Cleansing Balm reviews: Farmacy, Pixi, Emma Hardie, Ole Henriksen, Caolion

Cleansing Balm reviews: Farmacy, Pixi, Emma Hardie, Ole Henriksen, Caolion

I’ve been a fan of cleansing oils for a while (see e.g. Cleansing Oil Reviews). I love how quickly they get rid of my make-up, and how they protect my dehydration-prone skin.

But the tiny thing that annoys me a little about cleansing oils is that they can be a bit fiddly to get onto my face. I know this is a massively first world type of problem, but if you can solve it, why not? That’s why I’ve been reaching more and more for cleansing balms instead.

Related post: How Do Cleansing Balms Work? The Science!

Here are some cleansing balms that I’ve been trying out lately.

Cleansing Balm reviews: Farmacy, Pixi, Emma Hardie, Ole Henriksen, Caolion

Farmacy Green Clean Cleansing Balm

Farmacy Green Clean Cleansing Balm ($34 USD or $46 AUD for 90 mL) is a soft green waxy balm. It comes with a handy spatula, but it’s attached to the flimsy plastic insert lid that I throw away most of the time, which got annoying, so I’ve gotten rid of the insert and I’ve just stabbed the spatula into the balm for safekeeping.

It quickly melts away make-up, and rinses off quite cleanly, which is all I really need in a cleansing balm. It has a few actives (in particular echinacea, which is in a lot of their other products too), but I’m not really looking for my cleansers to do much heavy lifting in the actives department.

This Farmacy cleansing balm does contain polyethylene, which is technically microplastic. While it would be nice if they got rid of it, the very small size of polyethylene used for thickening (rather than as scrubbing particles) means it’s probably not going to have the same effects in the environment as the larger microplastic particles.

Ingredients: Cetyl Ethylhexanoate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, PEG-20 Glyceryl Triisostearate, PEG-10 Isostearate, Polyethylene, Phenoxyethanol, Sorbitan Sesquioleate, Citrus Aurantifolia (Lime) Oil, Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Fruit Oil, Melia Azadirachta Leaf Extract, Melia Azadirachta Flower Extract, Amino Esters-1, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil, Amber Powder, Cananga Odorata Flower Oil, Coccinia Indica Fruit Extract, Solanum Melongena (Eggplant) Fruit Extract, Curcuma Longa (Turmeric) Root Extract, Ocimum Sanctum Leaf Extract, Corallina Officinalis Extract, Moringa Oleifera Seed Oil, Zingiber Officinale (Ginger) Root Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Water, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Echinacea Purpurea Root Extract, Carica Papaya (Papaya) Fruit Extract, Moringa Pterygosperma Seed Extract, Disodium Phosphate, Citric Acid.

Emma Hardie Moringa Cleansing Balm

Emma Hardie Moringa Cleansing Balm ($60 USD or $79.95 AUD for 100 g) is a product with a cult following. It’s based on grape seed and sweet almond oil. Grape seed oil has always been one of my favourites with its high linoleic acid content, which makes it light in texture and perfect for oily skin. This particular product feels and smells super luxe as well. It doesn’t dissolve as well in water as most of the other options I’ve been trying, so it comes with a two-sided (muslin and cotton towelling) washcloth for removal. I personally don’t like dealing with washcloths since I dislike having to launder them regularly to avoid breakouts. This balm doesn’t rinse off cleanly without the cloth unfortunately, so I tend not to use it as much, but if you’re a fan of cloths this is a great but pricier option.

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Vitamin C Serum Reviews: Indeed Labs and Ole Henriksen

Vitamin C Serum Reviews: Indeed Labs and Ole Henriksen

I’ve recently tried two vitamin C products: Indeed Laboratories Vitamin C24 and Ole Henriksen Truth Serum Vitamin C Collagen Booster. I got into vitamin C products a while back through the Obagi serum as a way to fade sun freckles on my hyperpigmentation-prone skin (Fitzpatrick type III, which in my opinion is one of the worst types if you’re prone to hyperpigmentation, because not only do you get pigmentation easily, but it also contrasts more with the rest of your skin). Vitamin C has other benefits too, such as promoting collagen synthesis (plumps up skin and reduces wrinkle depth), soaking up sun damage as an antioxidant, and fading acne scars (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or PIH).

The annoying thing about vitamin C in skincare is that it tends to be very unstable, breaking down rapidly to dehydroascorbic acid in the presence of light, water and oxygen, and doesn’t penetrate the skin easily (it generally needs to be at pH < 3.5 for it to be unionised and hence penetrate skin better). Both these products manage to get around these issues.

Vitamin C Serum Reviews: Indeed Labs and Ole Henriksen

Indeed Labs Vitamin C24

Indeed Labs Vitamin C24 ($36.99 for 30 mL) is a white cream-like product that comes in a squeezy tube. It gets its name from the 22% L-ascorbic acid and 2% hyaluronic microspheres that it contains. Here’s the ingredients list:

Dimethicone, Ascorbic Acid, Polysilicone-11, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, PEG-10 Dimethicone, Silica Silylate, Silica Dimethyl Silylate, Butylene Glycol, Sodium Hyaluronate

The first thing you’ll notice is that this product doesn’t contain water. This is significant for two reasons:

  1. Water speeds up the decomposition of L-ascorbic acid to inactive dehydroascorbic acid, so using a water-free (anhydrous) formula keeps the vitamin C levels higher for far longer, translating to a more effective product.
  2. Only water-based products have a pH, and since the cream is oil-based, L-ascorbic acid will be unionised and can penetrate the skin quickly, again increasing effectiveness.

22% vitamin C matches the amount used in an in vitro experiment which used anhydrous vitamin C to increase collagen levels, although a small clinical study found that 10% already had good anti-aging effects. I found that it prickled a bit after applying it to my face – probably a result of the vitamin C dissolving in tiny amounts of water on my skin or in the air.

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How to Exfoliate 2: All About Chemical Exfoliants


Here’s Part 2 of this skincare series on exfoliation. Part 1 was on physical exfoliating tools and scrubs, this time we’re tackling the more complex chemical exfoliants, before moving onto picking the right exfoliation routine for your skin in Part 3. For a simpler overview, you can head to this exfoliation basics post, and for a more user-friendly version check out my free exfoliation guide.

What’s exfoliation again?

Your skin is covered in a thin protective layer of dead cells (the stratum corneum) which naturally shed over time in a process called desquamation. Sometimes this layer gets too thick, resulting in dull, rough skin. Exfoliants help the shedding along, resulting in more even, “glowier” skin.

What’s chemical exfoliation?

Chemical exfoliants help cells shed in a more indirect way than physical exfoliation, which works using friction between the tool or scrub and the skin. The mechanism of how chemical exfoliants work aren’t always obvious, but the most common theories and methods of how they work are:

  • by normalising cell turnover – that is, how quickly cells in the epidermis die and migrate to the stratum corneum, pushing old cells out. Exfoliants do this by travelling to living cells under the dead layer and telling them to change how they behave – in more technical terms, they act on receptors to upregulate cell division. (Technically, any ingredient that does this is a drug, but regulations around these “cosmeceuticals” is pretty iffy.)
  • by unsticking the cellular glue (desmosomes) holding dead cells together in the stratum corneum.

Chemical exfoliation is touted to be gentler than physical exfoliation, mostly because it’s less prone to user error. However, how well it works depends largely on the formulation of the product. A poorly formulated product might not work, or it might work so well that it irritates your skin and causes uneven pigmentation and chemical burns.

Product categories

Click on each heading to jump to that section.

Leave-on Hydroxy Acid Products

Hydroxy acids are the most common ingredients in chemical exfoliants. There are two main types:

  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), which includes ingredients like glycolic acid, lactic acid, malic acid and mandelic acid. Glycolic and lactic acids are most common in skincare, and the vast majority of scientific studies on AHAs are based on the action of glycolic acid.
  • Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), of which salicylic acid is the only one commonly used in skincare (I’ll be using the terms “BHA” and “salicylic acid” interchangeably).

A few ingredients are technically both alpha and beta hydroxy acids such as citric acid, which acts more like an AHA.

It’s not 100% clear how AHAs and BHAs work to exfoliate the skin – it’s likely to be a combination of the two actions described at the beginning: increasing cell turnover at the epidermis and unsticking stratum corneum cells. As well as just removing build-up of skin, they can also improve hyperpigmentation and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

There are a few key differences between AHAs and BHA/salicylic acid:

  • Solubility: The commonly used AHAs (glycolic acid, lactic acid) are water soluble, while salicylic acid is oil soluble. Theoretically this means salicylic acid is better for treating oily skin and clogged pores because they can penetrate through sebum and sebum plugs, but there’s a lot of variation between people’s experiences. You’ll generally find AHAs in products for dry, ageing skin, and BHA in products for oily, acne-prone skin.
  • Sun sensitivity: Glycolic acid is documented to cause sun sensitivity for a while even after you finish using it, while salicylic acid isn’t. Salicylic acid has a UV protective effect while on the skin, due to the benzene ring in its structure which lets it act as a chemical sunscreen. You need to wear sunscreen while you use alpha hydroxy acids, and for at least a week after you finish – otherwise, you can actually cause more wrinkles and uneven pigmentation and sagginess than you started off with! And you should use sunscreen with salicylic acid anyway.
  • Other effects: Salicylic acid can have some anti-inflammatory action, depending on whether enough gets through the skin – it’s actually one of the active forms of aspirin. Glycolic and lactic acids are humectants that act to slow down the evaporation of water from the skin.

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