It might seem counterintuitive to use an oil to cleanse your face, but it’s an effective way to dissolve makeup and remove dirt from the day without stripping the skin of moisture and leaving it tight and dry. Consider a cleansing oil for your face, to be followed by your usual face wash as part of a double cleanse; it makes the second stage more effective, allowing your cleanser to interact directly with the skin.
Oils are ideal for all skin types, removing excess sebum and grime for the breakout-prone, and conditioning dry areas. Simply massage three to five drops into your skin, emulsify with a splash of water, then remove with a warm, wet flannel. If you’re wearing a lot of highly pigmented makeup on your lips or eyes, you may want to apply oil to this area and remove first, before continuing with the rest of the face, to avoid smearing it everywhere.
For those who just want to get the job done and who have more sensitive skin or eyes (contact lens-wearers, particularly), pick an unscented, fewer-frills oil. For those who want the full luxurious, spa-scent experience, there are plenty of options too. All our favourites cut through makeup easily (we’ve noted those that are better at dealing with waterproof makeup) and are suitable for all skin types.
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Laura Mercier Purifying Cleansing Oil: £32 for 200ml, feelunique.com
If you can trust anyone with putting on makeup – and taking it off – it’s artist-founded makeup brand Laura Mercier. You always know where you stand with its cleansing oil: it comes in a clear plastic bottle, so you know how much you’ve got left, and its thin, clear, virtually unscented and very effective. Perfect for waterproof makeup and sensitive eyes, it’s also one of the cheapest per ml we tested.
Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil: £32 for 175ml, John Lewis & Partners
Anything that’s related to Kiehl’s’ Midnight Recovery Concentrate is a winner in our books, and the cleansing oil from the range shares the same relaxing and plumping combination of primrose and lavender oils and moisturising squalene. It’s one of the longest-lasting bottles we tried, too, though those with sensitive eyes may experience some sting.
Votary Clarifying Cleansing Oil: £45 for 100ml, votary.co.uk
We love Votary for its beautiful green glass bottles and natural oil-focused formulas, and we’re certainly not alone in the beauty world. Its Clarifying Cleansing Oil is a medium-weight blend of sunflower seed, grape seed, peach, oat, bergamot and rosemary oils, among others, and has a calming scent that gives a full aromatherapy experience. Perfect on blemish-prone or hormonal skin, it comes with a luxurious 100 per cent cotton face cloth.
DHC Deep Cleansing Oil: £24 for 200ml, feelunique.com
It was a Japanese brand (Shu Uemura, no longer sold in the UK) that first brought oil-based cleansers to the mass market in 1967, and DHC was one of the first to make it big in the UK. This cult favourite is our go-to for evening cleansing, making light work of eye makeup, foundation and SPF. Its scent is distinctively olive oil-like, so it hasn’t got the luxury feel of other brands, but it is darn effective. It’s also the cheapest per ml of any we tested.
La Mer The Cleansing Oil: £72 for 200ml, cremedelamer.co.uk
Normally we’d say a cleansing oil isn’t the place to spend big, but, what can we say, we’re won over by La Mer’s iridescent, celestial formula. It is thin, with a very good slip over the skin (meaning a little spreads far) and it cuts through makeup with very little work. It leaves skin silky smooth and feeling fresh. The bottle is also clear plastic, so you can see how much is left.
Disciple Night Shift Cleanser: £26 for 100ml, cultbeauty.co.uk
London-based skincare brand Disciple offers the same luxury feel of Votary – all green glass bottle and spa-like scent – at nearly half the price. The unusual cactus oil is blended with hemp, grapeseed and neroli oils, plus natural fruit acids to exfoliate away dead skin cells. Disciple’s products were created by a psychotherapist and claim to “help the body and mind deal with internal stress”; we can’t attest to that, but it removes makeup and conditions skin beautifully. It also comes with a 100 per cent cotton face cloth.
Suqqu Silky Smooth Cleansing Oil: £33 for 150ml, harrods.com
Another from a Japanese brand, Suqqu’s white pearlescent bottle is so gorgeous and minimalist we’re willing to let go of the fact that you can’t see how much you have left through it. It’s a real powerhouse of an oil: thick, clear and virtually scentless, it lifts all makeup with minimal rubbing and leaves skin plump and glowy.
Aesop Parsley Seed Facial Cleansing Oil: £40 for 200ml, spacenk.com
This oil is a thicker and heavier than most, but feels more natural and beneficial as a result. It contains a blend of fatty, rich oils such as avocado, lavender and sweet almond, plus antioxidant beta carotene and the eponymous parsley seed oil. It struggled a little to remove waterproof liquid eyeliner, but made light work of red lipstick. Our only gripe is that it comes without a pump, so you have to shake the glass bottle instead to dispense it, which is a little clunky.
Elemis Nourishing Omega-Rich Cleansing Oil: £32.50 for 195ml, elemis.com
This is almost worth buying just for the sweet, fresh, lemon scent. As for the rest, it is made of a blend of 90 per cent natural oils, including winter rose oil, which is rich in anti-inflammatory omega-9, and melts makeup off the skin with ease.
Sunday Riley CEO C+E Micro-Dissolve Cleansing Oil: £35 for 100ml, net-a-porter.com
This, from Sunday Riley’s environment-combatting CEO range, is a clever blend of ingredients. Tangerine peel oil is combined with exfoliating AHA and BHA from willow bark and lime pearl extract, and antioxidant-rich turmeric and brightening vitamin C. The citrus scent – as you’d expect from that distinctive orange packaging (not completely opaque, so you can see how much is left) – makes it smell good for you. Our only warning is that this is not one for sensitive eyes.
The Verdict: Best cleansing oils
If you want a no-frills, highly efficient oil that won’t irritate any skin types, Laura Mercier is the best for your money. For that luxurious spa-like experience, you can’t beat Votary, but Disciple makes a very budget-friendly and commendable attempt to do just that.
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