Cleanser is probably the one can’t-do-without product for any beauty arsenal. As it happens, I am a bit of a cleanser obsessive and have tried, tested and (mostly) loved virtually every type of green cleanser available. In this series of posts I will discuss the advantages and drawbacks of different cleanser types and will highlight some of my favorites. For the third installment in this series, I go old school with my favorite cream cleansers.
There is a reason why I have taken the picture accompanying this post on a background of one of my favorite Helmut Newton photographs. Obviously, it’s at least partly so that I can make a bunch of lame “take it all off” jokes. The real reason for my choice, however, is the utterly 80s look and feel of the legendary shot, because to me, cream cleansers are the ultimate OGs of grown-up skincare. One of my earliest skincare memories are of my mother, wiping off the day’s grime with some Lancome on a cotton ball. Cream cleansers was what women graduated to from Dove soap. Of course, the history of cream cleansers goes much further back than the 80s, to the ultimate classic skincare staple: the cold cream.
Although cream cleansers have become slightly less popular as of late, they are still tough to beat when it comes to convenience and ease of use. More importantly, some of the cream cleansers out there combine top-notch ingredients, an updated cleansing technique and a commitment to purity that rivals any other cleanser type. Still, before I delve into reviewing my favorites, a word of warning: even when using the finest cream cleansers going, please, please avoid the cotton ball route beloved of my darling mother. A splash of water or, better yet, a couple of quick swipes with a facial cloth will take your cream cleanser from merely passable to fabulous.
Tammy Fender was one of the first brands I tried when making a switch to green beauty and I am still a fan. This is a thoroughly grown-up line that would be perfect for someone making an initial transition to green beauty and the Tammy Fender Cleansing Milk Lavender and Fo-Ti was the cleanser I gave to my mum when I started my insidious work of trying to get her to switch to green beauty. This is very much a classic cleansing milk: runny, creamy, soft and delicately scented. Its ingredient list is lovely: lavender, colloidal oats, green tea, jojoba and aloe. It cleans effectively and gently. Now, I should give a disclaimer that as a general rule, I don’t feel as though cream cleansers give as deep and thorough a clean as, say, balms. That said, this is my own issue and most cream cleansers do a perfectly good job of cleansing, though if you are wearing a full face of makeup or particularly heavy sunblock, I would suggest a double cleanse as a matter of course. And speaking of double cleanses, Tammy Fender’s cleansing milk makes for a gorgeous second cleanse.
I have included the SheerinO’kho Facial Cleansing Fluid in this roundup even though the line is, sadly, no longer sold in the US. Still, I figure a review could be helpful for my European readers, especially since I am generally fond of its products. The Cleansing Fluid has a lovely, light rose smell, is the least milky of the bunch and has small, scrubby particles that don’t seem hugely abrasive. I got mine as part of SheerinO’kho’s First Class Flight travel kit and I must admit, this isn’t an ideal travel cleanser: because it’s fairly runny, it can be a tad tricky to use in a tiny plane bathroom without making a mess. Used under normal conditions, however, it is a lovely cleanser and would be good for those wishing to combine mild cleansing with equally mild exfoliation.
Agnes Day and Night Crème is a cream cleanser from one of my absolute favorite skincare brands: Between You and the Moon. Created by the genius facialist, Emma Graves, in a beautiful, herb-filled workshop in Brooklyn, Between You and the Moon represents the perfect marriage of skincare know-how, herbalist traditions and a little bit of witchcraft. The line is split in two groups: Basic and Advanced skincare. The Basic line includes beautiful oils, balms and facial sprays with short, but exquisite ingredient lists. The Advanced line, which includes Agnes, is almost entirely clean (some of the products do contain Phenoxyethanol, though Agnes Day and Night does not), but it boasts an impressive number of proven skin-improving actives.
The ingredient list in Agnes Day and Night is amazing: MSM, DMAE, rooibos, pomegranate, pineapple and papaya extracts, panthenol and vitamins A, C and E (and that’s not even all of it). A rich, soft cream, its smell is gorgeous: soft and gently sweet and comforting. The Crème cleans very well and it also makes a fabulous hydrating mask. My favorite way to use it is to apply thickly after my first cleanse and to leave it on for 20 minutes or so, wiping it off with a wet washcloth at the end. It leaves my skin clean, glowing and wonderfully soft. I am seriously in love with this cleanser. Sure, it’s pricey, but considering that it’s such a multitasker (I know that some people even use it as a moisturizer), the price becomes quite a bit more reasonable.
Although I have mentioned that I view cream cleansers as being fairly old-school, the Aurelia Miracle Cleanser is the new guard of cream cleansers. I’m not sure why it is that all cleanser innovation seems to come from England – it must be something in the water (bada-boom!), but the Miracle Cleanser is a cream cleanser for the 21st Century. A marked and all-clean improvement over another cult Brit cleanser, Liz Earle’s Cleanse and Polish, it’s a thick, rich cream that can be removed with its own enclosed fine muslin cloth (though a regular washcloth will work just as well). The Miracle Cleanser is brimming with sophisticated ingredients: probiotics, fancy oils and extracts like kigella, baobab and Ubuntu Mongongo oil (!!) (I presume it’s fabulous, but it might be slowly turning me into an alien pod. There’s just no way to be sure*), as well as essential oils of rosemary, eucalyptus and chamomile. The eucalyptus gives the cleanser a vaguely medicinal, but ultimately elegant and sophisticated scent. Think Eve Lom (but prettier), not Vicks Vapor Rub.
This cleanser is most certainly effective enough to be used on its own and it makes the perfect second cleanser. It leaves my skin soft, nourished and calm, as well as scrupulously clean. From the pretty pink packaging (the complimentary muslin cloth comes tied with a darling pink bow), to the texture, smell and performance, the Miracle Cleanser lives up to its name and it doesn’t surprise me that it’s the star product in Aurelia’s range (as an aside, I love that there are entire skincare ranges being built on the strength of a cleanser). If I can think of any flies in the ointment, it’s that the essential oils used in the cleanser (especially eucalyptus) could irritate some extra-sensitive skins, though I certainly have not experienced any problems whatsoever.
Using these cleansers makes it clear that there is no reason why cream cleansers must remain stuck in the 80s. A winning combination of stellar ingredients, lovely scents and ease of use, makes them the perfect daily cleansers for even the most savvy green beauty.
*It’s not, really. Obviously. It’s one of those fancy, African oils and based on its composition and properties, it certainly sounds fabulous. I don’t know if it’ll become the next “it” ingredient in green beauty, but I love that Aurelia is using little-known, but special ingredients in their products.