By Megan Cahn
ALL ILLUSTRATIONS BY MARY GALLOWAY.
Skin-care rules may be fickle, but there’s one that will always remain true: You have to wash your face. We’re taught the importance of cleansing from a young age (moisturizing, toning, exfoliating — all that comes later), but that doesn’t mean you should still be using the face wash your mom bought you to fight off teenage acne. These days, there are so many products out there beyond the harsh face washes and scrubs of our formative years — and many of them are gentler.
Over the last few years, a sea of new cleansing options has flooded the market. But these waters (as well as gels, balms, and powders) can be difficult to navigate, so we enlisted some industry experts to tell us about the pros and cons of the latest cleansing alternatives — and product suggestions, too.
Unless you’re an ahead-of-the-curve makeup artist or a jet-setting Francophile, micellar water probably wasn’t on your radar until it started getting buzz in the States a couple of years ago. Hell, it might still sound foreign to you. But the French have been using it for years — originally to avoid the harsh tap water of Paris. Yes, micellar water is meant to take the place of regular old water, but it has a magic ingredient: micelles, or little oil molecules that absorb other oils and dirt.
Pros: Micellar water is great for all skin types because it doesn’t strip the skin — which could leave it prone to acne and irritation. It even works for those with extremely sensitive skin, eczema, or rosacea, says Dendy Engelman, MD, dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery. But its most appealing quality? It’s a one-step, no-rinse situation — the low-maintenance, low-attention-span, late-night girl’s dream product.
Cons: Nothing can be that easy, right? Mary Schook, a licensed esthetician and cosmetic formulator in New York City, is a fan of micellar water because it doesn’t coat the skin with residue and it saves time, but she doesn’t think it should be used every day. “It’s a great quick-fix,” she says. “But I really find that the ‘lazy’ cleansing method is not always a daily solution, and still needs a rinse at times followed by some toner and a good serum and/or cream. Sometimes, there are no shortcuts in skin care.” Especially if you wear a lot of makeup — micellar water won’t always remove those pesky leftover mascara particles.
“Originally, [micellar water] wasn’t good as a long-term skin-care strategy, especially for troubled or oily skin because the micelles — additional oil — can clog the skin,” says Schook. “But Bioderma created its Sébium H2O especially for oily skin.
Bioderma Bioderma Sebium H2O, $12.95, available at Beautylish.
La Roche-Posay has been making derm-approved products for over 30 years in France, and its micellar water is one of the most popular. It’s especially good for those with sensitive skin.
La Roche-Posay Physiological Micellar Solution, $16.79, available at Drugstore.com.
This micellar water gets a little boost from the soothing rose de France, so it not only removes makeup and gently cleanses the skin, but it also smells dreamy.
Lancôme Eau Fraiche Douceur, $38, available at Lancôme.
Like its French cousin micellar water, cleansing balm uses oil to latch onto and remove makeup, without stripping the skin. But this guy has a completely different consistency and takes a whole lot more of a commitment — it’s not for lazy girls. First, you apply the thick formula (which may seem closer in texture to something you would swipe across your lips) to dry skin, and then you massage it in. It will begin to melt off even the toughest waterproof makeup. Add water, and it will emulsify so you can rinse it off. Dr. Engelman suggests wiping it off with a muslin cloth to exfoliate, tone, and improve circulation. Balms are best for normal to dry skin.
Pros: Cleansing balms are great for taking off heavy makeup. They are especially good for those with dry skin, and in the winter if your skin needs a moisture surge — you can even use some of them as overnight masks, says Schook. If you massage a balm into your skin, Dr. Engelman says it can "decongest and help drain toxins [while] thoroughly cleansing and exfoliating. This will support natural skin-cell regeneration and provide a vital receptive base for [additional skin-care] products to work at their best.” Plus, they condition the skin, leaving it soft to the touch.
Cons: “Be careful if you have sensitive skin,” warns Schook. “Some of the essential oils that many brands use can cause breakouts, some brands can still feel like Crisco on the skin, and some oily-skin users report that their skin doesn’t feel clean after using cleansing balms.” If you are acne-prone and want to try a balm, be sure you remove every last trace of it with a washcloth, says Schook. If there’s still residue after that (test with a swipe of toner and a cotton ball), you may need to use another cleanser after, or balms may not be right for you. As you can see, they are a bit of a commitment.
This OG cleansing balm from British facialist Eve Lom was once dubbed “the best cleanser in the world” by Vogue. ‘Nuff said.
Eve Lom Cleanser, $80, available at SpaceNK.
Our beauty editor Maria Del Russo swears by this product. “It melts my makeup off in one step,” she says. “And unlike some of the other cleansers I’ve used, it is incredibly moisturizing, too.”
The Organic Pharmacy Carrot Butter Cleanser, $74, available at The Organic Pharmacy.
Cleansing balms tend to run on the pricey side, but for a more affordable option (here’s a drugstore pick, too), this one does the trick. It is noticeably more lightweight than some of the others, yet still effective at removing makeup and moisturizing.
Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm, $28.50, available at Nordstrom.