As a beauty writer, I receive a lot of products to trial, which is a blessing for obvious reasons but also a curse as someone with very sensitive skin. Whenever I try a new product, I always cross my fingers that it doesn’t lead to a major breakout, which will inevitably lead to hyperpigmentation that will take months to fade. As someone with combination acne-prone skin, removing my makeup thoroughly is so so important. I’ve tried more than 50 cleansing balms, from well-known and expensive to unknown and inexpensive brands.
I jumped on the cleansing balm bandwagon because taking my makeup off was the kryptonite of my skincare routine. I realized that whenever I tried to rationalize falling asleep with my makeup on, it was because of how long I knew it would take to remove it, not the act itself. I despised makeup wipes for how they felt on my skin and how irritating and rough they were on my eyes, but I also wanted to move away from single-use products. Micellar water just wasn’t a texture I liked and always left me with gritty, oily-feeling skin. And using my regular cleansers took far too long, so I decided to give cleansing balms a shot, and I’m so glad I did.
What I look for in a cleansing balm is one that isn’t too thick or oily, that’s emulsifying, and that never leaves a cast or residue after I use it. The ones I didn’t like were either too hard to apply, too heavily fragranced, or didn’t break down makeup quickly or thoroughly enough. Keep scrolling for my favorite balms that not only remove all my makeup but that also don’t make me break out.
What is a cleansing balm?
Cleansing balms are oil-based products meant to remove impurities and dirt from your skin’s surface while protecting and moisturizing your skin’s barrier. They also remove excess sebum and create a clean canvas so your cleansers and serums work more effectively and don’t just sit on top of stuck-on makeup or clogged pores. When you add water to them, they emulsify and break down your makeup like magic. When rinsing them off, you can visibly see the dirt and makeup leaving your face.
Shop my favorite cleansing balms
Hot Oil Double Cleansing Balm
This is my personal favorite cleansing balm. It’s so effective that it not only removes my makeup, but also leaves my skin feeling like I just had a spa treatment. Formulated in Japan with natural Aloe Juice, Niacin-rich Rice Bran Oil, and cold-pressed Baobab Sariché Oil, this balm easily warms up and emulsifies. Beauty Pie is a membership-based brand, so while you can order anything from their site at full price, there's also the option to sign up for their membership to get heavily discounted products whenever you want. I speak from experience when I say their products are top-notch and formulated for sensitive skin.
Algae Enzyme Cleansing Oil
MARA is a brand with an array of high-quality products that should definitely be on your radar, as it recently became available at Sephora. The only product on this list that isn’t an actual balm but works just as well, this oil removes all my makeup (even my waterproof mascara) and doesn’t leave my skin feeling oily at all.
Sunflower + Oat Melting Cleansing Balm
This brand just launched on February 1. As someone who's been lucky enough to try them out, I can say they came into the game prepared to do skincare right. This balm has a cream-like texture and removes makeup well while also cleansing your face. I would be 100 percent OK using just this product without double cleansing.
Dew Dream Hydrating Cleansing Balm
EADEM is one of my absolute favorite Black-owned skincare brands. Every single one of their products has me in a chokehold and is formulated with care. What I love most about this “balm” is that it comes in a squeeze-tube bottle and that it starts off as gel, turns into an oil, and finally becomes a milky texture. It removes all my makeup every time. I give it a 10/10.
Omega+ Complex Cleansing Balm
Paula’s Choice makes one of my favorite products (the Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant), so I was eager to try their cleansing balm, and it didn’t disappoint. It comes in a tube bottle (which I love) and is lightweight and fragrance-free, making it a great choice for people with combination skin. The formula is rich in omegas 3, 6, and 9 to purify and noticeably soften skin while rinsing completely clean.
Bye Bye Makeup Cleansing Balm
I was shocked that I loved this cleansing balm so much for the simple fact that I associate the brand with makeup, having previously only used their amazing CC Cream. The fragrance of this balm isn’t overwhelming, a little goes a long way, and it's very hydrating.
Living Cleansing Balm
From the texture to the smell to the effectiveness, this product deserves all the praise it gets. A winner of multiple prestigious beauty awards, it certainly lives up to expectations. It goes on extremely smoothly, and it removed all my makeup even when I was fully professionally glammed up for a wedding.
Clean 10 Cleansing Balm
This balm's price is right, but it’s also a very effective oil-based cleanser perfect for all skin types. It effectively removes even waterproof makeup, and what I really love is that it has just 10 ingredients. The star ingredient is Japanese Barley Magic, which is a source of vitamins that also helps regulate melanin production. I’ve noticed it's helped brighten my complexion and reduce dark spots, and it never leaves my skin feeling stripped.