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5. Cleansing: Choosing a Cleanser & the Different Types of Cleansers

Updated: May 2, 2020

I get a lot of requests to recommend products, and I'm usually unsure what to say. Of course there are products I love, companies I want to support and opinions to offer. But at the end of the day I'm never going to know if it's the right one for you (and neither will anyone else!)

I put this post together to help you analyse your own cleansers so you can narrow it down and decide what you want to trial.


It's so frustrating when your current cleanser is no longer cutting it and you don't know where to turn. For years I disregarded my cleanser as unimportant because it just gets washed off, right?

Now I've come around. I realise that cleansers are the foundation of my routine. If your cleanser isn't making you fall in love then you should keep looking. A great cleanser will clean off makeup and grime, remove dead skin and help keep your pores clear. It will prep your skin for the rest of your routine and allow actives to absorb. If you're not paying attention to this step you may be undermining the rest of your routine.

My top tips for finding your Cleansing True Love:

🛑 Eliminate anything that foams. Gels, soaps or washes that foam contain surfactants that strip the skin. These surfactants are usually drying ingredients like sulphates (SLS). Even if sulphates are not present there are other detergents with similar properties to replace them. You can't have bubbles without detergents. It's important to find cleansers that are SLS free but just because it it's SLS-free doesn't mean it's good.

🛑 Eliminate anything with scrubby bits. Physical exfoliants cause micro damage to the skin and rarely offer any long-term benefit. And besides, exfoliation should be it's own step.

🛑 Also try to eliminate:

  • fragrance (parfum). As a general rule there's no need for it. I'm less opposed to fragrance in cleansers than other types of products because it's not staying on your skin. But it's certainly not helping to clean your skin either.

  • paraffin and mineral oils don't really offer your skin any value when it comes to cleansing. Unless your barrier is damaged - that's a special case that may require alternatives to your usual cleanser. Your 'entry level' cleanser may contain these types of ingredients, though, because they have a different criteria for 'success'.

For personal reasons I also avoid:

  • palm oils, for environmental reasons related to deforestation. Unless it's a company that I know sources fair trade ingredients, like Lush. This can apply to other ingredients as well but palm is particularly bad.

  • major brands such as L'Oreal (owned by Nestle 🤢 full disclosure, I boycott this company) etc. Basically, I don't want to be paying for advertising, marketing and fancy packaging when there are great alternatives available. So, if you're shopping in a pharmacy or grocery store you need to be really sure of what you're looking for.

Instead, look for:

✔️ nourishing creams, milks, oils, balms or salves and some waters.

✔️ cleansers that leave your skin feeling lightly moisturised and NEVER squeaky clean. If it feels squeaky then you've probably stripped your natural oils and this will affect balance. Yes, even if you have oily skin.

✔️ short ingredients lists.

Trial and Error: Testing Your Cleanser

I feel that a great cleanser should be able to fit in as your AM, first or second cleanse. Even if you don't plan on using this one cleanser exclusively it's smart to test if a cleanser suits you on it's own. I highly encourage all of you to test your cleansers thoroughly by going through the Testing Your Cleanser Challenge. But to summarise the goals of this challenge here's a quick review of how to test.

THE TEST: for one week use only the ONE cleanser you are testing. After a week as your only cleanser you'll have a pretty good idea if your skin likes it and if it's working.

  • if it's a new cleanser please patch test first, of course

  • use the Lemon Scale to evaluate your cleanser

  • evaluate your cleanser several times during the week and consider each capacity (ie, it might not have the same score for a first cleanse as it does for the second or AM cleanse)

  • Exception - not all cleansers are perfect for removing make-up so this may not be feasible if you need to remove make-up first. If you need to use a make-up remover first.

  • Another exceptions: not all cleansers are suitable for both steps of a double cleanse and you may have to adapt your trial accordingly. For example, The Niod cleanser Sanscrit Saponins can be considered an active, even though it's a cleanser, and it could cause issues if overused.

  • If, after a few attempts you feel like it's just not working to use only one cleanser, you may have to re-group using the information you have gathered.


  • don't forget to record your trial and the results in your Bullet Journal

  • assess your skin daily for any improvements or issues that may develop

  • If you feel like you could apply your cleanser and then forget about it then that's a good sign!

Oil Cleansing is tricky but worth it!

Whenever cleansers come up there's always someone who invariably uses *only coconut* or whatever oil with a hot cloth method and it's the best thing ever. I tried it. It didn't work for me and it put me off oil cleansers for years. Until recently I wouldn't even have considered an oil cleanser but recent trials I've done have converted me!

Firstly, forget the 'rules' about using oil cleansers first, or second or whatever. The whole point of the Lemon Scale is to give you a tool to evaluate and discover what works for you. Yes, you can use oil as either, or both! Technique is particularly important when it comes to cleansing and if you are using the right technique you just need to play around to figure it out.


Hylamide High Efficiency Cleanser, Niod Low Viscosity Cleaning Ester and Pure Hemp oil all get honourable mention in this category. This is because I feel I could use only these products forever and be perfectly happy.

Hylamide HEC has got to be one of the best bargain cleansers going. It may not seem cheap at first but it gets the job done with mere drops of the product. It's versatile (removes make-up), simple and effective. It takes a while to figure out your preferred method (wet or dry face, wet or dry fingers etc) and it's easy to overestimate the amount of product needed (3-5 drops for cleansing, 2-4 drops extra if removing make-up but you subtract these from the second cleanse) as well as the amount of water needed. Emulsifies (turns milky) beautifully when you get the mix just right. A clean facecloth dampened with warm water and it's easy as pie!

LVCE works in basically the same way but assists your actives as well (it leaves a film on your face that acts as an interface to improve the absorption of water-based actives. Neither LVCE nor HEC are 'easy' products to use. They require a bit more experimentation as there can be a big difference between using 3 drops or 4, having damp fingers or wet, etc etc. Take the time and discover that works.


If you're not sure that you're going to love cleansing with a very thin runny oil you can test the concept using Hemi Squalane instead. It works in a very similar way, although it doesn't emulsify the results are very similar.

PURE HEMP OIL is used in a very similar way but it won't emulsify. However this is the only thing I really use for an AM cleanse. Massage 5-6 drops into the skin. I like to let it sink in so I apply when I brush my teeth and leave it a while before I come back. Yes, sometimes this means that this is the sum total of my AM routine until I come back to wash my face at night - oops!


What I want to know from you:

💙 Tell us what type of cleanser you use - milk, cream, oil, balm, etc.

💙 WHY? What is it about that type of cleanser that works for you?

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