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Cleansing oils are a great compromise between convenience and oil cleansing. I’ve tried a bunch more from Dermalogica, Shu Uemura, Hylamide, Erno Laszlo and Simple since my last review, so here are my thoughts.
Cleansing Oils vs Oil Cleansing
First, what’s the difference between cleansing oils and oil cleansing? Simply swapping the two words around makes a big difference!
Cleansing oils are oils that contain surfactants (emulsifiers) – in other words, they’re much like a mixture of oil and soap. When you apply them to your skin they act like oils, but when you add water, the soap part helps the oil dissolve in the water and rinse off your skin (they’ll look a bit milky at this stage – that’s the tiny oil droplets hanging out in the water!).
Oil cleansing involves using plain oils, without surfactants. To get the oil off your skin, you either have to add a separate cleanser afterwards, or you have to use more oil to wash the dirty oil off.
Both methods are great for removing makeup and sunscreen. However, cleansing oils are generally easier to rinse off, since the surfactant is already mixed thoroughly in the oil. I’d still recommend double cleansing by following the cleansing oil with a cleanser (exception: if you weren’t wearing anything too heavy on your skin to begin with, and the cleansing oil is compatible with your skin). Even though cleansing oils should theoretically come off when you rinse with water, sometimes they aren’t formulated with quite enough surfactants for complete removal. There are tons of reports of cleansing oils breaking people out, so it’s a good idea to test it on a small area of skin before using it too liberally before a big event!
Dermalogica Precleanse ($60 AUD for 150 mL) is based on caprylic/capric triglyceride and apricot kernel oil. Caprylic/capric triglyceride is also known as MCT oil in the food world – it’s essentially a reconstituted form of coconut oil, and much like coconut oil, it’s great for your skin if it doesn’t break you out. The surfactant in Precleanse is PEG-40 sorbitan peroleate, a non-ionic surfactant, which are generally considered much gentler than anionic surfactants like sulfates (e.g. SLS and SLES).
I found that Precleanse was a bit on the drying side, so it’s better for oily skin. It also smells very spa-like, with lavender and citrus – amazing for the senses, but if you’re allergic to essential oils or your skin is sensitive, stay away.
Precleanse comes in a pump bottle that I found really convenient. Cleansing oils tend to be quite thick and gooey, and if they’re in a regular bottle things get a bit messy and sticky.
Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Prunus Armeniaca (Apricot) Kernel Oil, PEG-40 Sorbitan Peroleate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Borago Officinalis Seed Oil, Aleurites Moluccana Seed Oil, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Oil, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Extract, Tocopherol, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, Cetyl Ethylhexanoate, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Decyl Olive Esters, Dicaprylyl Carbonate, Citral, Limonene, Linalool, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel Oil, Lavandula Hybrida Oil, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Oil, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Oil, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Citrus Nobilis (Mandarin Orange) Peel Oil, Isopropylparaben, Isobutylparaben, Butylparaben.
Shu Uemura Ultime8 Sublime Beauty Cleansing Oil
Shu Uemura Ultime8 Sublime Beauty Cleansing Oil ($65.00 for 150 mL) comes from the brand that started the cleansing oil craze 50 years ago. Shu have 6 different cleansing oils available, and one is sold every 7 seconds. Ultime8 Sublime Beauty Cleansing Oil is the newest and fanciest one. It has a pretty long ingredients list, and it looks like the main oils and surfactants are quite varied. For oils, there’s corn germ oil, ethylhexyl palmitate (an ingredient with silicone-like glide), caprylic/capric triglyceride (MCT oil), isopropyl myristate (a non-greasy oil) and meadowfoam seed oil. There are three different surfactants, all of which are gentle non-ionic surfactants containing lots of glycerin molecules, so if they remain on the skin they’re likely to be hydrating: polyglyceryl-10 dioleate, polyglyceryl-6 dicaprate and polyglyceryl-2 oleate. The fact there’s a mixture of surfactants usually means it’s more gentle and disturbs the skin less.
Shu Uemura cleansing oils come in convenient pump bottles. I found the texture of this to be thick enough to easily apply. It dissolves makeup very quickly, washes off cleanly and leaves my skin feeling soft. I often don’t bother with a second clease while using this because my skin feels so nice! It’s on the pricey side, but you don’t need much (the box recommends 3-4 pumps but you only really need one, or even a bit les than one). This has become a solid favourite.
Ultime8 Cleansing Oil also has 8 botanical oils “inspired by the power of traditional Chinese medicine and ancient beauty rituals”. These are below phenoxyethanol, which is typically at a 1% concentration, so I wouldn’t rely on them to make a big difference to your skin, especially if you’re going to follow up with a second cleanser.
Zea Mays Germ Oil, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Isopropyl Myristate, Polyglyceryl-10 Dioleate, Polyglyceryl-6 Dicaprate, Polyglyceryl-2 Oleate, Limnanthes Alba Seed Oil, Phenoxyethanol, Linalool, Squalane, Camellia Japonica Seed Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis Seed Oil, Isopropyl Lauroyl Sarcosinate, Carthamus Tinctorius Seed Oil, Dicaprylyl Ether, Dicaprylyl Carbonate, Tocopherol, Geraniol, Glycine Soja Oil, Glyceryl Stearate Citrate, Butyrospermum Parkii Butter, Phospholipids, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Bambusa Vulgaris Extract, Citric Acid, Parfum.
Hylamide High-Efficiency Face Cleaner
Hylamide High-Efficiency Face Cleaner ($29.99 for 120 mL) comes from Deciem. It uses cetyl ethylhexanoate as the oil, and PEG-20 glyceryl triisostearate as the surfactant. PEG-20 glyceryl triisostearate is found in lots of other cleansing oils and balms.
High-Efficiency Face Cleaner is a little on the runny side (cetyl ethylhexanoate is known for this), but spreads nicely on the skin. It doesn’t dissolve makeup as well as I hoped, but it does the job if you aren’t wearing anything too heavy. It rinses off very easily, and left my skin feeling soft and hydrated, but clean at the same time.
My biggest complaint is the smell. It smells sort of plasticky and acrid, like if you left a plastic toy in the sun for too long. I wouldn’t say it’s a deal-breaker, but I’ve definitely found myself reaching for other cleansers instead. The twist-top bottle that it comes in isn’t quite a handy as a pump (though it’s better than a twist-top lid), so that probably didn’t help either.
Cetyl Ethylhexanoate, PEG-20 Glyceryl Triisostearate, Bisabolol, Oenocarpus Bataua Fruit Oil, Bertholletia Excelsa Seed Oil, Plukenetia Volubilis Seed Oil, Crambe Abyssinica Seed Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis Seed Oil, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Fruit Extract, Pongamia Pinnata (Karanja) Seed Oil, Squalane, Ethylhexyl Stearate, Tocopherol, Phenoxyethanol, Chlorphenesin
Simple Kind to Skin Cleansing Oil
Simple Kind to Skin Cleansing Oil ($9.99 for 125 mL) is the cheapest of the lot. It’s a fragrance-free cleansing oil based on grape seed oil and isopropyl palmitate, which helps it spread. The surfactant is sorbeth-30 tetraoleate, which is also found in the very popular DHC Deep Cleansing Oil.
The texture is quite thick – thicker that I’d expect from grapeseed oil, but it’s probably the surfactant making it thicker. It removes makeup pretty well and rinses off cleanly as well, but it didn’t make my skin feel quite as soft and nourished as the far pricier Shu Uemura oil afterwards. But at the price, it’s a steal. I’d highly recommend this oil if you want to try out a cleansing oil without spending too much if it doesn’t work out well.
Vitis Vinifera Seed Oil, Isopropyl Palmitate, Sorbeth-30 Tetraoleate, Phenoxyethanol, BHT, Helianthus Annuus Seed Oil, Isopropyl Myristate, Retinyl Palmitate, Tocopheryl Acetate.
Erno Laszlo Hydra-Therapy Double Cleanse Travel Set
Erno Laszlo Hydra-Therapy Double Cleanse Travel Set ($43 AUD for 59 mL + 48 g) contains the Hydra-Therapy Cleansing Oil and the Phelityl Cleansing Bar. The Cleansing Oil tricked me – it doesn’t contain a surfactant, even though it’s calling itself a cleansing oil! However, since it’s designed to be used in a double cleansing routine with the Phelityl Cleansing Bar, which you rub directly onto the oil before rinsing, so you end up making a cleansing oil on your skin.
The oils are hydrogenated polyisobutene, which is like a richer version of mineral oil, and glidey ethylhexyl palmitate and a mile-long list of plant oils (jojoba, grapeseed, avocado, apricot, sesame, sunflower, carrot). It rinses off cleaner than a regular oil for some reason – I’m guessing the ethylhexyl palmitate helps it come off a bit, but if you’re after a one-step oil, this is not the one. Move on.
It isn’t very useful to compare this with the other cleansing oils since this is in a different category, but the oil itself is pretty nice, though I don’t think I’d ever buy an oil that’s this expensive when most of it is going down the drain. I also couldn’t bring myself to use the Phelityl Cleansing Bar more than once. It’s a bar soap, and by this I mean a true soap, with high pH and narrow surfactant head groups that worm their way into your skin, stay there and irritate. I’m not using it on my face regularly, no matter how nourishing they say it is! The leftover oil from the cleansing oil probably helps buffer it, but I’d rather err on the side of caution and use a low pH detergent-based cleanser.
Hydra-Therapy Cleansing Oil: Hydrogenated Polyisobutene, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Oil, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Prunus Armeniaca (Apricot) Kernel Oil, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Daucus Carota Sativa (Carrot) Root Extract, Daucus Carota Sativa (Carrot) Seed Oil, Rosa Canina Extract, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Tocopherol, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Beta-Carotene
Phelityl Cleansing Bar: Sodium Palmate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Water (Aqua/Eau), Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, Parfum (Fragrance), Sodium Chloride, Glycerin, Ethyl Macadamiate, Sulfated Castor Oil, Tetrasodium EDTA, Tetrasodium Etidronate, Evernia Prunastri (Oakmoss) Extract, Benzyl Benzoate, CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499 (Iron Oxides), CI 77891 (Titanium Dioxide), CI 77289 (Chromium Hydroxide Green)
Here’s a handy price comparison of all the products, at their RRP in Australia (AUD). I calculated the Erno Laszlo price by pretending that 1 g and 1 mL were the same. Of course, you don’t need the same amount of all the oils, but cleansing oils are generally similar enough for this to be pretty valid.
- Dermalogica Precleanse: $0.400 / mL
- Shu Uemura Ultime8 Sublime Beauty Cleansing Oil: $0.433 / mL
- Hylamide High-Efficiency Face Cleaner: $0.250 / mL
- Simple Kind to Skin Cleansing Oil: $0.0799 / mL
- Erno Laszlo Hydra-Therapy Double Cleanse Travel Set: $0.402 / mL or g
You can see what incredibly good value the Simple Cleansing Oil is! My pick of the luxe cleansing oils is the Shu Uemura Cleansing Oil. Their other oils are a little less expensive ($50 for 150 mL = 0.333 / mL), and the larger 450 mL size is even better ($0.351 / mL for Ultime8, $0.249 / mL for the rest – which works out cheaper than Hylamide!).
These products were provided for editorial consideration, which did not affect my opinion. This post also contains affiliate links – if you decide to click through and support Lab Muffin financially (at no extra cost to you), thank you! For more information, see Disclosure Policy.