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An image of fresh lavender next to Kiehl's Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil


How To Use Cleansing Oil In Your Skincare Routine

If you’re looking for a gentle yet thorough cleanse, consider an oil cleanser. Here at Kiehl’s, we’ll give you the rundown on cleansing oils and how they work.

Every healthy skincare routine starts with clean skin. No matter your skin type, washing your face at night to remove the oil, dirt, and impurities that accumulate throughout the day is essential. It’s even more critical if you wear makeup (as we all know, wearing makeup to bed is a big skincare no-no). But sometimes, you don’t want to go through a whole 10-step routine just to remove your makeup before you crawl into bed after a long day. That’s where cleansing oil comes in.

Facial cleansing oils are a type of multi-purpose face wash that can help wash away normal dirt and debris as well as hard-to-remove makeup—all while helping to moisturize the skin. And if you’re not using one in your nighttime skincare routine yet, you should be. Ahead, we’ll break down what oil cleansers are and why we love them. Plus, you’ll learn how to incorporate our best cleansing oils into your skincare routine for healthier, hydrated skin.

What Is Cleansing Oil?

Cleansing oils, as the name suggests, are oil-based face washes. They’re usually formulated with lightweight plant oils, and they emulsify (or lather) when combined with water. This allows oil cleansers to effectively cleanse away dirt and impurities without stripping or weighing down the skin, making them a great option for those with dry or sensitive skin types.

Some of the best facial cleansing oils can also help remove makeup. Our Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil, for example, doubles as a cleanser and a makeup remover. Made with squalane and evening primrose oil, this luxurious formula emulsifies with water to create a light cleansing milk that dissolves dirt, oil, and other impurities (including stubborn waterproof makeup). Though oil-based, the cleanser is non-comedogenic—meaning it won’t clog your pores—and is suitable for all skin types, including oily skin. It rinses away easily with water and leaves your skin feeling soft, supple, and replenished.

How Do You Use a Facial Cleansing Oil?

How you use cleansing oil will depend on your skin type and what you want to accomplish. For example, if you have dry skin, you can just use your oil cleanser to wash your face, and then continue with the rest of your skincare routine. Those with oilier skin, meanwhile, may prefer to follow a double-cleansing method. This involves washing your face first with a cleansing oil to remove makeup, and then again with a traditional cleanser to remove any remaining sebum, dirt, or impurities. Here, we’ll teach you both methods. Read on for our step-by-step guide to using an oil cleanser in your skincare routine.

Step 1:

Apply Your Cleansing Oil To Dry Skin

Oil cleansers are unique in that they’re typically applied to dry skin instead of a damp face. It may seem strange, but applying the cleanser to dry skin allows the oil to adhere to any dirt, sweat, or makeup that’s on your face. Then, when you add water into the equation, all of those impurities can easily be washed away.

To use your cleansing oil, dispense several drops of the formula onto your palms, then massage it over your face in upward, circular motions. If you’re wearing stubborn waterproof eye makeup, you can soak a cotton pad in the oil and hold it over your eyes for a few moments—this will help dissolve mascara and eyeliner and make it easier to rinse off.

Step 2:

Rinse With Lukewarm Water

Once your facial cleansing oil is evenly distributed across your face,** splash a bit of water onto your skin and work the cleanser into a light lather. It will transform from an oil to a more milky-like texture, which is your cue to go ahead and rinse away any remaining residue.

Kiehl’s Tip: When rinsing your face, use lukewarm water—hot water can strip your skin and leave it feeling dry.

Step 3 (Optional):

Double-Cleanse With a Foaming Face Wash

This is the double-cleansing step we mentioned earlier. It isn’t a requisite, but it can help ensure that there’s no residue left on your skin after oil cleansing. If you want to try this cleansing method, we recommend reaching for a traditional foaming face wash, like Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash. This gentle cleanser with calendula extract and glycerin helps remove dirt and impurities and instantly refreshes the skin. The non-stripping formula is sulfate-free and suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin. Wash your face as you normally would, then pat your skin dry with a clean, dry towel.

Step 4:

Complete The Rest of Your Skincare Routine

We always recommend using an eye cream, but it’s especially crucial after removing makeup. To help restore moisture to the delicate eye area, use a gently hydrating formula, such as Midnight Recovery Eye. Formulated with butcher’s broom extract and evening primrose oil, this nighttime eye cream helps strengthen and replenish the eye area. Over time, it also helps diminish the appearance of dark circles and reduces puffiness. Gently pat the formula around each eye, then go ahead and proceed with the rest of your usual routine, using the serum and moisturizer of your choice. For help picking the perfect moisturizer, check out our article How To Choose The Best Moisturizer For Your Skin Type.

Lastly, to finish your nighttime skincare routine on a high note, you can pat a few drops of face oil onto your skin after moisturizing. We’re particularly fond of Midnight Recovery Concentrate, which contains squalane and lavender essential oil. The lightweight, non-comedogenic formula boosts essential moisture to help restore the appearance of tired-looking skin. With regular use, your skin will appear firmer, smoother, and more radiant.

Are Cleansing Oils Just For Your Face?

When the topic of cleansing oils comes up, most people think of facial cleansing oils rather than those for your body. However, oil-based body washes do exist. They provide many of the same benefits as facial oil cleansers, but are designed specifically for use on the body. Our Creme de Corps Smoothing Oil-to-Foam Body Cleanser is one such example. When combined with water, the lightly-scented cleanser with grapeseed oil transforms into a fine foam that gently cleanses the skin, leaving it feeling nourished. It’s suitable for all skin types and can be used daily as your main body wash—we recommend it especially for those with skin prone to dryness or dullness.

What’s The Difference Between a Cleansing Balm and Oil?

Cleansing balms are similar to cleansing oils in their virtues. They both offer a gentle, non-stripping cleanse and help moisturize the skin while removing impurities. The main difference is in texture: While oil cleansers are typically liquid, balm cleansers tend to be more solid. Once applied to the skin, the formula will melt onto your skin to become more oil-like in texture. You’ll find this with our Ultra Facial Overnight Hydrating Face Mask with 10.5% Squalane. In addition to serving as an overnight face mask, this unique product can be used as a gentle cleansing balm. The rich formula, which boasts squalane and glacial glycoprotein, helps replenish the skin’s natural moisture barrier and leaves your skin more hydrated and nourished with regular use.

Balms and oils may also differ in how they’re used. As we explained above, cleansing oils usually need to be rinsed off. And that’s not always the case with balms: Some, like the Ultra Facial mask, can be used without water. After massaging the formula onto your skin the same way you would a cleansing oil, you can simply wipe off any residue with a clean, dry towel. From there, you can wash your face as usual with a foaming cleanser, as outlined above, or continue on with the remainder of your skincare routine without a secondary cleanse.

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