The 8 Best Cleansing Balms That Melt Off Even Waterproof Makeup

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

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 

Ingredients 

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.

Packaging 

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.

Skin Type 

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.

INSTYLE

This Amal Clooney-Approved Cream Is the “Holy Grail of Moisturizers”

It’s packed with powerful anti-aging ingredients.

Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Cream isn’t new to the beauty space, but it does continue to wow celebrities and shoppers with its star lineup of ingredients that produce visible results. It’s no surprise that celebrities like Amal Clooney, Kate Moss, and Khloé Kardashian praise the Magic Cream’s anti-aging benefits and hydrating qualities.

Much like celebrities, dermatologists also are impressed with the cream’s formula. Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist, tells InStyle that Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Cream Moisturizer is packaged with outstanding ingredients. “A good moisturizer contains humectants to hydrate, emollients to support the skin barrier, and occlusives to lock in the moisture — and this product contains all three: glycerin, hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, shea butter. The hyaluronic acid not only locks in moisture but acts as an anti-aging agent.

Shop now: $64–$100; sephora.com

According to Dr. King, hyaluronic acid “is found naturally in our skin, where it holds water and helps to keep the skin hydrated, dewy, and plump.” It’s also a potent humectant that can hold 1,000 times its weight in water, which helps keep the collagen in the skin healthy. “The collagen in our dermis forms the structure of the skin. Natural hyaluronic acid binds to collagen and links to water molecules, giving skin its plumpness,” Dr. King explains.

There are other notable anti-aging ingredients in the Magic Cream like peptides (short chains of amino acids held together by peptide bonds). According to Dr. King peptides “stimulate collagen production in skin and act as growth factors, stimulating skin cells to turn over more quickly.”

Shoppers are shocked by the efficiency of the cream, too. According to one shopper, the Magic Cream Moisturizer is…magic. “So, I’ve been dealing with dry and rough skin around my mouth and on my chin this past week. I didn’t know what to do because I’ve never had problems with my skin before. Thankfully I received the Magic Cream complimentary from Influenster. My skin started to feel better within two uses of the cream. It really is magic.”

Another Sephora shopper says that the moisturizer “has everything that I am looking for in a moisturizer,” including “hyaluronic acid, which helps plump up the skin with collagen. And [it] also has rosehip and camellia oils, which help hydrate dry skin. This is my first time using any of Charlotte Tilbury’s products, and for sure won’t be my last.

Per a final review, the results speak for themselves. “A few uses and my skin feels amazing. I have a few different moisturizers that I use daily. However, this one jar does everything that all three of mine do. It glides on the skin like butter and has a very light, fresh scent. The rosehip in the moisturizer is so hydrating but not oily. I used it at night when I first got it, when I woke up the next morning, my skin looked plump and hydrated.” For plump and hydrated skin, snag the Magic Cream now at Sephora.

INSTYLE

Idris and Sabrina Elba: Beauty’s Newest Skin-Care Founders 

Idris and Sabrina Elba have it going on — in more ways than one. The partners in life and business are hosting a podcast, Coupledom, and now, launching a skin-care brand, S’Able Labs. (That’s Elba’s spelled backwards!) 

We’re a partnership, and skin care is something we can share. We are both on the same page about feeling good externally and it helps us approach our day,” Idris Elba tells Allure. There’s no “his” or “her’s” here. Instead, S’Able Labs is all about “us-care,” the idea of looking after yourself, so you can look after others — and intentionally sharing moments with the people around you.  “We all have skin we want to nourish and protect and hydrate,” says Sabrina Elba, and, she adds, “when you feel good, you do good.

Together, the duo has created a line of three products — cleanser, toner, moisturizer —  to help with the “feel good” part of that equation. It’s a simple lineup, but each product is formulated with hard-working ingredients, several of which have been thoughtfully sourced from Africa. “There are powerful ingredients on that continent,” says Sabrina Elba. “Some of my fondest memories are of sitting underneath the massive baobab trees in East Africa,” she says. 

The superfood baobab, packed with anti-inflammatory properties, is the star ingredient in the aptly named S’Able Labs Baobab Moisturiser, a lightweight formula that goes heavy on hydration with the help of shea butter and squalane. 

Each of the products are infused with The Elba’s experiences. “Somali women have been using qasil, [a powder made from the leaves from the gob tree], for centuries,” says Sabrina Elba. “I’ve watched my mom put this green stuff on her face forever. It’s a great natural soap full of antioxidants,” she tells Allure. Cosmetic chemist Ginger King confirms this ingredient is both an effective cleanser and exfoliator. 

The S’Able Labs Qasil Cleanser combines the Somalian plant with shea butter and purifying kaolin clay. “We both loved the way the cleanser felt on our skin. It provided immediate smoothness and softness — but unlike some exfoliating cleansers, it wasn’t the least bit irritating,” says Allure associate features director Dianna Mazzone, after testing it with her fiancé Herman. 

For editorial assistant Talia Gutierrez and her partner Austin, the S’Able Labs Black Seed Toner added some fun to their multi-step routine. “We enjoyed spritzing each other’s faces — a couple’s thing,” she says. “And we both appreciated the ultra-fine mist that left our skin dewy while feeling clean and hydrated, too.” They both sealed in the hydration with a penny-sized scoop of the S’Able Labs Baobab Moisturiser. “A little goes a long way,” says Austin.

Well, Allure sat down with Idris and Sabrina in a cozy, colorful room at The Whitby Hotel in New York City to chat about their exciting new brand S’Able Labs, how they like to use the products, and their favorite ways to practice “us-care.” 

IDRIS: Self-care quickly became “us-care” when we were in lockdown [during the pandemic]. We realized that only when you’re really good with yourself, are you good with someone else. 

SABRINA: It’s become such an educational process for me to talk about skin care with my partner who, you know, only used Vaseline until very recently [laughs].

When we created the S’able Labs, we wanted it to be something we could use together.

IDRIS: It’s not man or woman. It’s just human. We are both humans.

SABRINA: Idris will use the [S’able Labs Black Seed] toner as aftershave and I use it to set my makeup. It doesn’t need to be so specific.

IDRIS: I know how our [S’able Labs Baobab] moisturizer feels on my skin, Sabrina knows how it feels on her skin, and we both know that actually makes us feel good.

SABRINA: So much of my beauty routine is [about] being prepared for the day, so I don’t have to spend time in the bathroom, like having lash extensions, or my brows laminated. Even though I never look like I’m wearing heavy makeup, I’m always trying new things. If I’m going to try a color, it’s probably on my lips. And I’ve been trying colorful eyeliner recently, which is so fun. But Idris loves the no-makeup look [on me]. He says, “Oh, you look so great in the morning when you just wake up.”

IDRIS: I just sit in the makeup chair and get whatever done to me if I’m in a film. [And] I do make it a point to brush my teeth, but I’m not a flosser. Sabrina is a flosser.

SABRINA: How do you get away with so many things? I get jealous of how little you have to do [before] you walk out the door.

IDRIS: I will shave! I’m the guy who gets new growth by five o’clock in the afternoon, so I keep on top of it. And I shower every day, sometimes twice a day. I just got a fresh haircut and, honestly, my energy levels feel different. My clothes feel different. 

A haircut does that for me. I’ve gotta make sure the hair looks right. Buying new sneakers definitely makes me feel good. There’s something about stepping in fresh shoes. And I started swimming early in the morning. It feels so alien to jump into cold water, but it’s invigorating.

SABRINA: So much of the dream treatment for me is about where I am and who I am with. We went to Iceland recently and we were in the Blue Lagoon getting a massage.

IDRIS: That was incredible.

SABRINA: Yeah, it made it so much more impactful. If I’m in a beautiful setting, it doesn’t matter if it’s a bad massage.

IDRIS: Also, hot yoga in a hot climate is different. It’s not hot yoga, it’s just yoga. Something about the elements being natural rather than having a heater… Everyone’s sweating. But it’s the fact you’re warm and supple, and the environment is great.

SABRINA: Music is [another] form of self-care for us. We sit together, listen to an album… We fell in love listening to an album on a couch. It was A Tribe Called Quest…

IDRIS: The newest one. And Sampha.

SABRINA: We were just listening to music and that was so therapeutic for us and allowed us to bond. And also, if Idris serenades anyone, I’m pretty sure they fall in love pretty quickly.

IDRIS: Don’t put that out there [laughs]. They’ll be like, “You’re good at this! Sing!

SABRINA: Idris is so passionate about music. And it’s that [same] passion that’s bled into our relationship and anything we approach together.

ALLURE

This Resurfacing Serum Leaves Wrinkles “Practically Gone,” According to Fans

The serum doesn’t beat around the bush with its name, and calls in double-fermented Uji green tea, Akita rice, and Okinawa algae to provide high levels of exfoliating lactic acid. Together, the brand says those three ingredients comprise 73 percent of the serum, so the periwinkle bottle is a potent resurfacer. Combined with moisture-drawing hyaluronic acid, plumping sugarcane-derived squalane, and hydrolyzed collagen and elastin, the effects have earned the serum over 1,200 five-star ratings on the brand’s site.

My skin looked luminous and dewy, and fine lines around my mouth, eyes, and forehead seemed to disappear,” wrote a fan of the “definite” plumping action they saw within weeks. A 52-year-old reviewer confirmed the “unbelievable” difference in their wrinkles and newly even skin tone, and a third person said their skin is the most hydrated it’s been in 15 years.

Shop now: $88; tatcha.com and sephora.com

Those profound changes are right in line with what editors and shoppers have come to expect from the luxury brand. Its mineral sunscreen has garnered nonstop laurels since launching in March; Jennifer Aniston uses its lip mask; and its concealer-eye cream hybrid is a “miracle product,” according to well-versed editors. The Dewy Serum plays up that same multitasking facet, toeing the balance between an exfoliant, moisturizer, and anti-ager that leaves wrinkles “practically gone.”

My skin looks so new and young, I was asked for my ID the other day,” wrote one user, and another person said their formerly “very visible” pores were distinctly reduced by the fragrance-free formula. Others wrote that their redness is now less pronounced, as are their under-eye circles, and a self-described “very picky” esthetician dubbed it a plumping “drink of hydration” when swiped across their lips.

Between the gorgeous bottle, smart ingredients, and fast results, the Dewy Serum’s hold on Tatcha’s best-seller list is easy to understand (per the brand’s website, it even outranks the beloved lip mask and Meghan Markle-approved Rice Polish). If you’d like to try the exfoliating and moisturizing wrinkle-reducer, the Dewy Serum is $88 at Tatcha’s website and Sephora.

INSTYLE

Caroline Hirons Breaks Into Beauty Tech With Skin Care App Launch

Caroline Hirons, the British aesthetician and influencer, has launched her new skin care app on 13th of July.

The free Skin Rocks app will provide curated information and advice on the type of skin users have, and will then match products best suited for the individual.

A soft launch was held on 28 June, when it was offered to the 120,000 members of Hiron’s Skincare Freaks Facebook group for testing.

The beta launch made it to number four on the top free apps in the Apple chart within 12 hours, according to Hirons.

Welcome to Artist Spotlight #86 series on my blog.

We have been blown away by the response and cannot wait to share the fully loaded Skin Rocks App with our industry peers at our official launch event on the 13 July,” said Hirons.

The app has been launched as a part of the Skin Rocks Limited business, which creates skin care kits featuring products hand picked by Hirons.

Dubbed the ‘queen of skin care‘, Hirons has over 37 years of experience in retail, including 25 years working as a consultant in the skin care industry.

She launched a book in 2020 titled Skincare: The ultimate no-nonsense guide, which won the British Book Awards Non-Fiction Lifestyle Book of the Year in 2021.

COSMETICS BUSINESS

Tower 28 Made Its Fan-Favorite Facial Mist Into a Serum

Inspired by the brand’s best-selling, cult-favorite SOS Rescue Spray, the serum soothes irritated skin and visibly reduces redness for a clearer and calmer complexion. Like the spray, the hero ingredient is hypochlorous acid, an acid that’s naturally produced by the body’s immune system to fight off bad bacteria and calm redness. It also contains a non-drying solution of water and sodium chloride to act as a delivery system for the hypocholorous acid since it’s found naturally in white blood cells.

Dr. Kelly Killeen, a double board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon in L.A., previously broke down the science lesson on the spray for InStyle. “Hypochlorous acid is a spectacular ingredient as it does several things,” she said. “This multitasking ingredient allows the SOS Spray to be gentle with only one other ingredient, saline or salt water. Hypochlorous acid not only kills bacteria and viruses [but] also improves blood flow and reduces inflammation. These two additional things help your skin heal faster.”

Also, similar to the spray, this formula has also earned the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Acceptance, deeming it safe for all skin types, including those with inflammatory conditions such as eczema and rosacea.

SHOP IT $34

INSTYLE

Hyaluronic Acid and Retinol Are Skin Care’s Latest Power Duo

Over the past few years, hyaluronic acid and retinol have become such skin-care staples that coming across a product without one or the other is rare. “In skin care, they’re the holy grail,” says Ranella Hirsch, M.D., a dermatologist in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Sure, every few months a new wunderkind skin-care ingredient is discovered in some remote locale, and pretty soon it’s everywhere—in your masks, serums, foot creams, insert-step-in-your-beauty-routine-here. But at the end of the day, there are only a handful of ingredients that have stood the test of time and truly become essential. 

Hyaluronic acid and retinol do deliver results—but what exactly those results are might still be confusing. (Understandably.)

Retinol: For Softening Wrinkles and Fighting Acne

If there’s one ingredient lauded more than any other for its wrinkle-fighting, complexion-perfecting abilities, it’s this derivative of vitamin A. “Here’s the deal with retinol,” explains Hirsch. “We were talking about it in 1975, and we’re still talking about it now because it works.” In study after study, retinol has been shown to build collagen, decrease fine lines, improve skin texture, and fight acne.

When it comes to incorporating a retinol into your skin-care routine, it’s better sooner than later. “Retinol works best as prevention, so don’t wait until wrinkles and dark spots occur to start using it,” says Corey L. Hartman, M.D., the founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama. “Another misconception about retinols is that they ‘thin the skin.’ This could not be further from the truth. It actually thickens your skin by increasing production of glycosaminoglycans to keep the skin firm, taut, and smooth.

The prescription version (which goes by retinoic acid, or Retin-A) acts fastest, but it’s pricey—and it can be drying. Over-the-counter retinol, however, take 8 to 10 weeks to show results compared with 6 weeks with an Rx, but is normally paired with anti-inflammatories to calm the redness, peeling, or dryness. It can also cost less than a prescription—which, depending on your insurance coverage, can generally start around $100.

Whichever type you use, you’ll want to ease into your retinol use slowly. “I start patients on the mildest version, one night a week at the onset,” says New York City dermatologist Amy Wechsler, M.D. As your skin begins to tolerate a pea-size amount, you can eventually go up to two nights a week. But stay off harsh physical scrubs and peels while you’re using retinol; remember to moisturize, moisturize, moisturize; and use extra sunscreen for the first six months.

Hyaluronic Acid: For Serious Moisture

Despite its name, hyaluronic acid actually doesn’t exfoliate your skin (if you’re looking for one that does, try glycolic acid instead). This tiny molecule helps lubricate joints and keep skin plump, and is one of the world’s finest humectants, or molecules that attract and retain water. Since these molecules so effectively replenish skin with water, they’re beloved for their hydrating abilities.

In addition to being a terrific hydrator, Wechsler says, HA pairs well with other active skin-care ingredients (so you can layer it with retinol, for example, and use it daily). Not only that, but it also goes above and beyond its duties as a humectant. “Along with hydrating the skin and preventing dehydration, hyaluronic acid provides an environment that keeps wrinkles away,” says Hartman.

Bottom line: “The beauty of hyaluronic acid is that it doesn’t have any fine print,” says Hirsch. “It benefits any skin type, at any age. And the truth is that everyone looks great with hydrated skin.”

What Are the Potential Side Effects?

As with any ingredient, no matter how ah-mazing they are, there are potential side effects that should be kept in mind when using. “When patients start a retinol, the hyper-exfoliation can oftentimes cause redness, peeling, and dryness during the first couple of weeks of use,” says New York City dermatologist Rita Linkner, M.D., founder of RVL Skincare.

If your skin tends to be more on the dry side, it’s worth considering how you can add that extra boost before and after applying your retinol to minimize excessive peeling as much as possible. (Newbies can also try the buffering trick to take down the sting.)

As for our hydrating superhero? “Hyaluronic acid is known to increase the permeability of the skin, making it more sieve-like—which is why it should be combined with a moisturizer to draw more water to itself,” she says.

What Are the Benefits of Combining the Two?

Good news: Retinol and hyaluronic acid actually have a synergistic effect. “They can be combined so that the benefits of retinol can be achieved more easily with concomitant use of hyaluronic acid, which helps to prevent retinol irritation,” says Hartman.

As for what that ultimately means when you look in the mirror: “Overall texture should improve when using the two actives, as well as fine lines,” says Linkner.

How to Get the Best Results

To max out your benefits, “I often recommend that patients use a hydrating serum like hyaluronic acid before they apply their retinol cream,” says Hartman. “Hyaluronic acid plays well with most ingredients, while caution must be taken when using retinol in combination with alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxy acids, benzoyl peroxide, and some types of vitamin C.”

Linkner echoes the tip about avoiding vitamin C.  “I also wouldn’t advise using a vitamin C after hyaluronic acid, as it can increase the irritation effects of the ascorbic acid.” (Ascorbic acid, the chemical name for vitamin C, is still an acid, after all.)

If you’re new to this combo, it’s worth doing a patch test to see how your skin reacts to the amped-up duo. Because hyaluronic acid can increase the potency of the secondary product, Linkner says, it could potentially draw out the acclimation period when you first start using a retinol.

That said, retinol and hyaluronic acid are a match made in heaven. And if you’re looking to level-up your skin-care routine with even more effective products, here are some fan favourites.

La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Pure Retinol Serum

Thanks to vitamin B3, which can help soothe inflammation, and the gradual-release formula, this retinol serum is gentle enough even for sensitive skin types. (As with most retinols, though, you’ll still want to do a patch test and start by applying at night.) During the day, don’t forget to layer on SPF to get the most anti-wrinkle benefits.

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

Hyaluronic acid is a sugar that your body makes inherently. It provides a plumping effect in the skin by drawing water to itself like a sponge,” says Linkner. This O.G. hyaluronic acid serum from The Ordinary delivers maximum hydration (thanks to the added B5) and comes in under $10.

Peter Thomas Roth Peptide 21 Wrinkle Resist Moisturizer

While you’ll want to be cautious about mixing hyaluronic acid with peptides, the payoff is pretty incredible if the combination is suitable for your skin. “Think of peptides as Legos—they’re protein building blocks,” says Hirsch of the skin strengtheners. Studies show certain peptides can boost collagen production and speed wound healing; or they can mimic the effect of Botox when applied topically. That means you’ll likely want to introduce peptides in your 30s, when you notice your skin doesn’t feel quite as firm or bouncy as it did in your 20s.

GLAMOUR

These 10 Hydrating Serums Will Make Dry Skin Vanish

Hydrating serums are useful because they bring hydration into the skin,” stresses New York City dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology Group. Because healing dry skin calls for both humectants and emollients (that draw in moisture and lock in moisture respectively), a good humectant like hyaluronic acid, which holds 1,000 times its weight in water, will draw hydration to the skin to bouncier, glowier effect.

When the atmosphere is more arid, such as in wintertime, the dry air draws moisture out of our skin… so these barrier products prevent loss of moisture,” explains Nazarian. “Over time, as we age, our skin is less capable of drawing in and locking in moisture—so these skin habits are useful in the short-term seasonally and long-term because as we age, our skin weakens.” Below, some of the best serums for dry skin to help you lock in moisture all season long.

Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum

Drunk Elephant’s B-Hydra Intensive Hydration serum is an ultra-nourishing cocktail comprised of vitamin B5 and fruit ceramides to brighten and heal moisture-depleted skin.

Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Ampoules

To instantly jolt a weary complexion back to life, Dr. Barbara Sturm’s highly-concentrated, single dose ampoules team long- and short-chain hyaluronic molecules with her signature anti-inflammatory ingredient purslane.

SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel

SkinCeuticals’s sinks-right-in gel serum is a favorite for all skin types with its juicy concentration of hyaluronic acid and a heavy dose of hydrating b5 gel, which plumps the skin for a smoother, dewier complexion.

Kate Somerville Quench Hydrating Face Serum

To target signs of aging, Kate Somerville’s Quench Hydrating serum is laced with regenerating retinol, firming wheat germ, and skin barrier function-bolstering lipids for a plumper, more luminous skin.

Tatcha The Dewy Serum Resurfacing and Plumping Treatment

The Japanese beauty-inspired brand’s buzzed-about elixir is a milky serum that lifts impurities with lactic acid and quenches skin’s thirst with hyaluronic acid and sugarcane-derived squalane.

TruSkin Hyaluronic Acid

This hyaluronic acid formula has raked in thousands of Amazon review raves not only for its wallet-friendly price tag, but the radiant results it produces with help from antioxidant-rich vitamin c, protective vitamin e, and soothing aloe vera.

Moon Juice Plump Jelly

Moon Juice’s lightweight jelly hydrator teams hyaluronic acid with unique natural ingredients such as free radical-fighting reishi and healing tremella mushroom.

Chanel Hydra Beauty Intense Smoothing Eye Gel

Given that dark circles become that much more notorious during the winter months—a 2011 study found that 82 percent of women believe they have dark circles in the winter versus 38 percent in summer—you can brighten and de-puff the under-eye area with a serum like Chanel’s smoothing Hydra Beauty Intense eye gel, which sinks right in thanks to its patented micro-droplet technology.

La Mer The Hydrating Infused Emulsion

An instant, fast-absorbing dose of hydration, La Mer’s lightweight serum-lotion is spiked with its famed sea kelp-based Miracle Broth to heal and replenish, while fatty acid-packed soy and antioxidant-rich lime tea concentrate work their magic.

innisfree Green Tea Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum

Innisfree’s best-selling hydrating serum got a fresh update. The newly minted formulation includes different types of hyaluronic acid and a special green tea probiotic complex that hydrates and helps support the skin microbiome.

VOGUE

The Best Eye Creams To Look Like You’ve Had A Full Night’s Sleep

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, right now my soul is looking tired, lined, puffy, and a little distressed. Along with genetics, it seems like everything can affect that sensitive under-eye area in some way. Too little sleep, stress, wine (oops), or excess time spent in front of a screen can all contribute to your under-eyes looking a bit worse for wear. Selfie-worthy eye treatments can help when you’re feeling like a lost cause, but what about eye creams? To answer our burning questions–like, “Do they even work?”–ELLE turned to dermatologist Dr. Karan Lal, for insight.

WHY IS EYE CREAM SO POPULAR?

Eye creams have become popular in the past two years because our eyes are the only things people see due to masking,” says Dr. Lal. “I have had a five-fold increase in people asking for eyelid rejuvenation treatments and eye creams.

DO EYE CREAMS WORK?

I believe eye cream is necessary in a skincare routine because the eye sockets and eye skin change dramatically as we age,” says Dr. Lal. “The issue with eye creams is people think they work quickly when in reality the creams should be used for at least 12 weeks before making any judgment about their effectiveness. I make patients take selfies at baseline and after 12 weeks of daily use to compare.” If after 12 weeks you’re still not seeing a huge improvement, you might prefer to opt for an in-office treatment. “Eye rejuvenation includes procedures such as platelet-rich plasma to improve crepey skin, tear trough filler for hollow under-eyes, vascular laser treatment for darkness from blood vessels, or ablative resurfacing for overall skin laxity.”

WHAT INGREDIENTS ARE GOOD TO LOOK FOR IN AN EYE CREAM?

Most people want to get rid of dark circles and crepey skin,” says Dr. Lal. “I love eye products that have arnica in them, which helps with darkness and pigmentation from fragile under-eye blood vessels. I also love products that have peptides that stimulate collagen production. One of my favorite peptides in argireline, because it tightens the skin similar to how Botox works.” 

WHAT INGREDIENTS SHOULD YOU AVOID IN AN EYE CREAM?

I avoid eye creams that have a lot of fragrance because eyelid skin is very thin—one of the thinnest parts of our body—and this can lead to irritation, which can cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation,” says Dr. Lal.

Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Eye Cream

Sleepless nights might be the cause of your under-eye crinkling. If so, this product taps retinol to combat those lines. Over time, your eye area will start looking brighter, with more even skin tone, and fewer crow’s feet.

CeraVe Eye Repair Cream

Our eyes go through a lot, which is why they need a little bit of extra protection and nourishment. with a combination of moisture building and sealing hyaluronic acid and ceramides, this eye cream forms a barrier that will help minimize the effect of stress and reduce and prevent puffiness.

Naturium Multi-Peptide Eye Cream

With the help of argireline and squalane, Naturium’s treatment visibly tightens the skin around your eyes, while also delivering plenty of hydration and nourishment. You’ll look so refreshed and awake that people will think you actually sleep eight hours every night.

Clarins Total Eye Lift Eye Cream

No need to book that appointment with your friendly plastic surgeon. This eye cream works double-time to eliminate signs of aging like crow’s feet and other fine lines. Plus, it works fast. In just one application, you’ll notice a definitive difference in your eye’s contour.

Strivectin Advanced Retinol Eye Cream

Odds are you’re already aware of using retinol on your face, but this product uses the ingredient to specifically target many of the same skin concerns around your eyes more gently. In addition to reducing fine lines, the cream also plumps and hydrates for a firmer appearance.

Shani Darden Intensive Eye Renewal Cream

Using peptides, ceramides, squalane, and niacinamide, this product works to reduce dark circles. Plus, it also fights against puffiness and imparts crucial hydration to the under-eyes.

Biossance Squalane + Marine Algae Eye Cream

The trick to looking younger, for longer? Intense hydration. This eye cream uses squalane and soothing marine algae to make the under-eyes look smooth and radiant by diminishing dark circles and puffiness. Over time, the treatment can also help fade fine lines.

Ole Henricksen Banana Bright Eye Crème

The skin under our eyes can start looking dull when they’re not properly cared for, emphasizing dark circles and puffiness. This brightening cream uses collagen and vitamin C to help your eyes look younger, brighter, and more contoured.

Clinique All About Eyes Rich

Nothing says “I haven’t slept” more than puffy under-eyes. This cream helps reverse that look to well-rested—even if you spent the night drinking wine instead of sleeping. Plus, it’s also a great primer for under-eye concealer to prevent creasing while covering dark circles.

Olay Vitamin C + Peptide 24 Brightening Eye Cream

As the name suggests, peptides and vitamin C in this eye cream promise to brighten and firm the under-eyes, alleviating dark circles and hyperpigmentation. For people with sensitive skin, the formula is also fragrance-free.

ELF Holy Hydration! Illuminating Eye Cream

If your under-eyes desperately need some soothing hydration, this eye cream brings all that and more. Using hyaluronic acid, peptides, shea butter, and green tea extract, eyes will feel completely rejuvenated like a day at the spa.

Sunday Riley Auto Correct Brightening and Depuffing Eye Cream

You need coffee to look like a functioning adult in the morning, but why leave your eyes out of the fun? This eye cream uses caffeine, shea butter, and natural extracts to brighten and de-puff your sleepy under-eyes.

ELLE

This “Face Altering” French Retinol Blows Other Anti-Aging Creams Out of the Water

When it comes to skincare heavy hitters, retinol is often the first and last thing out of savvy shoppers’ mouths. In a world where marketing lingo runs rampant and the majority of products are hit or miss, it’s reassuring to know that retinol, at least, has reversed signs of aging for decades. From there, the decision comes to which over-the-counter retinol cream is best, and French brand Avène’s found the sweet spot. 

As a successor to the brand’s beloved RetrinAL 0.1 Intensive Cream, Avène one-upped itself with the RetrinAL Advanced Wrinkle Corrector. The former excels as an anti-aging moisturizer that smoothes skin with added vitamin E and peptides, while the latter is a targeted treatment you dab anywhere you’d like skin to look significantly more plump and firm.  

According to dozens of elated reviews, abracadabra, the Corrector grants that wish. Two weeks sees fine lines start to disappear, shoppers’ “deep nasolabial folds” receding in a “face altering” feat. “I saw results right away! I used this on certain parts of my face and put another retinol on the other parts to test its effectiveness, and by far this blew my other retinol out of the water,” a reviewer writes of the Corrector’s effects. 

Shop now: $56; aveneusa.com

Others say the formula’s diminished deep wrinkles around their mouth and forehead so much they’re now looking for other places to put the cream, an accomplishment if we’ve ever heard one. Even 54-year-olds with “deep lines between [their] eyebrows” say a couple nights of the treatment has made an enormous difference — so, to get the science behind exactly how the Corrector puts other treatments to shame, InStyle asked Sheila Farhang, board-certified dermatologist and YouTube creator, for her thoughts on the ingredients. 

Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives, and are considered one of the ‘gold standard’ ingredients for anti-aging,” Farhang says. “They increase cell turnover, thereby increasing collagen stimulation to help with fine lines and discoloration. Retinoids also ‘de-plug’ clogged pores, which is why it’s commonly used for acne as well.” Speaking to the Avène formula specifically, she notes that it uses retinaldehyde, which is the most potent over-the-counter retinoid — so if you’ve tried other retinol creams and haven’t seen a big difference, it would be your best next step. 

The stronger the retinoid, the higher the risk for redness, flaking, and irritation, so Farhang says you should always take it slow if it’s your first dance with the ingredient. Thankfully, Avène anticipated the potential sensitivity and added hyaluronic acid and thermal spring water, which she notes calm skin for “a win-win situation.” 

Fellow dermatologist and YouTube creator Dr. Alexis Stephens agrees with Farhang, writing that the addition of algae-derived collactintm also helps skin look younger and more radiant. “The beauty of this formulation is that the powerful retinaldehyde is alongside Avene’s thermal spring water, which is clinically proven to smooth, soften and calm the skin,” Stephens says of the safe-for-sensitive-skin treatment. “I recommend this product so often, I carry it at my private practice for my patients.” 

All of the above makes for a trauma-free experience, even for 49-year-old shoppers with “hyper-sensitive” skin. “Almost EVERYTHING gives me a bad reaction and/or breaks me out. Two and a half weeks in, and [I’m] seeing reduced neck wrinkles and pores shrunk to almost unnoticeable. I’m impressed.” As the French would say, voilà; in American English, whoomp! 

INSTYLE