#SkincareForStarters Which type of cleanser should I use?

In my #SkincareForStarters series I’m aiming to strip things back to basics and help you pick the right products to start your own, grown-up, skincare regime.


These days there are so many different types of cleansers on the shelves (or virtual shelves) it can be a little overwhelming at first. From cleansing balms and gels, to milks and micellar waters, if you are just starting your skincare journey it might be difficult to know where to start and know what is right for you. I’ve run through a few different types of cleansers below to help you pick the best kind of cleanser for your lifestyle and skin type.

I just want to preface this with the fact I’m not a skincare expert, I’m a skincare blogger who works in the industry, but if you are really struggling with your skin at the moment you should always consult a specialist and not some gal off the internet. Obviously.

Let’s dive in…

Cleansing Balm – for a thorough cleanse

If you want to feel like your daily skincare routine is a real pampering ritual, then a cleansing balm is the way to do it. A good cleansing balm will effortlessly melt away your makeup, as well remove any impurities, leaving skin fresh and clean. You just need to massage it into the skin, emulsify with a bit of water, wipe away with a damp microfibre cloth (these are my favourites) and you’re good to go.

Opt for a cleansing balm if you like to wear medium to heavy coverage makeup that needs a little extra summin’ summin’ to get it moving. A balm makes for both a great first cleanse if you are double cleansing or can be used alone if you are having a makeup free day (like everyone at the moment, am I right?). For me, a balm is always an evening cleanser as I like something a little more lightweight in the mornings.

Don’t be put off by a balm if you have oily skin, though they are great for dry skin (especially those with added hydrating ingredients), once removed properly they shouldn’t leave any oily residue.

For a luxurious cleanse I love Emma Hardie Moringa Cleansing Balm*, the scent alone will make you feel like you’re in the spa. If you’re looking for something a bit cheaper, I’ve heard The Body Shop Camomile Cleansing Balm is lovely.

Cleansing Gel – for a revitalising cleanse

If you read my previous post about my current morning skincare routine you’ll know that, more than often, I like to opt for a gel cleanser to start my day.

If you have combination or oily skin a cleansing gel is great as they are usually lightweight, rather than heavy or rich, and are great at removing excess oil and helping to clear clogged pores.

I like gel cleansers with uplifting, refreshing scents, such as citrus, as they make me feel more awake in the mornings. And I need all the help I can get.

For current favourites are the Emma Hardie Moringa Cleansing Gel* and the ARK Skincare Age Protect Gel Cleanser (PR Sample).

Cream Cleanser – for a nourishing cleanse

For those with skin on the dryer side, or in need of a little extra TLC, then a cream cleanser might be the one for you. Cream cleansers contain ingredients that are more conditioning and nourishing for the skin and leave it feeling like you have just moisturised (not that it means you can skip that step).

I switch from a gel cleanser to a cream cleanser in the mornings if my skin is feeling unusually dry or tight, and often use it as my second cleanse in the evening once I’ve removed my makeup.

My favourite fail-safe cream cleanser is Alpha-H’s Balancing Cleanser* (the limited-edition Damask Rose version is beautiful).

Cleansing Milk – for a gentle cleanse

Cleansing milks have become increasingly popular over recent years as, similar to cream cleansers, they are very gentle, soothing, and nourishing and are particularly well suited to those with very dry and sensitive skin.

If cleansing often leaves your skin feeling tight, red or irritated then a cleansing milk might be the way forward. I haven’t tried many but I have used the Garnier Rose Cleansing Milk which I picked up after going away once without my cleanser (disaster!) and it is very gentle and calming. I reach for it whenever I need a really quick freshen up.

Cleansing Oila hardcore makeup remover

Nothing beats a cleansing oil for cutting through heavy makeup, or any makeup for that matter.

Just like your kitchen cleanser cuts through grease and stains, a cleansing oil is, I think, the most efficient way to cut through makeup and remove any trace. This is why a lot of eye makeup removers will be part oil, or ‘duo-phase’, to help break down eyeliners and mascaras. Cleansing balms contain oils which is why they are so good at this too!

Cleansing oils are also great for nourishing dry skin types, but I’d avoid using as your second cleanse if you have oily or acne prone skin as it may lead to clogged pores. If like me you have combination or oily skin, stick to using an oil cleanser as your first cleanse, to remove makeup and then follow up with a gel or cream cleanser.

Micellar water – a CBA cleanse

A micellar water isn’t really a cleanser. A lot of serious beauty brands don’t even have one in their collection because it’s not serious skincare and their cleansers alone do a much better job.

But back a few years ago micellar water was THE thing on everyone’s radar. People realised they should be doing more than cleansing wipes and micellar water came out as the next big lazy gal hack. Bioderma micellar water became the IT product thanks to its use by backstage makeup artists who needed quick results. Garnier made it accessible for everyone. But it is still not a replacement for a proper cleanse.

Now don’t get me wrong I do like micellar water occasionally. To help remove stubborn bits of makeup. For a quick refresh. But if all your doing once a day is wiping over your face with a tiny bit of micellar water on a cotton pad you should think about stepping it up a notch.

Foaming cleanser – a risky cleanser

Foaming cleaners have a bad rep as the skincare guru’s say they are too harsh and strip the skin of its natural oils, leaving the skincare barrier compromised. I have never been a fan of cleansing foams as I just don’t find them enjoyable to use. A bit of a faff, if you will.

You may have oily skin and be thinking, ‘hey that doesn’t sound so bad, I can do with being stripped of some oil’. But you need those oils in your skin to protect the moisture, and keep it looking hydrated and young.

I think the brands releasing foaming cleansers now have taken the criticism in to consideration and are coming out with less stripping formulas. But let’s just air on the side of caution, shall we?

Cleansing Bars – the ECO cleanse

I’ve not actually tried any so maybe that it something I should look in to. A cleansing bar essentially looks like a bar of soap but contains more face-friendly ingredients. They are the most eco-friendly of all the cleansers as they don’t require any plastic packaging and, I imagine, last a very long time. One to look in to if you are thinking of ways to make your beauty routine more sustainable.

Cleansing Wipes – not a cleanse

Just don’t. There’s no excuses. I’ll tell Caroline Hirons on you.

Now I think I’ve covered all bases, but no doubt as soon as I post this a new fancy type of cleanser we’ve never heard of before will on everyone’s radar. Let’s just wait and see what they come up with next.

What’s your go-to cleanse

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Disclaimer * Due to my day job in the beauty industry I often have access to beauty products, whether that’s as part of an event goody bag, or testing as part of a new launch etc. I have no obligation to post about any of these and it does not alter any recommendations or reviews. Items sent to me specifically for blogging purposes are marked 'PR Sample'. This blog post contains affiliate links.

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