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. We now get to the perennial green beauty favorite oil cleansers.
Oil cleansing is not new. Long before anyone outside Morocco knew about argan oil and back when the only people slathering themselves in oil were Victoria’s Secret models, I permanently had my trusty tub of Shu Uemura next to my sink and would splurge every time the brand released their incredibly kawaii special edition bottles. Fast forward an unmentionable number of years (a lady never tells) and I have learned that a) the much-ballyhood and wincingly expensive “Japanese beauty secret” is basically a tub of mineral oil; and b) there is a whole universe of impeccably formulated and perfectly pure cleansing oils out there for every skin condition and laziness level.
I should also note that although I tried to make this post as comprehensive as I could, except for one particular product, I did not include the very obvious choice of plain (albeit high quality) oil, like castor, jojoba, coconut, etc. Plenty of people swear by using simple oils to cleanse with and it’s an excellent and economical alternative. It’s just that I happen to need a bit more oomph in my skincare products, but if you want to experiment with oil cleansing on a budget and are not fussed about your cleansing oil emulsifying/rinsing off cleanly, a plain oil is the way to go.
These oils are the next step up from the aforementioned basic oils. Although there is a huge difference between the single-ingredient No Evil and the elegant and complex Lustra, all these oils have several things in common. For starters, they contain nothing, but oils (hence the “Pure” category). This can include essential oils, but there are no emulsifiers, etc., which also means that these oils will not rinse off and have to be removed with a washcloth.
Now, I presume that most of you have at least a basic understanding of how oil cleansing works, but I’m going to give you a quick primer just in case. Apply your oil of choice to a dry face and proceed to massage for a bit to dislodge makeup and dirt, while dissolving pore-clogging sebum. This is probably the most important step of the oil cleansing process and one that should be your first step regardless of the type of cleansing oil you use. If you are wearing a lot of makeup, you might want to apply the oil to remove makeup, wipe it off with a cotton pad and then reapply for a proper cleanse. After the massage, soak a washcloth in hot (not scalding, obviously) water and hold it to your face so that the steam can open up the pores, then use the same washcloth to wipe off the oil. Rinse the washcloth and repeat until all the oil is removed. If you are an obsessive like me, if you have been wearing heavy makeup or sunscreen or if your skin feels uncomfortably oily, this is when you will do your second cleanse.
Between You and the Moon’s No Evil is the only single-ingredient cleansing oil on my list. I chose to spotlight it at least partly because I adore BYatM’s witchy, home-spun aesthetic and skincare philosophy, but also because I think pure squalane (olive-derived, of course) is one of the best makeup removers I have ever used. The texture of the oil, not too rich, with the perfect amount of slip, does quick work of the most stubborn of makeup and is especially great for removing eye makeup. Putting No Evil on a cotton round and adding a couple of drops of water turns it into the most perfect makeup remover. If you think about it, a lot of conventional makeup removers are actually a mixture of a watery and an oily component, which, when mixed, dissolve eye makeup. No Evil and water do the same thing, but without the unnecessary chemical junk. Obviously, this oil can also be used to cleanse your entire face and to moisturize, so if you are into single-ingredient, do-it-all products, this is the oil for you. And of course, you can use any high quality squalane – Indie Lee makes a lovely one as well.
The Kari Gran Cleansing Oil is Oil Cleansing 201: still elegantly simple, but a step up from a single ingredient oil. Composed of three carrier oils, including castor oil, which many green beauty DIYers consider to be the ideal oil for oil cleansing, as well as lavender essential oil and Vitamin E, this Cleansing Oil is both gentle and thorough. The smell of lavender is lovely and calming: perfect for a nighttime routine. I must admit that I was a a bit wary of using such a simple formula and worried that my skin wouldn’t feel sufficiently cleansed, but I have had to use it without a second cleanse on a couple of occasions and my skin never felt oily or greasy. At $30 for 100ml this is also a very reasonably priced product that feels luxurious, thanks to its beautiful texture, delightful smell and elegant packaging.
I have already waxed rhapsodic about In Fiore’s Lustra Cleansing Essence and the 4-2-4 cleansing method, so I will just say that this is the product to try if you want the traditional oil cleansing experience, elevated as a luxurious decadent ritual.
Not everyone is comfortable with simple oil cleansing. Even I was reluctant to give it a go: my skin just didn’t feel quite clean enough if the product didn’t rinse off my skin. Enter emulsifying oils. These are the oils that hew closer to the She Uemura concept of adding water to the oil to create a milky emulsion that then gets rinsed off.
One Love Organics Vitamin B Cleansing Oil was one of the first cleansing oils I ever bought and I still return to it when I want a thorough and decadent cleanse. I often talk about sensory experiences in my reviews and it’s with good reason: I can talk about ingredients till the cows come home, but what ultimately makes us fall in love with the product is how it looks in our bathroom cabinet, how it feels on the skin and how it smells. The Vitamin B oil has a rich, unctuous texture and a gorgeous tropical scent, redolent of pina colada, but without any cloying sweetness. It does emulsify and rinse off, but unless your skin is extremely dry and not at all prone to clogging, I would suggest using a washcloth or a second cleanse to remove all traces of oil after the cleanse.
I must admit that I kind of shoehorned the Fairer Than Lilies Cleanser, a collaboration between Seed to Serum, a beautiful and brilliantly curated new-ish shop, and one of my favorite green brands R. L. Linden & Co. Basically, theirs is a hard-to-classify, in-betweeny cleanser and I was trying to avoid having too many individual categories. Billed as a cross between a balm and an oil, this is most certainly not a pure oil cleanser because it is thickened with the addition of olive-derived wax (good news for vegans – no beeswax here), but it doesn’t really emulsify either. I do add a bit of water after massaging with it and it seems to emulsify the tiniest bit, but you really need a few swipes with a hot washcloth to get this off. I would also strongly suggest using this oil as step one of a double cleanse, especially if you are using it in the summer or have oily/acneic/congestion-prone skin.
I really do like the unusual texture of this cleanser, but what makes it a firm favorite is the smell. Robin and Lynn, the badass ladies behind R.L. Linden, have a way with scent (their fragrance collection is the bomb!) and their skills shine in this cleanser. Fairer Than Lilies has a soft, sweet (not candy-sweet), herbal smell that feels like being wrapped in the softest, warmest blanket. A lot of product instructions admonish you to “cup your hands to your face and inhale the aroma”, but I actually do that with FTL – it’s just that lovely and comforting. This would be the perfect cleanser for someone who can’t quite commit to a balm cleanser: it has the richness and cleansing power of a balm, but the liquid texture makes it feel less heavy on the skin (and easier to remove).
Emulsifying Oils – The Full Monty
Truly emulsifying oils, clean rinsing oils are the perfect entry into the oil cleansing lyfe for anyone baffled by the concept of washing one’s face with oil. These products combine the benefits of oil cleansing (the facial massage, the deep clean that happens as the oil dissolves makeup and impurities) with the convenience of a conventional cleanser (no need to faff about with washcloths and second cleanses, that truly clean feeling on the skin). You might reasonably ask why aren’t we all just using these wonderful and wonderfully convenient oils since they seem to combine the best of all cleansing worlds.
The main reason, I think, is that it is impossible to create a cleansing oil that rinses off cleanly, yet maintains strict ingredient purity. This should be obvious: oil in its natural state does not mix with water, which makes rinsing rather a challenge. In order to make it emulsify, you need, well, emulsifiers and surfactants. Now, the two oils featured here have perfectly clean ingredients, all rated no higher than 1 on the Skin Deep Database (the Natural Glow oil does have 1 ingredient rated 2, but it’s ethanol – alcohol, basically, and is about as neutral as it gets), but if you are looking for pure, unadulterated oils, these products aren’t it. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether you are more concerned with convenience or purity.
I have taken the African Botanics Pure Marula Cleansing Oil on vacation to Miami and it proved to be a perfectly effective and enjoyable one-step cleanser. I used it to wash off my New Year’s Eve makeup and it made quick work of my shiny eyeliner, layers of mascara and more foundation than I wear the rest of the year combined. It also rinsed off perfectly cleanly, though being the freak that I am, I would have been the tiniest bit happier if I could follow with a second cleanse. That said, I experienced no congestion after using it for about a week, so clearly any residue was purely in my head.
The Marula Cleansing Oil has a sweet, vanilla smell. If you like vanilla you are going to absolutely love it. I found it a tad too sweet, but not so much so as to make it unpleasant and the scent does not linger. Still, if you are not a fan of candy-sweet smells, I would suggest trying a sample first. If I did have to mention the one thing I didn’t love about this cleansing oil is that it stung my eyes when I used it to remove eye makeup. Seeing as I often use oil cleansers specifically to remove eye makeup and since the usage instructions for the oil do not suggest avoiding the eye area, this was a bit disappointing and is the one thing that kept this oil from becoming a daily favorite.
For some inexplicable reason, I have been eyeing Antonia Burrell’s Natural Glow Cleansing Oil (sold in the US by Beautyhabit) for what must have been several years and only took the plunge in preparation for writing this post. Boy, am I glad that I did! This cleansing oil by a famed British facialist Antonia Burrell has quickly become my favorite, thanks to its combination of effectiveness, convenience and smell. For starters, this is the only oil I have found to rinse off completely clean. The addition of water turns this light oil into a milky lotion, which then rinses off without a trace. By the way, I don’t agree with the instructions that recommend massaging your face after you add water. Massage with the oil: it gives much better grip for facial massage and the oil in its undiluted form is better for removing impurities. The ease of removal is a huge selling point, but what I am truly in love with is the smell. It’s bright, citrusy and refreshing – possibly my favorite category of scents. I only use cleansing oils at night, but Natural Glow would also make for a perfect morning cleanser, both because it is rinses so cleanly without a need for washcloths or a second cleanse, and because its uplifting scent might wake you up better than a cup of coffee.
Whichever cleansing oil you end up using, they all offer you the opportunity to take some time for self-pampering, while getting your skin to its cleanest and softest possible state. If you haven’t yet tried a cleansing oil, I suggest you give them a try. Your skin will thank you.
All photos taken using the beautiful Kate: The Kate Moss Book published by Rizzoli.
Disclaimer: I received the Kari Gran Cleansing Oil and the Fairer Than Lilies Cleanser for review. I obviously love them both and will repurchase if I ever run out of oil cleansers, which considering the above post seems entirely unlikely (to my immense glee). I bought all other cleansers reviewed.