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Who else has washed their face with a regular cleanser at night only to find streaks of foundation on your towel as you dry off? Even though you have scrubbed your face for the last 30 seconds, there’s still traces of your makeup.
According to Dr. Julie Russak, if you are relying on just a cleanser to remove all the gunk from the day, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. “Oils are much more gentle and better at removing makeup than soaps,” says Dr. 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.”
Instead, she recommends double cleansing—the process of using an oil to first gently remove all the makeup and dirt and then following up with a cleanser to wash off any leftover residue. Like regular cleansers, choosing the right cleansing oil depends on your skin concerns, goals, and lifestyle. We consulted with Dr. Russak and Dr. Kavita Mariwalla on how to shop and use a drugstore cleansing oil, as well as some of their favorite drugstore picks.
Read on for a comprehensive list of the best drugstore cleansing oils.
Best Overall: DHC Deep Cleansing Oil
DHC Deep Cleansing Oil is a classic first step in many nightly beauty routines. Olive and rosemary leaf oil work together to break down makeup, sunscreen, and other pore-clogging debris while vitamin E conditions and protects the skin from free radicals. Olive oil also has antioxidants for an anti-aging boost. Reviewers rave how this blend can wipe off even the toughest mascara and eyeliner without overdrying the skin or leaving it greasy. Bonus; you can use this oil as a makeup brush cleaner too.
Best for Eye Contour: Palmer's Skin Therapy Cleansing Oil
If you’re looking for a potent blend of oils, look no further than Palmer’s Skin Therapy. Both grapeseed and jojoba oil have antimicrobial properties that are great for cleansing acne-prone skin. Soybean, sunflower, and sweet almond oils offer a substantial amount of vitamin E, protecting the skin from UV damage and working to boost the skin’s moisture barrier. You also enjoy a healthy dose of vitamins A and C from rosehip oil. Ophthalmologist approved and dermatologist tested, this formula is safe to use around the eyes to remove makeup.
Best Natural: Burt's Bees Cleansing Oil
Coconut oil can sometimes get a bad rap for causing breakouts, but Dr. Russak says it really all comes down to the specific formula. “If it's too processed, the oil can cause a breakout,” says Dr. Russak. “If it's really light, it should be fine on the skin.”
In the case of Burt’s Bees Cleansing Oil, the blend of vitamin-rich coconut, argan, and sunflower seed oils is ultra healing for the skin. Despite being “very acne-prone,” Byrdie contributor Audrey Noble says the oil actually improved her acne. It also made removing makeup so easy, she didn’t skip it after a long night out, which is a crucial step for all skin types.
What Our Testers Say
“After a few days of using it both in the morning and at night, I noticed my skin felt so much smoother and softer. The appearance of my pores also decreased, and my complexion started to brighten up.” —Audrey Noble, Product Tester
Best for Dry, Sensitive Skin: The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser
Squalane is one of Dr. Russak’s favorite oils for cleansing because it’s really hydrating and effective at removing debris without disrupting the skin’s microbiome. For less than $10, you can enjoy this magical ingredient from The Ordinary.
What exactly is squalane, anyway? It is the hydrogenated form of squalene, a lipid naturally found in our skin. Because it resembles the skin’s natural sebum, squalane is non-comedogenic and very lightweight. Yet, the body’s production of this lipid decreases with age, so using it as a cleanser is a great way to add back the moisture.
This cleanser starts as a balm but melts into an oil-like consistency on the skin. It’s balanced to match your skin’s natural pH at between 5.50 to 6.50 and is both vegan and cruelty-free.
Best for Acne: Mad Hippie Cleansing Oil
Dealing with breakouts or the aftermath of acne? Mad Hippie blends several oils to help fight pimples and fade acne scars. The main ingredient is safflower oil, which is high in linoleic acid. Research has shown that those with acne tend to have a lower concentration of linoleic acid on the skin’s surface, leading to the theory that increasing the acid can help fight breakouts.
The cleanser also has non-comedogenic pumpkin seed oil and vegan squalane. Ginger adds vitamin B and C and helps reduce the discoloration from acne scars and sunspots. Antioxidant-rich white tea and rosehip oil prevent future damage. This oil leaves you with radiant, clear skin.
Best for Body: Bioderma Atoderm Cleansing Oil
Cleansing with oil isn’t just for the face—you can also use one on the body. Bioderma Atoderm Cleansing Oil is made for both the face and body and can be used by the entire family. Dr. Mariwalla says it’s her top choice for dry skin.
Made from cocoa and sunflower bio-lipids, this formula soothes the skin and alleviates the feeling of tightness. It is said to strengthen the resistance of the skin by improving the protective film. In fact, its DAF patented complex is said to help enhance the threshold of tolerance of the skin.
Best for Travel: Nyakio Sweet Almond Cleansing Oil Balm
The one downside of a cleansing oil? They can be tricky to travel with, potentially leading to sticky suitcases or makeup bags. But with this balm-to-oil cleanser, you can take your double cleansing routine on the go. Simply scoop out a small dollop of the balm and warm it between your dry hands to melt into an oil.
Castor oil is the main ingredient in this balm. You may know the oil for helping with hair growth, but it can also fight wrinkles by deeply penetrating the skin and stimulate the production of collagen and elastin, two things your skin needs to look hydrated and youthful. High in ricinoleic acid, castor oil is also antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, meaning it can fight bacteria and help soothe inflamed skin from conditions such as dermatitis, rosacea, and psoriasis. Besides castor oil, the balm also packs in sweet almond, coffee seed, and coconut oil for extra nourishment.
Best for Redness: Three Ships Clarify Tea Tree + MCT Cleansing Oil
When dealing with red, inflamed skin, it can feel like washing it is the last thing you want to do. But doing a gentle oil cleanse, especially one formulated with tree tea oil can do just the trick. With a high concentration of terpinen-4-ol, tree tea oil has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. This means it can reduce redness and swelling.
Three Ships is committed to making affordable skincare products, and the Clarify Tea Tree + MCT Cleansing Oil combines tree tea and coconut oil at an affordable price. Cedarwood essential oil also provides blemish fighting benefits as well as a melatonin-inducing aroma. It’s a great addition to your nighttime routine.
Best Organic: Cocokind Facial Cleansing Oil
Yes, you can find high-quality, organic ingredients at the drugstore. Cocokind Facial Cleansing Oil is USDA certified organic and contains coconut, avocado, lavender, and tea tree leaf oil.
Just as beloved avocados are in our meals, avocado oil can do wonders for your skin. Its high dose of vitamin E heals and protects the skin from damage, while its anti-inflammatory properties can help fight acne and eczema. Dr. Russak says research shows it can even decrease collagen production. Add in tea tree leaf oil and relaxing lavender, and it’s hard not to love this organic blend.
As a cult cleansing oil, you can’t go wrong with antioxidant-packed DHC Deep Cleansing Oil (view at Amazon). If you are still hesitant to try double cleansing from fear of getting acne, consider Mad Hippie’s Cleansing Oil (view at Ulta) for a non-comedogenic, scar fading solution. Or if you need an ultra-gentle and hydrating blend for your skin, check out Bioderma Atoderm Cleansing Oil (view Dermstore).
What to Look for When Buying a Drugstore Cleansing Oil
With today’s oil obsession, there are so many different oils to choose from when you want to get clean. But not all oils are created equal—choosing the right one or blend of oils depends on your skin type.
For those worried about acne or clogging their pores, Dr. Russak recommends jojoba oil for its anti-inflammatory properties. Mimicking the skin’s natural sebum or oil, jojoba oil won’t clog your pores either.
If your skin is on the drier side, Dr. Russak recommends squalane. “I love squalane. It really hydrates the skin and removes the debris and pollutants,” says Dr. Russak. “It’s really gentle for the microbiome.”
Dr. Mariwalla also has some favorite oils for cleansing. “I think a marula oil is great or a coconut or jojoba oil because they are most similar to your skin lipids,” says Dr. Mariwalla. “I advise avoiding olive oil as that can lead to Seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff) in some people.”
While it’s easy to purchase generic oils online or at the drugstore, both dermatologists recommend going for reputable brands that follow cosmetic standards when making their formulas. “Source is key,” says Dr. Mariwalla. “I think this is when you want to go with well-known brands that are manufactured in large facilities with consistent quality control.”
Look for cold-pressed, unrefined, virgin oils and stay away from food-grade ones. That Trader Joe’s bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil isn’t made for the skin. If you are looking for organic, vegan, or cruelty-free formulas, double-check the packaging for certifications like USDA organic, Leaping Bunny or Vegan Certified.
Depending on your skin type, you might want a thicker, rich oil for your dry skin or a lightweight, non-greasy formula for oily and acne-prone skin. You also want to think about your lifestyle. If you travel frequently, a cleansing balm that melts into oil may be an ideal choice for mess-free packing.
What are the benefits of using a drugstore cleansing oil?
It may sound counterintuitive—using oil to clean your skin—but starting your cleansing routine with oil is one of the best ways to remove makeup, sunscreen, and sweat. “Using a cleansing oil will break down and remove your makeup and excess dirt and oil from the day, allowing your everyday cleanser to better do its job—which should target specific skin concerns like acne or dryness,” says Dr.Mariwalla.
Unlike water, which repels oil, oil attracts oil, pulling all the grime off your skin like a magnet. At the same time, the oil moisturizes and nourishes the skin rather than stripping it of moisture as some traditional cleansers do.
“The problem with soaps is that they strip the skin of natural oils, and oils protect the top layer of skin. We need oil to prevent dryness and prevent things from coming into the skin,” says Dr. Russak. “If you have oily skin, it may be overcompensating for the lack of moisture.”
Even if you have oily skin, you can use a drugstore cleansing oil without fear of breakouts or clogged pores. You just have to choose the right non-comedogenic oil and follow up with a cleanser to ensure you remove any leftover residue.
How do you use drugstore cleansing oils?
To kick off your cleansing routine, you actually want to start with a dry face and hands, as this will allow the oil to really dissolve the dirt without any water getting in the way. Pour a bit of the oil into your hands and start massaging it into your face.
“I recommend using a cleansing oil like your normal face wash. Apply the cleansing oil in circular motions and then rinse,” says Dr. Mariwalla. Once you have a clean palette, you can go in with the targeted cleanser of your choice to address your skin issues, whether it’s anti-aging or acne. Removing any residue also ensures that whatever products you apply afterward will be fully absorbed by your skin.
How often should you use a drugstore cleansing oil?
While some people may enjoy double cleansing morning and night, Dr. Russak and Dr. Mariwalla agree it’s ideal before bed, when you need to remove all the pollution that has been piling up. “I think this is a good thing to do in the summer if you are using mineral sunscreen since those are often difficult to remove and completely cleanse off the skin,” says Dr. Mariwalla.
You should always wear sunscreen, but you may not wear makeup each day. In that case, Dr. Russak says it’s fine to double cleanse only a few times a week when your skin and mind really need to detox. “I love using Erno Laszlo Double Cleanse on the weekends,” says Dr. Russak. “The extra step feels like an indulgence and a mental break.”
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor, Emily Cieslak, consulted two dermatologists and studies when writing this article. As someone who has dealt with acne and eczema herself, Cieslak has done extensive research in finding products that will keep her breakouts at bay and her skin moisturized. She’s discovered jojoba oil as the best way to remove stubborn makeup and has never looked back.
Meet the Expert
Julie Russak, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Russak Dermatology Clinic in Manhattan. She serves as Faculty at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Kavita Mariwalla, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist. Nicknamed “The Drugstore Derm,” she always tries to recommend affordable, quality products that are available at the local drugstore.