Admit it: at least once in your life, you have fallen asleep with your makeup on. Whether you immediately collapsed into bed after a night out or drifted off during a Netflix binge, your late-night missteps will inevitably result in crusty mascara and foundation-clogged pores the next morning. We have all been told a billion times not to do this, but even if you are not passing out with a full beat, we could probably all be more diligent about our makeup removal process.
Proper cleansing is recommended not only to remove makeup, but also to remove the dirt and pollution our skin accumulates during the day, says New York City dermatologist Hadley King, M.D. These free radicals can “contribute to the breakdown of collagen and the development of wrinkles,” she adds. Collagen is a protein essential for preserving the skin’s elasticity and ability to repair itself. When our collagen levels are compromised, the skin can appear duller and age faster. For those with oily or acne-prone skin, failing to cleanse can also result in more clogged pores and stubborn breakouts.
Because not all skin is created equal, it is important to select a cleaning method based on your particular needs. Dry, sensitive skin will benefit from different products than oily, acne-prone skin, and vice versa. Here, you will find everything you need to know about the best makeup removers for your skin type. Keep in mind that most makeup professionals recommend using multiple types of removers (especially when removing heavy makeup), so feel free to combine methods as you see fit.
Picture it: you have dry or sensitive skin, and you need to remove a full face of makeup. Going in with harsh products or excessive scrubbing would irritate your skin, but you don’t want to go to bed with traces of makeup in your pores. The solution? A cleansing balm. “I’ll use a cleansing balm or cleansing oil [on Lizzo every night], [starting with] dry hands [and a] dry face before I even turn on the faucet,” says Alexx Mayo, Lizzo’s makeup artist. “Break down all of the makeup first and then rinse that off. And then actually cleanse your face. The way I like to remind people of this is that you have to sweep before you mop.”
“Instead of tugging at your face and your delicate eye area, you simply take a quarter-sized amount of the balm and massage the cleanser all over the face,” says Alexa Hernandez, a makeup artist with Forward Artists. Then, she says, just rinse away with warm water; you can also follow up with another cleanser if you are after a more squeaky-clean effect.
Hernandez uses balms to remove intense editorial makeup on shoots, but she also recommends them for anyone who needs extra moisture. “If you have dry skin, a cleansing balm is great because it leaves a light film of oil on the skin to hydrate,” she says.
Similar to cleansing balms, cleansing oils provide a boost of hydration. Because they won’t strip the skin of its natural oils, King recommends them for those with dry or sensitive skin. But despite their gentleness, cleansing oils get to work quickly by breaking down makeup particles.
To get the most out of an oil, makeup artist Delina Medhin uses a quarter size amount to massage the skin for a full minute. “I start with the face then massage the eyes and the lips,” she explains. “Next, I take a cotton pad and completely soak it under running water. Then, I wipe my whole face with the cotton pad, soaking up most of the makeup.” You can follow this with your favorite cleanser to double cleanse, or simply rinse away with water.
Those with dry, normal or combination skin can benefit from the gentle exfoliation of cleansing milks. These cleansers typically contain lactic acid, Hernandez says, which can help remove dead skin cells without stripping the skin. Even dry skin, she continues, “needs to be exfoliated regularly so hydration can penetrate into the dermis.”
When you need a deep cleanse, turn to clay-based cleansers. “Clay is a great choice for oily and acne-prone skin,” King says, because it absorbs oil and has antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties.
Hernandez also recommends clay-based cleansers for acne-prone skin but says they can be beneficial for other skin types depending on the situation. “I love clay cleansers after travel when you want a deep cleanse, or those nights we slept in our makeup,” she says. For those with normal or dry skin, she continues, “Think of clay-based cleansers as a specialty treatment versus an everyday wash.” Just note: don’t apply the clay directly to your eyes.
Micellar water has become increasingly popular, and it is easy to see why. It is affordable, simple to use (a few swipes with a cotton pad will do the job) and won’t irritate the eyes, not to mention it works for every skin type. It is also not necessary to rinse afterwards, though some may want an extra cleansing step (or if your skin starts to feel dry, especially around the eyes).
King explains that micellar water is made up of micelles (tiny balls of cleansing oil molecules) suspended in soft water. “Micelles cling on to the dirt, oil and makeup on your skin and dissolve them while leaving behind a hydrated finish,” she says.
“I love [micellar water] because there is no residue that will affect the rest of the makeup or the application process,” Hernandez adds. “I also love it when I’m in a pinch or too lazy to wash my face. It’s an easy way out.” Though she points out that unlike other cleansers, micellar water doesn’t offer many skincare benefits aside from dirt and makeup removal.
“Free radicals can contribute to the breakdown of collagen and the development of wrinkles.”
For those who prefer to double cleanse, foaming cleansers are a great option. And as long as they don’t contain acids, Hernandez says, they can work for all skin types. “I like it as a part of two-step for a squeaky clean,” she says. “You can use a cleansing balm, oil or micellar water to remove the makeup first.”
Our experts pretty much agree that makeup removing wipes work well for all skin types — but they are often not enough on their own. If you wear heavier foundation or hard-to-remove eye makeup like eyeliner or mascara, King says a second cleansing method will be necessary. “You may get better results from starting with a face wipe to remove the majority of your makeup before cleansing your face with your preferred cleanser,” she says. “Eye makeup, in particular, may be difficult to remove entirely with a wipe; you may need to start with an eye makeup remover or use a separate wipe for eyes.” It is also important not to forget areas like the hair and jaw lines, she advises.
Medhin likes to amp her wipes up by soaking them in micellar water before applying. But, in her opinion, “there is no complete replacement for washing your face with water. I would start with a makeup wipe then again rinse with a cleanser and towel dry off,” she adds.
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