Cleansing Balms: Would You Wash Your Face With One?

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Popping up at skin-care counters are face washes that have more in common with your lip balm than your cleanser. Here's how to use them and why you might want to.

Cleansing balm Would you wash your face with a cleansing balm?

A sink-full of skin-care companies—from Clinique and Darphin to high-end natural beauty purveyors, like REN and One Love Organics are hoping you will.

But why should you wash up with a product that has more in common with your lip balm than your cleanser?

The beauty of cleansing with a balm that uses plant-based oils (not mineral oil!) is that it does an amazing job of grabbing makeup, oil, oxidized sebum (aka blackheads), and daily dirt, explains Suzanne Leroux, co-founder of One Love Organics and formulator of the brand’s Skin Savior Cleansing Balm.

Chemistry 101 dictates that “like dissolves like,” Leroux explains. Oil is better at binding to oil and dissolving it, which is why it's so often the basis of makeup remover. "A water-less balm is a great cleanse or a first step in a double-cleanse," she says.

Depending on the type of sunscreen or foundation you wear, you may have noticed that water can just kind of move the dirt around your face. So a cleanser has to work double-time (or contain skin-stripping surfactants) to get your skin clean. But the oils in a balm bind to the oil in your pores (and in your makeup), and whisk away grime without stripping your skin. (If your cleanser leaves your face feeling tight and dry, you've likely been stripped!)

One Love Organics' Skin Savior Cleansing Balm
One Love Organics' Skin Savior Cleansing Balm

Avoiding an overly-cleansed face is a good thing, especially for those with acne-prone skin. "Dryness sends a signal to your skin to produce more sebum (oil), which can make your acne worse," says Leroux. Plus plant oils like sweet soy and coconut used in One Love's balm are essentially nourishing, skin-calming ingredients, says Leroux, so they have a skin-care benefit.  (You can't say that about chemical detergents.)

So how do you use a cleansing balm? Here's where you have to pay attention: You slather a light coat over your dry face with your fingers, and massage it in. (You'll see the grime start to give way in a few seconds if you wear makeup.)

To remove it all, Leroux's Skin Savior comes with special microfiber cloth shammy. Two types of fibers in the cloth "capture and pull particles of oil and dirt off your skin," says Leroux, who could give a TED talk on the fastidious research that went into creating this shammy. (When I first used it, I thought: "Huh, it's like super-soft blotting paper and a wash cloth combined.")

You can leave a bit of balm behind on your skin as a moisturizer (like Melisse did), or you can wash afterward with your cleanser (Lisa's preference). The result is a really great cleansing that "eliminates the very environment in which skin conditions can erupt,” Leroux says. We like the sound of that, and that a tub lasts about six months. –Lisa Elaine Held and Melisse Gelula

One Love Organics Water-less Skin Savior Cleansing Balm, $68,

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