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Your skin care routine needs a cleansing oil — here's why

Remove makeup and cleanse your face at the same time!
Woman washing her face in front of the mirror
MOAimage / Getty Images

Cleansing oils are becoming more prevalent in modern skin care routines, thanks to the rising popularity of a Korean beauty practice known as double-cleansing.

For those with oily or acne-prone skin, the product might sound like a bit of an oxymoron. After all, cleansers are thought of as light and sudsy, while oils are heavier and take some time seeping into the skin. The reality of how cleansing oils work, though, is not exactly what it seems.

To get some clarity around this elusive product, we asked dermatologists about the benefits of cleansing oils, along with how to incorporate them in your daily routine.

What is the difference between a cleansing oil and facial cleanser?

The main difference between cleansing oils and facial cleansers can be found in their ingredient list.

"Face washes, especially ones that foam up or lather, contain surfactants [that cleanse] and foaming chemicals that emulsify dirt and oils and help them get washed away with water. They will also remove some of the natural oils on the skin," said Dr. Robyn Gmyrek of Union Square Dermatology. "Cleansing oils, [meanwhile], use oils to attract other oils and dirt from the skin and pores, so that it can be wiped away without using water. This leaves some [oil residue] on the skin's surface."

How do you use a cleansing oil?

When using cleansing oil, New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Hadley King recommends applying a full pump directly to dry skin and massaging it in for one to two minutes, followed by removing it with a gentle cleansing cloth. If desired, you can follow it up with a water-based cleanser.

That process is also recommended by Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology. "In general, I tend to recommend double cleansing by starting with an oil cleanser first, which aids in replenishing the skin's natural oils without over-cleansing or disrupting the skin's barrier," she said.

What are the benefits of using a cleansing oil?

"Cleansing oils are effective in breaking down makeup, oils, pollutants and sebum that can cause congestion, inflammation and breakouts by effectively binding to other oils without stripping the skin but ensuring a cleanse," Levin said.

Cleansing oils work especially well for those with dry or sensitive skin, according to Gmyrek. "[They] leave a bit of moisture on the skin surface, which is particularly beneficial for dry skin types," she said.

With the rise in interest for clean beauty, it doesn't come as a surprise to King that cleansing oils are up next. "Face oils, body oils and cleansing oils have all become popular lately and I think it's part of the clean/natural beauty trend. Many of these products are organic, vegan, cruelty-free and have a relatively short ingredient list with identifiable botanical oil ingredients rather than more mysterious sounding chemicals," she said.

Dermatologist-recommended cleansing oils

Eau Thermale Avene XeraCalm A.D Lipid-Replenishing Cleansing Oil

A favorite of Levin's, this fragrance-free cleansing oil is meant to help soothe severely dry skin and alleviate itching. One Dermstore reviewer raved about its consistency-to-cleanliness ratio, saying, "It lathers just enough and is not harsh, but still manages to leave me feeling clean and moisturized."

Laneige Cream Skin Milk Oil Cleanser

"I like this because, as a cream oil cleanser, the consistency is easy to apply and use. The jojoba oil will not clog pores but leave the skin moisturized," Gmyrek said.

Carter + Jane The Everything Oil Neroli No. 18 Cleanser

"This organic, plant-based cleansing oil will dissolve excess oil, dirt and makeup while moisturizing the skin," said King. "It is also rich in antioxidants."

Hanskin Pore Cleansing Oil

Gmyrek recommends this cleansing oil if you have acne-prone skin. "It contains PHA or polyhydroxy acid, which is an exfoliant that will keep pores open and remove dead skin cells," she said.

Bioderma Atoderm Cleansing Oil

Levin recommends this cleansing oil that is suitable not only for your face, but your whole body! For the best results, apply on wet skin, rinse it off and lather up with your favorite moisturizer. The brand touts hydration for 24 hours after application.

GoodJanes Say Goodnight Cleansing Balm

This balm is made with a blend of oils that include sweet almond, argan, sunflower seed and castor to keep your skin moisturized. "[It] transforms from a balm to an oil cleanser while you use it, which makes it great for removing makeup," said King.

Belif Cleansing Gel Oil

Gmyrek recommends this cleansing gel oil for all skin types because of its light texture. It also does not contain any sulfates or synthetic fragrances.

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