Cleansing oils are fairly popular in the beauty scene, particularly in Asia. They’re mostly used to remove makeup, but wash off cleanly with water. Read: cleanly. There’s (generally) no greasy feeling, no oily film… just clean skin! The double cleansing method is my favourite way to remove makeup because I find that it generally removes most (if not all!) of my makeup in the first cleanse, and it involves a cleansing oil. I never really thought about how cleansing oils work until Erik (my fiancé) asked me how the oil helps to remove makeup. This made me think about it and want to do some research!
When I was younger, I had extremely oily, acneic skin (proof here) and was always looking for anything that would help. I remember growing up, there were many oil-free cleansers on the market aimed toward people like me who were concerned about applying more oil to the skin. It took me a few years to think differently because, well, wasn’t there the old adage “oil and water don’t mix” and “like dissolves like”? From this thinking, I was able to venture into the world of oils.
How cleansing oils work
The reason why cleansing oils work is because there are two main components: oil and a surfactant (A.K.A. an emulsifier). Since oil and water don’t mix, there has to be a middle man: the emulsifier! There are two sides of the emulsifier: the lipophilic (fat/oil loving) tail (allows it to dissolve in oil) and the hydrophilic (water loving) head (allows it to dissolve in water). Since the emulsifier is able to dissolve in both water and oil, it helps to rinse off the oil and leave your skin clean (like a mild soap).
To put it differently, think of it this way… the surfactant in the product is like the teacher in the playground at recess. It’s telling all of the kids (bullies or otherwise) to play nicely. If you don’t have a surfactant, your oil cleanser would leave a film on your skin and feel super oily! (See this site for a more in-depth story on “Surfactant man” in action!)
Pro Tip: Oil cleansers can turn into “milk” after adding water because there are lots of little oil droplets in the water.
If you do use an oil cleanser, make sure you do your entire skincare routine as it is fairly stripping of your skin as compared to the Oil Cleansing Method (discussed in an upcoming post!). Cleansing oils remove a fair amount of oil and you want to make sure you balance your skin well afterward. Don’t mess with your skin’s acid mantle!