Cleansing Oils 101


I remember my first foray into cleansing oils. I was a college student staying with a friend during the summer at her grad student co-op. TSA had lost my bag with all my skincare products so when night time came, my friend shared her products with me and I was immediately drawn to the chic bottle of Shu Uemura Cleansing Beauty Oil. “Wait, what is this? An oil… to cleanse your face?” I asked – keep in mind this was a time before people were putting face oils on their skin much less cleansing with them – “Yes, it’s an oil but trust me, it’s really good and cleans well just try it!” my friend reassured.

To my surprise, the oil felt soothing and not greasy, cleansing and not messy. I became a convert and upon returning to work at Neiman Marcus, I immediately got a bottle for myself.

I imagine this is an experience that many who have discovered cleansing oils may share. Now, it seems that every brand has a cleansing oil and for those of you not acquainted with cleansing oils, I put together this little guide to help.


Cleansing Oils: What are they?

Let’s start at the beginning. Cleansing oils are not new, they’ve been around. In Fiore (who has their own LUSTRA Cleansing Essence) purports that oil cleansing is steeped in practices traced to antiquity, as chronicled in beauty rituals in ancient East Asian, Egyptian, and Greek civilizations.

In modern times, it was first prominently used as a dutiful makeup remover by makeup artists on fashion shoots and for performances. The oils are able to dislodge water-proof makeup including mascara and stains that water-based cleansers have a hard time removing and where strong soap-based cleansers may agitate skin. The oil’s powerful performance in removing makeup yet gentle nature (as only mild gliding on the skin is necessary), resulted in them becoming the go-to medium for makeup removal.

However, in the 90’s and early 00’s, the skincare game was dominated by “oil-free” products and any oil based product brought to mind a product that would be heavy, greasy, and skin-clogging, so cleansing oils remained an industry secret. Micellar Water, a suspension of oils in water was introduced as it was thought to be more easily accepted by the mainstream oil-phobic shopper, despite their performance being a literal watered down version of pure cleansing oils.

Although we now place them in their own category of cleansers, functionally it’s more accurate to class cleansing oils as makeup removers. Cleansing oils dislodge surface level impurities and are great for removing makeup and sunscreen. The oils can also be massaged around bare skin to help dislodge trapped and oxidized sebum on the skin surface, including pore-clogging blackheads.

Can any skin type using cleansing oils?

Yes, with caveats. As I stated before, cleansing oils should be thought of as make-up removers or what some people like to call the “first step cleanser”. It’s not a product that I recommend using as the sole cleansing step because it works on a surface level so you aren’t giving your skin that deeper level of daily cleansing maintenance.

As a first step cleanser/makeup remover, even those with acne prone skin and sensitive skin will benefit because cleansing oils work very gently, are good at removing surface level impurities that can contribute to irritating skin, and the oils do not strip skin which is really ideal for the skin barrier. Bonus: if the oils come from good plant oils, skin receives a wonderful addition of antioxidants and vitamins.

Do follow through with an actual cleanser, which can be a cream or gel, that cleans deeper and you’ve got a great system in place.


What types of cleansing oils are there?

I categorize cleansing oils as those that emulsify with water and those that do not. There is no clear-cut winner because there is a trade-off: purists may prefer straight oil blends that are filled only with the good stuff (see May Lindstrom Pendulum Potion) even if they’re harder to wash off, while the performance-minded may prefer cleansing oils (like One Love Organics Vitamin B Enzyme Cleansing Oil) that have emulsifiers that rinse cleanly.

I prefer cleansing oils that emulsify with water for an easy rinse to make sure no residue is left on my skin. I do not want there to be an excess layer of oils that can block the penetration of essences and serums that follow cleansing. Pure oil blends also require muslin cloth, steaming and/or hot water to wash off, a process that I believe to be too abrasive for daily cleansing that it could actually sensitize skin. With that said, if you have a great 2nd cleanser (I swear by YÜLI Halcyon Cleanser), you can do a casual rinse and follow with your second cleanser to get everything off.

How do you determine if a cleansing oil is good or not?

Always read the ingredients list. I like my cleansing oils to be made from high-quality plant oils, so if I see a cleansing oil made from mineral oil or plant oils that are not organic, it’s a no go. You might as well buy a bottle of organic Sweet Almond Oil or Olive Oil instead.

Also, if you have a preference between emulsifying cleansing oils versus pure cleansing oils, check the ingredients to make sure the product is the type you like by looking for emulsifiers which typically have a non-botanical name. It also helps to read the “how to” to see if things like muslin clothes are required to get an idea of how easy the oil is to rinse.

If you are able to sample the cleansing oil, find an oil that has a nice “bouncy” texture where you can glide it around your skin without it pulling or tugging. That weighty texture also helps nourish skin and is a good indicator that the oils have a larger molecular size so they stay on the skin surface which is good in an oil cleanser as you do not want the oils to sink into your skin.

 

What are your favorites?

Similar to face oils and juicing, for cleansing oils, I will only buy clean formulas made from organic plant oils.

Jose Rosebrook, May Lindstrom, In Fiore oils are where I’d steer you toward if you want a pure oil that does not emulsify. You can’t go wrong with any of their formulas which use high-quality organic plant oils, just play around and see which texture or scent suits you.

Now, onto the emulsifying oils that I prefer to use: the green community long-standing favorite, One Love Organic’s Vitamin B Enzyme Cleansing Oil is one that I’ve tried, loved and repurchased. It’s a nice hefty weight, made from sunflower and papaya seed oil, smells like pina colada, and emulsifies for easy and fuss-free removal.

I’ve purchased Tata Harper’s Nourishing Oil Cleanser which I honestly thought was going to blow all other oil cleansers out of the water but it left me surprisingly disappointed. The oil is great, it smells wonderful, feels fabulous, and even has this ability to soften skin. Where it falls short is how it emulsifies, upon contact with water, the cleanser congeals with the surface impurities (sunscreen and makeup) into a sticky almost rubbery white film on the skin surface that is nearly impossible to rinse off without the help of a cloth and second cleanser that foams. I don’t think this is a case of a product not working with my skin or individual preference, the formula falls short in delivering the cleansing experience because I can’t imagine anyone would find the stubborn rubbery film desirable.

A new release from Kahina Giving Beauty, the Oil Cleanser, is one I’ve been testing for the last two weeks and it’s been an absolutely flawless experience. The oil’s subtle fragrance reminds me of the Kahina Giving Beauty Essaouira Perfume Oil which is one of my favorite oil perfumes (bright, fresh and crisp). I used 3 pumps and it cushioned my skin with soothing sunflower, argan, carrot seed and calendula oils. Although I was done, I kept massaging the oil on my skin as it just felt so good. Upon rinsing off, the entire formula just melted off with water. The packaging is also gorgeous as you get to see the beautiful oils. I’m not going to beat around the bush here, Kahina Giving Beauty’s Oil Cleanser is hands down, my favorite cleansing oil.


If I left anything out or if you have a question about cleansing oils/any of the products I mentioned, please leave a comment!


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The Review: May Lindstrom The Problem Solver

May Lindstrom Beauty Idealist
Do you have Instagram? If you do and you follow green beauty pros then you’ll know what I mean when I say there doesn’t seem to be a single person who has not heard of or tried May Lindstrom’s The Problem Solver. It’s almost an unspoken requirement that to be inducted into the green beauty club, one has a signature Problem Solver #maskselfie.

May Lindstrom’s The Problem Solver is one of her core products that helped start it all. It’s a correcting mask made of powdered clays, salts, warming spices, charcoal, and “soil nutrients”. May calls this her “hero. over-achiever. superstar” and describes it as follows:

The jet-black fusion of antioxidant-rich raw cacao, healing bamboo charcoal, soil nutrients, salts and exotic warming spices goes deep, on a mission to reveal your most radiant self. This intense treatment masque effectively purifies and tightens pores, extinguishes inflammations, fights and heals blemishes, jump-starts circulation in the epidermis and detoxifies skin with delightful ease and power. The radically different powder-to-mousse formula activates on contact with water, only releasing its magic at the exact moment of use so you experience full potency every time.

I had read about how this mask provides for quite an intense, heated experience and I will never forget the first time that I used this mask. When I opened the jar, it felt grand. The hefty, weighty jar seemed like it could go on forever. The powder looked a little like ash or soot and smelled like cacao, spices and clay. I diligently followed the instructions and rejoiced in turning the mask into a jet black fusion. Immediately upon application I felt an initial sting that quickly grew into a burning sensation and my face became frozen in a state of grimace.

5 minutes in, I was sweating. My breathing grew heavy and every second tested my resolve to stick it through. But I was so afraid of seeing lobster-red irritated skin if I washed it off prematurely as I believed that this must be the reason we’re instructed to leave the mask on for 45 minutes. As the mask began to dry, my pain gradually subsided. I thought I was out of the woods. And it was then a single god forsaken drop of sweat dripped into my eyes and I discovered pain on a whole new level. I was now crying while wincing and grimacing simultaneously. 45 minutes could not come soon enough and when it did, I washed with tepid, low flowing water which was all my battered skin could take. The rinse off actually provides exfoliation which is good in theory but horrible when your skin just got destroyed. It took me about 5 minutes to wash my face as I needed to be gentle and also because this mask rinses pretty dirty. I was pleasantly astonished to see that my face wasn’t lobster red after the blistering burn I experienced. However it felt traumatized and I looked like I had just emerged from an all night bender. My pores were blackened which required toner on several cotton rounds to clean. My skin looked sullen, dull, and lifeless.
May Lindstrom Beauty Idealist

If I’m being fully honest, this is the first beauty product I’ve purchased that I’ve seriously thought about returning. Given that this mask costs $90, I was determined to make it useful in some way: trying it on friends, boyfriend, family – no one really took to it. Then I read through online advice provided by May: apply this mask pre-cleansing/showering, or add some honey. But these are all just ways to keep as many things between the mask and your skin as possible, in other words creating barriers from your skin and the mask while still convincing you to use it.

Now let’s figure out why I had this experience. This is the full ingredients list for The Problem Solver:

Fuller’s earth clay, red moroccan rhassoul clay, raw cacao, red alaea sea salt, ascorbic acid,sodium bicarbonate, bamboo carbon charcoal powder, organic vanilla, organic lavender, organic marshmallow root, wild harvested frankincense, organic gotu kola, organic angelica root, organic cinnamon,organic nutmeg, organic clove, organic turmeric, organic cayenne

Baking soda, raw cacao, cinnamon, clove, cayenne pepper. The aforementioned are not my Whole Foods shopping list for my next baking project, they’re what you’re marinating your skin in when you apply The Problem Solver. Cacao is a very popular product that’s antioxidant rich, however it’s kind of like wine – there are great properties but nothing exceptional but people laud it because it’s pleasurable. Baking Soda is something I use to scrub and clean my bathroom, it is also very alkaline which really messes up your skin’s pH and functionality so it is not something that is going to do your skin any favors long term. These are among the first 6 ingredients in the mask.

Then we have the spices, or what Tata Harper and countless other skin experts call sources of irritation and inflammation. Despite being culprits for the intense burning, their skin benefits are arguable yet what is absolutely for certain is that these spices cause inflammation. There was a short lived sitcom starring Michael J. Fox on NBC when I first got this mask where his TV character’s family makes a effort to connect with his zanny sister-in-law who always flocks to the next trendy thing. She makes them all mask together and they all going with it to accept her, and then they get burned and run to wash their skin as she says “there is cayenne pepper! They said it’s dujour!” and that summarizes the nonsensical nature of this mask.

To be fair, I understand everyone’s skin will respond differently. And you might love this mask and have no idea what I’m talking about when I share my experience. The reason I call out these ingredients is because I think they’re objectively bad for anyone’s skin.

And that spells the genius of the May Lindstrom hype machine which has convinced legions of beauty junkies and hopeful customers to not only apply these ingredients that go against one’s intuition but to idolize this time as the most delicate form of sensual self-care. As an industry, beauty is swayed more by a pretty story, visuals or ideas than actual scientific data which is irresponsible because the products we use should be more thoughtfully considered.

MayFB

Via May Lindstrom Facebook Page

Case in point: it wasn’t until May introduced a mask that used cayenne pepper that now multiple green brands also happen to have masks that use cayenne pepper despite this being highly irritating and inflammatory. It wasn’t until May educated us on the benefits of honey for skin in her Honey Mud that multiple green brands now have honey based products, despite it being essentially unviable when any other ingredient touches it. It wasn’t until May made us eye-gasm over the Blue Cocoon’s hue that other companies jumped onto the bandwagon with blue tansy oil despite the fact that with exception to its striking color, I would not use it daily or long term as it is listed as an ingredient to avoid for pregnant women and also those with endocrine or hormonal imbalances, which feels like nearly all the commenters on No More Dirty Looks, and I’ve seen multiple comments online from those who use this saying they can’t use it regularly as it leads to clogged pores and breakouts.

So many blogs will write about the importance of vetting brands while hyping up the very lines they should be questioning. Based on what I’ve researched, I cannot find sufficient evidence that shows whether May herself has any educational background in skincare or dermatology – and if I’m being honest, her title as skin chef doesn’t inspire too much confidence (again beautiful imagery, but WHAT DOES IT MEAN). Green Beauty is rife with passion, but passion and good intentions don’t translate into safe nor beneficial formulas. Given my history with her products, I question how these products are supposed to actually be good for skin (see review on Honey Mud).

Due to my very intense experience that created a very real, physically adverse reaction – I did more research on The Problem Solver in particular to see whether I was the only one. To my surprise, upon closer reading I found a handful of reviews where the bloggers acknowledge the burning but also that upon contacting May, a new jar was sent as a replacement that was free of said irritating ingredients, leading to a glowing review. This isn’t really a question on the validity of the green beauty hype machine, but rather at what point the review becomes entirely inconsequential as the product reviewed is essentially a custom-made product that is going to be different from the one that readers are being convinced to purchase? I know May is kind and gracious, but I think it is misleading to assume that your Problem Solver, will match an influential blogger’s custom made version.

May Lindstrom Beauty Idealist

This might come off preachy and judgy but I assure you it isn’t my goal – because I’m just as guilty of slathering on the said bathroom grade solvent+spices on my skin when they’re gorgeously packaged in dense black glass and gold lettering. My hope is to have this serve as a wake-up call to truly and actually reclaim your independence and trust your intuition. It’s an exercise in being active about what you put on your face rather than passively streaming in the messages you are bombarded with when you go onto social media from retailers, bloggers, brands and beauty sites. I know that May did the level of work and research that satisfied her and her retailers/customers, but I also know that the way she makes products and her choices of ingredients (& those other lines that mimic her) are just not aligned with my ideals.

If I were to summarize the line it would be this: I think May’s objective and success is that she formulates for that sensory experience. Creating products with aromatic richness or vibrant hues that are instantly photo-friendly and incredibly easy for editors to feature as they’re more concerned with marketable copies while only requiring a superficial understanding of the actual skincare. The priority then isn’t necessarily focused on ingredients that are especially great for the skin which opposes what I believe the goal should be for skincare products. This doesn’t mean in my book she can’t do anything right, it just means I’ll have to be diligent in examining future products in a vacuum away from the hype machine.

So tell me: have you had a similar experience to share or am I being too harsh? 

The Winter Rose: Favorite Face Serums with Rose

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This was going to be a huge transition to cold-weather post but as I started thinking of products, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share something that I think everyone should indulge in for winter, a face serum/oil, specifically one that is gorgeously dressed with notes of rose. I love face oils, they’re so concentrated nature means that each blend carries a distinct scent. I can almost instantly recall each oil I smell in a blind test. Each time I encounter a rose scented blend, my heart skips a beat. The Queen of Flowers carries a regal air and there is just something luxurious and decadent about the rose that communicates indulgence for the skin. Not only that, but rose oil is very beneficial for skin. Here are a few of its uses:

  • Great at soothing irritated or sensitive skin
  • Anti-inflammatory benefits that reduce redness and inflammation that can cause harm to skin
  • Delivers intense moisturizing properties as the small molecules can penetrate deeper into skin
  • Eliminates harmful bacteria and impurities
  • Antioxidant rich to protect skin and provide anti-aging benefits
  • Stimulate regeneration and healing of aged and damaged tissue
  • Energizes on a cellular level
  • Has the highest vibration energy frequency of any essential oil
  • The aromatherapy has been shown to treat depression and boost a feeling of happiness

What better treat for skin and what better indulgence for the winter? The following are a few of my favorites.

MUN No.1 Aknari Nighttime Dream Youth Serum

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Prickly Pear Seed Oil, Argan Oil, & Moroccan Rose Oil. This Moroccon sourced blend might have 3 ingredients, but they each deliver confident results and a subtle, refined fragrance. Prickly Pear and Argan are both very faint oils, Argan can smell a little nutty but it does not have a dominant profile, Prickly Pear only has a slightly richer scent almost like an eraser, which allows the Moroccon Rose to shine. A pure and fragrant essential oil that defines the scent profile of this trio. The scent is luxurious, calming, and sophisticated, lingering for just the right amount of time before dispersing.

Ila Face Oil For Glowing Skin (Click here for a  full review)

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There are products for people who like rose, and then there are products for the rose obsessed- this will delight the latter for sure. I described the scent in my previous review as “a hundred roses and their leaves and branches, other times its cloying overpowering nature just knocks me out“. Which should either excite you or illicit fear depending on how you feel about using fragrant products on your face. This isn’t for the conservative or shy, but rather for those looking for a bold and glorious rose statement. A hint: if all your candles are rose and your perfumes are rose, you will probably want to add this to your collection.

May Lindstrom The Youth Dew (Full review coming soon)

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May Lindstrom’s The Youth Dew has a less straight forward but still powerful rose scent with dominant notes from the Rose Absolute, Rose Geranium, and Bulgarian Rose essential oils. Unlike the aforementioned serums, this beautiful scent is more complex and evolving. I would describe the fragrance almost like a mix between rose and fruit roll-up (I mean that in the best way). Not that fruit roll-ups are known for their fragrance but there is a distinct sweet fruity scent (anyone else want to back me up on this?) about this oil that brings me back to the joys of unwrapping the candied treats in elementary school. What is really interesting about the scent is that each time I think I can pinpoint it, I discover something new and it is never like how I remembered it. This is what I find so fascinating and addictive.

YULI Modern Alchemist

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YULI’s Modern Alchemist captures an evocative and intricate blend with a distinct top note of Bulgarian Rose. Its expansive, aqueous Rose floral note gives a faint glimpse of nectar-like sweetness, which is then undercut by hints of fresh, light green notes including Green Tea to form a delicate, balancing act that is both luxurious and decadent without being cloying or overbearing. A testament to their fresh sourcing and production philosophy, somehow utilizing just one rose ingredient, the ode to rose is astounding in detail, encapsulating the entirety of the fresh rose: petals, nectar, stem, and all. This captivating fragrance profile is much like the brand: unique and subtle but endlessly intriguing and demanding of attention.

The best part of this list is that all the products use a natural rose essence which is very expensive and rare. This stuff is leagues better than the synthetics in many perfumes as it contains the full bodied aromatic profile of the rose and nutritional benefits.

Have you tried any of the aforementioned serums? What are your favorite scents?

May Lindstrom: The Clean Dirt

Happy 2013 everybody! It is fitting that I start off the blog with a review of one of my favorite beauty brands: May Lindstrom Skin. I admit and am okay with the fact that a lot of the time with skincare brands, the message is very important to me and I can say of all the brands sold at Spirit Beauty Lounge, her entry was the one that got me most excited.

May Lindstrom is a model who has developed a line of 4 products: The Clean Dirt, The Problem Solver, The Youth Dew, and The Good Stuff. The Clean Dirt is her answer to a cleanser and after reading rave reviews from green beauties including Spirit Demerson herself who calls this her favorite facial cleanser, I knew I had to get my hands on this product!
 

The Clean Dirt comes in a miron glass bottle with a chic label strip at the bottom. The bottle is 6.76 oz/ 200 ml (question: do powders fall under the 3oz limit with the TSA?), and is topped with a cap. The cleanser comes as a powder which is a first for me as I’m not that used to products I have to mix. It reminds me a little of the wasabi powder that you add water to turn into a paste, which I just can’t ever seem to mix right and always ends up being over watered. 

The powder is made of clays, salts, and spices which claim to encourage blood flow and increase cell turnover for soft, refined skin.

I used a dropper to add water since I didn’t want to overdo it and have product go to waste, and I highly recommend this application method so you can control the consistency. Upon adding water, you notice immediately that it foams and becomes moussey in texture with some grittiness. This is a very cool effect that also helps the paste apply easily. 

Upon application, I immediately felt a warm tingling sensation. It smelled really delicious and reminded me of cinnamon cookie dough, due to the spices. Upon washing off, I noticed my skin did indeed feel cleaner and fresher. I do not think congestion will be an issue for people who use this cleanser as its drying power really does suction out a lot of the stuff inside pores. 

With that said, I have to say, I cannot use this daily. The description for this product online says it’s a daily exfoliating/microdermabrasion for your skin but I feel it is a little too rough. The grittiness of the paste mixed with the spices left my skin fragile and resulted in redness along my forehead and dry patches along my cheeks. I think it is too active for sensitive skin due to the spices (spices are a key irritant in a lot of skincare preparations, which is why I’m a little surprised that there are so many spices in this ‘daily’ cleanser), and the scrub texture. I think I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of physicial exfoliators and my reason is that it tends to be too much, our skin just doesn’t need that much ‘abrasion’ and it can actually tear delicate skin. Using this, I really feel like I had to stock up on repairing balms and increase the dosage of facial oils to make my skin not feel so raw. 

The Clean Dirts ingredient list is as follows:

white halloysite clay,
red moroccan rhassoul clay, 
red alaea sea salt, 
ascorbic acid (vitamin c), 
sodium bicarbonate, 
althaea officinalis (marshmallow) root*,
rosa centifolia (pink rose)*, 
calendula officinalis (calendula) flower*, 
cinnamomum zeylanicum (cinnamon)*, 
myristica fragans (nutmeg)*, 
syzygium aromaticum (clove)*, 
curcuma longa (turmeric)*, 
zingiber officinale (ginger)*, 
vanilla planifolia bean*, 
theobroma cacao (raw cacao)**. 

There are just so many spices in here! I wish May would have cut back a bit and added a few more soothing ingredients along with the Pink Rose, Calendula, and Mashmallow Root because the scrubby texture is enough ‘action’ for most skin types. 

Overall, I’m a little confused by the May Lindstrom girl. Whereas Tata Harper is better suited for those with normal-dry skin, I feel like no consumer can use just May Lindstrom products because the 4 products are for different people. The Clean Dirt Cleanser is for those who do not have sensitive skin and perhaps those who have oilier complexions. The Problem Solver Mask is definitely not for those with sensitive skin and is for those who are blemish prone. The Youth Dew on the other hand is really a heavier facial oil that is better suited for dry skin, while The Good Stuff Body Oil is suitable for any skin type. The thing is, when I use key products by Tata, Kahina, Intelligent Nutrients, & YULI, I can imagine what kind of skin type the founders have by the products they use and then figure out which products in their line would work for me by comparison, I can’t figure out if May Lindstrom has extremely combination skin or if her products are truly a little extreme.

All said, The Clean Dirt feels like the most fun you can have with skincare. The foaming action, the tingling sensation all feel like a creative science experiment only you’re applying it to your face. I actually look forward to using this product because I like watching the powder fizz and the scent is amazing. For a clean product, this is very imaginative and has given me interest in raw powder products that previously I would not have tried. I just wish they would dial it back a bit and maybe create something more calming and healing for people with sensitive skin. 

Available at Spirit Beauty Lounge for $60