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Blog skincare basics

Oil vs Balm Cleanser

Oil cleansing is an important but often-skipped step in a daily skincare routine. A lot of people find the idea of rubbing oil on their face (for the sake of cleansing) unpleasant and messy.

But first-step cleansing has come a long way. There are a lot more options, and one of those is whether to use a liquid oil cleanser or a cleansing balm. They’ll both do the job, but there are some differences that may cause you to prefer one over the other.

Why Use an Oil Cleanser?

Before we continue, you might be wondering why you need a first step oil cleanser at all. The main reason is that it removes things that foam cleansers aren’t great at removing. Oily substances, like sebum, makeup, and sunscreen are all best removed with an oil or balm cleanser.  Using an oil cleanser also means you don’t need a separate step to remove makeup, as oil and balm cleansers can even take off eye makeup.

Oil vs Balm: What’s the Difference


The obvious difference between an oil and balm cleanser is the texture. An oil cleanser is liquid, and feels slippery and drippy on your skin. It can be messy, but tends to be faster. A quick massage onto your skin causes it to emulsify right away, and all you have to do is rinse it off.

A balm cleanser is semi-solid, and feels more like butter than oil. If the greasiness of a liquid oil cleanser bothers you, you’ll find a balm smoother and silkier. However, it is a slightly longer process to use. To avoid contaminating the product, you’ll want to use a little spoon or spatula to scoop out the product, and it does take a little more time to massage it into a liquid on your skin.


Oil cleansers usually come in pump bottles, making it easy and fast to dispense. You don’t touch the product in the bottle, so it’s hygienic, and you can do it with one hand.

Balms usually come in tubs with a screw-top or snap-top lid. They come with a tiny spatula you can use to scoop up the product without touching it with your fingers. It’s a convenient choice when you travel because it isn’t liquid, and you can scoop some into a small jar and bring it with you.

Other things

There isn’t a clear “winner” when it comes to oils or balms. Which you use is very much a personal preference. It’s generally agreed that you need to use less balm than oil when cleansing, so a tub will last longer. If you’re short on time and keeping your routine quick is important, an oil cleanser will take less time to use.

Skin Types and Concerns

Don’t let worries about your skin type/concerns stop you from using a first step oil cleanser. Many brands carry varieties of oil cleansers you can choose from. Some contain rice and vitamin C to brighten dull complexions. Others use a range of soothing ingredients, like centella, for sensitive skin. Even oily/acne-prone skin types can find oil cleansers that contain acids to clear pores and control sebum. Regardless of your skin type or concern, there are options for you.

Tips for Oil and Balm Cleansing

  • Don’t use household cooking oils to cleanse. They don’t contain the substances that help the oil to lift off your skin when you rinse, so they can clog pores and cause breakouts.
  • You don’t have to use an oil cleanser everyday. If you’ve been indoors and haven’t been wearing a lot of makeup, you’ll probably be fine with just a foaming cleanser.
  • If you find it hard to rinse off your oil or balm cleanser, use a wet, soft face cloth to gently wipe it off.
  • Want to get more use out of your oil cleanser? Use it to clean your makeup brushes. It does a great job removing leftover oils from your skin and makeup residue.


Oil cleansers are important - they remove makeup, sunscreen, excess oils, and help prevent clogged pores and acne. If you find you often skip the first step in cleansing or are avoiding using an oil-based cleanser, perhaps it’s time to switch it up. Go from a liquid to balm, or vice versa, and see if it works better for you.