Mastering Cleansing Balms: Your Ultimate Guide to Skincare Elixir

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I hope you guys are excited because in today’s article, my little friends, we are going to dive into the world of cleansing balms. I’m not going to delve into cleansers as a whole category; our focus will be specifically on balms. Why, you ask? Because it is dry AF outside. I cracked my lip yesterday while shoveling snow. So, I figured, what better time to discuss something dewy and cocoon-like to counteract this harsh weather? Let’s get into cleansing balms.

If you don’t have time to read this post right now, why not save it for later?

Mastering Cleansing Balms: Your Ultimate Guide to Skincare Elixir

What are Cleansing Balms:

What are cleansing balms? Cleansing balms aren’t your standard cleansers; they’re typically not water-based at all. These thicker balms come in jars and are perfect for travel since they don’t spill or leak. They’re much oilier and often go through a transformative process. When applied to your skin, their texture and feel evolve, offering a unique sensory experience.

Why do cleansing balms even exist? Excellent question. While I can’t provide the entire history, I can explain why we use them. Cleansing balms gained traction during the rise of the double cleansing trend that has taken the skincare world by storm in recent years.

What is double cleansing? Double cleansing involves two steps: first, using an oil-based cleanser to break down makeup, oil, and residue on your face. Then, you follow up with a water-based cleanser, typically a gel or cream, to remove any leftover oil and grime from the oil cleanser.

Why do this twice? People who wear heavy makeup, live in bustling cities like New York, or are frequently outdoors prefer not to over-strip their skin with harsh cleansers. Using an oil cleanser first, followed by a regular cleanser, helps avoid stripping the skin of natural oils, disrupting its pH balance, and damaging the skin barrier. That’s double cleansing in a nutshell.

However, you don’t always have to start with an oil cleanser or a cleansing balm. You can use micellar water instead, which is my personal preference since I’m not a huge fan of cleansing balms. I find them messy, oily, and difficult to remove completely from my face. They tend to drip down my arms, and using too much water only adds to the mess. But don’t worry, I have some tips today to help you avoid that mess, based on my trial and error experience.

Hacks for how to make Cleansing Balms work better for you

Before diving into the specific cleansing balms I tried and loved, let’s go over a few tips on how to best use them. If you find a cleansing balm that suits your skin and you can tolerate it, they’re often ideal for those with dry skin. However, if you have sensitive skin, proceed with caution, as many balms contain essential oils that can be irritating.

In fact, due to my own skin being inflamed and cracked recently, I used one of the cleansing balms as a mask to illustrate a tip for you all. Unfortunately, I experienced irritation because the balm contained nine essential oils, and even though I don’t typically have very sensitive skin, it was a bit too much for me. I’ll discuss this more shortly. But for those with very sensitive skin, be cautious about the essential oils in your cleansing balm.

For those with dry or sensitive skin, it’s wise to be a bit careful. If you have oily skin, cleansing balms might not be your go-to product. However, if you’re a makeup enthusiast and wear a lot of makeup, especially professional-grade, incorporating a cleansing balm into your routine could be beneficial.

positive attributes of cleansing balms

That being said, what other positive attributes do cleansing balms have? They’re thick and won’t leak when you travel, making them a great travel-friendly addition to your skincare kit. You won’t have to worry about them spilling all over your clothes in your luggage. That’s probably the biggest advantage of a cleansing balm. They minimize water usage, and a little goes a long way, so these balms last quite a while. Cleansing balms are truly fantastic.

Now, what are some little tips for using cleansing balms? Regardless of the balm, here are a few:

  1. They’re great for broken cuticles. You can take a tiny bit and use it around your hands at night, especially if your hands are very dry or chapped. You don’t need to wash it off because when you wash your face in the morning, you’ll remove any residue left behind. This helps nourish and hydrate chapped cuticles during the wintertime.
  2. If you have a luxurious cleansing balm, you can add a little bit to warm bath water and soak in it, enjoying some aromatherapy if it contains essential oils. It will nourish your skin in a lukewarm bath—avoid using an overly hot bath.
  3. You can use cleansing balms like a face mask. Let them sit on your face for about 10 minutes before removing them and continuing with your skincare routine. This allows the balm to provide deeper hydration to your skin. Many people only use them to remove makeup, missing out on the additional benefits these balms offer.

Best Cleansing Balms

Without further ado, let’s jump right in, starting with the OG cleansing balm from Elemis, their Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm. This one smells like you walked into a spa. It is very thick, It’s a waxy balm, probably the richest one right off the bat. It comes out super soft in texture and is not hard to break, whereas other balms can be harder. This one breaks easily.

This balm is great for the tip I mentioned for use on hands, especially at night or if you have very cracked cuticles. You can let it sit on your face for five to ten minutes as a mask before washing it off. Some people even use a warm, wet cloth or a tissue to remove the balm from their face and enjoy the residual residue. However, I find it too thick for that reason. It has nine different essential oils, which is not ideal for sensitive skin. It also contains very thick waxes, like rose wax and mimosa wax, which is interesting.

This balm nourishes as a balm, removes makeup as an oil, and becomes a cleansing milk once mixed with water. It transforms into a white, milky cleanser after you wash it off. It retails for $64 for a pretty big tub. I would probably put this balm in the bath, take a little scoop, and mix it with water to soak your feet or body in it.

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Moving on, let’s talk about Pharmacy, a farm-to-face brand known for its clean skincare. While I’m not entirely sold on their “clean” marketing angle, I have to mention their bestselling product that has garnered a lot of attention: the Green Clean cleansing balm. This balm has a waxier texture compared to the one by Elemis, making it thicker and slower to melt.

As you work this balm into your skin, it transforms in the typical cleansing balm fashion and has a very subtle scent. It features only three essential oils, unlike Elemis‘ nine, giving it a much lighter fragrance. The formula is based on sunflower and ginger root oils and includes papain, a papaya extract enzyme known for its gentle exfoliating properties.

When using this balm on your face, it’s beneficial to let it sit for a few minutes to allow the papain to work its magic, gently cleansing and brightening your skin. The scent is minimal, which many people appreciate.

To cater to those with sensitive skin, Pharmacy introduced Clearly Clean, a fragrance-free version of the balm with no essential oils. This newer formula is completely scentless and designed specifically for sensitive skin. Comparing the two, Clearly Clean has a darker color and feels less oily than the original Green Clean. Interestingly, the scentless version also feels more moisturizing, offering a different but equally appealing experience.

Moving on. Next up, we have a gorgeous product from Glow Recipe. I had the pleasure of to meet their founders . This gem is like a fruit bowl in a jar. It smells divine and looks just like papaya sorbet, aptly named the Papaya Sorbet Enzyme Cleansing Balm.

It features the same exfoliating enzyme as Pharmacy’s product, the papain enzyme, so you can let it sit on your face for a few minutes before rinsing. Plus, it contains blueberry extract, rich in antioxidants, so don’t rush to wash it off—let it work its magic, especially if you have dry skin. It has a lovely feel… it’s really quite pretty.

This cleansing balm is incredibly luxurious, with a strong fruity scent. If you’re not into strong scents, this might not be for you. However, it feels smoother and less oily than the one from Elemis, though Elemis is still the go-to for heavy makeup removal. But, it does a great job at removing eyeliner. This Glow Recipe treasure retails for $32.

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Next up is Drunk Elephant’s Slaai Makeup-Melting Butter Cleanser. This product has been on the market for a few years, and I really wanted to love it, but I didn’t find it amazing. Priced at $34, it’s non-fragrant and includes extracts like blueberry, kiwi, and strawberry, along with fruit oils such as cranberry oil, seed oil, acai fruit oil, and watermelon seed oil. It also contains a bit of bamboo and charcoal powder to help gently exfoliate dead skin cells. However, I didn’t feel it was effective, even though I don’t wear a lot of makeup.

In terms of performance, I felt it didn’t remove makeup as well as I hoped. Additionally, it’s quite difficult to break through. On the bright side, Drunk Elephant did a beautiful job with the packaging. The cleanser comes with a scooper attached to the lid, which is a thoughtful detail for cleansing oils since it keeps you from repeatedly sticking your hand into the jar. Though, I often lose scoopers if they’re not attached, so this feature is quite handy.

The balm itself is nice and feels buttery upon application, but I’m not sure if that’s just because it’s called a “Melting Butter Cleanser.” While it’s non-fragrant, there is a subtle scent that I didn’t love. It didn’t effectively remove my makeup, requiring multiple applications, which was disappointing.

Overall, this wasn’t a hit for me. Though I appreciate the packaging, especially the scooper, I don’t particularly care for this cleansing balm. Drunk Elephant has other products I like, but this one falls short.

Next up, we have Belief, a K-beauty brand that’s been around for a while. Their Aqua Bomb Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm is priced at $34. I gave it a try and appreciated its added hydration benefits. However, it has a very light citrusy scent, which can be one of the more irritating fragrances, especially for those with very sensitive skin.

The balm has a beautiful, fresh-looking color, but it’s a bit harder to break through compared to other products like Elemis, which is still the easiest to use. This balm feels like a lighter version of the Glow Recipe cleanser, leaning more towards a watery consistency.

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Unfortunately, this affects its makeup-removing efficacy, as the higher water content means fewer oils to break down makeup. So, it’s not as effective and is better suited for those with oily skin. Remember, having dehydrated skin differs from having dry skin. If your skin tends to be more dehydrated, this balm might be a good fit for you.

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And lastly, we have the Then I Met You Cleansing Balm, which I discovered a few years ago. I fell in love with the color—yes, I know it sounds silly, but it looks like a beautiful sorbet that I just wanted to eat. I haven’t tasted it, nor will I, but this one retails for $38. It’s a stunning product, both in terms of effectiveness and appearance. It looks like mango sorbet and is incredibly buttery. It contains buckthorn oil, which softens, protects, and repairs your skin, along with olive oil and grapeseed oil.

So, I guess Jaela’s not the only one singing the praises of olive oil. There’s also a slight scent from the rosewood oil and grapefruit peel oil. It is very, very buttery—not waxy like the others, somewhat similar to the one by Elemis. This balm actually works quite well. Not bad at all; even after a couple of uses, it leaves a bit of residue behind. Overall, it’s on par with the Elemis one but cheaper, beautifully colored, and exceptionally buttery. And that’s the one by Then I Met You.

The bottom line

To sum up, if I had to rate these, I’d say Elemis takes off the makeup the best. For Pharmacy, the original version is better than their newer one. If you have sensitive skin, this is worth trying since it has no scent at all. Glow Recipe’s balm feels incredibly hydrating with an elegant formulation, but you’ll smell like a fruit bowl.

I wanted to love Drunk Elephant’s balm; the scooper on the cap is a nice touch, but it’s not enough to make me go back to it. Lastly, if you have dehydrated skin, the Belief balm is probably a good choice because it’s the wateriest of the bunch. So, that’s cleansing balms in a nutshell.

I hope you enjoyed this article. If there are any cleansing balms you love that I didn’t mention, feel free to share their names!

My readers’ feedback matters to me. If you have any questions or thoughts, please leave a comment below.

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