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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Combination (Acid+Enzyme+Scrub) Exfoliant Review: Pixi, Kate Somerville, Ultraceuticals

Combination (Acid+Enzyme+Scrub) Exfoliant Review: Pixi, Kate Somerville, Ultraceuticals

As you may know from my guides to exfoliation, I’m obsessed with helping my skin desquamate. Unlike a lot of other skincare addicts, I don’t have a favourite type of exfoliation – I’ve found that my skin responds best when I have all three of the major exfoliation types (physical, chemical and enzyme) in my routine. That’s why I’ve been really excited about the appearance of more combination exfoliation products on the market, and today I’m reviewing three of them: Pixi Beauty Peel & Polish, Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment, and Ultraceuticals Ultra Dual Microfoliant.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of combination exfoliants?

There are a few benefits to having all the different types of exfoliation in the one product:

Firstly, it’s a massive time saver, especially since the individual products tend to be formulated for use at different stages of your routine: scrubs and enzymes are usually wash-off products that you use after cleanser, while chemical exfoliants are usually leave-on products that you use under moisturisers. These combo products are all rinse-off.

If you have sensitive skin, it means you only have to find one product that your skin can handle.

It’s also good for when you’re trying to play catch-up with your exfoliation and you want to blast your skin with everything at once without crossing over into the frustrating realm of overexfoliation. Having an all-in-one product means you don’t have to try to remember how much of each exfoliant your skin can handle when paired with other products. This is always a doozy because the number of combos you can make increases exponentially with more products. If you have 3 products it gives you 7 possible combinations, if you have 4 products you have 15 combinations… if you have 7 products (which sounds like a lot, but isn’t all that unusual if you count things like washcloths and sponges) it gives you a headache-inducing 127 combinations. And that doesn’t include other considerations like application order, other skincare treatments you might use them with, and the state of your skin before treatment.

The biggest downside to having a combination product is that it limits your ability to customise your skincare routine. For example, you can’t choose to use enzymes without using the acid at the same time, and you can’t choose to leave the acid on for longer (excluding the scrub isn’t usually an issue since you can just move the product around less).

It also makes it harder to work out which type of exfoliation your skin likes the most (though chances are it’s the whole package).

Onto the reviews:

Combination (Acid+Enzyme+Scrub) Exfoliant Review: Pixi, Kate Somerville, Ultraceuticals

Pixi Peel & Polish

Exfoliating ingredients:

  • 6% lactic acid (chemical – AHA)
  • polylactic acid (physical – microbeads)
  • beraclay light red (physical – clay)
  • papaya extract (enzyme – papain)
  • sugar cane extract (??? I though this would be glycolic acid, but the packaging suggests that it’s physical)

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Pixi Beauty Mist review: Glow, Hydrating Milky, Vitamin Wakeup, Makeup Fixing

Pixi Beauty Mist review: Glow, Hydrating Milky, Vitamin Wakeup, Makeup Fixing

I used to think skincare mists were a pointless gimmick. Why use something that’s been watered down to work in spray form, when you could use a regular serum or cream that contains more concentrated ingredients instead? Plus you’re wasting all that product that doesn’t make it onto your skin!

But I’ve finally seen the light. Mists aren’t meant to replace serums and creams – they’re meant to be a convenient addition to your routine. Mists mean:

  • you can quickly and easily apply products when your hands might not be clean
  • when you don’t want to disturb the stuff you already have on your face
  • when you’re in a rush
  • when you’re just lazing out (admittedly this is the real reason for me most of the time)

I usually don’t use a separate moisturiser in the morning and just rely on my sunscreen to carry me through, since my skin is too oily to handle a proper moisturiser in the morning. Mists have been awesome at providing hydration that’s lighter than a proper lotion, especially now that we’re heading into winter and my skin is starting to flake.

I recently tried out 4 face mists from Pixi Beauty: Glow Mist, Hydrating Milky Mist, Vitamin Wakeup Mist and Makeup Fixing Mist.

Pixi Beauty Mist review: Glow, Hydrating Milky, Vitamin Wakeup, Makeup Fixing


First, a note on the spray packaging. All four mists come in the same 80 mL spray bottle that takes a bit of getting used to. It sprays quite straight, but the droplets are quite large, so if you spray too close you end up with a really wet circle. I recommend spraying from at least 30 cm away to avoid the wet circle, especially if you’re applying this over makeup since the water can make it go patchy (this happened to me a lot during testing). An alternative is to spray it directly upwards and let it rain down on your face, which worked really well for me. You can also unscrew the bottle and pour the contents into another spray bottle.

Glow Mist

Glow Mist is the original mist from Pixi. It’s designed to be used over makeup to add a dewy “glow” to your face, but you can also use it as a moisturising step.

It comes as a rose-scented watery liquid with a layer of yellow oil sitting on top. It contains a ton of different oils (21 of them in fact, but the main ones are olive and argan oils), propolis extract, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid and aloe vera. Oils and hyaluronic acid are great for softening the skin, and niacinamide does pretty much everything – lightens hyperpigmentation, strengthens skin, reduces sebum and acne, and acts as an antioxidant. I’m pretty new to propolis but there are a couple of studies that suggest that it could be good for repairing damaged skin.

When I tried Glow Mist I found that it really delivered on its promise to dewify powdery makeup, but as mentioned previously, take care to avoid patchiness if your makeup isn’t waterproof. I prefer using it before sunscreen and makeup if my skin’s feeling dry that day – it’s quick to apply and absorbs in seconds, and it’s impossible to mess up during the morning rush. I’m not a huge fan of the two-layer format because it feels like I never shake it enough to mix the oil perfectly evenly and I’m pretty sure I’m going to end up with just oil at the end. On the bright side though, it means that you can reduce the amount of oil by using it without shaking, if your face is feeling particularly oily that day.

Ingredients: Water, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil, Dipropylene Glycol, Butylene Glycol, Propolis Extract, Niacinamide, Argania Spinosa Kernel Oil, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Betaine, Sodium Hyaluronate, PEG/PPG-17/6 Copolymer, Panthenol, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose) Oil, Rosa Canina Fruit Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Macadamia Integrifolia Seed Oil, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol, Illicium Verum (Anise) Fruit Extract, Adenosine, Rose Flower Oil, Tagetes Minuta Flower Oil, Mentha Arvensis Leaf Oil, Elettaria Cardamomum Seed Oil, Thymus Vulgaris (Thyme) Oil, Eugenia Caryophyllus (Clove) Leaf Oil, Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil, Vetiveria Zizanoides Root Oil, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Oil, Pelargonium Graveolens Flower Oil, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Citrus Limon (Lemon) Peel Oil, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil.

Hydrating Milky Mist

Hydrating Milky Mist is like the less oily, more humectant (water-boosting) form of Glow Mist. This is my favourite of the four mists, since dehydration is my biggest skincare woe, and the high glycerin content of this mist makes it really good at hydrating my skin without being sticky. I use this before sunscreen and makeup to make my skin feel plump and soft, although you can also use it after makeup to get rid of the powdery look. I also use this a lot after I shower, if I’m not quite ready to do my whole evening routine yet and I don’t want my skin to feel tight.

As well as glycerin, there are a few other humectants like glycosaminoglycans and ethylhexylglycerin. Hydrating Milky Mist also contains a couple of light emollients (ethylhexyl palmitate, cetyl ethylhexanoate and lecithin) that soften skin without making it feel greasy. Small amounts of anti-irritants like black oat and allantoin add a slight soothing effect. It has a slightly floral moisturiser sort of smell.

Ingredients: Water, Glycerin, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Dipropylene Glycol, Cetyl Ethylhexanoate, Phenoxyethanol, Polyglyceryl-10 Oleate, Ethylhexylglycerin, PEG-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Cetearyl Isononanoate, Allantoin, Ceteareth-20, Trideceth-10, Hydrolyzed Glycosaminoglycans, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Glyceryl Stearate, Ceteareth-12, Cetyl Alcohol, Stearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Palmitate, Disodium EDTA, Fragrance, Citric Acid, Benzoic Acid, Lecithin, Avena Strigosa Seed Extract.

Pixi Beauty Mist review: Glow, Hydrating Milky, Vitamin Wakeup, Makeup Fixing

Vitamin Wakeup Mist

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AHA Exfoliant Pad Review: Nip+Fab, philosophy, Arcona and Pixi

AHA Exfoliant Pad Review: Nip + Fab, philosophy, Arcona and Pixi

Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) exfoliants are fantastic for giving you glowing smooth skin, fading hyperpigmentation and smoothing away fine lines (you can read more about chemical exfoliation here). AHA exfoliants usually come in gel or serum form, but if you’re lazy, you can also get them as presoaked pads in a jar. Here are some AHA pads that I’ve tested out recently, from Pixi, Nip+Fab, Arcona and philosophy.

AHA Exfoliant Pad Review: Nip+Fab, philosophy, Arcona and Pixi

Pixi Glow Tonic To-Go


Aqua, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Leaf Extract, Aesculus Hippocastanum (Horse Chestnut) Seed Extract, Glycolic Acid, Ammonium Glycolate, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Hexylene Glycol (and) Fructose (and) Glucose (and) Sucrose (and) Urea (and) Dextrin (and) Alanine (and) Glutamic Acid (and) Aspartic Acid (and) Hexyl Nicotinate, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate, Biotin, Polysorbate 20, Fragrance.

Pixi Glow Tonic is a gentle glycolic acid exfoliant with 5% glycolic acid at a relatively high but still effective pH (4-5), which means it penetrates into the skin slower. I’ve reviewed the liquid version of Glow Tonic before, and this is the convenient, pre-dispensed version. The ingredients also include aloe vera juice (emollient moisturiser that softens skin), witch hazel extract (astringent), horse chestnut and ginseng extracts (antioxidants to prevent free radical damage), and a whole host of humectant moisturisers (glycerin, glucose, fructose etc.)

Other notes

I found the floral/cucumber scent a bit stronger when I used the pads than when I applied it from the bottle using my fingers, but it fades quickly. The pads are softly textured and come in a white plastic jar.


Pixi isn’t available in Australia yet. The pads are $38.99 USD on Amazon for a jar of 60 pads ($0.65 USD per pad). As a comparison, liquid Glow Tonic is $28.88 for 100 mL or $52.99 for 250 mL.

Nip+Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme


Aqua (Water/Eau), Glycolic Acid, Triethanolamine, Glycerin, Polysorbate 20, Niacinamide, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Hydroxide, Benzyl Alcohol, Disodium EDTA, Mandelic Acid, Panthenol, Salicylic Acid, Lactic Acid, Limonene, Parfum (Fragrance), Benzyl Benzoate, Dehydroacetic Acid, Sodium Hyaluronate, Geraniol, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Citral, Linalool.

Nip+Fab Glycolic Fix Night Pads Extreme aren’t actually very extreme – they contain 5% glycolic acid, with small amounts of two other AHAs (lactic and mandelic acids) and salicylic acid as well, to increase exfoliation, at a pH of 4-5. It’s comparable to Glow Tonic in strength, if we’re looking at glycolic acid alone. There’s also hyaluronic acid (humectant moisturiser) and niacinamide (does a whole bunch of things, including quenching free radicals, reducing irritation, building up the skin barrier, and reducing hyperpigmentation).

Other notes

The pads have a light citrus scent, and are softly textured on one side. They come in a translucent plastic jar.

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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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Pixi Cleansing Balm, Rose Oil and Glowtion Review

Pixi products

I’ve been playing with more Pixi stuff – I loved their Glow Tonic so I was excited to try more of their skincare range.

Pixi products

Like a lot of other brands, Pixi have taken a tip from the Asian brands and released their Nourishing Cleansing Balm (£18 for 90 mL), which goes on as a waxy balm but emulsifies when water’s added. This gives you a way to do the oil cleansing method with one step, and it’s a bit easier to handle than a cleansing oil.

Pixi’s version has the following ingredients:

Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Oil, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Cetearyl Isononanoate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Glyceryl Behenate, Cetearyl Olivate, Sorbitan Olivate, Glyceryl Stearate, Glyceryl Cocoate, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Lecithin, Tocopherol, Cetyl Alcohol, Benzyl Alcohol, Fragrance.

The major oil components are sweet almond oil and cocoa seed butter – butters can sometimes be comedogenic, so that’s something to look out for when you use this. It’s got a range of different surfactants to lift off the oil afterwards (the main ones are glyceryl behenate, cetearyl olivate, sorbitan olivate, glyceryl stearate and glyceryl cocoate).

I was a bit sceptical when I tried this at first because my face still felt greasy after I showered it off, but patting my face dry with a towel it left my skin soft and not gross. It’ll be less greasy if you use a face cloth. I was pleasantly surprised when I wiped a cotton pad with toner over my face and the pad stayed 100% clean – that’s how I check how well a cleanser works, and cleansing balms and oils usually don’t do so well (most of them are intended to be used with a follow-up cleanser…or so they say). Full marks from me!

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Pixi Glow Tonic review


Pixi Glow Tonic is a cult skincare product in the UK thanks to Caroline Hirons, who calls it a P50 dupe, and I finally have a bottle in my hot little hands! It’s available now in Target in the US and it’s pretty good value, at $15 for 100 mL.


Glow Tonic is an exfoliating toner, containing 5% glycolic acid as its star ingredient. Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), which acts to unstick dead skin cells, allowing them to slough off more easily to leave smoother, glowing skin. The pH of this product is 4-5, making this a relatively weak exfoliating product. As well as glycolic acid, there are other beneficial/possibly beneficial ingredients, like aloe vera juice (emollient), witch hazel extract (astringent), horse chestnut and ginseng extracts (antioxidant), and a whole host of humectants (glycerin, glucose, fructose… pretty much the rest of the ingredients list!).

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