Everyone should have a cleansing balm in their skincare kit, says beauty editor and author Ingeborg van Lotringen - they simply get everything off. Whatever your skin type (yes, even oily), we have found The One
If you're a slave to the double cleanse (and even if you’re not), chances are you already love a cleansing balm. But if you don't, read on and let us convince you. These oil-based balms, pastes and gels are rich in plant butters, lipids and waxes and work by melting makeup and loosening impurities and pollutants before being rinsed or tissued away, all the while nourishing your skin.
Here are the best ways to use a cleansing balm
1. Take time to massage in
Most balms are meant to be massaged into dry skin (not damp) skin for a few minutes to allow them to scoop up all the debris. They are there to be savoured for a little self-care moment.
2. Use a cleansing balm at night
A cleansing balm makes the most sense in the evening when you have a lot of rubbish on your skin to get rid of (although nobody’s stopping you from using one in the morning).
3. Look for balm-to milk-or cream for a clean finish
Depending on the formula, balms can leave quite a noticeable conditioning layer of oils on your skin - which may or may not be desirable depending on your skin type - or rinse off almost clean (cream cleansers work the same way). If you want a balm that rinses off without residue, look for added mild surfactants (cleansing agents). These are the ones that will normally transform into a milk or even a mild foam when you add water.
4. Use a muslin cloth to remove thicker cleansing balms
The heavier a balm is, the more advisable it is to take it off with a warm, moist muslin cloth. This’ll get rid of too much residue (which can clog pores) and will also dislodge most of your eye makeup, giving you panda eyes especially if you use a lot of long-wear eye makeup and mascara.
5. Double cleansing fans - follow with a water-based cleanser
If you are using a heavier balm as above, a ‘second cleanse’ water-based cleanser, especially a cleansing foam or a micellar water, is another option to remove any residue.
6. The reason why they might cost a bit more
Because of their extended contact with the skin, these balms tend to be pimped with a host of anti-oxidants and nourishing agents, so they can be on the pricey side. But we’ve found a few really well-priced options as well. Here are the best new and classic cleansing balms for every skin type and budget.
The updated classic: Elemis Pro-Collagen Green Fig Cleansing Balm, £48
This has exactly the same consistency as the original (a buttery balm that melts into a lovely slippy oil on the skin) and boasts the same fatty acid-rich botanical butters and waxes, but comes with a lovely light fig-based scent. GTG’s Beauty Director SJ argues that fact alone makes it better than the original, adding an extra touch of luxury to a product that doubles as a nourishing face mask. It also comes with a really good, substantial flannel-type cloth rather than the thin muslin ones that you usually get.
The barrier-repair cleanser for sensitive skin: Nip+Fab Ceramide Cleansing Balm, £15
Looking at the ingredients you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a moisturiser, so rich is it in fatty acid-rich oils, ceramides, probiotics, soothing agents and heroes like niacinamide. But the smooth, churned butter-textured balm indeed functions as a skin-softening cleanser – one that rinses off well and doesn’t leave a heavy layer of oil, despite there being practically no surfactants. It melts eye makeup but you’ll need the muslin cloth (included) to wipe the panda eyes away. Fragrance-free, this is a real affordable find for dry, sensitive and rosacea-prone skin.
The 15% vitamin C cleanser: Kat Burki Vitamin C Nourishing Cleansing Balm, £56
Consisting almost entirely of many plant oils, butters and active extracts, this has an added 15 per cent vitamin C which should help brighten and protect skin. A runny, semi-liquid texture, it feels lush and smells of grass and spring flowers but it’s definitely for dry skin as it leaves a very noticeable layer of oil behind – using the enclosed cloth is imperative.
The anti-ageing cleansing balm: Perricone Essential FX Acyl-Glutathione Chia Cleansing Balm, £39
The most ‘scientific’ balm of the lot, many of its oils and waxes have been chosen not so much for their natural credentials as for their textural benefits and ability to cleanse without clogging pores. But this does feature a fatty acid-rich seed oil blend alongside a dose of glutathione, the body’s own ‘master’ antioxidant, to help repair skin. It has a rosy scent, mild surfactants to help it rinse off, and leaves no heavy residue.
The squeezable cleansing balm: Indeed Labs Watermelon Cleansing Balm, £25
Cleansing balms traditionally come in big pots and need to be scooped out with spatulas – but let’s face it, we use our fingers. If that bothers you, and you want a balm that’s easy to chuck in your washbag, this thick, velvety paste comes in a handy squeezy tube. Containing mainly seed waxes and oils (watermelon seed is one), it has added vitamin C and E and soothing bisabolol. It leaves some oils on the skin, but not overly so.
The refillable polishing cleansing balm: Trinny London Be Your Best Enzyme Balm Cleanser, £32 (£26 for the refill)
This clear oil-gel comes in a chic refillable pump, loosening dirt with a mix of glycerin and plant oils plus a plant-based surfactant to turn it into a rinse-off milk. It has barrier-loving glycolipids and probiotics, plus pineapple enzymes to polish away dead skin cells. The latter makes me think it’s best avoided around the eyes, but the demo video says otherwise. It comes with a ‘T-towel’ muslin cloth, too.
The expert's favourite cleansing balm: Then I Met You Living Cleansing Balm, £37
Peculiar name, but don't let that put you off. This has a blend of plant oils, mild surfactants and synthetic waxes (they are much lighter than plant ones, making for a less oily, heavy balm), is rich in antioxidants, and owes its gentle scent to its fragrant plant extracts. Emulsifying easily to rinse off without leaving skin feeling sticky, this South Korean concoction was Caroline Hirons’ cleanser of the year a while back, and as we know she has opinions about cleansers…
The one-and-done cleansing balm: Farmacy Green Clean Makeup Meltaway Cleansing Balm, £32
An air-light balm full of plant oils and extracts, humectants and a mild, skin-softening surfactant, it transforms into a light oil that is better than most cleansing balms at actually getting rid of quite a lot of eye makeup. Unscented, it leaves skin feeling soft but not oily.
The budget cleansing balm: The Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm, £11.99
With oat kernel oil and oatmeal (it even smells oaty), this plant wax and plant oil concoction in a squeezy tube is heavy on the skin-soothing agents and also quite heavy on the texture – not great for oily skin, and you probably need a cloth to help remove residue. But it will soothe and calm, making it a great buy for sensitive and parched types.
The massage-worthy cleansing balm: Emma Hardie Amazing Face Moringa Cleansing Balm, £37.50
Designed by facialist Emma Hardie to use with her lifting facial massages, this silky balm is less heavy than it looks and has a soft jasmine, neroli, and mandarin scent. The moringa seeds, sea fennel and vitamin E blend has decongesting benefits while the plant oils nourish and are excellent, says SJ, at melting away makeup. It doubles as a deeply hydrating face mask so it literally is a treatment cleanser, making it “the OG of cleansing balms” for SJ. It comes with a double-sided (one is rougher than the other) muslin cloth that lets you decide how exfoliating you want your cleanse to be.
The cleansing balm for oily skin: Omorovicza Thermal Cleansing Balm, £59
A thick, rich black balm that melts into a smooth oil-like consistency, a little goes a long way. Its prize ingredient is a Hungarian thermal mud and it has added high levels of calcium and magnesium which all help to clear out pores and balance oil production without stripping. There’s no oiliness despite the thickness of the balm, but it leaves skin moisturised and comfortable and smelling of orange blossom.
The triple-whammy cleanser: Drunk Elephant Slaai Makeup-Melting Butter Cleanser, £34
An oil-based balm that turns into a milk and can be bulked up with the exfoliating grains that come separately, this is a feast of textures. A blend of seed oils and waxes plus humectants and surfactants, it’s light and leaves no sticky residue but nonetheless ‘slaais’ dirt and makeup without irritation (there is no fragrance).
The fun cleansing balm: Byoma Melting Balm Cleanser £14.99
Proving that cleansing balms can be fun and funky, this square pot holds an array of seed oils, barrier lipids, waxes and a few emulsifying surfactants, making it relatively rich but not hugely so. Byoma’s stock-in-trade is barrier repair, so there’s added niacinamide to fortify the lipid barrier and to control oiliness, too.
The hand-made vegan balm: Evolve Gentle Cleansing Melt, £25
Hand-made in the UK by this small, largely organic eco brand, its plant seed oils, fruit water, glycerine and a sugar-based surfactant make for a runny honey-textured balm that rinses off milkily. Boasting soothing Baobab oil and scented with natural vanilla and herbs, it is quite yummy in every way.
The lightweight Cleansing Balm: Naturium Purple Ginseng Cleansing Balm, £21
Waxes, plant oils and extracts, glycerin and gentle surfactants make for one of those solid but lightweight, non-oily balms that spread like silk on the skin and turn milky when you add water. Features a veritable pantry of vegetable, herbal and spice extracts (basil, turmeric, eggplant and purple ginseng) presumably for their antioxidant and skin-energising properties), and is fragrance-free and very gentle.
The organic self-care treat: Rhug Wild Beauty Deep Cleansing Balm with Wild Berries, £65
This large 125ml pot is packed with all-organic and hand-foraged fruit oils and antioxidant-rich extracts from the Welsh Rhug estate. Add essential oils, glycerin and a sugar-based surfactant to emulsify, and you have a deeply indulgent, beautiful-smelling balm that’s GTG’s Victoria’s favourite.
The plant-powered gel balm: Wildsmith Active Repair Nourishing Cleansing Balm, £85
Plant oils, butters and natural surfactants in an oil-gel-to-milk that cuts through sunscreen, makeup and dirt and leaves a fine conditioning film with vitamins, fatty acids and antibacterial plant extracts. SJ, who has oily skin, describes the texture as “quite a unique bouncy jelly” with an essential-oil scent that’s straight from the spa. A little goes a long way (thank goodness at that price) and gives excellent slip; SJ says it makes light work of mascara and leaves the skin feeling very smooth.