The Best Cleansing Balms to Get Rid of Grime Without Drying Out Skin

Packed with nourishing oils, these best cleansing balms work double-duty as a skin purifier and moisturizer.

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Photo: Courtesy of Merchants / Design by Jo Imperio

In the eyes of beauty enthusiasts and self-described skin-care pros, a 10-step skin-care routine is a necessary evil one must endure each and every night. After all — they might argue — a half hour spent painstakingly exfoliating, cleansing, wiping away makeup, treating acne, and moisturizing is the only way to achieve glowing, grime-free skin.

Thanks to cleansing balms, however, your bedtime regimen doesn't have to be this lengthy. Here, dermatologists break down how the Swiss Army knife of a product can benefit your skin — and cut a few steps out of your beauty routine.

What Are Cleansing Balms, Exactly?

Just like the name implies, cleansing balms are a type of facial cleanser that has a buttery texture and whisks away sweat, makeup, sunscreen, and grime, says Marisa Garshick, M.D., F.A.A.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. Unlike traditional water-based liquid cleansers, cleansing balms are formulated with a blend of oils — such as marula, grapeseed, sunflower, or argan oils — making them particularly moisturizing, she explains.

This oily formula also plays a key role in ridding your skin of everyday grime. "It follows the principle that oil attracts oil," says Dr. Garshick. "You would apply the cleansing balm to the face and as you massage it in, it's going to work to help draw out any kind of excess oil. It's great to help break down the stubborn makeup and sunscreen residue that can be sitting on the skin." And, unlike a makeup wipe, a cleansing balm does so without irritating the skin, as you don't need to apply a lot of pressure to remove products such as a tattoo-like foundation. "It allows that makeup to almost literally melt away," says Dr. Garshick.

Who Should Use a Cleansing Balm?

Practically anyone can benefit from incorporating a cleansing balm into their skin-care routine, but there are a few key differences in how it should be done, depending on your skin type and condition.

Folks who have dry, sensitive skin or experience stinging, burning, or tightness after using liquid cleansers can often benefit from the ultra-hydrating, non-stripping nature of cleansing balms, says Dr. Garshick. The same goes for people who have inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis, adds Purvisha Patel, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Visha Skincare. "A cleansing balm might be more fitting for them because the skin barrier is already compromised...and a balm can help restore some of the lipid into the barrier," she explains. In these instances, you can often skip the typical final step in a cleansing routine: Removing the product with water. "When you apply it to the skin, you can just massage it, apply a damp cloth [to wipe it off] at the end, and then that's it," says Dr. Garshick. "You don't have to do anything more for your cleansing routine." (Of course, recommendations vary from product to product, so if your balm's instruction label specifically says to rinse after application, follow that advice.)

People who have oily skin or are wearing a thick layer of makeup or sunscreen, however, will likely want to follow up with a liquid face wash, suggests Dr. Garshick. The cleansing balm will help pick up some of the excess oil on the skin and effectively remove makeup, while the second cleanse will ensure all the gunk is fully cleared out of the pores. "In general, people who tend to be on the oily side [can often] handle that extra step with the water-based cleanser without feeling dry or irritated subsequently," she says.

The easiest way to tell if you may benefit from a double-cleanse: Take note of how your skin feels. "The goal of cleansing should really never be to feel tight or stripped, so if you're ever feeling that way, that means that whatever you're doing is not the right option for you," says Dr. Garshick. If your skin feels like it's being pulled taut after using a cleansing balm and a liquid cleanser, ditch the second step. On the flipside, if you solely use a cleansing balm and your skin feels like it's still covered in makeup and grime, try doing in an additional cleanse, she says. (Try these salicylic acid face washes to de-gunk your clogged pores.)

The Best Cleansing Balms to Add to Your Skin-Care Routine

Instead of splurging on the first cleansing balm you see, make sure you choose one that's a fit for your skin type and condition. Folks who have oily or acne-prone skin will generally want a cleansing balm that's labeled "non-comedogenic" and is free from notoriously pore-clogging ingredients such as coconut oil, says Dr. Garshick. On the flip side, people with sensitive skin should try to avoid fragrances and essential oils — even if they're NBD for other people, adds Dr. Patel. "These can be very irritating to a compromised barrier," she says. "If your skin barrier is not intact, which means it's got little cracks in the surface...you could have a [poor] reaction to certain ingredients that most people may not."

To kick-off your hunt for the perfect oil-busting, skin-nourishing product, shop Dr. Garshick's and Dr. Patel's picks for the best cleansing balms below.

Pond's Cold Cream Cleanser

Pond's Cold Cream Cleanser-Products
Courtesy of Merchants

Known as the OG cleansing balm, Pond's Cold Cream Cleanser uses mineral oil to remove makeup, oil, and grime, as well as beeswax to lock in moisture — all for just $5. "What's nice about it is that it's easy to find and certainly affordable for somebody who wants to just start introducing a cleansing balm into their routine," says Dr. Garshick. And based on the 4,000-plus five-star reviews, it's well worth the cash. "I saw even my heaviest makeup looks melt away in seconds!" wrote one shopper. "It removes eye makeup in a snap and doesn't irritate my eyes...I did not feel the need to wash my face with soap and water. It did not leave me with that stripped feeling I'm used to. It left my skin moisturized all night and I woke up glowing!" (Related: Cleansing Oils That Won't Leave Your Skin Greasy)

Glow Recipe Papaya Enzyme Cleansing Balm

Glow Recipe Papaya Sorbet Smoothing Enzyme Cleansing Balm & Makeup Remover-Products
Courtesy of Merchants

In addition to the apricot kernel oil and papaya seed oil, which help to remove makeup and built-up gunk, this best cleansing balm features papaya enzymes, making it a gentle exfoliator, too, says Dr. Garshick. Translation: Expect your skin to feel seriously smooth, dirt-free, and wiped completely clean of makeup. "When using this, my foundation, concealer, eyebrows, heavy eyeliner, [and] mascara all came off with two wipes," wrote one reviewer. "I used very little product too! A little goes a long way for sure."

Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm

ELEMIS Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm-Products
Courtesy of Merchants

This Dr. Garshick-approved best cleansing balm uses a blend of sweet almond oil, elderberry seed oil, coconut oil, jojoba seed oil, and more to rid the skin of makeup and any impurities that have built up throughout the day. Shoppers with dry, sensitive skin say it "makes [their] skin soft and very clean without leaving it tight and dry," and others note that "it will melt your makeup without leaving you feeling extremely greasy." But the product isn't just a cleanser. Thanks to it's ultra-moisturizing ingredients, the cleansing balm can also be used as a weekly facial mask — just let it sit on skin for about 10 minutes.

Drunk Elephant Slaai Makeup-Melting Butter Cleanser

Drunk Elephant Slaai Makeup-Melting Butter Cleanser
Courtesy of Merchants

Just as the name implies, this cleansing balm is designed to melt away stubborn makeup, using a blend of marula seed, baobab seed, kalahari melon seed, mongongo, and ximenia oils to remove it from skin and provide moisture, says Dr. Garshick. "It absolutely removed every amount of makeup on my face. Every. Trace. Of. Makeup," wrote one five-star reviewer. "And my skin felt smooth and not dried out after. Seriously a game changer for me." To further smooth and soften, the product is also formulated with lightly exfoliating bamboo and charcoal powder.

The INKEY List Oat Cleansing Balm

The INKEY List Oat Cleansing Balm-Products
Courtesy of Merchants

This best cleansing balm may stand out from the crowd with its tube — not tub — packaging, but it still has that signature buttery texture. Formulated with oat kernel oil and colloidal oatmeal, the balm is designed to ease redness and soothe irritation — all while whisking away impurities and nourishing skin. And according to shoppers, it's gentle enough even for folks with inflammatory skin conditions to use. "THIS CHANGED MY LIFE!" wrote one reviewer. "I suffer from rosacea, and this has been one of the only cleansers and makeup removers that had left my skin with a clean, comfortable and light feeling."

Farmacy Green Clean Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm

Farmacy Green Clean Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm-Products
Courtesy of Merchants

Just like Glow Recipe's product, this best cleansing balm is equipped with papaya extract to gently exfoliate, but it instead uses sunflower and ginger root oils to remove makeup, sunscreen, and excess oil without stripping skin. And it gets the job done so well, reviewers say they are "ob-freaking-sessed." "It takes off everything and I love the way my skin feels afterward," wrote one shopper. "Keep in mind I layer sunscreen, moisturizer, sunscreen foundation, sunscreen powder, and spray and this still removes all of it."

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