If you’ve been around the beauty scene for the last few years, you’d have run into a few cleansing oils (as opposed to the oil cleansing method). The most famous is probably the Shu Uemura range, which has kick started a whole new category of cleansing oils, which go on and melt make-up like oils, but wash off cleanly with water (or a water-soaked cotton pad) like a water-based product.
What sorcery is this??! Well, it’s all in the ingredients. Cleansing oils consist of 2 main components: oil and an emulsifier.
The main rule for dissolving stuff in chemistry is “like dissolves like”. The oil dissolves oil-based make-up, like in the oil cleansing method. Normally the oil then won’t dissolve in water, but that’s where the emulsifier (also known as a surfactant) comes in! It has a lipophilic tail which dissolves in oil, and a charged head which dissolves in water, so it helps the oil dissolve in water, forming little droplets which rinse off and leave your skin clean (much like a mild soap).
It’s like a fuss-free, all-in-one OCM and soap in the one package – however, they leave less oil on your skin and are more stripping than pure OCM (where you can choose not to cleanse afterwards, or at least tailor the strength of your cleanser to your particular needs).
If you’re curious, the “milky” look comes from the fact there are lots of little oil droplets in the water, thanks to the emulsifier. The droplets block light, and so emulsions tend to be opaque (milk itself is an emulsion). Mixtures where the two liquids dissolve in each other, such as alcohol and water in vodka, are clear.
Here are three I’ve tried, and the ingredients that make them work. I’ve only included the main oils, not the oils in low concentrations that aren’t doing much dissolving (to my best guess). Remember that the ingredients list is in order from highest to lowest concentration, with everything under 1% allowed to be in any order:
Face of Australia Pure Skin Cleansing Oil
Oils: Mineral oil, caprylic/capric triglyceride, safflower oil, macadamia seed oil
Emulsifier: Polysorbate 60
This one is the oiliest of the three, although it still manages to wash all my make-up off (admittedly, I wear rather light make-up). It leaves my skin considerably softer than a cleanser – this one’s a winner! It’s even useable on slightly wet skin (read: shower-friendly).
Oils: Caprylic/capric triglyceride, apricot kernel oil, sunflower seed oil
Emulsifier: PEG-40 sorbitan peroleate
This is the lightest in texture of the three, and needs to be applied with minimal water for it to work, or else it’s like washing with water. It doesn’t strip and it removed my make-up completely. It’s lightly scented with lavender.
Dr Lewinn’s 4 Fusion Cleansing Oil
Oils: Soybean oil
Emulsifier: POE (20) glyceryl triisostearate
The fragrance is a bit strong (it’s a citrussy scent), but this cleansing oil is otherwise pretty good – washes off all the make-up, but does leave skin about the same level of hydrated as a gentle foaming cleanser.
I really like the convenience of cleansing oils, and even though they’re not as softening as pure oil cleansing, they’re way, way faster to use. They’re particularly good as a travel product in my opinion – you can apply these, then remove with a face wipe, and ensure all your make-up comes off without needing a sink.
These products were provided for editorial consideration, which did not affect my opinion. For more information, see Disclosure Policy.