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 Cleansing Game Changers

One of the first posts I wrote on here was about how my search for the elusive “perfect” cleanser led me on the journey toward becoming the skin care aficionado that I’ve become today. Although my heart (and bank account) skips a beat for the next new serum, the purest of oils or the dreamiest of lotions; I find myself most moved by the power of a good cleanser.

Cleansing is one of the trickiest things to get right as effective can often mean drying, while hydrating cleansers may well cause clogged pores and more build-up. And while we all have our philosophy for what cleansing regimen works (Oil Cleanse, 4-2-4 In Fiore, Powder formulas, etc), the truth is that most cleansers are made to excel in only certain areas.

Consider the following as a comprehensive cheat sheet for the best of the best broken down by type.

Beauty Idealist Cleansers

Cleansing Oils & Balms

Some prefer to leave the two in their own category but ultimately when a balm is heated upon contact with skin, it becomes an oil so at the end you’re still oil cleansing. Oil Cleansing is extremely popular within the green beauty world and outside of it, is regarded more as a make-up remover. In fact, oils work under the principal of pulling water-resistant sunscreen and make-up off of skin by bonding with the oil bases in those products. This makes them particularly effective as a night-time cleanse. However, the cleansing is rather superficial and further cleansing is necessary for skin to work its best so even if you’re one of those “oil and done” types – try to add in a second cleanser at least twice a week to truly get rid of all the bad stuff.

Tatcha Camellia Cleansing Oil: gentle, subtle and a sight to behold, this cleansing oil is light yet substantial when it comes into contact with make-up. The emulsifying ingredients mean this oil rinses clean after it has done its job, leaving your skin surface clear and free of residue. (Mini Review Here)

de Mamiel Restorative Cleansing Balm: Everything about this balm is nirvana from the oh-so-soft buttery texture that melts into skin to the most beautiful of aromas – if you are searching for a cleansing balm, this needs to be at the top of that list. This is a balm I apply and will just sit, massage and enjoy while watching ‘scopes or catching up on tv. Although emulsifier is included in the rich-formula, I still recommend cloth removal to make sure everything is rinsed off.

Elizabeth Dehn for One Love Organics Vitamin B Enzyme Cleansing Oil Makeup Remover: Well… this is quite a mouthful of a name isn’t it? But it’s easy to see why Green Beauty fans the world over are so in love with this oil: it’s green, it’s effective and it feels great! Again – this oil will emulsify upon contact with water which means my 3 favorite best in class oil based cleansers all emulsify with water and that is no coincidence. I’d say the very fact that this oil contains an emulsifier elevates it ahead of the green beauty pack because the worst thing is to be left with oily residue from your cleanser – giving your 2nd cleanser more work to do. (Review Here)

Cleansing Milks & Creams

These are kind of hybrid that usually contain oils/waxes yet also surfactants (a.k.a the things that act as detergents). I recommend milks and creams for those with very dry and sensitive skin. The cleansing power is middle of the pack but it likely will not cause your skin to freak out either.

In Fiore Treate: A very gentle cleanser described as a “floral milk,” this cleanser contains both water based ingredients and oils. The texture is very light and creamy. It can be applied onto wet or dry skin depending on how lazy you are how you feel. It seems to work better in removing make-up on a drier surface while the wetter version feels better afterward as though dilution with water makes it gentler yet more thorough. The floral jasmine smell is actually very subtle for an In Fiore product where the rest of the line of facial care products smell positively like perfume oils.

Kahina Giving Beauty Facial Cleanser: I originally sampled a travel version of this cleanser and fell in love with it. I finished it up in under 1 week which meant the 200 ml bottle was destined for a spot on my beauty shelf. If I had to choose between Kahina or In Fiore’s cream cleansers, I’d pick this one: it’s more economic (lower price and larger size!) and I felt like the cream held together longer whereas the In Fiore would start to separate as I was within weeks of finishing it. This cleanser contains what I consider to be the most subtle fragrance of all cleansers on this list yet it isn’t boring, it’s a very light fragrance that gives it a sophisticated feel.

Aurelia Miracle Cleanser: Alright so I can’t talk about the cream cleansers without mentioning this one right? It was pretty much THE product of 2014 that catapulted Aurelia onto the scene. As far as polish goes, this contains bells and whistles, as I originally reviewed. Yet a year removed, I have to say I find myself opting for either In Fiore or Kahina when I want a cream cleanse and when I want to indulge in a massage, it’s de Mamial’s balm (above).

Cleansing Powder 

These are for the “my skin feels dull and congested, please just shed!” moments where purposeful exfoliation is necessary. While some powders can have a rough and abrasive texture, the two I recommend manage to get the job done without irritating skin.

Tatcha Polished Rice Enzyme Powder: Someone once told me they purchased this from Sephora because it was the only product to have all 5 star reviews and I don’t find that hard to believe. Tatcha’s Polished Rice Enzyme Powders somehow get that layer of dead skin cells off without making skin feel like it just went through a thorough exfoliation. There are four comfort levels for each skin type (Classic, Dry, Sensitive and Oily). Sensitive is seriously gentle and feels like rubbing a creamy pillow onto skin, yet when you’re done you’ll notice the effect of the exfoliation all the same. Oily is serious business, blackheads and congested pores along the nose are no match – two uses for me was all it took. (Mini Review)

de Mamiel Brightening Cleanse & Exfoliate: Okay, I want to live in the de Mamiel studio because all of her products smell like bottled happiness. Although this too is a powder, the scent will stay with you after you turn this into a paste- and that is not a bad thing! Consider this a gentler version of May Lindstrom’s Clean Dirt only instead of spices, you get roses, chamomile and calendula. The powder can be used alone a la Clean Dirt, and it’s also suggested to mix in with a cleanser which I’ve done as well. I prefer using it alone because the ingredients are so good that I don’t want to dilute it.

Cleansing Gels

These are the performance powerhouses that go deep to penetrate skin. They’re sometimes referred to as the 2nd cleanse in green beauty but I think they should really be thought of as the cleansing step after make-up removal. Cleansing gels are all about performance so they’re not going to coat your skin in residue but they also won’t leave your skin with the “I just lotioned myself” feeling after which for some can feel unnatural. A good formula is one that does not have soaps, alcohols, sulfates as these are the culprits that dry out skin and mess up skin’s pH. Look for low to non foaming gels with good slip for best results.

Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip: This is an odd one – I originally found much to be loved yet when I continued using it I found daily use made my skin pretty flustered as I soon developed dry patches and break outs. This one earns a spot though because it’s great as a strong cleanser when your skin is misbehaving due to its seriously powerful mix of clays and anti-microbial plants. But when everything is good with your skin – leave it sitting on the beauty shelf, it looks good there anyway.

Grown Alchemist Gel Facial Cleanser: This cleanser perhaps comes closest to my former cleanser holy grail Ren’s Rose Centifolia Cleanser before they got bought out and the formula completely changed! Although the existence of citrus oils isn’t that great for day use, I still quite love this for its gentleness and the subtle plant fragrance. The inclusion of rose and aloe vera makes it very gentle on the skin.

YULI Halcyon: The only green cleanser to make it into this category, and no small feat either given the seriously advanced high-tech ingredients required to pull this off. My original review of this cleanser led to it being one of the most discussed products EVER on this site. As a cleanser, this is beautiful: intelligent ingredients that are gentle on skin, boost the moisture barrier and manage to give it a clean almost ‘nude’ relaxing feeling; as a beauty product, this is genius: a green formula featuring cleansing action through peptides (!!) and “hybridized fruit enzymes” do the heavy lifting. As an admitted beauty junkie – I  live for discovering new products, however this is the cleanser I keep coming back to and each time I’m reminded why I won’t be without it.

Hopefully I’ve covered the cleansers you love or are curious about – please share any cleansers you think would be great to add to this list. One thing is for certain and that is that whatever type of cleanser you like, there is a truly best in class green option available – what an achievement!

Elizabeth Dehn for One Love Organics Cleansing Oil & Body Oil Review

A tropical pineapple during the middle of winter? I know – how unseasonal! My first foray into the capsule collaboration between beauty blogger Elizabeth Dehn of BeautyBets and One Love Organics occurred this Fall during an extra special promotion that allowed me to dive in at once with the Vitamin B Enzyme Cleansing Oil/Makeup Remover and the Vitamin C Body Oil, as well as their Vitamin D Moisture Mist which will be for another review.

At this point you’ve probably read all the reviews describing these two oils as tropical paradise and I will add to this – regardless of whether it’s a pina colada scent or coconut-papaya the fragrance of these two oils is pure delight. I personally did not find it to be too fragrant or too sweet, just fun and effortless.

The Vitamin B Enzyme Cleansing Oil and Makeup Remover earns a lot of praise (a favorite of maaaaanny beauty bloggers) and I have to say I totally get it. Cleansing oils perform when it comes to removing make-up and sunscreen because the often times waterproof formulas are binded with oils for long lasting wear. Cleansing oils (and balms) are able to break down the oils thus the stubborn makeup and products we layer on our skin everyday. This cleansing oil has a couple more things going for it compared to others:

1. The fantastic, natural ingredients. Often times you fall in love with a cleansing oil and then read the instructions only to be disappointed by the fact that the good plant oils are either not there or pretty far down the list. Not this – good, natural plant oils like Sunflower Seed base, pumpkin and papaya oils power the formula. These ingredients are not only high quality, they’re also entirely beneficial for skin so feel free to massage it around a bit before you wash off.

2. Emulsifiers. Green cleansing oils often are just oils that must be removed with a warm washcloth. Want something that can be washed off more cleanly? Try Tatcha or Boscia… but then be prepared for some iffy ingredients, well no more! This one has an emulsifier that allows it to more easily rinse off with water. So gone are the days of smoothing the make-up off only to be left with residue that is equally hard to remove.

While I’ll still follow this with a cleanser to get into my skin for a deeper clean,  I appreciate this as a first cleanse (aka makeup remover) and feel it does the job extremely well. I really don’t see too much other competition out there for this cleansing oil so I’m definitely going to recommend this to anyone looking for an oil to remove makeup/sunscreen that is green and yet easy to wash off.

The Vitamin C Body Oil is a bit of a misnomer in my opinion. One of the top ingredients is actually Shea butter, which renders the texture a bit on the thicker side of body oils. The first time I used it, I was surprised to see the mixed texture being pumped out. What this means is this Body Oil is serious about moisture. A potential drawback is that it’s definitely on the heavy side so I tend to mix this up but applying it to the parts that need heavy duty (elbows!) Sometimes when I really just need to indulge my skin and wrap it in moisture, this is a full body treatment but other times it can just feel too heavy and a bit much especially if I need to go into bed right away or go out.

This Body Oil is said to firm and brightens skin which I’m not sure if I experienced but to be honest, it’s harder to determine if my elbows or lower legs have become firmer or brightened – I can definitely say they feel great and smooth, never dry!

Both products come in pretty generous 4 fl oz pump bottles and I love the Elizabeth Dehn for One Love Organics label. I think the cleansing oil is a must-have product, best in its category and at $38 there is probably no excuse not to put it on your purchase list. The body oil didn’t hit it out of the ballpark as much but it is still a good product, and if you have dry skin and are looking for something heavy, this will be the product you’re looking for, at $58 it’s a bit more costly though a pretty good deal for the size.

This collection can be purchased from:
One Love Organics
Cap Beauty

Sunday Pampering Routine

Sunday is usually the day I spend longest on my skin. I like to think of it as the opportunity to rest and repair from the previous week, and then get my skin ready for the coming week. 


The first step is I usually do a gently moisturizing but deeply cleansing routine. To do the trick, I prefer using a balm. My current favorite is the Skin Savior Multi Balm from One Love Organics ($68) which is a waterless balm that cleanses, moisturizes, and conditions the skin. I love it because the plant oils and butters really get the extra oils and grime that accumulates throughout the week so when I rinse off with a muslin cloth, my face feels really soft and light. The formula is really rich and dry skin will love this especially during the winter while those with oily skin will appreciate the pore-clearing effects of the plant oils (like attracts like in this case). With skin clear and ready for more pampering my next step..

I use the Metamorphic Elixir from YULI ($50) which delivers the extra pampering and conditioning my skin is looking for between the skin-plumping moisture binding hyaluronic acid, soothing anti-aging Eternal Rose complex that infuses 3 different kinds of rose extractions, and the rich natural antioxidant retinols that repair and renew skin. This just feels comforting as skin becomes soft and plump while it is primed for treatment from a powerful mask..

If I’m in the mood for some exfoliation, I turn to Tammy Fender’s Epi-Peel ($80), which is a balancing, invigorating scrub/peel that will clear all of your pores and get rid of dead skin and debris that have accumulated on your face. What is really amazing is that there is no stinging or redness but my skin felt clarified and looked glowing when I washed off the mask. I wouldn’t ever go back to abrasive chemical peels after this. If I’m more in the mood for a pore refining antioxidant kick though, I turn to:

Kahina’s Antioxidant Mask ($62), which I have reviewed here. The clay mask boasts a healthy dose of antioxidants from the vitamin e rich Argan Oil and a lot of other high-quality botanicals such as Pomegranate, Rosemary, and Acai. It is a soft, gentle mask that actively clears out the pores and draws out cloggers which leaves my skin with a minty, clean feeling but never stripped. 

I give the mask about 20-30 minutes to do their thing, after which, I gently rinse with warm water. Then I reapply the Elixir to ready my skin for the onslaught of nutrients to my now fresh, clean, blank slate:

Then I slather on the antioxidant cocktail known as Liquid Courage from YULI ($125) which gives me a potent dose of antioxidants between the powerhouse of odorless bioferment of black garlic, acai derived Ferulic acid, peptides, and an antioxidant seed complex. There is something about this liquid that manages to just fix everything wrong with skin, if I put it on at night before bed, my skin always seems tighter and brighter in the morning like the lighting is just hitting your face perfectly the next day, it is like photoshop in a bottle, thats how good the repairitive effects of the product are. So once I quench my tired skin with this baby, I diligently apply..

Kahina Eye Serum ($78) – one of my favorite eye products that I’ve rediscovered. It’s lighter than the eye cream and perfect for those of us who are more concerned with preventing the signs of aging. I find that tired eyes that tend to have dark circles, some puffiness, and overall fatigue are healed. Unlike some eye products that can make the eye area tight and taut or dried out to remove puffiness, this hydrates my under eye area and makes it feel really rejuvenated. 

After I’m done applying the eye serum, the Liquid Courage would already sink into my hungry skin. So now that I have put in all the good nutrients and skin food for my skin, I focus on hydration

For the last step of my weekly pampering routine, I massage my skin with some Antioxidant Creme $95 which is the epitome of a solid moisturizer, described as a “multi-vitamin in a jar”. Oily skin types will love the quick sinking, light-weight of the moisturizer while dehydrated skin will appreciate the truly moisturizing benefits of this product that seemed to make my skin supple and build up the moisture barrier. Your skin won’t have an oily shine nor dry patches, it’ll just look primed and ready for the week.