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The Best Cleansing Oils and Oil-Based Cleansers for a Counterintuitive Clean

Depending on your skin type and skincare routine, you’ve probably seen and tried a lot of different kinds of facial cleansers over the years. If you haven’t considered the best cleansing oils, then you haven’t tried them all.

But before we dive into the best cleansing oils and oil cleansers, we wanted to run through the basics in terms of how cleansing oils work with the help of Dr. Michele Green, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist based in New York City. Read on to learn what exactly cleansing oils are, what they’re good for and how to use them for the best results.

What Are Cleansing Oils/Oil Cleansers? How Do They Work?

As you might expect, cleansing oils are simply oil-based cleansers that remove makeup and gunk from the skin. “They work by using the concept that ‘like dissolves like,’” Green told SPY. “Cleansing oils are mainly composed of oil and emulsifiers. The oil component of the cleansing oil will remove any oil-based makeup. This oil normally doesn’t dissolve in water but the emulsifier aids in that by forcing the oil to form droplets that can easily be rinsed off with water, leaving your face refreshed and clean.”

Because the active ingredient is some kind of oil, the best cleansing oils can get rid of all this makeup and gunk without stripping or irritating the skin. Plus, many cleansing oils are plant-based, with lots of antioxidants to fight free radicals and signs of aging, Green said.

What Are the Best Facial Cleansing Oils?

The answer to that question depends on your skin type. For people with more oily skin, oils that are high in linoleic acid or even oil-free cleansers would be best, and for people with dryer skin, an oil high in oleic acid would likely be better, Green said.

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Argan oil, grape seed oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, sweet almond oil, evening primrose oil and pumpkin seed oil are all oils with higher levels of linoleic acid, which tends to be lighter and less directly hydrating.

On the flip side, olive oil, jojoba oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, shea butter, moringa oil, palm kernel oil and apricot kernel oil are all oils with higher levels of oleic acid, which tends to be thicker and more moisturizing for dry skin.

For Green’s two cents, olive oil and castor oil are pretty good for most people’s skin. “Olive oil has many anti-inflammatory properties and is also rich in vitamins and antioxidants. Additionally, it is high in oleic acid, which makes it a good option for dry skin,” she said. “Castor oil is also a great option for oil cleansing since it has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It also penetrates deeply into the skin without clogging your pores.”

Whether for face or body, all of these oils will deliver some amount of cleansing.

Why Should I Consider Using the Best Cleansing Oils?

First, they work. “Cleansing oil works because the oil component of it binds with the oils and residual dirt on your face and allows it to be easily rinsed off with water afterward,” Green said. “For those who have oily skin, it’ll balance your skin’s oil production rather than making it oilier, [as long as it has] a surfactant or emulsifiers, which help dissolve the oil.”

In addition to treating oily skin, the best oil cleanser is also suitable for sensitive skin, dry skin and combination skin because oil is generally moisturizing. It’s counter-intuitive, we know, but that’s what makes cleansing oils such versatile cleansers.


1. Biossance Squalane + Antioxidant Cleansing Oil


For one of the best cleansing oils overall, we have to give it up to the Biossance Squalane + Antioxidant Cleansing Oil. It’s packed with a variety of cleansing oils, including lavender oil, oat kernel oil, evening primrose oil, moringa oil, rosemary oil and more, alongside squalane and tocopherol. With all of those ingredients working together, this oil cleanser can work for oily or dry skin, face or body. Plus, it’s a comparatively good value for its price, which is on the lower end among the best cleansing oils.

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Courtesy of Amazon


2. Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil


Kiehl’s is one of SPY’s long-time favorites for skincare. The Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil pulls no punches with its oils. With over a half dozen oils suited for both oily and dry skin and other ingredient all-stars like tocopherol and squalane, this oil cleanser will wash away excess dirt and oil while leaving your skin feeling hydrated and balanced. Non-comedogenic, this oil cleanser is suitable for face and body.

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Courtesy of Kiehl's


3. Drunk Elephant Slaai Makeup-Melting Butter Cleanser


The Drunk Elephant Slaai Makeup-Melting Butter Cleanser is a little different but no less effective at washing away dirt, makeup and even sunscreen. Instead of a liquid oil formula, it’s more of a balm. That oily balm then melts into milk upon contact with water to cleanse and moisturize dry skin.

The cleanser’s oils lean toward people with dry skin, but it features a mixture of oils high in oleic acid and linoleic acid. That makes it suitable for people with combination or oilier skin too. Just massage the Slaai in dry, add water and rinse for the kind of clean, moisturized skin only the best oil cleanser can deliver.

The Slaai also ships with the Drunk Elephant Bamboo Booster, a bamboo and charcoal powder that you can add to the balm to physically exfoliate your skin. Be sure not to do that more than once or twice per week and avoid your eyes when you do so.

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Courtesy of Amazon


4. Dermalogica Precleanse


The Dermalogica Precleanse can stand alone or as a partner in a double cleanse. Either way, this oil-based cleanser emulsifies into a nice milk on contact with water to dissolve away oil, gunk and makeup.

Rice bran oil works to soften skin, borage seed oil calms inflammation and dryness and apricot kernel oil soothes and moisturizes. Perfect for oily skin too, this facial cleansing oil delivers the clean and conditioning your skin deserves. It’s also highly rated on Amazon, with more than eight out of 10 people giving it five stars on over 1,200 ratings.

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Courtesy of Amazon


5. Mario Badescu Cleansing Oil


The Mario Badescu Cleansing Oil has an effective mix of cleansing oils to break down grime and nourish skin on a budget. It’s also got Green’s recommendation. “This is a non-stripping cleanser that hydrates the skin while effectively dissolving heavy, waterproof makeup. It contains primrose, jojoba and rice bran oil and is an affordable option,” she said. The evening primrose is great for cleansing oilier skin, the jojoba hydrates for dry skin and the rice bran oil offers a bit of both.

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Courtesy of Amazon


6. Tata Harper Nourishing Oil Cleanser


For a deeply hydrating oil-based cleanser that comes in a glass jar with a premium fragrance, there’s only the Tata Harper Nourishing Oil Cleanser. Though it’s aimed more at women, this is the best oil cleanser for removing any gunk or waterproof makeup while still leaving skin totally soft and supple. There are nearly a dozen different organic oils, a bevy of fruit and plant extracts, moisturizing squalane, free-radical fighting tocopherol and more. For dry skin, oily skin and everything in between, this is the best facial cleansing oil.

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Courtesy of Amazon


7. Avene XeraCalm A.D Lipid-Replenishing Cleansing Oil


If you know for sure you have dry, sensitive skin, give the Avene XeraCalm A.D Lipid-Replenishing Cleansing Oil a shot.

“[This] cleansing oil is great for gently cleansing the face and body,” Green said. “The oil helps restore the skin’s protective barrier and helps seal in moisture. It works well for all skin types and is even gentle enough to be used on infants and small children.”

In this case, the formula relies on castor oil, evening primrose oil and a few other ingredients unique to Avene. It’s meant to be used in the shower, so apply it like you would any other cleanser to your face or body.

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Courtesy of Avene


What Are the Risks and Best Practices for Using the Best Cleansing Oils?

The risks aren’t critical, but they do exist. Everyone’s skin is different, so there aren’t many hard rules. But some cleansing oils can clog pores, increasing the risk of breakouts and/or irritate your skin, Green said. That’s why she recommended always reviewing the ingredients beforehand, especially if you have any allergies, and applying a test patch on an unseen body part before trying the cleansing oils on your face. You may also wish to avoid cleansers that contain fragrances if you have sensitive skin, Green advised.

But once you’ve found the best oil cleanser for you, it’s just a matter of easing it into your routine and monitoring your skin for results. If you notice a breakout, it’s probably the cleansing oil. “You can use it once a week, every other day or even every day in the evening,” she said. “If you introduce cleansing oils into your skincare regimen and notice you are breaking out, the cleansing oil is likely to be the culprit.”

If you want to minimize the chances of your cleansing oils going awry, you can also avoid coconut oil and cocoa butter, which have higher comedogenic scores and are more likely to cause breakouts, Green added.

In terms of actually applying the cleansing oils to your face or body, warm them up in your fingers a little bit and massage them into your skin. Products will typically specify whether your skin should be wet or dry first. Be careful cleansing around your eyes and rinse with water and pat dry afterward.


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