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All you need to know about cleansing balms

These oil-based cleansers hydrate your skin as they cleanse it. And they're not just for dry skin.

Cleansing balms are increasingly popular among skincare enthusiasts
Cleansing balms are increasingly popular among skincare enthusiasts ((iStock))

The classic thumb rule for good skincare involves cleansing, toning, moisturising and using sunscreen. As simple as it sounds, what makes things tricky is understanding your skin type and then choosing the right products and techniques—do you double cleanse or single cleanse? Why are new toners different? Can I use a moisturiser if I have oily skin?

While the questions and products may be many, one product that has become a favourite among skincare enthusiasts of all skin types is a cleansing balm. It works even more for people who like to double cleanse, that is use an oil for massaging, cleansing and taking off make-up or sunscreen, followed by a foaming cleanser. “When oil cleansing got popular a few years back, people were using normal oils like olive oil or coconut oil to cleanse the face. While these are good for dry skin, these heavy natural oils are comedogenic and when not cleaned well, they can clog pores and lead to inflammation and infections,” says dermatologist and cosmetologist Dr Aakriti Mehra of SkinGenious, Mumbai. Dr Mehra says the worst offenders are make-up wipes, which aren’t eco-friendly (neither are most sheet masks), and when not used right, the rubbing action combined with astringent-based removers will dry out your skin and make it sensitive. Which is why cleansing balms work well, as they hydrate your skin as they cleanse it.

What are cleansing balms?

They are oil-based cleansers which work on the property of emulsifying as many products also contain surfactants. “Cleansing balms are facial cleansers which have the texture of butter or thick cream. They cleanse the skin of sebum, grime, product and make-up residue without drying the skin, which is typical of foam and gel cleansers. They contain oil which replenishes skin lipids that are typically lost during a cleansing process,” says Dr Rickson Pereira, MD, consultant dermatologist and head, Dermatherapie Clinic, Mumbai. Because they are oil-based, they emulsify as soon as you add water. It’s best for inherently dry and sensitive skin, for which good, non-drying cleansers were never really available. Dr Pereira says that balms can also be used by those with medical conditions like ichthyosis, dermatitis and psoriasis; or geriatric individuals. And if you are on prescription exfoliative treatments which contain retinoids or hydroxy acids, cleansing balms will help hydrate your dry, flaky skin.

“If you wear and remove make-up frequently, cleansing balms are perfect,” adds Dr Pereira. Those with moderately oily skin can also use cleansing balms. “People with oily skin often don’t hydrate for the fear of acne or the skin becoming oilier. However, balms give just that amount of oil which is necessary for a little bit of hydration. I would avoid using it for extremely oily, acne-prone skin, and lean towards micellar water instead,” says Dr Mehra. Also, if you have sensitive eyes, avoid using it around the area as it’s easy for the product to get in the eyes because balms need massaging. Dr Mehra recommends micellar water to use around the eyes for breaking make-up bonds. “Balms also reduce transepidermal water loss (TWL, water lost by evaporation from the skin) in dry weather,” says Dr Pereira. He also does not recommend the use in very humid weather.

How to use it?

Take a small hazelnut-sized quantity on your palm and gently massage it into the skin. The oils in the balm will sink into the skin and help dissolve oil-soluble products and other impurities. Do this for at least a minute. Now wet your fingertips and gently rub the face again till you see the product emulsify and foam, for at least 20 seconds. Pay attention to areas which are oily and prone to product build-up. Rinse it off with room temperature tap water, dab and pat dry with a face towel.

Beauty meets mental health

While balms clean your face and unclog pores effectively, they also make for a luxurious indulgence, as you need to massage your face for 2 minutes at least, which can be your daily pampering time. This hand to skin contact is great to uplift your mood and release a few happy hormones as you calm yourself down. It’s also eco-friendly as you don’t need cotton pads to rub it off. “Just like you should comb or brush your hair every day, massaging the face helps improve the blood and nutrient supply to skin which is crucial to delay the ageing process and to improve the skin texture. This self-care time also makes your skin ready for the serums from your daily routine and improves their absorption,” says Dr Mehra.

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