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All About Skincare’s Simplest Secret: Double Cleansing

Bottles of face cleanser and a jar of cleansing balm
First Aid Beauty/Farmacy/Youth to the People

One of the biggest secrets to clear, healthy skin isn’t about complicated routines or powerful products—it’s all in the cleansing.

Double cleansing is a skincare trend that’s been on the rise for a while now, but if you’ve never tried it, it can sound intimidating or just plain time-consuming. In fact, it doesn’t really lengthen your routine that much, just by a minute or so, and it isn’t that complicated at all! To get the most benefit from it, though, it’s important to have an idea of how to do it and what to look for in your cleansing products.

What Is Double Cleansing?

Double cleansing, as its name suggests, is a two-step skincare process that involves using two different cleansers, one after the other, to wash the face. There’s a good chance that you already do some sort of a two-step cleansing process already, if you use any sort of makeup remover or wipes before your regular cleanser.

The difference, though, is that many of those products can be harsh or irritating on your skin or leave a residue behind that can actually worsen breakouts. Double cleansing, on the other hand, takes advantage of the different properties of oil-soluble and water-soluble products to gently but completely wash the face and leave it clear and clean.

Cleansing well is the basis of all great skincare, so a routine that cleans well without stripping the skin is crucial. Double cleansing achieves this through a process that’s actually pretty simple:

  1. An oil-based cleanser, which works to remove makeup, oil buildup, and other impurities from the day. Because the skin’s oil (sebum) and makeup are both typically oil-based, an oil-based cleanser will do the best job of breaking them down and removing them. You can choose from liquid oil cleansers or cleansing balms; a balm tends to be less messy and easier to use for most (but not all) people.
  2. A gentle liquid cleanser, which you might think of as the “normal” cleanser. With the layer of makeup, grime, and oil removed thanks to the oil step, this cleanser can actually get to your skin and clean it more deeply, rather than getting stuck behind a barrier of other products.

Step One: Cleansing Balm

A white open jar of green balm, with a smear next to it; a woman's face with oily balm all over

Cleansing balm is the solid form of oil cleanser (as opposed to a liquid oil cleanser, which is often labeled “cleansing oil” or something similar). Because it starts out in solid form, it tends to be a little easier to handle and use than cleansing oil, which many people prefer, but everyone is different!

The oil cleansing step is all about removing the top layer of stuff on your face, whether that’s a full face of makeup or just a bit of sunscreen residue and oil from the day. Start by scooping a small amount of cleansing balm into clean hands—many balms come with a little spoon to scoop with for better hygiene. Gently warm the balm between your fingers for a moment to let it become a little softer and more spreadable, then massage it into your skin gently.

Always check the label, but these balms are usually safe to use on the eyes. Gently use your fingers to massage it into your eye area, too. Use a delicate touch, because the eye area is particularly sensitive and thin-skinned, and swipe downwards to really get the stubborn mascara off.

Once the balm has been massaged into your entire face, rinse well with lukewarm water. You might want to use a washcloth (again: gently!) to wipe away the balm and makeup residue. At this point, you might or might not notice residue on your skin from the balm—don’t worry, that’s what step two is for!

Best Cleansing Balms

Finding the right cleansing balm may take a little trial and error—after all, everyone’s skin is different, so don’t feel bad if what works for someone you know doesn’t work as well for you! Many of the bestselling cleansing balms have ingredient lists that include a lot of botanical ingredients and steer clear of known irritants like phtalates, glycols, parabens, and more.

Looking for a basic option for a cleansing balm at an affordable price point? elf Holy Hydration Makeup Melting Cleansing Balm uses a vegan and cruelty-free formula that’s free of many of the most common pollutants/toxic ingredients in skincare. On the “does include” side, it has hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and peptides to plump and hydrate the skin.

e.l.f. Holy Hydration! Makeup Melting Cleansing Balm

Watch your makeup melt away with e.l.f. Holy Hydration! Makeup Melting Cleansing Balm! It’s solid balm form melts into a luxurious oil and turns into a nourishing milk texture that rinses off clean. Formulated with hyaluronic acid, ceramides and peptides leaving your skin feeling...

Another environmentally-conscious option is the Versed Day Dissolve Cleansing Balm: a vegan, non-toxic, sustainably-produced cleansing balm to take off the day’s makeup and impurities. The balm contains eucalyptus oil and vitamin E to nourish and refresh while lifting away grime and makeup. Although it’s not artificially scented, be sure to patch test anything with natural scents like eucalyptus to ensure you don’t have a particular sensitivity on your face.

Versed Day Dissolve Cleansing Balm

What It Is: This face wash in balm form melts away makeup and impurities without stripping moisture from your skin (thank you, vitamin E). As you massage it into your skin with wet fingertips, the oil-based formula softens to create a light, gentle milk that rinses clean with no oily...

If you want to elevate your routine a bit, one of the popular “holy grail” cleansing balms is the Farmacy Green Clean Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm, a little higher-end product from a popular brand that sustainably sources ingredients from small farms. It’s a high-powered balm that melts away even stubborn, long-wear or waterproof makeup without irritating the skin, using natural ingredients like sunflower, ginger root, turmeric, moringa, and papaya.

Step Two: Gentle Cleanser

A blue tube with foamy cleanser behind it; four bottles of green cleanser
First Aid Beauty/Youth to the People

After using an oil-based cleanser to remove the top layer of makeup, oil, and other impurities, the second step of double cleansing is the more familiar one: using a face wash. Because the oil cleanser has already removed most of the layer that’s not water-soluble, this liquid cleansing step can now actually get to the skin beneath, lift away remaining impurities, and penetrate into the pores for a more complete clean.

For this step, you’ll want to look for a cleanser that creates a gentle lather to help remove the remnants of the oil step, but gentleness is key. Harsher cleansers may strip and irritate the skin, especially as part of a double-cleansing routine where the whole point is to leave the skin more “open” to the second round of cleansing. Because you’ve already removed that top layer, a cleanser doesn’t need to be super-harsh to penetrate to the skin itself; you can treat your skin well with a gentle, calming cleanser. Just wash like you normally would, with cleanser and water, and rinse well afterwards.

Some of the best cleansers to choose for this step are the ones that include botanical and “clean” ingredients that not only won’t harm your skin, but will actively add something, whether it’s antioxidants, moisture, purifying, or more. Look for non-stripping formulas that are free from sulfates, parabens, phthalates, and other similar ingredients.

Best Gentle Cleansers

We’ve selected a few of our favorite face washes that combine a gentle but effective formula with additional benefits and ethical, sustainable production processes.

The Youth to the People Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser is a gentle liquid cleanser that’s basically green juice for your face! The formula includes kale, spinach, and green tea, all of which promote clear skin, gentle cleansing, and antioxidants. Gentle and lightweight, it’s the perfect pick for second-step cleansing.

If your skin is a little more acne-prone, consider the Biossance Squalane + Tea Tree Cleansing Gel—it’s a little bit higher-end of a product, but it’s worth it if keeping your face clear is a struggle sometimes. The tea tree oil in this cleanser acts similarly to popular anti-acne products, reducing inflammation and purifying the skin to help clear and avoid breakouts, all while the squalene oil nourishes and moisturizes.

Creamy in texture yet surprisingly lightweight, the First Aid Beauty Pure Skin Face Cleanser keeps your face healthy and soothed while breaking down the leftover grease and oils. Aloe and glycerin help to calm and soothe the skin, which is important when double-cleansing, as it can strip the face if the second-step face wash is too harsh or drying.

Cleansing truly is the most important step in any skincare routine, and double cleansing can make a big difference in getting your skin clean, clear, and healthy. Pick your favorite cleanser and follow it up with a routine that includes some healthy botanical ingredients for the skin you’ve always wanted!

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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