The Best Makeup-Removing Cleansers

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There are a lot of great cleansers out there, but not all of them are up to the task of removing a full face of makeup. When that’s a priority, you’ll want to reach for a micellar water or an oil-based cleanser, like a cleansing oil or cleansing balm. But even more important as choosing one of the best makeup-removing cleansers is the technique you employ to remove your makeup. When you have a lot of makeup on your face, you’ll want to double cleanse, which entails using two cleansers to give your skin the deepest, most thorough cleanse possible. First up is that ever-important oil-based cleanser or micellar water — this is the product that will break down your makeup, as well as your oil-based skin care products (like sunscreen). After you rinse that cleanser off, you’ll want to follow up with a water-based face wash, such as a cleansing gel or foam. Your second cleanser will get rid of any makeup that’s left on your face, and it’ll also be the cleanser that delivers more targeted benefits to your skin, so choose your second cleanser wisely.

Since the focus of this article is makeup-removing cleansers, most of the cleansers featured here will work best as the first step in a double-cleansing routine. You should pick your second cleanser based on any specific skin concerns you may have — e.g., dehydration or dryness, an uneven skin tone, or congested pores — since most of the makeup-removing work will have already been accomplished by your first wash.

Once you’ve picked out a new makeup-removing cleanser from this list, check out the best brightening cleaners (perfect for dull or uneven-looking complexions); the best BHA cleansers and the best glycolic acid cleansers (both great for congested and/or breakout-prone skin); and the best cleansers for hormonal acne (self explanatory).


Best Cleansing Oil

A lot of amazing oil cleansers exist, but I’m partial to DHC’s cult-favorite cleansing oil. I use this as the first step in my double-cleansing routine, which I only do when I’ve worn a lot of makeup (on no-makeup days, I stick with a gentle cream cleanser). This cleansing oil breaks down all the makeup on my face with ease, but it somehow doesn’t leave my face feeling greasy, or even oily. Unlike a lot of cleansing oils that contain mineral oil, this cleansing oil uses an olive oil base, though there’s also vitamin E in here for some antioxidant benefits, as well as rosemary leaf oil for a refreshing boost. It’s also reasonably priced, and one bottle tends to last for a really long time since you only need a small amount of product to melt down a whole face.


Best Luxury Cleansing Balm

Cleansing balms also make excellent first cleansers in a double-cleansing routine, and this one is another personal favorite. Cleansing balms start off solid and melt down into an oil as they’re massaged onto skin, where they proceed to break down even the most stubborn makeup as effectively as their cleansing-oil cousins. As far as luxury cleansing balms go, ELEMIS’ Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm is undoubtedly the most popular, though I’m partial to the rose-scented version for its lovely, soothing scent. It’s a splurge to be sure, but if your budget allows, it’s an amazing way to incorporate a touch of decadence into your nightly cleansing routine.


Best Korean Cleansing Balm

If you can’t justify spending $60+ on a makeup remover, consider the cult-classic Clean It Zero cleansing balm from K-beauty brand BANILA CO. This OG cleansing balm has a devoted following among beauty circles, thanks to its ability to break down and melt away foundation, liquid lipstick, waterproof mascara, and anything else it encounters on your face. Made without sulfates or mineral oil, it has a satisfying, sherbet-y texture at first, then turns into a buttery-smooth oil once it makes contact with skin. Best of all, in addition to the classic formula, BANILA CO makes four different cleansing balms designed with specific skin concerns in mind: Purifying, Nourishing, Pore Clarifying, and Revitalizing (all sold on the same Amazon page).


Best Micellar Water

When it comes to removing makeup, only micellar water is capable of standing up to cleansing oils and balms. And as far as micellar waters go, you simply can’t beat the original. Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water is a French-pharmacy classic, a makeup artist staple, and yes, another personal favorite. I’ve tried dozens of micellar waters, and none come close to Bioderma’s in terms of removing makeup and not stinging, greasing up my eyes, or leaving behind a residue. Though it’s strong enough to remove waterproof mascara with a single swipe, it’s truly imperceptible on your skin once it’s rinsed off. And though your face won’t feel oily, stripped, or otherwise negatively affected, it will feel hydrated and soft.


Best Jelly Cleanser

Jelly cleansers are also quite effective at removing makeup, and this one from Biossance is a particularly delightful choice. You could use this as the first step in your double-cleansing routine, or, if you’re not into the idea of double cleansing, it makes a great all-in-one cleanser for giving your face a single wash. It starts off as a jelly, melts into an oil, and then transforms into a milky cleanser once exposed to water. And since it’s made with moisturizers, prebiotics, and antioxidant-rich ingredients, it offers plenty of skin care benefits, too.


Best Foaming Cleanser

If you’re looking for a basic, water-based face wash to act as your second cleanser, Garnier’s SkinActive The Gentle Sulfate-Free Cleanser is a very solid choice. (And once again, if you don’t want to double cleanse, this is a nice all-in-one option.) Free of three common ingredients that could dry out or irritate your skin (sulfates, fragrance, and alcohol), this creamy, glycerin-rich wash feels like a lotion, but lathers up into a gentle foam. It’s also a great value, at under $12 for a big, 13.5-ounce bottle.


Best Cleanser For Dry, Sensitive Skin

Another great, gentle, does-it-all cleanser for you to consider, Farmacy Clean Bee is a makeup remover, face wash, and skin hydrator in one. Made without common irritants like soap, sulfates, synthetic fragrance, and alcohol, and therefore safe for those with sensitive skin, this liquid cleanser is extremely mild, yet adept at removing a full face of makeup (though you may need some help from a micellar water for waterproof mascara). It’s packed with calming ingredients like chamomile and calendula, moisturizers like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, and the brand’s own antioxidant-rich honey, which works to nourish and soften your skin. Use this alone or as the second step in a double-cleansing routine.