Cleansing is, in my opinion, the most important and transformative part of your skincare routine and the thing I value above all others in the skincare hierarchy. If you don’t clean the pollution, makeup, grime and oil from your skin gently but thoroughly, it doesn’t matter what you put on next, you’re wasting your time, frankly.
I should know, I’ve been there – using wipes and then slapping on expensive moisturiser and patting myself on the back like the fool I was!
Cleansing properly will make your skin brighter, smoother, healthier looking and help anything you put on next penetrate easier. It’s much more important than moisturiser, contrary to popular belief.
My cleanser of choice is the balm cleanser, though I also like milks and creams. Never wipes.
Cleansing balms are solid or firm in the tub or tube, then liquefy into a more oily substance when rubbed between fingers, palms or massaged on to a dry face. They’re generally then removed, as most cleansers should be if you want the best results, by a hot cloth – muslin, flannel, washcloth, towel – t-shirt if you can’t find any of those (I’ve been there and it was clean!). Whatever you like. There are some that will rinse away perfectly without need for a hot cloth once you’ve added water and emulsified them and many prefer them for ease, or sensitivity avoidance.
Balms are, as a rule, the best cleansers for dry skins but most are great for all skin types, particularly during the winter months.
They’re very thorough and seamlessly and efficiently shift all traces of makeup, in theory this includes waterproof mascara but they’re a bit hit and miss in that respect I’ve found, in the sense that some sting the eyes.
They’re economical, last ages and cause no spillage so are good for packing and travelling. They’re also a lovely gift. The perfect skincare gift, in fact.
As you can tell, I’m a big fan. That being said, I don’t like to waste them on makeup removal as they’re much too nice so I often prefer to double cleanse when using a balm so I’m not draining gorgeous product with rinsing it down the sink immediately.
Instead, I first remove the makeup, or at least the bulk of it, with a cleansing cream, milk, lotion, oil or no frills balm (or less expensive balm) and then apply the lovely balm to makeup free skin and massage it in for as long as I can. Many facialists advise massaging or at least leaving a nice balm on the skin for twenty mins or so before removing so that the beneficial skincare ingredients can be absorbed. You can do it while you watch TV or browse Instagram. Your skin will reap the benefits.
Many of these are quite expensive but I consider these more of a skincare treatment than makeup removers so think they’re a wise investment. If it’s just a makeup remover I’m buying, I’ll go cheap and cheerful (I’ll post my favourites soon) as it’s on and off the skin in seconds and is literally just there to dissolve the products and drain away down the plug hole but a good cleansing balm will hydrate, exfoliate, soften and soothe my skin.
I’ve tested almost every single one on the market and will review twenty in a three part feature.
The magnificent seven below are the first up;
Without further ado, let Round One of The Battle of the Balms commence!
Eve Lom Cleansing Balm £85
Where better to start than with the most iconic cleansing product on the market, the first ever balm cleanser, the one that started the hot cloth cleansing revolution (yes, Eve not Liz, despite the misconception that Ms. Earle invented the hot cloth cleanser!) and the one Vogue describe as the ‘best in the world’.
Big claims… but millions agree, buying it in droves and making it the biggest selling cleanser for 15 years straight.
I first encountered this green tinged waxy balm as teenager raiding my mum’s stash (she was weirdly and unfathomably supportive of this act, positively encouraging it) and didn’t love it, preferring to use body shop strawberry bath gel on my face(?!) but since I’m now (sadly) older and (gladly!) wiser I was excited to give this another road test.
It’s supposed to cleanse, tone, and exfoliate by using a “powerful blend of Egyptian chamomile, hops, clove, and eucalyptus oil together with cocoa butter.”
I’m anticipating that the ingredient list is not going to appeal to many skincare enthusiasts, because of the inclusion of the much-vilified mineral oil, some of the natural oils included (like clove), and having five different paraben-based preservatives in it.
I’ll discuss parabens with a doctor and scientist in another article but I’ll briefly give some thoughts on mineral oil here…
Mineral Oil is essentially a very inexpensive by-product of the distillation of petroleum. It is a transparent, colourless oil related to petroleum jelly – Vaseline, to most of us! The version that you find in skincare is actually highly refined and purified, but has a dreadful reputation, because it is known to clog pores and break people out. Though from comparing different mineral oil based products, it is clear to me that all mineral oil is not made equal and the mineral oil in cheap products causes me problems where this doesn’t. I’d still rather it wasn’t included.
In the effort of fairness I must point out that even though this product has mineral oil in it, you do wash it off. There are about a million leave on beauty products choc-full of mineral oil that get fantastic results and reviews so I’m not too bothered by a wash off one. I do however think it’s extremely stingy of the company to use mineral oil in a product in this price-bracket when there are so many alternatives available and the consumer definitely deserves more.
Right, moving on…
I’m not a massive fan of the scent, (and I am very tolerant of scent in general) but some people seem to really enjoy it. It’s half herbal and half medicinal to my nose. It’s not unpleasant, but it doesn’t induce instant happiness or relaxation like many of the others I’ve tested.
Eve Lom instructs you to massage the waxy consistency cleanser onto face and neck, then soak the muslin cloth in hot water, press the cloth against the neck for a few seconds–and repeat up to three times–before working the muslin cloth against the skin in small, circular movements to remove the cleanser. The brand recommends rinsing the cloth in cool water and pressing against the skin as a final step. It takes a couple of minutes at least, but not as long as you might think.
Within all the instructions, there is talk about the hot cloth opening pores and the cold cloth closing pores. I am irritated by this, because pores do not open and close like a door. The way heat, or a hot cloth, and steam works is that it actually loosens any build-up and dislodges the bonds holding dead skin together, and makes it easier to remove. Cold water might very temporarily constrict pores, but other than feeling momentarily refreshing, it will do nothing. I personally don’t think skin likes extremes so avoid very hot or cold temperatures.
Once you’ve rinsed off the cleanser, skin feels incredibly soft, smooth, and there is a feeling of very light hydration. I’ve heard of people having amazing results and I believe them but for me, Eve Lom is not The One.
It’s lovely and I like it, but it’s not my favourite and I certainly wouldn’t splash out regularly. It’s an amazing gift though because it’s so popular, so iconic and many people would never buy it for themselves but would so appreciate it.
The Organic Pharmacy Carrot Butter Cleanser £40
I have had this on my wish list for ages, having heard Caroline Hirons and Lisa Eldridge rave about it but had never quite got round to seeking it out. It’s not readily available and is so popular in a cult-following kind of way, that is seems to always be sold out in its few stockists. (John Lewis, The Organic Pharmacy, Beauty Bay). But finally, I’ve got my paws on it, and I love it!
The Organic Pharmacy was started by a pharmacist specialising in homeopathic pharmacy. Through her homeopathic remedy studies and investigations, Margo Marrone became aware of the lack of natural and organic ingredients within beauty and skincare products and so created this natural line.
The cleanser comes in a slim tub and they include a handy little spatula to help you hygienically scrape out some of the pale yellow balm. They used to include a muslin cloth but don’t any more so you’ll need your own or a flannel or towel.
The box lists the ingredients which I appreciate (believe it or not they don’t have to and many don’t) and every ingredient is easily identifiable to anyone. Things like:
“Rosemary, Shea Butter, St Johns Wort, Cocoa Butter, Jojoba, Marigold, Carrot.”
Everyone who reviewed it spoke about the scent, and said it was the “best smelling balm ever” and “incompatible to any other cleansing balm scent” and I love scented products (I know, some hate them but I can’t get enough of fragrance – sorry Paula’s Choice!) so I couldn’t wait to get a whiff of this. When I did, I couldn’t decide whether I loved it or didn’t like it at all. I was shocked and have never been so conflicted over a scent. It wasn’t at all what I expected. I kept unscrewing the lid to try to work through my feelings (ha) and found my indecisiveness bizarre. I even got my mum involved and she, the worlds most decisive and opinionated person, couldn’t work out if she loved or hated it either! In the end, after I realised that out of eighteen cleansing balms in the ‘balm box’, it was the only one I was compelled to keep opening and inhaling, I realised I’m addicted to it. I don’t know what it does to me but I can’t get enough of it.
It won’t be around for long though, because it really works brilliantly on my dry skin. For removal you definitely need a cloth or flannel as if you use just neat warm water it just leaves a disgusting feeling greasy film on your face, rather than the nice plumping feeling that some of the others give.
It removes all makeup, is super gentle and my face feels so soft and smooth afterwards. It’s really effective but pampering and the perfect choice for anyone who favours completely natural products. Lots of oily skinned people like this but I honestly wouldn’t advise it if that’s your skin type. It definitely leaves a slight film which I think would only be welcome on a dry face because it’s more of a grease than a hydrated finish.
It’s absurdly overpriced for the ingredients and the size, but it’s a really lovely product. Is it worth the hype and the intense battle to track it down? I don’t think so. But I’ll be keeping it beside my bed for a regular hit of the intoxicating and inimitable scent.
REN The No. 1 Purity Cleansing Balm £24
The No. 1 Purity Cleansing Balm is part of the Rosa Centifolia range which smells of roses… Sorry to state the obvious. If you love the smell of fresh sweet roses, like I do, you’ll love this. It’s fresh and beautiful and particularly good for morning as it’s more of an uplifting rose scent than a relaxing one.
The thing that I thought I’d like, but I really don’t, is the tube packaging. You’d think it would be preferable to the tube for hygiene and packing purposes, but it’s not. The balm is thick and I like in a fairly cold climate meaning it doesn’t melt down much in the tube. Squeezing such a firm balm out of such a small dispensing hole is a challenge I just don’t need first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
It’s a nice product and the ingredients list includes;
“Roman Chamomile oil and Pink Violet leaf extract to calm redness and to soothe the skin on one quick step. It also contains Rose oil which is known for its stress benefits”.
It takes a bit of working in until the balm melts to an oil but that facial massage is brilliant for the skin. It needs a muslin or flannel to remove and does remove makeup well. I’d avoid the eyes and use a separate makeup remover there as it stings.
It’s a nice, natural and gentle brand, and a reasonable price compared to many of the premium offerings and it lasts ages but it’s not exceptional or special in any particular way and I wouldn’t rush to repurchase this one.
Clarins Pure Melt Cleansing Gel with Marula Oil £21
This is the first cleansing balm I tried (excluding the dalliance with Eve Lom when I was 16) many years ago. My sister gave it to me and told me that this was a gel that turned into an oil that turned into a milk and I was beyond confused, thinking something was lost in translation. My internal voice was saying “well, that can’t possibly be true, that’s impossible, it will never work, how can an oil turn into a milk?” but stopping my actual real voice from saying all of that aloud to my sister because she;
A) Was a fully qualified beauty therapist and skincare expert and knew infinitely more than me about anything skin related.
B) Worked for Clarins and was fully trained in the demo of this product and the sales pitch.
C) Has zero BS tolerance and if this didn’t work wouldn’t have given the aforementioned sales pitch to an actual paying customer who would give her commission, never mind buy some for herself and bring it home.
I was glad I kept my mouth shut because it did indeed work exactly as described and I loved it for years after that before playing the cleanser field and becoming more fickle in my cleansing loves. It shows you how long ago and how ahead of the pack Clarins were with this, because now nobody would be surprised by this style of product or chameleon formula but back then it was groundbreaking stuff.
It comes in a tube but is a much softer consistency to the Ren one, as the title says, it’s more of a gel than a firm balm, so the tube packaging is great and poses no problems.
Massage it into your face until it’s oily and has broken down your makeup and then add water and it washes clean off as a milk without the need for a cloth. For this reason it’s good if you’re pushed for time, or it’s the morning or a late night.
Does its job really well. Reasonably priced. Smells lovely but subtle. Doesn’t leave skin feeling moisturised (though the Marula oil is said to add hydration) but neither does it leave it feeling stripped or tight.
I still think this is better for oily skin and that a drier skin would benefit from a more moisturising formula but I don’t think it’s a bad choice for anyone.
This is a nice option for someone who wants to try out cleansing balm without huge investment or someone who wants a no-fuss cleansing regime but with a nice product.
It’s great for makeup removal or morning cleansing too because you don’t need to remove it with a cloth as it doesn’t leave the telltale balmy film. It’s less of a skin treatment than my favourites but I think I’ll always have it in my skincare arsenal. It’s not a love, but it’s a definite big like.
Peter Thomas Roth 24k Gold Cleansing Butter £41
Peter Thomas Roth’s 24k Gold Cleansing Butter is a balm fit for a (cleansing) king, or queen – on account of the inclusion of real (24 carat, funnily enough) gold as an ingredient. That – and the price tag. It also looks a tad sparkly in the tub but don’t worry, this melts to nothing and doesn’t translate to the skin at all, so no Lush bath bomb-esque troubles concerning glittery skin!
The inclusion of precious metal sounds a bit crazy, doesn’t it? But gold can be used as an effective anti-ageing ingredient, because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Since inflammation is the culprit of acne and hyper pigmentation, gold can brighten and improve the appearance and texture of the skin when applied topically.
Peter Thomas Roth claims that the gold aids in soothing skin, but this cleansing balm really doesn’t contain a large quantity of the stuff, so I think its power is negligible in this case, especially if you’re not doing a half hour facial massage with it and keeping it on the skin for a prolonged period.
This is an expensive product but is mercifully free of mineral oil (a controversial ingredient, as some believe that really bad for skin and general health – see the Eve Lom review above). Instead he’s treated us to a glorious skin soothing array of almond and vegetable oils, vitamin E, honey and a tiny, but lovely, little helping of gold.
It’s called cleansing butter and it lives up to its name because it’s so, well, buttery. It melts to an oil on the face quite quickly and gets rid of every last scrap of makeup, oil, and sunscreen, very quickly but never leaves the skin stripped or dry feeling. Nor does it leave a film on the skins surface. So it would be good for all skin types, many of the others are unappealing to very oily skins as the film feels unpleasant to them as opposed to comforting or protecting.
It smells so good! Like sherbet and banana and something I can’t put my scent finger on…
When you can bear to rinse this away, it can be taken off with a muslin or wet flannel like all the others, but this is unique in that it’s the only one on the market that comes with a Konjac sponge. A Konjac is a (very trendy at the moment) small porous sponge made of an Asian root vegetable, and effective in gentle exfoliation. The unique, net-like structure of the 100% natural Konjac Sponge gently massages the skin to stimulate blood flow and promote cell turnover and works to eradicate dead surface cells and enhance circulation to speed up skin’s regenerative processes. Skin is left beautifully clean without any tightness, and it swiftly becomes much softer, more supple and vibrant. What’s more, each sponge is 100% natural, biodegradable and made from a sustainable source so you’re saving your skin and the planet!
I loved the sponge but you can’t throw it in the washing machine and clean so I think the love will be short lived – I’d be worried about it being a cesspit of bacteria. So soon I’ll be using it with a flannel.
The gold and the sponge are nice novelties but I wouldn’t encourage anyone to buy this for either of those things. I’d encourage you to buy it, if you have some gold coins to spare, because it’s a great cleansing balm and thoroughly deserves a gold star (sorry – I couldn’t help myself…)
Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm £22
Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm is another item from this TTDO line that perfectly executes its promise. It does what it says on the tin and is a modern-day version of a classic cold cream or cleansing cream and less of a skincare treatment than the rest of the ones I reviewed.
It’s a no frills kinda guy (the most no frills of all eighteen I’ve tested for this three part feature) but works absolutely brilliantly as a makeup remover. Better than anything else and cheaper for what you get and how long it lasts.
I’d prefer something with skin-soothing or feeding ingredients as an actual skin cleanser so I go over this with another cleanser once I’ve removed the makeup.
It’s fragrance free, as with all of Clinique products, which will be a positive to lots of people but to me, it makes makeup remover/face cleansing a joyless operation!
TTDO contains emollients and plant oil to dissolve makeup, and is capable of removing stubborn or waterproof formulas amazingly well – it doesn’t leave a scrap and it doesn’t sting or irritate the eyes in the slightest.
This is best for dry to very dry skin like me and might not be brilliant on breakout prone skin because of the ingredients.
I’ve not used many products that are better at makeup removal than this but that’s all I recommend it for. I wouldn’t use it in the morning or if I wasn’t wearing a lot of makeup as I would prefer something more nourishing and hydrating.
You can’t really go wrong and if you wear a lot of makeup or sunscreen or longwear makeup, this is an amazing buy.
Sunday Riley Blue Moon Tranquility Cleansing Balm £46
I’ll cut to the chase. Blue Moon, I love you.
It’s probably my favourite ever.
My mum described this perfectly as a “complete sensory experience”. Everything about it looks, feels and smells delightful, nourishing, comforting and just exquisite! Never mind double-cleanse, I want to triple cleanse with this!
This blue cleansing balm is given its lovely, if slightly alarming to the uninitiated, blue hue by Blue Tansy Leaf Oil, which is deep blue in colour and is said to be anti-inflammatory and healing – as is the German chamomile.
It smells divine; raw chocolate with a dash of orange and a hint of vanilla.
The texture is that of a creamy balm (I know it sounds like an oxymoron but try it!) formula is slightly granular (something I usually hate but these aren’t those horrible beads or husks of apricot) so it offers a lovely gentle exfoliation at the same time as being jam-packed with hydrating and replenishing ingredients to ‘feed’ skin cells while simultaneously melting down make up, dirt and pollution and SPF.
The addition of vanilla and sweet orange oils then help to ease anxiety and promote calm – perfect for helping you unwind before bed. Studies can back up its tranquility promise too: ylang ylang essential oil is proven to increase the feeling of relaxation after being absorbed through the skin. Use it as a mask for 20 minutes to get the mind and skin soothing benefits.
Chamazulene, Sweet Orange and Neroli oils contribute antioxidants to this product, vamping up the protection factor and protecting the skin against photo ageing effects of UV light.
I’m dry skinned so to avoid having a face the texture of sandpaper I need to amp up the hydration wherever possible and this is phenomenal for people like me, but every last one of us will benefit from an extra hit of hydration in the winter months and this balm contains a whole host of ingredients to deliver just that.
Moisturising cocoa butter and coconut oil will work together with the sunflower seed wax in this product to improve the skin’s elasticity and natural barrier function, making it less likely to lose water and more likely to retain moisture. Squalene, cetyl alcohol and beeswax are other moisturising ingredients in this product, along with jojoba oil (which brings some anti-inflammatory activity too!).
As always massage the balm into the face until it turns into an oil and then wet the fingertips and massage into a milk before rinsing clean or removing with a flannel or muslin. This one has the added benefit of not needing a cloth to remove it because it doesn’t leave a greasy film so many will prefer this to the other cloth cleansing balms.
Blue Moon contains more than a spoonful of sugar (it’s a sugar based cleanser – it’s sugar base is proven to improve hydration rather than be drying like many other oil bases) and is perfectly perfect in every way.
It’s true what they say… When you know, you just know. This is The One for me…. Well, three times a week at least. I can’t be completely monogamous with skincare.
….And that’s why you can read more cleansing balm reviews in Round Two!
BUY THESE CLEANSERS HERE:
Eve Lom Cleansing Balm:
The Organic Pharmacy Carrot Butter Cleanser:
REN No. 1 Purity Cleansing Balm:
Clarins Pure Melt Cleansing Gel:
Peter Thomas Roth 24k Gold Cleansing Butter:
Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm:
Sunday Riley Blue Moon Tranquility Cleansing Balm: