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A Critical Understanding of Cleansers

A Critical Understanding of Cleansers

We take cleansing seriously and you should too.

It’s understood that cleansing seems like a simple step. Just any formulation will do, as long as it strips the skin of dirt, makeup, and grime, right? Painfully, crucially, extremely wrong! Our cleanser of choice is just as important—if not even more so—than all our other skincare products.

A thorough, gentle, perfect cleanse is the foundation for healthy skin. However, it can be challenging to navigate the saturated skincare industry of all the options out there, so we figured we would pare it down and compare some favorites, so that you don’t have to.

Balm and Oil Cleansers

Since both of these types of cleansers are oil-based, they won’t strip your skin of it’s natural barrier oils, and they’ll be incredibly gentle. While it seems counter-intuitive to apply oil to the skin to cleanse it, it’s actually an ancient Ayurvedic practice, and incredibly effective at drawing dirt and impurities to the surface of the skin. Oils tend to be a little heavier, while the texture of a balm is lighter— almost whipped. Both are great for sensitive or dry skin.

Foaming Cleansers

Foaming cleansers aren’t all bad, and they aren’t all good, either. They are typically suggested for acneic or incredibly oily skin, as the sudsing agents tend to be a bit drying. The foam itself is thought to have a scrubbing effect on the pores, lifting dirt and debris as well as excess sebum. These cleansers can be a Godsend for certain skin types, while leaving others feeling dry, tight, and irritated. It’s important to always pay attention to and listen to your skin’s response.

Gel Cleansers

Obviously, gel cleansers are more dense than foaming cleansers, though they still do provide a bit of a foaming consistency when emulsified on the skin. Sometimes it’s hard to detect the sudsing, but that doesn’t make them any less effective. In fact, gel cleansers are some of the most effective and gentle cleansers on the market at removing makeup without disrupting the skin barrier, so we often recommend them for almost any skin type.

Just because we’ve broken these down, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re assigned to finding the one texture for you and sticking with it for life. Our skin changes, our needs fluctuate, and it’s important to cleanse intuitively. Dr. Durga Sunitha Posina recommends a strong enough cleanser to remove all dirt and makeup without stripping the skin, and sometimes this calls for a double cleanse.

Dr. Posina’s favorite double-cleansing method involves oil. “I usually like double cleansing when moderate to heavy makeup was worn that day. I really recommend cleansing with a muslin cloth, halo pad, or sponge to make sure all excess makeup is off and using a toner especially after oil cleansing to remove any excess.” 

To properly double-cleanse with an oil cleanser and muslin cloth, first apply the oil to dry skin (unrinsed) and massage in circular motions, as to loosen up the dirt and makeup. Then, run your muslin cloth under warm water to dampen it, and remove all the oil, dirt, and makeup. The next step is to pump a few pumps of the oil cleanser directly to a clean corner of the muslin cloth and massage the cloth in circular motions around the face to remove any excess and get a manual exfoliation. Rinse with cool water, pat dry, and follow with a toner.

Here are a few of our favorite cleansers to get the job done beautifully and set your skin up for a healthy glow.

IS CLINICAL - A favorite gel cleanser of aestheticians and dermatologists, it’s both incredibly gentle for every single skin type, as well as effective at deeply cleansing and mildly resurfacing without disrupting the skin barrier.

Vanicream Cleanser - A great drugstore gentle cleanser, Vanicream was formulated without any harsh detergents that dry out or irritate the skin.

La Roche Posay Foaming Cleanser - This cleanser is slightly drying and thus makes it great for oily skin, but doesn’t destroy the skin barrier due to it’s balanced pH.

Tracy Martyn Amla Cleanser - Amla extract is rich in stable Vitamin C, and papaya enzymes gently resurface for smooth, even tone.

Cerave Hydrating Cleanser - Essential ceramides and hyaluronic acid are hydrating and protective, making his a great neutral, gentle cleanser for all skin types.

Skinceuticals LHA Cleanser Gel  - Both exfoliating and moisturizing, this cleanser is perfect for uneven tone, texture, or congested pores.




  1. IS CLINICAL -$44
  2. VaniCream cleanser -$9
  3. La Roche posay foaming cleanser -$15
  4. Cerave Hydrating cleanser - $15
  5. Jan Marini Bioglycolic cleanser -$40
  6. Tracy Martyn Amla cleanser – great for all -$65
  7. Skinceuticals LHA cleanser gel – especially for acne prone skin -$41


  1. Babor cleansing oil & Phyto cleanser combination is my favorite even for $40
  2. Sulwashoo cleansing oil - $40
  3. Clean it zero cleansing balm $19
  4. Elemis cleansing balm $64