On a random Thursday about a month ago, I decided I was tired of looking at my short, stubby fingernails and treated myself to a set of gel extensions. While I immediately fell in love with the way they looked (they’re so long! and pretty! and make me feel deserving of a businesswoman special!), I realized there’s one major problem with being a long-nail girlie: Doing literally anything is a real pain in the ass.
I’ve thankfully figured out how to open La Croix cans and clasp necklaces (… and by “figured out” I mean “ask my boyfriend to do it for me), but have continued to find myself skeeved out whenever it comes time to scoop out my favorite cleansing balm. Even when I use the back of my nails or my knuckle to dip into the product, remnants of it somehow wind up buried under my XL tip. For that reason alone, I was thrilled when the new Renée Rouleau Better Than Balm ($49) showed up on my desk.
First things first, this stuff comes in a tube instead of a pot, which makes it so much easier (and more hygienic) to use. Though it was its delivery system that initially attracted me to this product, it’s the formula itself that’s quickly made it a mainstay in my routine.
Rouleau, whose name you may recognize as one of the most famous estheticians on the planet, spent three years perfecting the balm. She loved the idea of creating something that felt similar to the cleansing lotions that are popular in French culture, but wanted to create a version that would strip away the most stubborn makeup without leaving behind the sort of waxy finish you get from oil-based cleansing balms.
She also took into account that foundation formulas are getting increasingly smarter (seriously—these things won’t budge), and set out to invent something that would be able to wash away all of them—no matter what kind of longwear promises they make. Thus, Better Than Balm was born.
The product comes out of the tube looking like a gel-textured oil, but takes on a creamy texture when it comes into contact with water. Unlike most cleansing balms, which are difficult to emulsify and tend to leave a waxy coating on the skin, this one actually washes off with water.
This means that it’s less likely to cause breakouts in oily and acne-prone skin, and won’t interfere with any treatment serums you apply on top of it (because, fun fact: If you apply your retinol on top of a coating of oil, which most cleansing balms leave behind, it won’t work as well as it’s supposed to).
To make the oil-to-gel-to-milk magic happen, Rouleau employed a sugar-based emulsifier called sucrose laurate and a lightweight emollient called caprylic capric triglyceride. She paired these ingredients with jojoba oil (which is close in structure to the sebum your skin produces), sunflower seed oil (which softens the skin), and glycerin (a hydrating humectant), and the resulting formula strikes the perfect balance of being oily enough to remove makeup without being so oily that it greases up your skin.
The real draw here, though, is that while most cleansing balms are designed to be the first step in a double-cleansing routine, this one will give you two cleanses for the price of one. Not only does it rid the skin of makeup residue, but it washes away whatever other dirt and debris may be hanging out on your complexion, too. It does this gently and without stripping the skin, and creates a perfectly clean canvas for you to apply the rest of your routine on top of.
What happened when I tried Renée Rouleau Better Than Balm
After my first few uses, I was already falling hard for Better Than Balm, but it wasn’t until after I used it to remove a full face of Saturday night makeup that I decided we were officially in a long-term relationship. It seamlessly lifted away my heavy black eyeliner and waterproof mascara, and for the first time in my life my Sunday morning hangover wasn’t accompanied by raccoon-eye remnants of the night before.
At $49, Better Than Balm is admittedly more expensive than your typical face wash—especially considering. that any derm will tell you that you can get a good one for $15. But trust me when I say, it’s worth every penny. It gives you two steps in one, will help you avoid makeup-induced breakouts, and will ensure the rest of your routine works to the best of its ability.
Though I don’t know how long these XL nails will be in my life (what happens if I need to open a Diet Coke and my mans isn’t around?!), I can say for sure that Better Than Balm is here to stay.