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 • Skincare  • Skincare Guides  • Why You Might Want to Swap Your Face Wash for an Oil Cleanser

Why You Might Want to Swap Your Face Wash for an Oil Cleanser

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Main image – Katarinaradovic/Stocksy

Ever feel like you’re not getting enough out of your cleanser? And that it’s doing a mediocre job? An oil cleanser may be your answer.

I know, I know – oil! Surely that’s what you’ve been trying to cleanse off in the first place, right? 

But as dermatology expert Dr Sonia Khorana explains, oil cleansers “can deconstruct oil-soluble substances like makeup, environmental pollutants, excess sebum (oil) and residual product build-up for a deeper clean.”

This makes them perfect for keeping skin clear and healthy, regardless of your skin type (yes, even acne-prone types).

Keeping reading for more advice from Dr Khorana as well as skincare experts Jordan Samuel Pacitti, Faye Purcell, Christina Uzzardi and Ian Michael Crumm on how to use a cleansing oil and who should be using one.


Image – Ohlamourstudio/Stocksy


What is an oil cleanser?

It’s just how it sounds; an oil-based cleanser that comes in either an oil or balm type formula.  They’re often used as the first cleanse in a double cleansing routine.

So, does this deeper cleanse mean that an oil cleanser does a better job than a normal face wash? “All cleansers have varying benefits and are beneficial for different skin conditions,” explains Uzzardi. “But oil cleansers are great for both dry skin and those struggling with acne and breakouts.” 

Oil on oil. Really?! “I know it sounds counterintuitive but oil attracts oil so a good oil cleanser will properly clean the pores without stripping the skin.”

Dr Khorana says they tend to contain less harsh ingredients too. “Cleansing oils don’t contain as many surfactants (depending on the product),” she explains. “Surfactants are typically used as detergents or foaming agents (like in face washes) so oil cleansers can be a little gentler on your skin.”

But can an oil cleanser cause purging (where you see an increase in breakouts after introducing a new product)? “If an oil cleanser is not properly used, yes they can cause breakouts, also if the cleanser contains the wrong type of oil as well,” warns Uzzardi

Ok, so what are the ‘right’ oils? “Using oil cleansers containing grapeseed oil, primose oil or other non-pore-clogging oils like argan oil are excellent for oily and acne-prone skin types – they do not cause breakouts of purging,” says Dr Khorana. Gotcha.


Who can use one?

Uzzardi says everyone. “I believe anyone should use an oil cleanser if they are willing to take the extra step of removing it thoroughly with a warm rag or cotton round,” she says. 

Even acne-prone skin types? “Absolutely! We often recommend oil cleansers for acne.”

“While it is mainly up to personal preference, combination, dry, dehydrated and sensitive skins do great when they add an oil cleanser into their regimen,” adds Pacitti. And it’s not just about your skin type, what you need to remove from your skin matters too. 


Image – Ohlamourstudio/Stocksy


“Beyond skin type, they can be a great choice for individuals who wear heavier makeup and/or reapply sunscreen through the day as oil cleansers can be very effective in breaking down and removing makeup and SPF,” he says.

For those who really don’t like the feel of oil on their skin though, there are also gel-to-oil formulas that feel more like a traditional cleanser but work like an oil, like Jordan Samuel Skin’s The After Show Treatment Cleanser for Sensitive Skin.


Everything you need to know about using an oil cleanser

Step 1: Use the right amount

You’ll want to make sure you’re using enough product to get a thorough cleanse, says Crumm.  “The amount may vary depending on the product, but usually 1-2 pumps are sufficient,” he explains. If you’re using a balm cleanser, aim for a quarter-sized amount.


Step 2: Apply your cleanser

You’ll want to warm you cleanser between your hands before massaging over your face.

But should you apply it to dry skin or wet skin? “Your face and hands should be dry when you apply oil cleanser,” says Crumm. “This helps the oil work directly on the makeup, SPF and sebum without water interfering.”


Step 3: Massage it over your face

“Aim for a two-minute massage as this allows the oil to really get to work at melting away all that daily dirt and makeup,” advises Purcell. “If your skin is mature, dry or tired, taking your time to really work the cleanser into the skin will leave your face feeling reinvigorated and don’t forget to work the product down to your neck for a thorough cleanse.”


Step 4: Add water

“After you’ve worked the product in for a minute, you can add a little water to the palms of your hands to help emulsify,” says Purcell. “The oil will emulsify with water, turning milky white and this process helps lift the dirt and grime from your skin,” adds Crumm.


Step 5: Use a cleansing cloth to remove

Oil cleansers need to be removed with a wet face cloth to ensure no residue is left behind,” says Purcell.  If you don’t have a cleansing mitt, use a clean face towel or normal towel.

And make sure to use lukewarm water on your cleansing cloth rather than hot or cold water too to avoid irritating your skin.


How often should you use an oil cleanser?

“If you’re a makeup wearer, you should be cleansing every night with an oil-based cleanser,” says Purcell. “Most oil cleansers are extremely gentle and will cleanse the skin without harsh scrubbing, making them the perfect daily choice.”

Does that mean we can use them for both our morning and evening cleanse then? Purcell says its best to stick to using an oil cleanser when there is more to take off your skin. “Oil cleansing is best suited to your evening regime,” she says. “I’d opt for a water cleanse in the morning.”


Image – Ohlamourstudio/Stocksy


The takeaway

Whilst those with acne-prone or oily skin might usually run a mile when they hear the words ‘oil cleanser’, they’re actually effective for cleaning pores, not clogging them. 

And cleansing oils are super gentle too thanks to their lack of skin-stripping ingredients. Just look out for oils like grapeseed and primrose oil to avoid purging.

An oil cleanser is also a sensible choice for removing all traces of things like makeup and SPF when used properly and for the correct amount of time. The key is to initially apply it to dry skin then watch as the combination of oil and water lifts the dirt off your skin. Use a facial cloth to help rinse everything off and make sure you save your oil cleanser for your night-time cleanse. 


Meet the experts

Jordan Samuel Pacitti is an aesthetician and founder and CEO of Jordan Samuel Skin.


Dr Sonia Khorana is a GP with a special interest in dermatology, working as an aesthetic doctor, laser specialist and wellness & menopause lead. She is also the Dermatology Expert for Olay UK and Hero Cosmetics UK and a judge for this year‘s Glamour Beauty Power List Awards and Get The Gloss Beauty Awards.


Faye Purcell is a development chemist and the head of research and development at Q+A Skincare, a natural, affordable and ingredient-led skincare brand.


Christina Uzzardi is a clean beauty veteran with over a decade at cult favorite “clean” beauty brand ILIA. An aesthetician, Tina launched clean skincare spa brand Cheeks & Co in 2019.


Ian Michael Crumm is a celebrity aesthetican and beauty expert as well as co-host of the BeautyCurious podcast with Dr. Elyse Love. He is known for his passion for skincare and sun safety, is actively involved in philanthropic efforts to promote skin cancer awareness and believes that #ProtectedSkinWins.


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Beauty Editor

The former Beauty Editor of Glamour UK, Philippa has been a beauty and lifestyle journalist for over 16 years, picking up countless tips and tricks from makeup artists, hair stylists, dermatologists and celebrities. In that time she’s written for names like Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery 29 and Byrdie. Philippa lives in the UK with her husband, two children and their hyperactive cockapoo, Paddy.

Expertise: Makeup, hair care
Education: Oxford Brookes University

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