Does anyone else fondly remember the days when “washing your face” was a 10-second process involving nothing fancier than soap in the shower? But as the years go on and our skin develops its own sets of needs and concerns, cleansing becomes a key part of the skincare routine, especially if you regularly wear makeup.
It may seem like the least important step to worry about – after all, a cleanser only stays on your skin for a minute or two before you rinse it off – but incorporating the wrong product can exacerbate any skin concerns you have, and actually make the rest of your skincare routine more taxing, so it’s worth getting it right.
Cleansing is crucial. Over the course of the day a build-up of grease and gunk can sit invisibly on the surface of the skin, especially if you’ve been out in polluted environments and even if you haven’t been wearing makeup. If we don’t properly cleanse this can build up and block pores, leading to breakouts and a dull, congested and textured-looking complexion.
Standard advice is to give the face a light cleanse in the morning to prep the skin, and double cleanse in the evening. This involves using one product to remove makeup or dirt and then a second product when the skin is clean to deep cleanse into pores, making sure your face is squeaky clean before going ahead with a toner, serum and moisturiser.
There are so many cleanser options on the market, from foaming cleansers to oils, milks, creams and balms, all of which promise to give you the softest, cleanest of skin.
Combination skin is often confused with “normal” skin (which is neither dry nor oily), but in fact, it’s the complete opposite. Those with combination skin suffer from dry areas as well as oily ones, so we’re looking for a product which is simple enough to not strip the dry skin of its natural oils, while light enough to avoid clogging up your naturally greasier areas.
Of course, different people will have different needs: if you don’t tend to wear makeup for example, you can go with a lighter cleanser with more skincare properties than makeup removing ones. If you tend to go heavy on the mascara yet have sensitive eyes, you’ll be looking for something which can do the job without causing irritation.
When you have combination skin it’s important not to fall into the trap of trying to use products for one concern or another, as a product for dry skin will exacerbate your oily areas, and vice versa. This is more of a concern for choosing other skincare products such as moisturisers which stay on the skin, but in the long term the wrong cleanser can be equally as damaging. Here are some of the best cleansers on the market for combination skin.
La Roche-Posay makeup remover milk, 200ml: £9, FeelUnique
Although it’s called a makeup remover, this product works just as well as a morning or second cleanse – it’s a great option if you want to streamline your skincare and go for one product that can do it all.
It’s marketed for dry skin and indeed compared to other makeup removal options it feels gentle and hydrating, even after using to remove stubborn waterproof eye makeup. While it’s not going to provide any oil control, it doesn’t leave a noticeable residue that might exacerbate oily areas, and it gives the feeling of properly cleansing the skin to avoid breakouts. It’s a great option for something simple that does what it says on the tin, at a very affordable price.
Glossier milky jelly cleanser, 177ml: £15, Glossier
We’ll be honest, when Glossier launched in the UK in 2017 we were sucked in by the hype, the pretty packaging and the quirky product names, but we did wonder whether we were dealing with style over substance. But having tried out a number of their products, we can attest that this particular one is definitely worth the hype.
As the name suggests, it comes out as a jelly which emulsifies on the skin to turn to a milky consistency. Unless you’re wearing the most minimal of makeup this isn’t going to remove it well, but as a morning or second cleanse it works much better. It has a clean, fresh and slightly sweet scent which feels like it’s gently rousing you from sleep and it comes off perfectly with a water rinse – we love a hot cloth as much as the next skincare addict, but sometimes it’s just too much hassle.
With just a few swipes of wet hands the cleanser is completely gone and your skin feels somehow thoroughly cleansed but not at all stripped. There’s no residue, yet the skin is soft, bouncy and brightened. It comes in a frosted plastic bottle with a pump, making it easy to see when you’re running out, and totally shower-friendly. We’d honestly pay double for it but for the price, you can’t beat it.
Drunk Elephant beste No. 9 jelly cleanser, 150ml: £27, Cult Beauty
Drunk Elephant is known for its clean products, which promise to restore the skin to its natural condition thanks to the avoidance of six commonly-found ingredients in skincare which the brand claims are responsible for some of our main skin concerns.
For a product with no harsh chemicals, this cleanser does an incredible job of removing makeup and leaving the skin feeling well-cleansed and soft, without any greasy residue. The formula is dispensed as a gel but lathers when applied to the skin and water is added. The product doesn’t really benefit from using a cloth or flannel, but removing it with water can be a little messy. We found it to be perfect for an in-shower cleanse though. It seemed to tighten pores and have some mild oil control properties, without drying out the skin or leaving it feeling tight or exacerbating dry patches. A great all-rounder in a handy squeezy tube for travelling or taking to the gym.
Oskia renaissance cleansing gel, 100ml: £31, Cult Beauty
The huge popularity of this product is proof we're not the only one who was willing to open up their wallet for a great cleanser. This is a very similar product to the Glossier cleanser but with a few extra bells and whistles. It contains pumpkin enzyme, vitamins A, C and E and Oskia’s signature ingredient MSM, a natural form of organic sulphur which aids cell regeneration.
This does break down makeup (although you’d probably still need to use something else on the eyes) and can be removed without a cloth. The product pumps out as a gel but turns into an oil which you can massage into the skin for a little mini-facial and it has a nice rosy scent. Just like Glossier’s product, it leaves the skin feeling clean and hydrated with zero residue. The main downside is the packaging: it feels a little bulky and the white bottle, while beautifully sleek, is completely opaque, making it hard to tell when you need to repurchase.
First Aid beauty skin rescue deep cleanser with red clay, 134g: £18, Look Fantastic
If you’re prone to blackheads and breakouts, you may want to try a more heavy duty cleanser. This product looks and feels like an exfoliating mask, but is gentle enough to be used every day, especially in the summer when the skin is a little less dry and SPF build-up and excess oils can lead to more frequent blemishes.
It has a unique red colour to it initially but lathers up nicely when wet and a small amount goes a long way. It has a pleasant, earthy scent to it and does a good job of removing makeup and making the skin feel “squeaky clean”. We wouldn’t recommend it for the colder months as it can make the dry skin feel a little tight, but for a deep cleanser it definitely gets the job done while not being too drying or irritating the skin.
Emma Hardie amazing face natural lift and sculpt moringa cleansing balm, 100ml: £47, Feelunique
Let’s not beat around the bush, this is incredibly expensive for a cleansing balm, there are others which work perfectly well (namely Clinique’s take the day off and Pixi Nourishing cleansing balm) and are much more reasonably priced. But we will defend this splurge with a controversial claim: we think this balm can work as a first and second cleanser – all rolled into one.
It works wonders on makeup and even waterproof mascara comes off in a couple of swipes of a damp cloth (it does come with one included) after massaging the balm gently around the face. Where this comes into its own is if you go over your face with it again when it’s bare. The formula deep cleanses to remove any gunk and seems to close up pores. It leaves the skin feeling radiant and smooth – as though you’d just exfoliated but without anything harsh or abrasive on the skin. While it doesn’t leave a residue at all, it does seem to moisturise the skin and even if you put nothing on after afterwards, it won’t dry out.
While this is an amazing evening product, it’s a bit too heavy (and time consuming) for the morning, and could make your skin look oilier than usual, so save it for before bed, when you want an effective yet luxurious skin pamper.
Lush like a virgin naked cold cream cleanser, 15g: £4.96, Lush
Like a virgin is part of Lush’s new “naked” range, meaning it is sold with no packaging to minimise waste and carbon footprint. It comes in a solid round block, reminiscent of a old fashioned hand soap, but the texture is more like a solid balm – it doesn’t lather up, but the more you massage it into the skin the oilier it gets.
This is a product that you cannot use without a flannel or muslin cloth, as it will inevitably leave a residue. But if you wipe it off it leaves the face feeling remarkably clean and free from any product. It’s leaves the skin feeling balanced and is decent at breaking up makeup, although anything heavy will need an additional product.
The product is – in typical Lush fashion – heavily scented, but it’s a pleasant citrusy smell which isn’t overpowering. Aside from being packaging-free it’s also vegan, cruelty-free and contains primarily natural ingredients.
Fresh soy face cleanser, 150ml: £30, John Lewis & Partners
This is a great all-rounder for a cleanser light enough to use in the morning, powerful enough to remove makeup (including eye makeup) with no irritation, while still working as a second deep cleanse. The product comes out as a gel and turns slightly milky when wet. It does foam a tiny bit, but this comes from a vegetable-based fatty alcohol rather than harsh surfactants, so it won’t dry out your skin. The soy bean oil is supposed to improve the elasticity of skin over time, and it includes a whole host of other natural extracts which help to sooth and revitalise your face.
While this is not a drying cleanser, it’s not particularly hydrating either, which is why it works really well in the morning, when you want to keep any oiliness at bay. It would also be a good one if avoiding breakouts is a main concern. It’s a great all-rounder if you’re looking for a single option to tick all the boxes, but it won’t offer any miraculous transformations.
Bioderma sebium H2O purifying cleansing micelle solution, 250ml: £9.15, FeelUnique
Bioderma has recently released a new version of its classic micellar water which promises to work to regulate sebum without being drying – key for anyone with combination skin. We found that it didn’t remove makeup quite as well (it still does the job, but requires a bit more scrubbing), and its oil control properties don’t really kick in if used at night.
However, if you’re looking for something to quickly swipe over the skin in the morning to prep for makeup, it’s a great option. It removes any product residue and leaves the skin feeling soft and clean, and it does seem to minimise shine throughout the day without being at all drying, especially if you concentrate the product on the oilier areas and use a light moisturiser afterwards. Definitely one worth trying if you’re a fan of micellar waters but want something with extra oil control.
Liz Earle cleanse and polish hot cloth cleanser, 100ml: £15.50, Boots
This is one of those products that people fall in love with and use religiously, and it’s not hard to see why: it comes out as a cream which you massage on the skin and remove with a warm flannel, steaming away impurities. It does remove makeup well (although waterproof mascara will need a couple of coats) without irritating or stripping the skin at all.
If you wanted to stick to just one product it could be used as a second cleanse, too, as it does purify and exfoliate a tiny bit, especially when used with the muslin cloth that's included. It leaves the skin feeling soft and bright, plus it’s enriched with cocoa butter that moisturises the skin a little without leaving a film or residue. Our main issue with this product is the overpoweringly rosy scent, but if you like that kind of thing it could be the one for you.
MOA the green balm, 50ml: £15, Cult Beauty
MOA – the Magic Organic Apothecary – create 100 per cent natural skincare products manufactured in the UK, of course free from parabens, mineral oil, sulphates and every other unpleasant-sounding ingredient you might find in other products. The green balm, which includes ancient herb yarrow as its active ingredient, is an incredibly versatile product. It can soothe skin from itching, dryness or eczema, be used as a lip balm or hand cream and be even added to hot water and gargled to help a sore throat.
As a cleanser, it doesn’t really remove makeup particularly effectively, but it’s a truly delightful second cleanse. It feels incredibly thick – almost more of a wax than a balm – but when warmed up turns into more of an oil. The first time we used it we thought it would leave our skin feeling too oily, but actually when removed with a damp cloth there’s barely any residue. It’s heavy enough that we would avoid it in the morning, but in the evenings any leftover product can be kept on drier areas to continue to hydrate throughout the night, and you’ll wake up with skin that truly feels renewed and deeply nourished – not just superficially moisturised. It also comes in a tiny dinky 15ml tub which is great if you need a multi-purpose product to travel with.
The Verdict: Cleansers for combination skin
For an affordable all-rounder which won’t increase oiliness or exacerbate dryness, La Roche-Posay’s makeup remover milk is a great option which can be used for multiple cleanses. For something with more of a noticeable effect on the skin, the Oskia renaissance cleansing gel feels amazing and really does seem to give an extra bounce and glow. If you’re looking for an environmentally friendly cleanser, Lush’s like a virgin gives great results once you get used to the solid balm texture.