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The Beauty Edit

Why You Should Invest In A Cleansing Balm This Winter

As winter’s colder weather has taken hold, cleansing balms are here to help your skin.

If you’re new to cleansing balms, this is a guide to what they are, how they work, who they are suitable for (spoiler: it’s everyone). We’ll also share some of the best balms to invest in, whatever your skin type.

Designed to negate seasonal effects by providing a nourishing cleanse – one that doesn’t strip skin of its natural moisture – here’s what you should be looking for this winter.

What is a cleansing balm?

A cleansing balm is an oil-rich solid or semi-solid form of cleanser that, when warmed up on the skin, turns to a silky oil or milk that can be rinsed away.

Predominately used as the first step in makeup removal, they work by breaking down the oils in makeup and other impurities. They are designed to make light work of removing even stubborn waterproof cosmetics and SPF  – all while being gentle and nourishing for the complexion (fans of full-face makeup looks, take note).

How do they work?

The deep clean provided by cleansing balms is due to their high oil content. The oils in the balm bind with the oils in your cosmetics, making them easier to break down and lift away. Common oils found in cleansing balms are almond, rosehip, jojoba, shea butter, perilla, and safflower seed oil.

What’s more, these oils are naturally moisturising – meaning they nourish and clean simultaneously. That’s important as an effective cleanser often relies on ingredients called surfactants to allow oil and water to mix, so that your cleanser can be rinsed off. However, that also leads to that tight, ‘squeaky-clean’ feeling, as natural skin oils are also washed away. A good cleansing balm can counteract this, for a deep clean that leaves the skin soft, not dry. It’s no wonder then that they are especially popular when the weather turns colder during the winter.

Who are cleansing balms suitable for?

Good news – cleansing balms can be used by all skin types. They can be particularly effective for individuals who struggle with dryness, but it’s a misconception that they aren’t suitable for oilier skin. In fact, as balm cleansers avoid stripping the skin, they won’t trigger overactive sebum production (as some harsh cleansers can). They can also keep redness and irritation at bay, by supporting the skin barrier. It’s just important that any excess oil isn’t left on the skin, certainly for those with more breakout-prone complexions.


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How to use a cleansing balm for makeup removal?

Cleansing balms are designed to be used as the first step in your skincare routine, and a small, coin-sized amount should be enough to cleanse your face and neck. The trick to remember is that a little goes a long way.

Here’s our expert recommended step-by-step guide:

  1. “Begin by using a soft, warm wet flannel to gently open up the pores and prep the skin for a good cleanse,” says the facialist Zoe Sweet-Escott.
  2. Warm up the balm between your fingertips first, to encourage the oil to melt slightly. This allows an even spread across your skin.
  3. Use small circular massage motions of light-to-medium pressure to apply. This should be for at least 60 seconds. Never scrub.
  4. Dampen your fingers and continue to massage. Many balm cleansers will become milky or lighter oils at this stage.
  5. To remove waterproof mascara use a gentle rubbing motion over the eyelashes using the tips of the fingers.
  6. Take the opportunity for a moment of calm: “be sure to inhale the beautiful aroma as your balm melts into an oil,” advises the co-founder and global president of Elemis, Noella Gabriel.
  7. Finally, remove your cleanser with a wet flannel or cleansing pad using warm water. You need to rinse thoroughly and wipe off any residue – just splashing with water is unlikely to completely remove the balm.

Do I have to “double cleanse”?

Double cleansing is a popular two-step skincare technique that involves using a thicker oil-based cleanser to remove makeup, followed by a gel/water-based cleanser. Balm cleansers boomed in popularity when double cleansing became a trend as they were considered gentle enough to be followed by that second step.

Importantly, it’s not strictly necessary to always follow a balm cleanser with another cleanse (as long as your skin feels clean). However, it’s probably worthwhile on days you wear a lot of makeup and/or SPF:

“Would you take a shower with your clothes on? Of course not. You shouldn’t wash your face with makeup on either,” explains the Clinique education manager TK. “If makeup isn’t properly removed before washing your face, it creates a barrier between your skin and cleanser, preventing you from removing that end-of-day, grimy build up.”

How to use a cleansing balm for massage?

Good cleansing balms glide across the skin, which makes giving yourself a facial massage easy and relaxing. Facialist, Zoe Sweet-Escott uses the Olivanna cleansing balm in facials to give her clients a tension-relieving ritual that promotes lymphatic drainage while removing makeup. Her best tip: don’t forget your jawline: you’ll ensure a thorough cleanse and release any tightness that builds up here during times of stress.

Another way cleansing balms can promote relaxation is when used as a facial mask – a technique recommended by many brands and experts. Simply apply to a clean face and leave on for 10-15 minutes before starting your massage routine and rinsing off with water. It’s an easy and effective way to benefit from the formulas’ nourishing, soothing qualities.



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The best cleansing balms to know:

The best-sellers:

These are the formulas that have been proven to work time and time again; with the awards, recommendations, and reviews to prove it.


Elemis's multi-award winning cleansing balm is celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2023 and it's still one of the very best. It's now available in four versions so you can tailor your choice to suit your needs and concerns. That includes Naked (for fragrance-free), Rose (for sensitive skin), Original (for oilier complexions) and Summer Bloom (for relaxation). All have the product's signature 3-in-1 texture, which sees the formula transform from balm to oil and finally to milk, for a gentle yet deep cleanse you can trust.




If you love to wear full-coverage, long-wearing foundations and waterproof mascaras, Clinique's classic balm cleanser will help you remove them without spending ages at the sink. It's one of the most frequently reviewed and recommended balms on the internet due to its ability to clear makeup out of your pores and leave skin feeling soft. That's due to the effectiveness of moisturising safflower oil.



Like giving yourself a daily facial at home, the delight is in the details with this cult status balm. Highlights include the "must smell again" botanical scent and a dual-sided fluffy clot that makes removing it actually enjoyable. But, most of all it delivers – leaving your skin balanced and clean due to its namesake moringa seed extract. No wonder the balm has won so many awards.



The new classics:

Skincare innovations means new textures, ingredients, and approaches to cleansing balms to get excited about. It’s easier than ever to find an effective formula that works well for you and your skin.


Providing a luxurious-feeling clean, Augustinus Bader's vegan and fragrance-free formula is rich in moisturising and antioxidant-rich ingredients including vitamin E, squalane, coconut oil, and avocado-olive fruit oil complex. You can trust it to leave your skin clean and refreshed. It also comes with a 100% cotton muslin that gently exfoliates as you remove the residue for a natural, lit-from-within, glow.



Trinny London's Be Your Best pushes the boundaries of traditional balm cleansers with its lightweight pump formula, and combination of classic nourishing oils with gentle chemical exfoliants for a really deep clean. Almond oil, jojoba oil, and glycolipids tackle makeup and pollution traces, while pineapple enzymes ensure dull, dead skin cells are sloughed away, so you get boosted radiance too. There's even a prebiotic complex in the mix, to help limit irritation.



Sisley's makeup removing balm is a sensorial delight. Rich and nourishing to apply due to a trio of babassu, shea and macadamia oils, it comes highly recommended for facial massage as well as its cleansing abilities. Moreover, it's easy to remove as it transforms through three textures – balm to oil to emulsion – the latter of which has a skin-softening milky consistency for fuss-free makeup removal. 



It was beauty editors clamouring to get their hands on this balm that arguably helped renew excitement around balm cleansers in general. Designed to sweep away stubborn SPF, makeup, and excess oils, it is packaged with exciting antioxidant and fatty acid-rich plant oils including sea buckthorn, olive, and grapeseed oils. Yet, it is still lightweight with a soft, sorbet-like texture and a gorgeous scent of rosemary, persimmon, and grapefruit to make the whole process more enjoyable. The reviews are as glowing as your skin will be after using it. 


The ones for beginners:

If you’re new to cleansing balms, try one of these formulas, all specifically designed to be less messy, easy to remove and excellent at removing your makeup in a swipe.


If your skin gets red and irritated at the thought of a slightly rough makeup removing routine, Paula's Choice cleansing balm will soothe your skin – and your mind. It was created specifically to provide a thorough clean without stripping your skin or disrupting your skin barrier thanks to its blend of coconut-derived fatty acids, jojoba oil, and meadowfoam seed oil to keep hydration locked in. For further peace of mind, it's fragrance-free, to lower the risk of cleanser-related sensitivities.



For anyone that hates that feeling of scrubbing away at stubborn makeup, Beauty Pie's silky formula makes the process of taking off even longwear foundation and mascara straightforward, without irritation. The combination of aloe juice, rice bran oil, and cold-pressed baobab oil provides deep cleansing power – but also long-lasting hydration, meaning it's definitely suitable for everyday use. If you wear a full face of makeup often, it's worth putting this on your shopping list.



The expert team behind The Inkey List are focused on making products simple to use. If cleansing balms make you a little nervous, this is the one to try first. The tube packaging makes it practical and less messy to use than traditional tubs, and the formulation of oat kernel oil and colloidal oatmeal makes it particularly good for sensitive skin. It's one to trust if you want to soothe and moisturise your skin as you cleanse.





Like an energising fruit smoothie for your skin, Farmacy's Green Clean cleanser is a great option if you want to try double cleansing for the first time. It gently melts away makeup, powered by a rich blend of moringa tree extract, sunflower oil, and ginger root oil. It also contains gently exfoliating papaya extract to further your post-cleanse glow, and a joy-inspiring citrusy aroma. An uplifting way to start your nighttime skincare routine.


The wellbeing boosters:

Considering you should be cleansing your face every day, there’s a new crop of balm cleansers that aim to turn that daily routine into a wellbeing ritual. These products will bring the spa to you:


When the initial cleansing stage of a facial becomes the highlight of the treatment, you know the cleanser being used is good. Such is the case with Olivanna's cleansing balm due to it's creamy texture and relaxing scent, derived from a multitude of plant oils. The formula not only makes removing makeup a little less like hard work, but it is also exceptionally good at relieving facial tension as you massage it into the skin. So much so that you'll be tempted to use it on clean skin too.




Wildsmith's cleansing balm is for anyone who just deosn't enjoy rich textures sitting on their skin. The unique consistency means it looks more like a jelly cleanser, but it melts into a smooth oil that offers a traditional balm's makeup removing prowess, without the annoying heaviness. The secret is the presence of gentle surfactants, and a carefully-chosen blend of nine botanical oils, including rosehip and calendula.




Like all Rhug Estate products, this balm contains ingredients that were wild-foraged from Lord and Lady Newborough's Welsh homestead, adding something a little special to the nourishing formula. Specifically, the vitamin C and antioxidant-rich blackberries, bilberry, and blackthorn all came from the land surrounding the farm. They join safflower, rose otto, calendula, and rosehip in the formula; chosen specially for their ability to hydrate and protect the skin to prevent signs of premature ageing.



This vegan balm cleanser takes some of the effort out of balm cleansing because it is designed to quickly emulsify. That means you don't have to overly rub the formula into your skin before it transforms from balm to oil. In turn, that limits irritation – especially when you are trying to remove tricky makeup such as longwear foundation and SPF. It glides off onto your wet flannel, leaving your complexion soft and soothed whatever your skin type.




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