What works better? Cleansing oils or cleansing balms? This question has been hotly debated on beauty forums by online users. Both arguably serve the same function — they break up and melt makeup, slough off dead skin cells and dirt accumulated on the face.
You use them in similar ways as well — apply it to your palms, massage your face, and clean them off. Some of these oils or balms do require a second rinse with facial foam. So, are they not the same thing after all?
Even with these striking similarities, users came to realise that oils and balms have vastly different effects on the skin. The general consensus is that liquid cleansing oils tend to be more drying on the skin, for they mercilessly strip away all cosmetic products and oils (including the necessary, natural oils) from the skin's surface. Cleansing balms, on the other hand, are known to be relatively nourishing for the skin.
The reputation was arguably earned from the famed Eve Lom cleanser, which was the first product that the 79-year-old Czech-born facialist launched in her eponymous label back in 1985. The idea of an oil-based cleansing balm came to Lom unexpectedly, when she made a mistake as a trainee facialist. "I sent a client that had very a oily skin home with the wrong products." Conventionally, individuals with oily skin were prescribed astringents, Lom recalled. "But miraculously, she came back a couple of weeks later, after using the new product, with much improved skin."
It is no rocket science — oil attracts oil. The oils secreted from our skin's glands, otherwise known as sebum, are dissolved into these cleansing oils and balms. Together, they are emulsified or washed away with water.
Eventually, when Lom came up with her cleanser, she tapped on this concept of oil-based cleansing and fortified it with nourishing botanical active ingredients such as clove, eucalyptus, the flowers called hops, Egyptian chamomile and cocoa butter — an interest she rubbed off her herb-loving grandmother. Users with dry skin lauded the balm's intense, nourishing and hydrating benefits. Likewise, those with oily skin who initially baulked at the greasy texture nonetheless woke up to visibly better skin the next morning.
Yet, not all cleansing balms on the retail shelves are waxy and thick like the Eve Lom cleanser. Over the years, numerous brands came up with their iteration of a cleansing balm — some are lighter and more viscous, while others replicate that of Eve Lom's heavy, greasy texture. Here, five cleansing balms sorted by texture, from light to heavy.
Dior Prestige Le Baume Demaquillant
The Dior Prestige's cleansing balm was launched earlier this May. It comes in pink — a hint at the key ingredient, the Rose de Granville, some roses specially cultivated for skincare in the brand's gardens around the globe. The scent is, however, not that of the conventional thorny rose fragrance (like that of Caudalie's Beauty Elixir). With this balm, the rose scent is faint, coupled with what smells like a fresh cotton or linen (if you might be familiar with Yankee Candles' Linen series).
The balm comes with a spatula for a reason. Once the balm hits your fingers, they immediately start melting — perhaps due to the humid and hot weather in Singapore. The resultant oil is clear and extremely viscous, so things can get a little messy with the oil running down your forearms and dripping into your eyes. To put its viscosity into perspective, it is way lighter than a Shu Uemura cleansing oil. Yet, it rubs on easily and removes a full face of makeup, including a matte, red lipstick.
Dior recommends that users follow a massage method they've developed — the Dior Institut technique, which includes sweeping circular strokes from the nose towards the ears.
The liquid emulsifies lightly and does not appear as milky as other brands' oils or balms do. It leaves a thin layer of moisture and oil behind, which is arguably insufficient — so you might find yourself scrambling for the toner, serum, and moisturiser right after.
The biggest draw was, however, when it was used on naked skin in the morning or after a day without makeup — the cleanse was remarkable. Instead of a white emulsion, what came off was a grey emulsion — presumably all the pollution and dirt accumulated on the skin throughout the day.
Available at S$130 from Dior Beauty, B2-44, ION Orchard.
Alpha-H Essential Cleansing Balm
The Australian skincare label, Alpha-H's essential cleansing balm comes in a little white tub with a pump which dispenses regular amounts of a soft, gel-like balm. It has a beautiful, generous scent of rosehip and geranium — from two of their active ingredients, which includes other oils such as coconut, sea buckthorn, and grapeseed. The balm's texture on the lighter side, almost like a gel which spreads easily around the face — and holds up, so it is not dripping everywhere.
It gives you a deep, thorough, and fast cleanse. Within minutes, the balm easily removed a full face of makeup, including heavy liquid foundations and matte lipsticks.
The brand markets the balm as a "nourishing balm". After the rinse and emulsification, it left the skin feeling hydrated, comfortable and supple — without leaving a layer of oil behind. This is a balm for users who might want to convert from cleansing oils to balms but are averse to the icky, greasy feeling of residual oils. However, post-wash, do quickly replenish moisture to your skin with your regular skincare regime.
That being said, the brand recommends this balm for those with dry to combination skin — it boils down to their choice of oils, whether they are dry oils or emollient ones.
RMK Moist Cleansing Balm
The 21-year-old Japanese label, RMK's cleansing balm is a gem. Most often, it's sold in a larger 100-gram plastic tub. However, it comes in a smaller 25-gram, travel-friendly size. It has been the best travel companion — it's fully solid, so it does not leak mid-flight (no more oil-stained makeup pouches).
The pink balm is composed of emollients, a term to describe ingredients that soften the skin. Here, they include shea butter, mango butter, avocado oil, rosehip oil, and olive oil. It melts into a creamy layer of rose-scented oil which spreads easily, massages well and melts makeup easily.
The above are all expected outcomes of a cleansing balm. Yet, the surprise comes later — if you might have more time on hand, be it after a day's work at home or in the hotel, you might want to spend a good 15 minutes massaging this product around your face in broad, circular motions. It won't be soon before you start feeling those hardened sebums dislodging from your pores. As with most clogged pore cleansing, the skin might itch after you rinse the balm off. Slather on some astringent to stave off the itch.
Earlier this year, RMK pulled out of the Singaporean beauty landscape. It might be a little more tedious to search this product out. However, the brand has a strong presence in Japan, Taiwan, Seoul or Hong Kong. If you find yourself there, you might want to swing by the departmental stores to pick this up.
Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm
Clinique touts this balm as their best-selling makeup remover. Quite like all the other Clinique products, this makeup remover is straightforward as can be, with no frills. This solid and hard white balm does not come with any fragrance. When compared to the other balms on this list, Clinique's iteration took the longest time to melt on the skin. A minute after massaging the product onto the face, there were still small clumps of solid sitting around the face. It eventually melted into a thick, heavy layer of fragrance-free oil which quickly dissolved waterproof eye makeup, foundations, and lipsticks. Together with the Alpha-H cleansing balm, these two balms gave the fastest cleanse.
When massaged with water, the balm emulsified visibly, and did not leave a layer of oil behind. This is good news for those who do not like the icky feeling of oily skin. It is, however, on the stripping and drying side. So be sure to quickly return all the moisture to the skin after cleansing with your skincare regime.
This is, perhaps, the most economical and fuss-free option of all. It comes in a generous 112 millimetres tub. Each cleanse barely requires a teaspoon of balm each time from this potent formula — so a tub could last you for up to a couple of months. The brand states that this is a product suitable for all skin types.
Kat Burki Vitamin C Nourishing Cleansing Balm
The American eponymous label of Kat Burki takes a nutritional approach to skincare. One could liken their philosophy to that of superfoods — vitamins, cold-processed technologies and stem cells frequent these skincare products' ingredient lists. The label has two cleansers in their range — a gel cleanser and a cleansing balm.
Burki's balm comes a clumpy, herb-smelling paste. In the box, too, is a heavyweight muslin cloth. You wet the washcloth and pop a teaspoon of the paste on it before massaging it around your face. The intense and extremely rich paste (reminiscent of the Eve Lom cleanser) spreads easily at the start, but quickly dries out after a couple of minutes. Needless to say, the thick formula was capable of melting stubborn cosmetic products.
When rinsing it off, you will definitely need the help of the same cloth to remove the thick layer of balm. You can never rinse all of the balm out — it leaves a thick, nutritious layer of oil behind, and the skin is properly nourished, hydrated and oiled. It was like a complete recalibration session for the face. Come the next morning, the skin was glowing but not oily. Dried scabs from blemishes softened overnight and fell off. Dry, flaky skin from the T-zone ironed themselves out. Skincare and makeup products brushed on seamlessly. It was a great skin day.
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