how cleansing balms work

What if you could double cleanse in one step? If you’re a regular here, you’ll know I’m not on board with a lot of the skincare trends out there, including those that come to the east. Even when they seem to make a lot of sense or work well, they’re usually created to make you spend money on stuff your skin doesn’t need when a simpler solution would do just as well.

That takes me to double cleansing. Call me lazy, but I can’t be bothered to use an oil-based cleanser to melt away my makeup and follow up with a water-based cleanser to remove the residue the oils left behind. I want it all: a cleanser that removes everything without leaving anything behind. Is that too much to ask?

Enter cleansing balm: they’re the cleansing cheat you’ve all been waiting for. The easiest way to double cleanse in one step. The lazy skincare’s BFF. Here’s how they work and how they double cleanse your skin in just one step:

What Is Double Cleansing?

Double cleansing comes all the way from Korea (well, they do it all over Asia, but the Koreans made it popular in the West). It’s exactly what the name says, you cleanse your skin twice. First, you use an oil-based cleanser to remove oil-based impurities, such as sunscreen, makeup, and excess sebum. Then, you follow up with up with a water-based cleanser to remove water-based impurities and any oiliness from the previous cleanse.

As I said, in theory, it makes sense to use two cleansers. In practice, it’s time-consuming. Expensive. And a total rip-off. A lot of cleansers on the market are perfectly able to remove both oil-based and water-based impurities in one go. Double cleansing experts conveniently forget to tell you this bit of information, so you end up buying two cleansers and making them richer. So what cleansers double cleanse in one step? Cleansing balms are my top picks:

What Are Cleansing Balms?

Cleansing balms are cleansers that use oils and emollients to remove dirt, makeup, and buildup from the day without the need for harsh scrubbing,” says board-certified dermatologist Carmin Castilla. “They are able to cleanse without stripping the skin of its natural oils and damaging your skin barrier.” 

One more thing: cleansing balms are like solid cleansing oils – but they often have a surfactant/emulsifier thrown in the mix. This is the key ingredient that allows them to double cleanse in one step. If I’m not making any sense to you, keep reading for the full explanation.

How Do Cleansing Balms Double Cleanse In One Step?

Oils work because “like attracts like”. The oils in cleansing balms may come in a solid form, but that makes no difference. When you massage them on your skin, they attach to the oils on your makeup and skin and take them on a trip down the drain.

Oils are great at melting away even the most stubborn of impurities. Like waterproof makeup. But as I’m sure you know if you’ve ever tried to wash a greasy pan with water alone, you can’t rinse off oils with water. If you try, they’ll leave a residue behind.

FYI, this residue isn’t bad. On the contrary, it’s pretty moisturising. But not everyone likes that greasy feel on their skin. Besides, some skin types can find oils so moisturizing, they get a breakout. Ugh.

That’s where surfactants/emulsifiers come in. These two families of skincare ingredients have one superpower: they allow water to mix with oils and dirt so they can be rinsed away. Effortlessly. You know what this means? A cleansing balm is an oil-based cleanser AND water-based cleanser in one product. That’s double cleansing in one step!

Related: All You Ever Wanted To Know About The Oil Cleansing Method

Don’t know which skincare products you can mix and match together and which ones deactivate each other? Download your FREE “How To Layer Actives Like A Pro” cheat sheet to get the most out of your skincare products:

How Do You Use Cleansing Balms?

I love using cleansing balms. It’s quick and less messy than using a cleansing oil. First, you massage the cleansing balm on your face to dissolve your makeup and all the other impurities that have settled on it throughout the day. Then, you rinse the balm off with water. Because the balm has surfactants/emulsifiers built in, the cleansing oils end up down the drain together with your makeup and dirt.

What Are The Best Cleansing Balms?

  • Banila Co. Clean It Zero Original Cleansing Balm ($27.00): The first cleansing balm to come from the East, it removes everything without drying out skin. It now comes in several version, but the original is still the best by far. Available at Stylevana, Ulta, and Yes Style.
  • Byoma Melting Balm Cleanser ($15.99): One of the most moisturising cleansing balms out there, it’s loaded with natural oils that effortlessly remove every last trace of makeup and impurities while keeping skin softer and smoother. Available at Byoma, Cult Beauty, Sephora, and Ulta.
  • CeraVe Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm with Jojoba Oil for All Skin Types ($13.99): What sets this apart is the inclusion of ceramides, lipids that strengthen your skin’s protective barrier and keep it soft and smoother while the cleanser removes every impurity from your skin. Available at Ulta.
  • Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm ($29.50/£24.00): A simple, fragrance-free formula that removes makeup and impurities with one go. It moisturises skin, too. Available at Clinique, Look Fantastic, Sephora, and Ulta.
  • Erborian Centella Cleansing Balm ($45.00/£29.00): Loaded with natural oils that cleanse and moisturise skin at the same time. It also has centella asiatica to soothe skin. Available at Erborian, Look Fantastic, Sephora, and Ulta.


Can you use cleansing balms on your eyes?

Yes! Cleansing balms are gentler than other types of cleansers, like foaming cleansers. They effortlessly remove even the most stubborn of waterproof eye makeup without irritating your eyes.

Can you use cleansing balms if you’re not wearing makeup?

Yes, you can. Just because cleansing balm works best at removing waterproof makeup, it doesn’t mean they can’t be used on bare skin. It may be a bit of a waste as a simpler cleanser would work just as well, but if you only have a cleaning balm at hand, go ahead and use it.

Who should use cleansing balms?

All skin types can use cleansing balms but, because of their moisturising properties, they’re most suitable for dry skin.

When should you use cleansing balms?

You can use cleansing balms twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. You’ll get the most of them in the evening, when it’s time to remove your makeup and sunscreen.

The Bottom Line

Cleaning balms are an oil-based cleanser AND water-based cleanser rolled into one. They’re the quickest way to remove your makeup at night – without compromising on results or drying out your skin. If you want to double cleanse in one step, this is the right way to do it. Try it now and thank me later.