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NOW READING Taking It Off 101: All the Different Types of Cleansers & How to Use Them
July 24, 2019

Taking It Off 101: All the Different Types of Cleansers & How to Use Them

Oil cleansers, cleansing balms, cleansing sticks — help! What’s what, how to use them, and which to use in your routine.


What do I think is the most important skincare step besides sunscreen? Well, cleansing sets the foundation for pretty much every single facet of skin health. If you’re face isn’t cleaned properly, dead skin, oil, and bacteria can build up, causing dullness and acne. If you aren’t removing your makeup, the silicone that’s in a wide variety of primers and foundations can build up on the skin and cause acne. And sunscreen? Yes, you gotta remove that properly, too. Also, there’s that whole thing with pH — a cleanser with a too-high pH can damage your moisture barrier, causing dryness, irritation, tightness, and you guessed it, acne.


But where do we start with cleansing? There are dozens of different types of cleansers. Some people prefer a cleansing balm-gel cleanser combo. There are some people who are a cleansing oil-cream cleanser type. Is there a right or a wrong way to go? Allow me to get into all the details.




First step cleansers


The cleansers in this category are used to remove makeup, sunscreen, pollution, sweat, dirt, and debris. They are the foundation for an excellent skincare routine.


Oil cleansers


Oil cleansers are a liquid, oil-based cleanser that is designed to be used as the first step in any skincare routine. They are designed to remove makeup, sunscreen, dirt, and debris. To use, apply on dry skin, then add water to emulsify. Rinse clean.


Pros: Simple to use, extremely effective at removing all traces of makeup, dirt, and sunscreen.


Cons: Can be a bit messy, can drip all over the sink and down your arms, aren’t the most travel-friendly.


My faves: Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil, Koelcia Lime Coke Cleansing Oil


morning cleanse cleansers


Cleansing balms


Cleansing balms are the solid form of oil cleansers. They do the same thing as oil cleansers and work the exact same way. Apply and massage onto dry skin, wet hands and massage to emulsify the product. Rinse clean.


Pros: Extremely easy to use, less messy than oil cleansers, very travel-friendly.


Cons: I personally love cleansing balms and can’t really find anything wrong with them. My favorite way to remove makeup!


My faves: Banila Co Clean it Zero, Su:m37 Cleansing Balm




Cleansing waters


Cleansing waters are similar to micellar water. They are touted as a gentle yet effective way to remove makeup and debris at the end of the day, as well as a gentle cleanse in the AM. They are marketed towards those with more sensitive skin.


Pros: Excellent way to cleanse skin in the morning without stripping the skin.


Cons: Are not as effective as cleansing oils and balms, have to use with cotton pads.


My faves: Innisfree Rebalancing Cleansing Water, Keep Cool Soothe Phyto Shower Cleansing Water



Makeup removing wipes


Makeup removing wipes are cleansing wipes meant to be used as a first step of makeup removal. They are typically cotton or cotton blend wipes saturated in a cleansing oil type solution.


Pros: Extremely convenient, can toss in a bag for travel.


Cons: In my opinion, makeup wipes are the least effective form of makeup removal, especially if you wear heavy makeup.


My faves: I am not a fan of makeup wipes! I haven’t used one in years.




Point makeup remover


Point makeup remover is makeup remover for the waterproof makeup worn on the lips and eyes. It’s typically an oil suspended in a type of water that you have to shake up before use. If you wear super waterproof eye or lip makeup that doesn’t come off with a regular oil cleanser, you might want to use a point makeup remover first, then go in with an oil cleanser.


Pros: Excellent way to remove super stubborn, waterproof eye makeup and lipstick


Cons: Can sting the eyes


My faves: Innisfree Apple Seed Lip & Eye Remover. It’s the only one that matters IMO.



Second step cleansers


All of the cleansers in this category are meant to be used after your first step cleanser, or alone in the morning.


Foaming cleansers


Foaming cleansers are used as that quintessential second step cleanser. They are characterized by their foaming capabilities. For some (aka me), a nice, good, lathery foam is one of the highlights of life — although that foam can come at a cost, aka a high pH.


Pros: Easily found in drugstores, wide variety, travel well


Cons: Can be high pH, which can strip and damage the moisture barrier and can be drying. Make sure to pH test your foaming cleansers!


My faves: Klairs Rich Moist Foaming Cleanser, Sulwhasoo Snowise EX Brightening Cleansing Foam



Gel cleansers


Gel cleansers are the more gentle form of cleansing foams. They are clear or have a gel texture and are typically marketed as the low pH option, although that may not always be the case. They are a great option for all skin types.


Pros: Gentle, effective, excellent for all skin types


Cons: Can still be a bit drying for those with dry skin


My faves: COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser, Innisfree Trouble Bija Cleansing Gel



Cream cleansers


Cream cleansers are perfect for dry skin. They are rich, super hydrating, and tend to not foam like gel and foaming cleaners. They are also great to use the morning if you want a gentle cleanse without drying out your skin.


Pros: Excellent choice for those with dry skin, nice to use in the morning as well


Cons: Might be too rich for those with oily, combination, or acne-prone skin


My fave: Hanyul Pure Artemisia Cleansing Cream




Cleansing sticks


Cleansing sticks are basically bar soap in a convenient stick or tube package. They are an excellent choice for people on the go and are just as effective as your standard foaming cleanser.


Pros: Excellent for travel, can be taken on a carry-on, super easy to use


Cons: Since it’s a type of foaming cleanser, can be drying


My faves: I mean, is there anything more iconic than the now-discontinued Su:m37 Rose Cleansing Stick? The stick became SO popular that they basically had to discontinue it because they couldn’t keep up with the rose production. RIP.



What is your favorite type of cleansing combo? Let me know in the comments!



Sheryll Donerson got her start as a beauty writer by writing K-beauty reviews for her blog, The Wanderlust Project. These days, she's lifting heavy weights, eating tacos, drinking (too much) coffee and is 1/4 of the beauty podcast, Beauty Beyond Basics (or Triple Bees for short). You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @sheryllrenata.




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This is an amazingly educational as well as entertaining article! As a woman who has randomly asked if her girl card will be revoked for that, I needed this knowledge in my library!! Thank you lovely!! 💞🌸