Cleansing – The Basics – Finding The Right Cleanser For You


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The first and arguably one of the most important steps in a skincare (and makeup routine) is cleansing. While it may not appear to be a standout step at first, it can truly enhance the health of your skin and be a step you derive pleasure from at the same time.


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Why is cleansing important?

Cleansing is vital for two reasons. Firstly to remove excess sebum (the natural oils produced in your skin) dirt and pollution. Secondly, to remove SPF and makeup.

What happens if I don’t cleanse my face?

Not removing makeup, SPF, dirt and oils allow these products to sit on your skin and potentially enables dirt to build up causing congestion, inflammation, spots and irritated, unhealthy skin.

When do I need to cleanse?

Frequency depends on your skin type. Most people like to do a quick face wash (either with a face wash or Micellar water) in the morning and a thorough cleanse on an evening.

What do I use to cleanse my face?

Your chosen cleansing product is quite personal to you. It should be one that is suited to your skin type and sufficiently removes product (makeup and SPF) and the daily build-up of pollution dirt and oils.

Types of cleansers

I’m going to break this down into four categories with subcategories of texture or formula differences to help point out which kind of cleanser is best suited for which skin type. With multiple products shown and recommended to suit a range of budgets.

Face wash – Wash off cleansers

A traditional cleanser designed to be applied to wet skin. Once massaged into the skin the product is then washed away with a splash of water or a face cloth depending on your preference.


Face washes with gel textures tend to be favoured by those with oily skin as they are not too heavy in texture. They are of course suitable for normal skin types and depending on the product, normal to dry. Most people with dry skin tend to prefer a more hydrating option, however.
Cleansing - The Basics! Want to learn which cleanser is right for you? Then this post has you covered! This image is of two gel cleansers one by Avene in a see through bottle-the cleanser is a teal blue. The second cleanser is a in white opaque bottle by 'Dr Sam'. The bottles sit on a wooden tray with greenery blurred in the background.
Gel Cleanser – Avène, Dr Sam’s
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Cleansing Gel £12.00, currently on sale at £9.00



These cleansers have been traditionally loved by those with oily skin as the foaming action of the cleanser helps break down oil. Go gentle with these types if they are not SLS free (or at least contain heavy SLS-Sodium Lauryl Sulfate surfactants) as they can be a little stripping to the skin, which is one of the reasons oily skin types become more oily.

Milky / Cream

Favoured by those with normal to dry skin types, a milky cleanser is hydrating and gentle on skin that needs more hydration or is perhaps irritated. These formulations tend to be more gentle and leave skin soft to the touch.
Cleansing - The Basics! Want to learn which cleanser is right for you? Then this post has you covered!
Cream cleansers – SkinCeuticals, La Roche Posay
Philosophy Purity One-Step Cleanser £19.00



Cleansing oils are most suited for those with normal to dry/very dry skin. They hydrate as well as clean and are a thorough cleansing product. Most tend to be water-soluble and leave drier skin types feeling comfortable and soft.
Cleansing Basics - Skincare Guides - Oil - An image of a transparent oil sat on a white table with blurred flowers in the background. The flowers are pinks, purples, white and green.
Cleansing Oil – Sonia Roselli Beauty




Wipe off Cleanser -Apply with a cotton pad


A cleansing liquid which comes in a bottle, with a typical cotton pad application. Meaning you soak a cotton pad with the cleansing fluid then apply to dry skin to both remove makeup and clean skin. These come in a few different textures to suit all skin types. They can also be used to refresh skin.


This is a hydrating cleanser suited for normal, to dry skin types. The texture can vary from a runny milky one to a thicker creamy one: choose one most suited to your skin’s needs.


Micellar water

Micellar water is a runny cleanser containing a mild surfactant. Micelles, which are attracted to dirt and oil and therefore clean the skin. You can’t just splash your face with this though, it needs to be applied to a cotton pad for the micelles to form and then remove makeup and dirt as you swipe the pad across your face. Michelle from Lab Muffin Beauty Science has, in my opinion, the best scientific explanation of how it works, if you’re interested. (You can read it here.)
They are perfect for removing light makeup and for refreshing skin.
I recommend washing micellar water off after use, it is a surfactant after all. These are used in shampoo’s and dish soap for example and while perfectly suitable for use on the skin, I like the thought of a cleansing product free skin.
Cleansing - The Basics! Want to learn which cleanser is right for you? Then this post has you covered! This image is of Micella waters from garner, embroylisee and simple. The clear bottles sit on a wooden tray with a white background with the sunlight reflecting through.
Micellar Water – Garnier, Embryolisse, Simple
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Micellar Water £12.00 currently on sale £9.00


Eye Makeup Remover

A classic liquid eye makeup remover also sits in this category whether it is a regular or bi-phase (oil and water mix-best for waterproof and stubborn eye makeup) based formula.



Solid – Balm

Balm cleansers are solid oil balms which come in tubs. When applied to dry skin they melt with the warmth of the body allowing you to effortlessly work the product in, breaking down makeup & SPF. By applying damp fingers to your face the balm emulsifies into a milky formula enabling the cleanser to either be removed with a damp muslin or washed off.
These are a very effective cleanser which come in a gel-oil formula for oily skins and solid oils for dry skin types.
If you find your cleanser isn’t quite hitting the mark, it might be worth trying one of these.
The Basics! Want to learn which cleanser is right for you? Then this post has you covered! This image has balm cleansers from Elemis, Clinique, dermelogica and Emma Hardie. They are all sitting on a wooden tray with greenery blurred in the background.
Balm cleansers – Emma Hardie, Elemis, Clinique, Dermalogica


What about face wipes?

Face wipes don’t cut it in my view! They cannot effectively remove full makeup and SPF and the harsh tugging isn’t good for your delicate skin (trust me, your future self will thank you for it!). In a pinch, it’s better than nothing but try and make sure they’re biodegradable or reusable because they’re really bad for the environment…


Do I need a muslin cloth?

This is entirely down to preference. Face cloths, muslin cloths whichever you use, whatever you like to call them, do perform a job. When used to remove a cleanser they help exfoliate any dead skin (which is always great) and they help thoroughly remove all traces of cleanser. They kind of supercharge your cleanser.
However, you do not have to use one, nor do you need to use one, it is entirely your choice. They work wonderfully with solid cleansers and ensure all product is removed.

Overuse of a face cloth can be irritating to those with sensitive skin, you are applying friction to your face after all, so go easy. The majority of facial cleansers are designed to be applied and either washed off straight away or emulsified into a milky texture before doing so.


How do I clean them?

Face cloths are breeding ground for bacteria, anything that gets wet is. If you’re trying to look after your skin you don’t want to be ‘cleaning’ it with a cloth that has yesterdays makeup, dirt and some germs to boot.
The easy way to get around this is to buy a few and use a fresh one each cleanse.
Buy 8 then you have one for each day of the week (with a spare for wash day), pop them in the wash with one to spare. If 8 isn’t an option, steep in boiling water to kill germs as you go.
Cleansing cloths Pack of 10 £3.00 available at Dunelm


Makeup Remover Cloths

The newest product to hit the beauty market are these nifty little makeup removing cloths. Simply wet and swipe across your face to remove makeup. They are effective and sustainable as they are reusable. I still recommend washing your face (to remove any leftover traces) after use but these are perfect for travel and if you don’t want to use yet another product.
 Face Halo £18.00 for a pack of 3 (reusable)


Exfoliating Cleansers


Exfoliating Cleansers come in two forms: physical exfoliants which contain particles such as jojoba beads, sugar, or salt (they used to contain plastic beads but thankfully these are now banned for the good of the environment) that manually exfoliate the skin while cleansing.
Chemical exfoliants containing  AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) or BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acid) acid (not harmful acids don’t worry), which gently help loosen dead skin and unclog pores.
Both are beneficial in removing dry skin and tend to be gentle enough to use on a daily basis (unless stated on the product).
The decision to use the more traditional physical exfoliating cleansers or the increasingly popular liquid exfoliating cleanser is a matter of personal preference.
Products which contain exfoliating acids can be irritating to sensitive skins and you must ensure you’re using an SPF in your skincare routine when using one.
They are not an essential product in your routine, especially if you’re just finding your feet with cleansing.
Cleansing - Skincare basics - Pixi exfoliating gel laid on a wooden tray.
Exfoliating Cleanser – PIXI Glow Tonic Cleansing Gel


Double Cleanse

To double cleanse or not to double cleanse. Look it up in a google search and you’ll either find die-hard fans or those who argue whether cleansing twice is necessary. It can be a bit confusing.

The purpose behind a ‘double cleanse’ is simply to thoroughly remove everything, all the thick heavy occlusive layers (read full coverage foundation and the necessary SPF).  A full face of makeup and heavy-duty SPF often does not come off in a single cleanse. And in order to have the best, healthiest skin that we desire, we need that all off at the end of the day.


Does everyone need to double cleanse?

If you are someone who barely wears any makeup, or perhaps wears none at all then one single thorough cleanse will properly be sufficient. Dr Sam Bunting has a simple 1 minute cleanse that is helpful. You can view her tutorial here.

Those of us who wear foundation and a full SPF may find the double cleanse technique beneficial.


How to double cleanse

If you wear light makeup you could opt for removing said makeup with Micellar water, for example, then thoroughly cleansing with a wash-off cleanser of your choice.
The more long-wearing makeup lovers of us, or those who religiously wear heavy-duty SPF ( should be all of us 😉 ) may prefer the following. Using a solid cleanser first to remove all makeup and SPF, rinsing and then doing a second cleanse with a regular wash-off cleanser to effectively cleanse the skin
The idea is that the first cleanse gets rid of most of your day’s makeup and skincare and the second cleans the skin while ensuring there are no leftovers of foundation or balm cleanser lurking around.


Cleansing faux pas

Using products that are too harsh for the skin often cause more trouble than they’re worth. With dry skin, this can lead to sensitivity and further dehydration. In oily skin, it can trick the skin into producing excess oil. This happens as you strip the skin of its natural oils and it thinks it needs to produce more, leading to oilier skin than in the first place.


The key things are:
•To never rub so hard your skin feel irritated
•Don’t use a product that leaves your skin feeling stripped
•Always use a clean face cloth


You want:
•Your skin to feel clean and comfortable
•To cleanse or double cleanse


To sum up

A thorough cleanse both morning and night is the building block to a great skincare routine. Doing so ensures you rid your skin of the day’s pesky pollution (sadly it’s out there), makeup and SPF, leading to fresh, glowing, healthy skin. Skin that’s less sluggish and more ready to absorb all the goodness you’re applying in your products. Let’s face it we don’t want to waste them. Makeup applies better and in the longterm skin is less congested.


Turn a cleanse into a weekly facial massage by applying a cleansing balm and following facial massage techniques. This boosts circulation and plumps the skin. If anything, it’s a lovely treat while you’re watching Netflix!
Skincare guides for Cleansing
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Next step is protecting your skin, you can read about some of my favourite products to do this with here and here!


Look out for the next Skincare Guide all about serums, coming soon!
Do you have a current favourite cleanser? Let me know in the comments!
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    1. I’m glad you’ve found this post helpful! There’s lots of wipe-on products listed that you can keep by your bedside that can be handy too 🙂

  1. I never thought that cleansing and moisturising my face was important until I turned 25. Now I know how important it is and try my best to work it into a routine.

    1. You’re certainly not alone there, it’s quite common! But getting a good cleansing step down and then moisturising well really can enhance your skin, as I’m sure you’ve found 🙂

    1. Thanks, that’s so kind of you to say! I suffered cystic acne for many years so try my best to keep on top of my skincare routine now I’ve got it under control. The Elemis balm really is beautiful, it thoroughly cleans skin, removes makeup and smells like a spa at the same time! You can use it as a mask too 🙂

  2. Very thorough post. When I was a teen I was always using whatever acne remedy was on the market and of course that was too harsh for my skin. Now with my autoimmune issues finding a product that isn’t irritating to the skin is much more challenging. Thank you for all this info.

    1. I did exactly the same! And as I had very oily acne skin I liked the tight feeling post-wash, of course, come a few hours later my face was so oily again. It wasn’t until I learnt about skin in my training that I realised how stripping some of those products can actually be and make the problem worse. It’s so hard as consumers, when we don’t have the information, isn’t it and have to trust the manufacturers! That’s why I wanted to share what I have learnt. Also suffering autoimmune issues I can appreciate what you’re saying with current challenges. I’d recommend looking at the Tolerane range from La Roche Posay, or the Avene cleansers both are non-irritating 🙂

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