Remove make-up, lift away impurities & nourish skin in a single skincare step

Removing dirt and skin oils with more oil was once unheard of in skincare, but they have now been fully embraced by dermatologists and beauty editors everywhere.

Whether your skincare routine​​ involves one, three or more steps, it could benefit from an upgrade by adding an oil-based cleanser. Why? Because these kind of cleansers do it all, from gently dissolving stubborn, waterproof mascara and make-up to lifting away debris from clogged pores. Post-rinse, your skin will be left feeling soft, dewy and primed for the rest of your beauty regime.

From how a cleansing oil works to how to use it and common myths busted, here’s our ultimate guide to choosing the right one for your skin type.

Who are cleansing oils best for?

"Cleansing oils can be used by all skin types", explains Dr Sophie Shotter, an aesthetic and skin doctor. "The lipid base helps lift dirt and grime from the skin, but the oil isn’t usually left on your skin afterwards, meaning even oily skin types can use them."

How does a cleansing oil work? 

"Oil cleansers work as solvents," says consultant dermatologist, Dr Derrick Phillips. "These are a group of ingredients designed to dissolve similar substances."  

Like attracts like, as they say. "Oils are lipophilic, which means they are naturally attracted to other oils, such as the sebum our skin produces and the oil within skincare and make-up products," says Dr Phillips. "The oil in the cleanser helps dissolve natural and external oils, while softening the skin and providing a gentle but deep cleanse." 

This differs from what water-based formulations do and are all the more gentle for it. "As [water-based formulations] contain water as a key ingredient, they remove water-based impurities, such as sweat and dirt from the skin," explains Dr Phillips.

So, while oil-based cleansers tend to be more gentle, if you want a more thorough clean, you can use oil and water-based cleansers together, creating the ultimate ‘clean team’ when it comes to sloughing off signs of the day. "Double cleansing, a practice popularised in Korea, involves using an oil cleanser to break down make-up and oil-based products, before using a water-based cleanser to remove sweat and residual dirt," says Dr Phillips.

How to use cleansing oils

"Apply the cleansing oil onto dry skin and massage in circular motions," advises Dr Shotter. "Then wet your hands and massage the oil until it forms a milk emulsion. Rinse away with warm water or a damp cloth before patting dry."

What are the benefits of using a cleansing oil over a regular cleanser?

"Oil cleansers are gentle and less likely to cause dryness and irritation when compared to water-based cleansers, such as foams, gels and creams," says Dr Phillips. "They respect the hydrolipidic barrier of the skin, which is vital for retention of moisture."

How do we choose a cleansing oil for our needs & skin type?

Oily skin

"Those with oily skin should steer clear of cleansing oils with a coconut, olive or avocado oil base, because they are quite heavy and can sit on skin and block the pores," advises Dr Phillips. 

"Peppermint or tea tree oils contain smaller molecules, which are non-comedogenic and unlikely to block pores. They have astringent properties that benefit the skin when applied, helping to manage excess oil without drying out skin."

According to Dr Shotter, look out for jojoba, argan and marula oils as these can ‘help balance skin’s oil production’.

Combination skin

"Vitamin E and sunflower oil benefit the skin and help balance out dry and oily patches," says Dr Phillips. "Vitamin E also helps remove impurities, while maintaining hydration and doesn’t tend to aggravate oily areas of the skin." 

Dry skin

"Nourishing oils are recommended for dry skin," says Dr Phillips. "Shea, argan or camellia oils work to help keep the skin hydrated throughout the day by delivering a healthy dose of moisture across the skin’s surface. Using tea tree oil is not recommended as this can exacerbate dryness."

Jojoba, sunflower and avocado oils also hydrate well, suggests Dr Shotter.

Sensitive skin

"Avoid a cleansing oil with added essential oils, which could spark a reaction," says Dr Shotter.

Do cleansing oils clog pores?

It depends on the formulation. If you have oily skin or are prone to congestion, Dr Phillips advises against using cleansing oils composed of a single oil blend without surfactants or emulsifiers as they’re more likely to clog pores. Instead, try ones that contain ingredients, such as peppermint or tea tree oil for a more clarifying cleanse.

That being said, cleansers are probably the least likely product in your skincare routine to clog pores. "A cleanser of any description is designed to be removed," says Dr Shotter. "Provided you wash the cleanser off thoroughly, it shouldn’t clog pores. If you’re worried, you can follow a night-time oil cleanser with a second cleanse using a water-based product."

7 of the best cleansing oils that you can pick up at
Best for combination skin

Try: Clarins Total Cleansing Oil

• Size: 150ml

Composed of 47% sunflower oil for a rich, full texture, this hybrid oil emulsifies into a milk upon contact with water, helping to remove heavy or waterproof make-up with ease. The naturally floral-scented formula glides on with organic yellow gentian and lemon balm extract helping to support the skin barrier and moringa to remove dirt and grime.

Best for make-up removal

Try: Caudalie Vinoclean Makeup Removing Cleansing Oil

• Size: 150ml
• Bottle is made from 100% recycled and recyclable plastic 
• Dermatologically and ophthalmologically tested
• Suitable for all skin types

Gently dissolves even the most stubborn, long-lasting and waterproof eye make-up, while helping to remove impurities from skin, leaving it cleansed, nourished and non-greasy. Made from 100% naturally derived plant oils, including castor and sweet almond oil, its light texture turns into a smooth milk, so it won't leave a shiny film.

Best for dry skin 

Try: Bioderma Atoderm Shower Oil

• Size: 200ml
• Non-comedogenic

Give dry skin a splash of hydration with an exclusive formula composed of vegetal biolipids and vitamin PP. This creamy and silky oil is a total delight for the skin, gently soothing upon application while helping reconstruct the skin’s natural barrier. The best part? The comfortable formula is ultra-light, non-greasy and suitable for sensitive skin!

Best for sensitive skin

Try: Curél Makeup Cleansing Oil

• Size: 150ml 
• pH balanced
• Fragrance-free
• Colourant-free
• Alcohol-free

From one of Japan’s leading skincare brands for sensitive skin, this oil-based cleanser is designed specifically to help replenish, protect and promote the natural ceramide moisturisers of the skin, gently melting away make-up and mascara without the need of heavy rubbing.

Best for oily skin

Try: BYBI Swipe Clean

• Size: 100ml
• Fragrance-free
• Essential oil-free 
• Vegan*
• Cruelty-free

This gentle, yet effective cleanser contains jojoba oil to help balance skin’s oil production and sunflower oil to help maintain essential hydration – yes, even oily skin needs it. It can be used around the mouth and eyes without irritating and removed with water or a cleansing cloth for a refreshing beginning or end to your day. 

Best for congested skin

Try: Bobbi Brown Soothing Cleansing Oil

• Size: 200ml
• Dermatologist-tested
• Ophthalmologist-tested
• Non-acnegenic

This all-in-one make-up remover and cleanser is infused with a blend of natural oils that won’t clog pores, including kukui nut, jojoba, sunflower and lavender. It gently dissolves impurities, so no tugging or scrubbing is required, and contains white water lily and goji berry extract to help soothe, while jasmine flower nourishes.

Congested skin? Find more cleansing inspo in our guide to the best face washes for acne-prone skin.

Best for dull skin

Try: Superfacialist Vitamin C+ Skin Renew Cleansing Oil

• Size: 200ml

This lightweight cleansing oil, made from a blend of nourishing olive, grapeseed and rosehip oils, is infused with vitamin C to help brighten skin’s appearance and vitamin E to help balance dry and oily skin areas. Skin is left with a healthy glow and a smoother appearance.

*Vegan formulas do not contain any animal-derived ingredients or by-products.