Cleansing our skin before bed can be a chore at the best of times, let alone in the summer when we turn to longer-lasting cosmetic formulations and SPF moisturisers that are more difficult to remove. But the thing is, there’s no need to struggle: a simple switch to a hard-working cleansing oil will see it melt off in seconds – yes, even your trusty waterproof mascara.
Cleansing oils are such effective cleansers because, as school science taught us, likes attract. Oil attracts oil, so a cleansing oil will latch on to oily make-up formulations – as well as oil in your skincare and the grease your skin naturally produces – and dissolve it. That’s why cleansing oils are suitable for all skin types, including oily complexions.
Effortless to use, simply apply a couple of pumps to a dry face and massage in circular motions. Then rinse with water or, if you prefer, a muslin or washcloth. For a deeper clean, go for a double cleanse with your favourite cream, gel or lotion after.
How we tested
We tried and tested the latest cleansing oil formulations to bring you our edit of the very best. They were all trialled on the same waterproof mascara, as well as long-lasting foundation and SPF moisturiser.
All our winners were quick and easy to use, with no rubbing of the delicate eye area required. They left no make-up residue, caused zero irritation and left skin feeling soft and supple. There’s a slick operator to suit every budget and skin type in our round-up.
The best cleansing oils for 2021 are:
- Best overall – Pai light work rosehip cleansing oil: £33, Cultbeauty.co.uk
- Best for mature skin – Adaptology time warp cleanser: £34, Contentbeautywellbeing.com
- Best for sensitive skin – Curel makeup cleansing oil: £10.87, Boots.com
- Best for normal to dry skin – bareMinerals smoothness hydrating cleansing oil: £26, Escentual.com
- Best for oily and combination skin – Dear, Klairs gentle black deep cleansing oil: £23, Lookfantastic.com
- Best value – Q+A rosehip cleansing oil: £10, Feelunique.com
- Best for dry skin – Biossance squalane and antioxidant cleansing oil: £25, Cultbeauty.co.uk
- Best luxe formula – Epara cleansing oil: £45, Net-a-porter.com
- Best at removing make-up – Typology 7-ingredient cleansing oil: £14.90, Typology.com
- Best one-step cleanse – Decleor micellar cleansing oil: £19.95, Allbeauty.com
Pai light work rosehip cleansing oil
A bestseller for the British sensitive skincare brand, this formula should not be overlooked by other skin types as it’s so quick and easy to use, dissolving and removing even the most stubborn long-lasting and waterproof make-up in seconds. It boasts, as the name suggests, rosehip oil, which is rich in essential fatty acids crucial for healthy skin function and, crucially, won’t strip the skin with its hydrating and healing properties. This formula makes the usual chore of make-up removal a joy thanks to both its effectiveness and the uplifting citrus and jasmine fragrance.
Adaptology time warp cleanser
Best: For mature skin
If you’ve already turned to the skincare superpowers of vitamin C elsewhere in your skincare routine, you’ll love this cleansing oil that’s enriched with an oil-based form of it. The powerful antioxidant is well known for its skin-brightening and collagen-boosting effects. Combined with rosehip oil – another radiance booster – you’ve got yourself a beautifully indulgent and sweet-smelling oil cleanser. It makes fast work of make-up removal, and for a really deep cleanse, we found two rounds made our skin glow.
Curel makeup cleansing oil
Best: For sensitive skin
Hailing from Japan, the masters of the double cleanse, this skincare brand has infused its cleansing oil with hydrating and strengthening ceramides – perfect for skin on the dry or sensitive side. Designed to be used as the first step in a double cleanse, we found it effortlessly lifted away make-up with no heavy rubbing needed – removing waterproof formulations was a doddle. It has more of a water-like consistency that makes it feel beautifully refreshing on the skin, making it perfect for the warmer months, and it turns into a milky-white emulsion when massaged with water.
bareMinerals smoothness hydrating cleansing oil
Best: For normal to dry skin
Even the most stubborn waterproof mascara that you’ve had to turn to in order to stay meltproof in the summer heat doesn’t stand a chance against first contact with this formula.
It instantly breaks down make-up, dirt and grime with its antioxidant-rich pomegranate and sunflower oil formula. The soothing lavender scent, meanwhile, makes it a pleasure to use before bed. Once applied, place a washcloth over the face to really take in the relaxing aroma with some deep, steady breathing. It’s such a firm favourite with our tester that she’s returned to it time and time again.
Dear, Klairs gentle black deep cleansing oil
Best: For oily and combination skin
Beauty fanatics that like to look to Korea for their next-generation skincare will already be familiar with this sensitive brand that does “back to basics” at its best. We’d heard good things about this formulation and couldn’t wait to get our hands on it. And we can confirm it's worthy of its reputation, as the super lightweight and gentle formula makes easy work of removing every type of stubborn make-up. And don’t let the name confuse you – it’s not a black formula. Instead, the blend of natural oils includes black bean oil, for balancing excess sebum, making it the best pick for oilier skin types.
Q+A rosehip cleansing oil
For an effective and affordable cleansing oil, turn to this ingredient-led UK brand. This new cleanser is made from a cocktail of some of our favourite oils, including healing rosehip and essential fatty-acids-rich avocado oil. Then there’s repairing and moisturising argan oil, as well as hempseed oil. It’s one for all skin types, as it’s gentle and nourishing, but still breaks down long-wear and waterproof make-up easily. We like to use this as a first-step cleanse, with a cleansing balm for the second.
Biossance squalane and antioxidant cleansing oil
Best: For dry skin
If your skin’s on the normal to dry side, reach for this nourishing option. It’s enriched with antioxidants and super-hydrating squalane (derived from sugarcane), so it packs a moisturising punch that leaves skin feeling well hydrated. It’ll melt away the toughest budge-proof formulas, and we found it even removed our long-lasting liquid lipstick that can be a nightmare to take off. Impressive.
Epara cleansing oil
Best: Luxe formula
Our priciest pick is a who’s who of beautiful oils, using a blend of the best organic and natural ingredients from Africa. Epara means “to cocoon oneself” in the Nigerian dialect of Ebira, and we liked to do just that with the nourishing blend of moringa, marula and argan oil, to name drop just a few. It also boasts liquorice-root extract for its brightening properties and plankton extract to help with hyper-pigmentation. Expect it to melt away make-up and SPF skincare instantly, leaving you with a soft and subtle complexion.
Typology 7-ingredient cleansing oil
Best: For removing make-up
The French minimalist brand with a stripped-back approach to skincare has this bestselling formula in its collection. With, as the name gives away, only seven essential ingredients, such as soothing sweet almond oil and nourishing sunflower seed oil, unnecessary additives are left out. No rubbing of the delicate eye area is needed, as it lifts away make-up and impurities effectively, ready to be rinsed away with water once it emulsifies. You’re left with comfortably soft skin.
Decleor micellar cleansing oil
Best: One-step cleanse
When you combine the technology behind the brilliance of micellar water cleansers with the effectiveness of oil, you get this hard-working formula. Stand-out ingredients include soothing and strengthening sweet almond oil, as well as squalene (derived from olive oil) for hydration. The subtle, spa-like fragrance makes this such a pleasure to apply, you almost wish it wasn’t so effective, so you could leave it on the skin for longer. No long-lasting make-up or SPF formulations are too tough for this oil-to-milk cleanser.
Cleansing oils FAQs
How do I use a cleansing oil?
We’d recommend applying a small amount – a couple of pumps – to damp skin and gently massaging in circular motions before rinsing thoroughly and patting skin dry with a soft, clean towel.
What’s the difference between a cleansing oil and a cleansing balm?
The main difference between cleansing oils and balms is the texture. While oils are liquid and tend to be heavier, balms start in a more solid state but melt into an oil once massaged. Cleansing balms can range from a wax-like salve to a creamy gel consistency and the two formulas also differ in packaging; oils typically come in a pump bottle and balms in a tub.
Is cleansing oil better than micellar water?
While micellar waters are great for removing make-up from the surface of the skin they can require a little more effort to get to work. In comparison, cleansing oils are some of the gentlest products that will still ensure every last trace of waterproof mascara and foundation is removed. However, if you’re someone who wears very little make-up, a bottle of micellar water could be good enough.
The verdict: Cleansing oils
Our best buy goes to Pai light work rosehip cleansing oil, not only for making it so quick and easy to remove the day’s make-up, dirt and oil, but for making it such a pleasure. If you’re looking for change from a £20 note, you won’t be disappointed with the effective and affordable Curel makeup cleansing oil.
For the latest discounts on skincare, try the links below:
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