A Guide to Cleansers

A Guide to Cleansers

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Cleansing is the foundation of our skincare routine. Without proper cleansing, the efforts that we make to diligently apply serum, eye cream and moisturiser can be for naught, so it’s an important one to get right.

Cleansing rids skin of the fine layer of oxidants and grime that accumulates throughout the day, which can inhibit the skin’s ability to renew itself, and actually accelerate the ageing process. Popping moisturiser on top of this cocktail of dirt greatly inhibits its effectiveness – you’re trapping the bad stuff in, and keeping the good stuff out.

If you feed stranded in the cleansing section, don’t worry. The multitude of formulas available give consumers maximum choice, so it’s easier than ever to find a great match for your skin! Start by pinning down the sort of texture you prefer, or how you like your skin to feel after cleansing, and take it from there.  There are few hard and fast rules, and you may prefer to choose a couple of products that you interchange depending upon how your skin is feeling on a particular day. The idea is to try and be as flexible as your skin is – and if it’s anything like mine, you’ll have a few cleansers in your arsenal.

With this in mind, I’ve split this cleansing edit into 4 very broad categories, plus one for eye make-up removal, to give you a good starting point. And don’t forget – we’re currently offering up to 1/3rd off selected French Pharmacy brands including Vichy, La Roche-Posay, Nuxe, Avene and Caudalie. Happy cleansing!

See our entire Skincare Edit series here.

Micellar Water Cleanser

The quick cleanse

What’s it all about?  Originally a backstage favourite, the mighty micellar water cleanser experienced a huge surge of popularity as word of its quick-as-a-flash cleansing prowess got out.  And rightly so – the fresh, no-rinse formula really gets the job done, removing make-up gently and efficiently, without making skin feel like it’s paid the price. The water is strewn with ‘micelles’, tiny little droplets of oil that trap impurities on the skin while the water sweeps them all way, all without leaving a trace of oiliness on the skin.

Who is it best for? Everyone! There are micellar waters available for most skin types now, and the formulas are gentle enough not to rock the boat if you have reactive skin. It’s also an ideal step up for those who use cleansing wipes, work on location, or travel a lot.

How is it used? The main appeal of the micellar water is that you don’t need to be near a source of water to get a quick and efficient cleanse. You just need a bottle of product, and a stack of clean cotton pads. Many use the micellar water as a make-up removing pre-cleanse before going in with something a bit more nourishing. If your skincare regime is minimal and you use just the water, make sure you use as many cotton pads as possible to remove every trace of grime, until the pad comes away clean.

Try: The original and considered by many (including the respondents of our Micellar Water Trial) to be the best, the Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water is a must-try. Another fantastic product in the category is the Vichy Purete Thermale Calming Cleansing Micellar Solution, an ultra gentle formula created from Vichy’s world renowned thermal spa water.

Foaming Cleanser

The fresh cleanse

What’s it all about?  Foaming cleansers have gained a bit of a bad rap in the past for containing a wealth of harsh detergents in their quest to rid skin of oiliness. A lot of the formulas available now reject such ingredients as SLS and soap, meaning that you can get a really fresh, clean feeling without the associated tightness. Foaming cleansers transform from a liquid into a bubbly lather, which lifts the dirt away from the skin and leaves the area feeling really clean.

Who is it best for? It’s a myth that foaming formulas are only for those with oily skin. I generally advise  that if you persistently want to rush home and wash your face at the end of the day, whether from oiliness or dirt, then sometimes you just can’t beat the instant relief of a foaming cleanser. If it works for you, then go for it! The two main textures to choose from are gels and creams, meaning both oily and drier skin types are accommodated for.

How is it used? Massage onto damped skin and work it into a lather. Wash away thoroughly and pat skin dry for fresh and clear skin. If you wear medium to full make-up, it’s a good idea to go in with a micellar water to loosen the make-up first, or double cleanse.

Try: The Eau Thermale Avene Cleanance Soapless Gel Cleanser is a notable example of a really gentle and kind gel cleanser for oilier skin, while the Vichy Purete Thermale Purifiying Foaming Cream provides a creamy, compensating lather for dry and sensitive skin.

Cream Cleanser

The pampering cleanse

What’s it all about?  I don’t know about you, but my dry skin absolutely loves an indulgent, creamy cleanser. I like the traditional massage on, rinse away method as it’s straightforward and it makes my skin feel predictably wonderful every time. There’re many different textures to choose from, from milks through to butters – the thicker the formula, the better it tends to be for removing make-up.

Who is it best for? Drier types will prefer this as it leaves your skin feeling plump and nourished, though oilier skin types may find the texture to be heavier than they’d like. Cream formulas are quite similar to foaming cleansers in their make-up removing ability –  if you wear a heavier base you’ll need to double cleanse, though the creamier texture will make this more of a pleasure than a chore!

How is it used? Creamy cleansers are a real treat in the evening. Massage onto dry skin, taking the time to lavish it with attention, before removing with a hot cloth.

Try:  The Nuxe Comforting  Cleansing Milk  is a sumptuous delight, with coconut and macadamia oils to pamper skin, while the Caudalie Gentle Cleansing Milk offers a lightweight alternative with protective, active ingredients.

Oil Cleanser

The full cleanse

What’s it all about? Oil cleansers can be foreign territory, even for seasoned skincare fans. Massaging oil into the face seems seriously counter productive – its make-up removing prowess is incredible, though. These cleansing oils tend to be ultra fine, and are emulsified upon contact with water into a gentle milk. Not so scary after all!

Who is it best for? Those who wear heavy make-up who want to avoid the rubbing and scrubbing associated with other manual cleansers. Oils melt make-up away in a flash. Dry skin types will love it, but oilier skin types may want to follow up with a toner.

How is it used?  The oil breaks down your make-up, and then you rinse it all away. Follow with a toner or a micellar water to ensure the residue is completely gone.

Try: The best in class is the Dior Instant Gentle Cleansing Oil, which makes light work of removing all types of make-up, even waterproof mascara. If the idea of an oil still seems scary, the Clarins Pure Melt Cleansing Gel is a great entry point – it starts out as a gel, transforms into an oil when massaged into the skin, and then finishes up as milk when water is added.

Eye Make-up Remover

The mascara lover’s must-have

What’s it all about? If you wear waterproof mascara, you’ll know that its removal is a delicate operation. Being too vigorous means that at the very least your eyes will be irritated, and in some cases improper removal could result in lost lashes. It’s a good idea to have a dedicated eye make-up remover at hand to ensure the quick and easy elimination of residue, as an oily eye make-up remover will make light work of lifting mascara away!

Who is it best for? Everyone. Oil free cleansers find it hard to shift the polymers and waxes in most mascaras, particularly high tech, high end and waterproof ones. If you’re using a gel or cream cleanser, you’ll likely need a separate product to remove eye make-up.

How is it used? Drench a cotton pad in your chosen formula, hold it over your closed eyelid, and wait for a few moments. The oils in the formula will get to work loosening the bonds of the mascara, so when you gently swipe downwards, it will take some of the formula away. Repeat until the area is clear.

Try:  Want your waterproof make-up gone with minimal effort? Then the two-phase Vichy Purete Thermale Waterproof Eye Make-Up Remover will dissolve it all with the oil layer, while the cleansing water layer will sweep it all away and moisturise delicate skin. If you have sensitive skin or you’re a contact lens wearer, then the La Roche-Posay Toleriane Monodose Eye Make-Up Remover is for you. Each pack contains  30 doses of eye make-up remover contained in a sterile pod, which quickly and effectively removes make-up without irritation.


 Need a recommendation or two? Tweet me @EscentualEmma or comment below!

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  • I love micellar waters, I tried Bioderma and L’Oreal. I would love to try Vichy one as well as Nuxe and Caudalie cleansing milks. Interesting post, I’m glad I’ve found this blog.


  • Clare

    Can you recommend a good cleanser for my very sensitive, redness/rosacea prone skin? I am unfortunate to have an oily T-zone and very dry cheeks as well. I have tried so many products and everything seems to irritate and dry my skin out:-(

    • escentual

      It sounds like you have a bit of everything, Clare! I’d recommend focusing on very gentle products that won’t exacerbate your rosacea and sensitivity, and then tackle your oiliness and dryness with your moisturising care.

      I’d recommend the Avene Extremely Gentle Cleanser, which is has a cooling, lightweight ‘jelly’ texture and does a fantastic job of lifting away dirt without making skin feel irritated. Plus, as it’s oil-free, it won’t make your oily T-zone feel overburdened either! Check it out here: http://www.escentual.com/avene0009/

      Hope that helps – if you’d like any other recommendations, get in touch!

      Emma x