, and I’m on my third jar already I believe. It comes with a very nice cotton washcloth and a small plastic spatula to scoop out the product [which I never use but probably should]. This balm is one of my favorites because it can remove waterproof makeup and sunscreen, and it doesn’t leave my face feeling sticky and greasy afterward. The formula emulsifies on contact with water and turns into milk, which makes it easier to rinse off with water alone. However, I still recommend using a washcloth – the one included in the kit or any other that you own – because it’s not a good idea to let this particular balm sit on the skin for too long. I noticed that when I leave certain cleansing products on for too long they tend to make my face drier.

PIXI x Caroline Hirons Double Cleanse ($24 or $7.10/1oz) – PIXI Pretties collabs are always exciting, but I was especially interested in trying this Double Cleanse duo curated by the OG of skincare bloggers, Caroline Hirons herself. She is kind of a legend in the blogging community, and pretty much everyone who writes about skincare for more than 5 years probably knows her name. She may not fit the currently trending beauty blogger profile of a young, bubbly, pouty girl with chiseled cheekbones filming from an all-white studio, but this woman knows a helluva lot more about skincare ingredients than you and I. And if she put her name behind a product, I expected it to be amazing – and it was. The cleanser comes in a round jar split into two halves: one half contains a solid balm and the other has a milky cleansing lotion. When used together, they remove all traces of makeup – even waterproof – without leaving the skin feeling stripped of moisture.

PIXI Nourishing Cleansing Balm ($20 or $6.57/1oz) – I don’t understand how two cleansing balms from the same company can be such polar opposites. My experience with PIXI x Caroline Hirons balm was nothing but positive, while this balm does not agree with my skin at all. It has very good ingredients and smells like a rose garden, but it doesn’t perform its main intended function which is to cleanse the skin and remove makeup. You guys know I am all about that natural look and I don’t usually wear a lot of makeup, so melting them shouldn’t be all that difficult. This balm basically smudges the products on my face and makes it even harder to remove them. And forget about removing anything waterproof! The balm gave me panda eyes that somehow stuck to my skin. I had to use a combination of several different products to remove the oily makeup bits and the residue from the balm that seems to cling to every corner. I’m sure this balm has a lot of fans and maybe it works for other people, but for me it remains one of the worst products from PIXI I’ve ever tried.

Best Cleansing Balms - How to Use a Cleansing Balm

Nyakio Sweet Almond Cleansing Oil Balm ($28 or $7.56/1oz) – This cleansing balm is solid even at room temperature, so I have to scoop it out with a nail or a spatula. Natural formula contains triglycerides, waxes, oils, and botanical butters, which all together turn from solid into liquid oil on the skin. While this balm dissolves makeup well, I find it extremely hard to remove which can be very frustrating at the end of a long day. For that reason I haven’t been using it a lot, and will most likely toss it soon.

Dermalogica Precleanse Balm ($45 or $15/1oz) comes with the most perfect silicone mitt. In fact, I love it so much that I use it with other products. It makes the cleansing process more thorough while being super gentle on the skin. It doesn’t actually exfoliate, but rather it massages the balms deeper into the skin to make sure every nook and cranny is covered. This simple addition completely elevated my balm cleansing experience, so I would recommend trying this one just for the mitt alone – you won’t regret it. The balm comes out of the tube as a thick paste and melts into a runny oil on the skin. When it’s time to rinse off, the formula emulsifies on contact with water turning into a milky lotion. It easily removes waterproof mascara and any other long-lasting makeup, making my face look very fresh and clean. This is one of my favorite products from Dermalogica, second only to their incredible Dynamic Skin Recovery sunscreen.

100% Pure Blood Orange Cleansing Balm ($38 or $12.66/1oz) – When I first ordered this all-natural cleansing balm from Octoly, I expected it to smell like blood oranges. To my surprise the fragrance is actually very light, which can be a good and a bad thing. It’s good if you are someone who is very scent sensitive, and strong fragrances give you migraines. But if you really wanted to smell that sweet citrusy burst every time you wash your face, you’ll be disappointed. Other than that, I actually think this all-natural balm does a pretty good job at removing makeup, even waterproof [with a little more effort]. It stays oily and does not emulsify, so you will need a warm washcloth to remove it from the skin. It’s the only balm on this list that makes my face feel soft and hydrated even if I don’t follow up with a foaming cleanser afterward. Essentially, it kind of doubles up as a moisturizer if you are too tired to go through the entire multi-step routine that night.

Colleen Rothschild Radiant Cleansing Balm ($65 or $19.69/1oz) – The most expensive in my stash, this luxurious cleansing balm comes with a really nice muslin washcloth and smells like Christmas – with notes of cloves and cinnamon. It has a soft balmy consistency which feels more like a paste, with a slight pearly sheen. The balm turns into a runny oil when I spread it on the skin, and emulsifies when it comes in contact with water. It removes makeup really well, including waterproof formulas, and it’s one of the few on this list that I can use without a foaming cleanser afterward. I still choose to do it because it’s a habit, but I don’t need to – the balm rinses off the skin completely and doesn’t leave any residue behind.

Best Cleansing Balms - How to Use a Cleansing Balm


There will probably be some directions on the product packaging, but in general, cleansing balms are the most effective when you apply them to dry skin with dry hands. Spread the balm all over your face and neck and gently massage the areas that need a thorough cleanse. A good balm cleanser can remove most of the makeup from your skin, including waterproof mascaras, long-lasting eyeliner, smokey eyeshadow, or a thick layer of foundation. Remove the balm with lukewarm tap water and a washcloth, then proceed with your foaming cleanser of choice.

Multiple steps just for cleansing may seem like an overkill, but remember – clean skin always responds better to skincare, which in turn makes your moisturizers and serums more effective, so they can deliver better results.

Have you used a cleansing balm before? What do you like/dislike about cleansing balms? Let me know in the comments below!

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