Cleansing your skin is the most pivotal part of your skincare routine since it creates a clean slate for your serums and creams. However, removing your makeup is not exactly the most exciting part of your routine — especially if you’re wearing waterproof mascara or long wear lipstick. Rubbing and scrubbing your skin with a makeup wipe or washcloth eventually gets off every trace of product, but there are better options out there that don’t cause redness and irritation, and dare I say, make you look forward to washing your face at night.
Enter: Cleansing balms.
Made with high amounts of hydrating ingredients like butters and oils, these cleansers effectively and effortlessly break up and melt off makeup, dirt, and sunscreen while simultaneously moisturizing your skin. “They typically come in a tub and you only need a little bit,” says Shari Sperling M.D. a New Jersey-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of Sperling Dermatology. “A cleansing balm can be used in a double cleansing regimen with the balm being the first step to cleanse your skin from makeup or sunscreen.” After using a cleansing balm, it’s recommended to follow up with a water-based cleanser to further clean pores and ensure all of that makeup and gunk gets rinsed away. Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm topped our list thanks to its gentle yet effective formula.
Below, we’ve rounded up the best cleansing balms for every skin type and budget.
- Best Overall: Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm
- Best Value: Versed Day Dissolve Cleansing Balm
- Best for Waterproof Makeup: Farmacy Green Clean Meltaway Cleansing Balm
- Best for Dry Skin: Holifrog Kissimmee Vitamin F Therapy Balmy Wash
- Best for Oily Skin: Glow Recipe Papaya Sorbet Enzyme Cleansing Balm
- Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Youth to the People Superberry Dream Cleansing Balm
- Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Cleansing Balm
Best Overall: Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm
What We Love: This three-in-one balm nourishes skin, removes makeup, and cleanses skin at the same time.
What We Don’t Love: The scent can be a bit strong for some.
With an extensive list of nutrient-rich oils (like elderberry, starflower, and lavender, to name a few), this cleansing balm offers skin-firming and collagen-boosting benefits on top of being really good at removing makeup. “I can confirm that the Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm will get every speck of glitter and waterproof mascara off,” says Shannon M. Bauer, Senior Commerce Beauty Editor at InStyle. “Although most cleansing balms do this, there’s something special about the way it transforms from balm to oil to milky wash — it happens in distinct phases.“
While you can use the Elemis cleanser daily as the first part of your double cleansing routine, it also makes for a great weekly hydrating mask. Thanks to padina pavonica, an algae native to the Mediterranean, the formula supports a hydrated skin barrier by drawing moisture into the skin and making sure it doesn’t escape again. Regardless of the way you use it, be sure to rinse it off when you’re finished to avoid potentially clogging your pores.
One thing to note: Bauer found the balm’s scent a little strong. But because it smells like eucalyptus, lavender and chamomile, she said she was able to look past it.
Ingredients: Starflower Oil, Elderberry Oil | Size: 0.51 oz. | Scent:Eucalyptus, Lavender, Chamomile
Best Value: Versed Day Dissolve Cleansing Balm
What We Love: The solid balmy cleanser melts into a luxurious oil to melt away makeup without stripping the skin of moisture.
What We Don’t Love: It can leave an oily residue on the skin post-cleanse.
The nourishing cocktail of vitamin E and jojoba, avocado, eucalyptus, and clove leaf oils deliver a heaping dose of hydration in this budget-friendly pick. Designed to glide onto skin and lift stubborn makeup — even longwearing, matte lipstick — with ease, this cleansing balm is the perfect alternative for someone who swears by single-use cleansing wipes. Whether for skincare or sustainability reasons, there’s no doubt this balm, which is housed in a 50% post-consumer recycled plastic tub, will replace your existing cleansing method.
Like other cleansing balms, it transitions from a balm to an oil when in contact with water, so don’t be surprised if your skin feels slightly oily after application. Just be sure to follow up with a foaming or gel cleanser afterwards to remove any remnants of the balm from your skin.
Ingredients: Vitamin E, Jojoba oil, Avocado oil, Eucalyptus oil | Size: 2.3 fl. oz. | Scent: Eucalyptus
Best for Waterproof Makeup: Farmacy Green Clean Meltaway Cleansing Balm
What We Love: This fan-favorite cleansing balm removes waterproof makeup gently and effectively with the help of botanical oils, turmeric and moringa extracts, and papaya enzymes.
What We Don’t Love: Some say their eyes burned a bit after using it.
If I had to pick my desert island product, it would be this cleansing balm. Between the gentle ingredients, sorbet-like texture and barely-there scent, I find myself re-purchasing this product every time I hit empty. Formulated with sunflower and ginger root oils, it breaks down makeup, sunscreen, and other pore-clogging gunk and grime that accumulates on my skin throughout the day without stripping my skin of moisture. After using it, my skin feels soft (not tight) and there’s never any makeup residue on the towel when I pat my skin dry. The texture itself is noteworthy; it doesn’t feel oily or thick, but rather lightweight and milky, which is perfect for someone that has oilier skin like me. And as for the fragrance, the balm smells subtly fruity, but nothing too overpowering.
Several shoppers shared that while the balm took their makeup off painlessly, they experienced a slight burning sensation in and around their eyes. According to Diane Hilal-Campo, M.D., a board-certified ophthalmologist based in New Jersey and founder of twenty/twenty beauty, this is common with cleansing balms. To avoid irritation in your delicate eye area, she recommends removing the makeup on your eyes separately. “Try saturating a cotton pad or microfiber cloth with an oil, such as poppy seed oil, or an eye-specific makeup remover,” she says. “Press it against your closed lid to help break down the makeup. Then, gently swipe it away and repeat until your lids and lashes are fully clean.”
Ingredients: Sunflower oil, Ginger root oil, Papaya enzymes, Moringa extract | Size: 3.4 oz. | Scent: Fresh
Best for Dry Skin: Holifrog Kissimmee Vitamin F Therapy Balmy Wash
What We Love: The squeezable tube keeps the balm from getting contaminated by dirty fingers.
What We Don’t Love: Formulated with thick oils, this balm might not be best for those with acne-prone skin.
In a perfect world, you would use a spatula to scoop out your cleansing balm from the jar. In reality, you’re probably using your grubby fingers. It might not seem like a big deal, but your face is vulnerable to bacteria buildup (read: acne and skin infections), so keeping contamination to a minimum is key. That’s where Holifrog’s balm comes in. The squeezable tube prevents the balm from getting tainted and makes it easier to distribute the exact amount of product you need for your cleansing session.
The non-foaming makeup remover is infused with a mix of nourishing antioxidant oils and fatty acids, making it a great choice for dry skin types. However, because thick oils can sometimes clog pores, those with acne-prone skin might want to skip it and opt for a more lightweight option instead.
Ingredients: Sunflower Seed Oil, Grape Seed Oil, Glycerin | Size: 3.4 fl. oz. | Scent: Unscented
Best for Oily Skin: Glow Recipe Papaya Sorbet Enzyme Cleansing Balm
What We Love: This balm contains enzymes to exfoliate as it removes makeup.
What We Don’t Love: Some shoppers found their skin was irritated after using the balm in conjunction with other exfoliating products.
Glow Recipe is known for their absolutely addicting yet incredibly effective skincare products — and this fruity cocktail of a cleansing balm does not disappoint. Like other similar products, it starts out as a balm and softens into a milky oil that dissolves makeup. And although balms are often synonymous with hydration, this one actually exfoliates, too. Thanks to the namesake papaya enzymes, the formula gently breaks down dead skin cells to help skin feel smoother and look more radiant.
It’s worth noting that since the balm contains a gentle exfoliant, it’s important to perform a patch test to avoid irritation. Corey L. Hartman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in Birmingham, Alabama, previously told us that it’s best to apply a small amount of a new product to the underside of your wrist. “The skin is thin in that area and also sensitive, so it reacts similarly to skin on the face,” he says. If you have no reaction, the product should be fine to use on your face without issue. It’s also pertinent to know that you should be careful when using this product alongside other exfoliants like alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids to avoid over-exfoliating your face.
Ingredients: Papaya enzymes, Papaya extract, Blueberry extract | Size: 100 mL | Scent: Tropical fruit
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Youth to the People Superberry Dream Cleansing Balm
What We Love: The lightweight ingredients clear away pore-clogging debris without irritating active breakouts.
What We Don’t Love: The formula can get clumpy towards the bottom of the jar.
Very aptly named, this superfood-infused balm from Youth to the People is a dream come true for those with acne-prone skin. The fast-melting cleansing balm works to dissolve every last trace of long-wearing makeup, water-resistant sunscreen, and excess oil before they get a chance to wreak havoc on your skin. Best of all, it rinses clean and leaves skin soft, hydrated and never coated in an extra layer of grease. With ingredients like hyaluronic acid and moringa seed oil, you can rest assured that using this balm won’t contribute to acne breakouts, but rather help prevent dirt and grime-induced ones from forming in the first place.
After getting to the bottom third of the jar, I noticed that the formula began to get clumpy. It’s nothing to worry about, since it still works just fine, but just know that you might need to smooth the product out a bit in your hands to eliminate the clumps before massaging it into your skin.
Ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, Jojoba seed oil, Moringa seed oil, Prickly pear | Size: 3.35 fl. oz. | Scent: Fruity
Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula’s Choice Omega+ Complex Cleansing Balm
What We Love: This velvety-smooth balm is chock full of simple, nourishing ingredients, including omegas 3, 6 and 9.
What We Don’t Love: We wish it came in a smaller size so it could be brought in a carry-on.
If you have super sensitive skin, chances are you’re afraid to put anything new on your skin. Trust us when we say that this fragrance-free formula — which contains a barrier-repairing complex of coconut-derived fatty acids —keeps calm and cleans skin. It contains omega-rich jojoba oil and meadowfoam seed oil to give the balm its soothing texture that cleanses without friction or tugging. It melts on contact with the skin and leaves your complexion skin feeling smooth, hydrated and fresh. Our one complaint is that it doesn’t come in a mini size that can be tossed in a carry-on and used on a plane.
Ingredients: Jojoba oil, Meadowfoam seed oil, Olive oil | Size: 3.5 fl. oz. | Scent: Unscented
What to Keep in Mind
Most cleansing balms are oil-based, which binds to the makeup or junk on your face to lift it away. Oils listed high up on the ingredient list are at a higher percentage in the formula, and therefore more effective. While you’re looking, be sure the cleansing balm you pick is alcohol-free. According to Geeta Yadav, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist, alcohol should be avoided. “The whole point of using a cleansing balm or oil is to keep your skin balanced and nourished,” she says. “Alcohol strips the skin and negates the hydrating effects.” In order to get the most bang for your buck, Dr. Yadav recommends seeking formulas that offer additional benefits. “Consider ingredients like oatmeal to soothe, fruit enzymes to gently exfoliate, or hyaluronic acid to pull extra hydration into the skin,” she explains.
It might not be top of mind at first, but the packaging that houses each cleansing balm matters. Most jarred cleansing balms come with mini spatulas, but, admittedly, it’s a lot easier to just stick your finger in and scoop some out. As you might expect, it’s not exactly the most hygienic, especially since it’s something you repeatedly do. If you don’t think you’ll use the spatula each time, consider a cleansing balm that comes in a tube. This way, you can squeeze out the perfect amount every time and never have to worry about contaminating the rest.
As with all skincare, your skin type is important. The type of skin you have (and the concerns you want to address) determine which products and ingredients will work best. Dr. Yadav says that for those with acne-prone skin, non-comedogenic products are key. “There are plenty of balms out there that can effectively cleanse the skin without triggering breakouts or congesting pores,” she says. “I especially like products formulated with jojoba oil as it is very similar to your skin’s natural sebum; whereas coconut oil can be too heavy for those prone to breakouts.“