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We get it—you probably already have a ride-or-die face wash. But hear us out: There are a few different reasons why you may want to consider introducing a cleansing balm into the mix. For starters, there are legit skincare wins. Made with hydrating ingredients—think butters, oils, and the like—cleansing balms are notably more moisturizing than any other type of wash. They’re also an especially great choice for those with dry or sensitive skin, explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King.
And here’s the other great thing: Many of the cleansing balms out there don’t even require water. That’s right—it’s as simple as wipe on, wipe off. That not only leaves behind those hydrating benefits but also makes your skincare routine that much faster and easier.
Sold on making the swap? Check out the best cleansing balms that really are thebomb.com. (Sorry, we had to.)
Best Overall: Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm
Gives a soft, glowing complexion
Leaves a clean feeling on skin
Can be a bit messy
This balm truly goes above and beyond the call of duty. A looong list of botanicals delivers all kinds of anti-aging, antioxidant, and collagen-boosting benefits. And all of that comes in a lusciously rich base packed with natural waxes and oils (starflower and elderberry, to name a few) that have some of the highest levels of fatty acids out there. Massage it into dry skin then wipe it off with a damp cloth, letting any traces left behind soak into the skin to further maximize the benefits.
Key Ingredients: Padina Pavonica, Starflower Oil, Elderberry Oil | Size: 0.51 oz. | Scent: Eucalyptus, Lavender, Rose, Chamomile | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Budget: SheaMoisture Makeup Melting Cleansing Balm
Locks in moisture
Full of natural ingredients
Gentle on sensitive skin
Doesn't remove makeup well
Virgin coconut oil, coconut milk, and shea butter deliver a hefty dose of hydration in this wallet-friendly find. It’s amazing for dissolving makeup all over your face, including stubborn eye makeup and lip color. Pro tip: Since coconut oil does have the potential to clog pores, you'll want to make sure you rinse this off completely, rather than just wiping it off.
Key Ingredients: 100% Virgin Coconut Oil, Acacia Senegal | Size: 3.5 oz. | Scent: Coconut | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Drugstore: Pond’s Cold Cream Cleansing Balm
Transforms into silky oil upon application
Easily rinses off
Produces a natural glow
Overpowering perfume-like smell to some
Not for fragrance-sensitive skin
We have yet to find someone who doesn’t have some type of beauty memory associated with Pond’s Cold Cream, arguably one of the more iconic skincare products of all time. Instead of messing with a classic, the brand tweaked it and created a new product, transforming it into a cleansing balm. It’s packed with oils to remove makeup and simultaneously deeply hydrate skin, similar to the way the OG does, though with a slightly larger emphasis on cleansing. “The solid balm transforms into a silky oil, cleansing and moisturizing at the same time, and removing makeup without the need for any harsh rubbing,” says King, who’s a fan.
Key Ingredients: Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Mineral Oil | Size: 3.38 oz. | Scent: Synthetic Perfume Fragrance | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Glowing Skin: Then I Met You Living Cleansing Balm
Full of antioxidants and fatty acids
Protects the skin
Good for sensitive skin
Weaker at removing waterproof makeup
Winner of a coveted 2019 Byrdie Skincare Award and a go-to for Byrdie Editorial Director Faith Xue, using this K-beauty balm is a joy from start to finish. Oil-based, it’s ideal for removing oil from your skin (read: not only actual oil but also sunscreen and makeup, too). Ingredient-wise, sea buckthorn, olive, and grapeseed oils are packed with protective antioxidants and tons of nourishing fatty acids, while persimmon extract works to reduce hyperpigmentation, leaving your complexion more radiant than ever.
Key Ingredients: Sea Buckthorn, Persimmon Extract, Olive Oil, Vitamin E | Size: 3.17 oz. | Scent: Fresh | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Dry Skin: Eve Lom Cleansing Balm
Tones the skin
Removes even waterproof makeup
Contains antiseptic properties for skin clearing
Can irritate acne-prone skin
Another one of Xue’s picks and an all-around Byrdie crowd-pleaser, this balm has multiple skin-friendly benefits. Yes, it’s nice and hydrating and all that good stuff, but it also decongests, exfoliates, tones soothes, and deeply cleanses impurities. Credit a combo of essential oils—including eucalyptus oil to decongest pores, antibacterial clove oil, toning hops oil, and skin-softening Egyptian chamomile oil—as well as cocoa butter (aka a godsend ingredient for dry skin) for it all. King gives it her stamp of approval, too: “It cleanses thoroughly without drying or stripping the skin. And when used with the brand’s accompanying muslin cloth, it also gently exfoliates,” she says.
Key Ingredients: Clove Oil, Eucalyptus Oil, Hops Oil, Egyptian Chamomile Oil, Cocoa Butter | Size: 0.68 oz., 3.3 oz., or 6.8 oz. | Scent: Clove, Eucalyptus, Chamomile | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Runner-Up, Best for Dry Skin: Nyakio Sweet Almond Cleansing Oil Balm
Full of natural ingredients
Rinses off well
Very thick consistency
Hard to wash off
Mega-rich and creamy, a tiny dollop of this balm, packed with sweet almond oil, goes a long way. Warm it in between your hands, then massage it onto a damp complexion; it quickly melts into a luscious oil that imparts a hefty dose of hydration instantly. It rinses off nicely, but if you have extra dry skin, try simply wiping off any excess with a tissue to make the most of the moisturizing texture.
Key Ingredients: Castor Seed Oil, Sweet Almond Oil, Coconut Oil | Size: 3.7 oz. | Scent: Coconut | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for All Skin Types: Emma Hardie Moringa Cleansing Balm with Dual-Action Cleansing Cloth
Balances and purifies
Protects the skin
Overwhelming fragrance to some
Xue is just one of many who adore this cult-classic, a universal crowd-pleaser that gets the job done on all skin types. The dry set will appreciate the addition of vitamin E, while those with oily or combination skin will appreciate the purifying moringa seed oil and wild sea fennel that helps to minimize the look of pores. Even the included cleansing cloth works for all; one side is made of microfiber for simply removing the balm, the other is an exfoliating muslin if you want a little bit more of a slough. The bottom line: You really can’t go wrong.
Key Ingredients: Moringa Seed Oil, Vitamin E, Wild Sea Fennel, Rosehip Oil | Size: 3.52 oz. | Scent: Floral | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Makeup Removal: Farmacy Meltaway Cleansing Balm
Melts away makeup and even sunscreen
Doesn't strip the skin
Not suitable for acne-prone skin
A favorite of Byrdie senior commerce editor Avery Stone, this creamy balm quickly transforms into an oil, whisking away all kinds of makeup, sunscreen, and other gunk and grime. (Credit sunflower and ginger root oils, plus papaya extract for gentle exfoliation.) Just massage it into the skin and it turns into a milky lather that rinses away, without any of the unwanted residues.
Key Ingredients: Sunflower Oil, Ginger Root Oil, Papaya Enzymes, Moringa Extract | Size: 1.7 oz. or 3.4 oz. | Scent: Fresh | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Exfoliating: Glow Recipe Papaya Sorbet Smoothing Enzyme Cleansing Balm and Makeup Remover
Sweet fruit smell
Rich in fatty acids
Improves skin texture and tone
Fights free radicals
Might dry out the skin a bit
Cleansing balms are more often associated with hydration rather than exfoliation, but this formula, which Xue loves, does both. Credit the namesake papaya enzymes, which gently dissolve dead cells to leave skin smoother and more radiant. There’s also papaya seed oil in the mix for extra hydration. Plus, how freaking pretty is the orange color?
Key Ingredients: Papaya Seed Oil, Blueberry Extract, Apricot Kernel Oil | Size: 3.4 oz. | Scent: Papaya, Blueberry | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best with Benefits: Juno & Co. Clean 10 Cleansing Balm
Made from only 10 ingredients
May feel too thick to some
Byrdie associate editor Eden Stuart recommends this formula, a veritable TikTok sensation. As the name suggests, it contains a minimal list of only 10 ingredients, but those include heavy-hitters when it comes to delivering amazing skincare benefits. More specifically, there’s brightening pearl barley in the mix, as well as vitamin E, a multitasking antioxidant that hydrates and can help combat signs of aging. Bonus points for the silky texture that rinses completely cleanly.
Key Ingredients: Japanese Pearl Barley, Vitamin E | Size: 3.0 oz. | Scent: Fresh, Citrus | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Multi-Tasker: One Love Organics Skin Savior Multi-Tasking Wonder Balm
Only made with natural ingredients
We don’t think we could come up with a more appropriate name for this product if we tried. Loaded with organic butters and oils, it works great as a cleansing balm, but it’s so delightfully hydrating that you can even use it on chapped lips or cuticles, or mix it with mineral powder to create a dewy skin-corrector. It also contains plenty of anti-inflammatory vitamin B3 and zinc, as well as antibacterial lauric acid, making it a good choice to dab onto little cuts, scrapes, or bug bites.
Key Ingredients: Chia Seed, Oat Oil, Orange Peel Wax | Size: 1.8 oz. | Scent: Citrus | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best Stick: Julep Beauty Love Your Bare Face Cleansing Stick
Easy-to-use innovative stick form
Repairs and adds radiance
Can be greasy and sting
Given that cleansing balms tend to skew on the more solid side in general, we were happy to finally see one that was so solid it came as a stick. Not only does it make application easier than ever, but the portability factor makes it particularly ideal for travel and when you’re on-the-go. Plus, not only does it clean, but it also exfoliates, thanks to the addition of pomegranate enzymes. FYI, unlike many other balms, which are best applied to dry skin, this works best on wet.
Key Ingredients: Grapefruit Peel Oil, Olive Oil | Size: 1.94 oz. | Scent: Orange, Citrus | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
If you're looking for the best cleansing balm overall, Elemis' Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm is the cream of the crop, in our opinion. If you have dry skin, Eve Lom's Cleansing Balm is a cult-classic that’s especially creamy and hydrating for those with an extra dry complexion. Drugstore shoppers should check out the Pond’s Cold Cream Cleansing Balm, a new take on their classic cold cream, while those who are looking to score smoother, more radiant skin should try the exfoliating Glow Recipe Papaya Sorbet Smoothing Enzyme Cleansing Balm or the brightening Then I Met You Living Cleansing Balm.
What to Look For in a Cleansing Balm
Most cleansing balms are oil-based; to make sure you’re getting the most hydrating bang for your buck, make sure those oils are listed high up on the ingredient list.
King says it’s important to make sure the balm you pick is alcohol-free, as the last thing you want is an ingredient in the mix that will strip your skin and negate the hydrating effects.
How does a cleansing balm work?
Similar to a cleansing oil, cleansing balms use a variety of oils to break down and remove makeup from your skin. “Oils are much more gentle and better at removing makeup than soaps,” says dermatologist Dr. Julie Russak. “If you are just using a soap, you are drying the skin out, changing the skin’s pH and microbiome, which can cause a domino effect of problems.”
Can I use a cleansing balm even if I’m not removing makeup?
Absolutely. Using a cleansing balm can also help remove degraded skincare products, sunscreen, and excess oil.
When should I use a cleansing balm in my skincare routine?
You can use a cleansing balm as the first step in your skincare routine to remove your makeup. Depending on how your skin feels afterwards, you may opt to follow your cleansing balm with a traditional face wash.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. Her skin is both dry and sensitive, and she’s found that using a cleansing balm makes a world of a difference—especially during the winter. It’s also her preferred makeup removal method.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Hadley King is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. She is also a Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University and specializes in both medical and cosmetic dermatology.