Cleansing Balm vs Oil: Breaking Down the Difference

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Filters are great, but skin that glows naturally will always be better. In a time when selfies are so popular, skin that’s healthy and smooth has never been more valuable. 

Investing time and effort in one’s skin care is key, and this often starts with a great skincare routine. 

If you’re keen on having smooth, glowing skin, never skip the first step to every skincare routine — cleansing!

A bottle of oil and a small jar of face balm and some white flowers on a white background.

Now could there be a proper way to wash your face to achieve such a healthy glow? If you’re wearing makeup and sunscreen regularly, facial soap may not be enough. 

It takes a special kind of cleanser to remove oil-based skin impurities like makeup. This is where double cleansing with either cleansing balm vs oil comes in.

What Is Double Cleansing?

Double cleansing had its first origins in Asia as this was how Korean and Japanese geishas would remove white makeup on their face in the 14th century.

It involves washing your face using two types of facial cleansers: first, with an oil-based cleanser, followed by a water-based facial cleanser. 

You’re likely familiar with water-based cleansers as these are the regular facial wash products or soap that lathers on your face and are sudsy. Cleansing oils, on the other hand, are believed to be bad for oily skin types

With double cleansing, you always use an oil-based cleanser first, otherwise it’s difficult to achieve your desired skin results.

Oil-based cleansers are all the rave in Korean skincare for a reason. And it comes in two types: cleansing oil or balm. 

Now let’s get to the heart of oil cleansing and why it’s so good for your skin.

Here’s Why Oil Cleansing Is Good for Your Skin

Oil cleansing is the preliminary step in double cleansing, which involves the use of an oil-based cleanser before a soap- or a water-based cleanser.

If you’re not familiar with the use of oil cleansers, you may be wary of the idea of washing your face with oil. 

It’s not exactly common knowledge that oil is ideal for your skin as most people rely on water-based, soapy products to wash their face.

However, oil cleansing stems from the idea that “like dissolves like,” so it takes oil to effectively break down oil-based substances, as well as sunblock, makeup, and dirt left on your skin. 

An oil cleanser removes these types of residues from your skin better than water-based facial wash.

With more studies confirming the numerous benefits of oil for the skin, oil cleansing is now going mainstream and several brands have started to incorporate oil-based cleansers in their product line.

The Benefits of Oil Cleansing

Here are the benefits of oil cleansing as backed by researchers:

  • Oil-based cleansers have healing effects on the skin.
  • Oil-based cleansers can effectively remove dead skin, makeup residue, and other pollutants that thrive on the skin and cause acne.
  • Using nourishing oils on the skin can remove excess sebum, an oily substance produced in the skin’s hair follicles that keeps the skin from drying out. If sebum remains on the skin, however, these can clog the pores, cause breakouts, and acne.
  • Oil cleansing helps clean clogged pores and can even dissolve blackheads and whiteheads.

Types of Oil-Based Cleansers: Cleansing Balm vs. Cleansing Oil

An infographic about the battle of the oil-based cleansers: cleansing balm vs cleansing oil. It includes their similarities and differences in a venn diagram

Using oil-based cleansers will effectively remove oil-based skin impurities such as makeup, sunblock, and sebum that’s piled up on your skin over time.  Oil-based cleansers come in two types and forms: cleansing balm and cleansing oil.

Cleansing balm comes in a solid, wax-like or buttery form, whereas cleansing oil has an oily and liquid texture.

Both cleansing oil and cleansing balm use oil to effectively remove oil-based skin impurities. 

Rinsed with water or a damp washcloth, these oil cleansers emulsify to wash away all leftover dirt that water-based facial soap alone cannot break down.

Now let’s get to the main differences between cleansing balm vs oil.

What Is a Cleansing Balm?

The first type of oil-based cleanser that we’ll talk about is cleansing balm. A cleansing balm comes in a more solid, buttery form and texture, which transforms into a silky oil substance whenever applied and massaged on the skin.

Cleansing balms and cleansing oils have very similar ingredients. They are mainly different in their form and texture.

Cleansing balms come with a solid wax-like consistency or can be softer in texture with a gel-like form.

They work like a traditional cleansing oil, where it absorbs the warmth of the skin when applied and emulsifies into a silky, milky substance that rids the skin of stubborn oil, makeup, and pore-clogging residues.

A small jar of cleansing balm with a small spoon on a plain pink background.

Using a cleansing balm to wash the skin before any water-based soap or facial wash can be the gentlest yet most effective way of cleansing. It further nourishes the skin with its natural ingredients. 

Just be wary of natural ingredients that may irritate the skin. Your skin may react differently to sunflower seed oil or apricot kernel oil, for instance. Everyone’s skin is different.

Pros of Using a Cleansing Balm

  • With its solid format, a cleansing balm is a lot easier to travel with. Worry less about it spilling all over your belongings, compared to a liquid cleansing oil.
  • When used, it’s also more kempt and less messy. Cleansing balms can be more effective at removing waterproof makeup and leftover sunscreen on your skin.

Cons of Using a Cleansing Balm

  • While cleansing balms generally have most of the same ingredients as cleansing oils, the cleansing balm may not emulsify as well as traditional liquid-based cleansing oils.
  • Using the cleansing balm could also take more effort as you need to avoid product contamination. However, many cleansing balms do come with a spatula to be used for scooping the balm out of its container. 
  • Cleansing balms could feel heavier on the skin with its extra layer of hydration, which most people with oily skin may not appreciate.

What Is Cleansing Oil?

Most of the ingredients found in cleansing oils are also found in cleansing balms; however, cleansing oils likely have an oil blend formula and don’t contain butter.

They come in a liquid texture, similar to cooking oils. Therefore, they are harder to carry around, with the added worry that they could spill on your valuable items anytime.

Cleansing oils are gentle on the skin, and they effectively remove stubborn oils, makeup, sunscreen, and dirt when used for cleansing.

Pros of Using Cleansing Oil

  • A cleansing oil is very gentle and light on the skin due to its liquid texture. It can also be rinsed off more easily.
  • Cleansing oils are great for any skin type, unlike cleansing balms. The latter adds extra layers of hydration, making it less suited for people with oily skin.
  • You can find more varieties of cleansing oils in the market than cleansing balms. They’re versatile and can even be used for cleaning your makeup brushes (although in most cases, they’re not designed for that).
  • Cleansing oils work more effortlessly on the skin, without the need for a lot of massaging, unlike cleansing balm. They’re also easier to rinse off.

Cons of Using Cleansing Oil

  • Cleansing oils are not your best bet when traveling as they can spill easily. Should you still prefer cleansing oils when traveling, do make sure yours come with tightly sealed covers to avoid a mess.
  • Using cleansing oil may feel as if you’re applying oil directly to your skin, which can feel uncomfortable and messy. Not everyone appreciates the texture of cleansing oils. In this case, a solid cleansing balm could be a better alternative for you.

Which Is Better for My Skin? Cleansing Balm vs. Oil?

You are likely to ask at this point: which of the two types of oil cleansers is better for my skin? In many ways they are similar, so it all comes down to your preferred form/texture, and your purpose for using one.

A jar of white balm, small bottles of oil, and leaves on a white background.

Cleansing Balm or Oil for Oily Skin

If you have oily skin and you haven’t used a cleansing balm or cleansing oil yet, you are likely to avoid oil-based products in general.

But contrary to what is mostly believed about oil-based cleansers, cleansing oils or balms are great for oily skin types as they can also be beneficial for oil production.

Cleansing oils attract oil and effectively break down stubborn oily residues like makeup and sunblock that clog the pores and cause breakouts and acne.

However, when using a cleansing oil, it’s important to use only a light amount and properly rinse it off your skin afterward. If excess oil is not removed, it may cause your skin to become more oily and clog your pores.

While a cleansing balm can feel less greasy for oily skin types upon application, cleansing balms tend to leave an extra layer of hydration, which can feel heavy or excessive for oily skin throughout the day.

Cleansing Balm vs. Oil for Dry Skin

When choosing between cleansing oil or a cleansing balm for dry skin, note that your skin will benefit from the natural ingredients found in oil cleansers as they are highly nourishing. 

Oil cleansers have natural oils packed in them, which can help make your skin feel softer and smoother with more regular use. 

Since dry skin needs natural oils to stay hydrated, a gentle oil cleanser is more beneficial to use for this skin type.  

Cleansing Balm or Oil for Acne-Prone Skin and Sensitive Skin

Double cleansing is highly recommended for acne-prone skin types. If you are acne-prone, using either a cleansing balm or oil would be great for you and your sensitive skin. 

A cleansing balm is a better choice than a cleansing oil for sensitive skin as they have a gentler formulation yet they’re powerful enough to break down stubborn skin impurities.

Acne-prone skin, on the other hand, can benefit from both cleansing balms and oils. The trick is to check for additional ingredients that fight acne, such as tea tree oil, oregano oil, lavender oil, jojoba oil, salicylic acid, and the like.

Be sure to follow up and rinse off your oil cleansers with a water-based facial wash. This helps ensure that no oil residues remain on your skin that can cause irritation and further aggravate breakouts.

Frequently Asked Questions on Oil Cleansing

Should I Oil-Cleanse Every Day?

Double cleansing can be done every day. But if you wash your face day and night, just use the oil-based cleanser once during the day, preferably at night.

This is to thoroughly cleanse your skin from makeup and other impurities that may be left on your skin before going to bed. 

Should You Wash Your Face After Using Cleansing Oil or Balm?

An oil-based cleanser is supposed to remove similar oil-based substances on your skin such as sebum, makeup residue, and clear clogged pores. 

So if you don’t wash off the oil cleanser, the residues and impurities that you intended to remove will stay on your skin, along with the extra oil you just put on, which is the oil cleanser.

Oil cleansers are meant for double cleansing. In double cleansing, oil cleansers are just the first step. A regular facial wash then completes the process. 

What Can You Expect After Using A Cleansing Balm or Cleansing Oil?

After using a cleansing balm or oil, your skin might feel supple, soft, and smooth. It will generally take a week or two for the skin to adjust to this new cleansing method, and for you to see if it works on your skin or not. 

Unfortunately, oil cleansing, like using any new product, may result in skin irritation or allergy in some instances. It is advisable to do a patch test or consult your dermatologist for best results.

How Can I Know If Oil Cleansing Is Good for My Skin?

Oil cleansing in some instances, like using any new product, may result in skin irritation. If your skin feels smooth and clean after use, then it is a good sign. 

If you have sensitive skin, it is often best to consult your dermatologist before adding oil-based cleansers to your skincare routine.

Elevate Your Skincare Routine With Oil Cleansing!

Now that you have a solid idea about the differences between cleansing oil vs. balm and their numerous benefits for your skin, using an oil cleanser is now one of the best ways to elevate your skincare routine.

Get that smooth, healthy, glowing skin that radiates naturally and is selfie-ready!

Ready to take your skincare routine to the next level?

You can read more about oil-based cleansers here:


  • Stephanie Martin

    Stephanie Martin blends her beauty industry background with expertise in communications to lead in the fashion and beauty world. As a fashion and beauty editor, she is known for engaging and informative articles. Her lifelong passion for fashion, makeup, and hair shines through her work, earning her widespread respect among readers and clients. Stephanie's style, a mix of classic and contemporary, makes her a dynamic and influential figure in the industry, inspiring others with her knowledgeable and approachable insights.

  • Amanda Meehan

    Amanda Meehan, a licensed esthetician and massage therapist, brings holistic beauty to the forefront. Trained at the Aveda Institute Denver and the Center for Natural Wellness School of Massage Therapy, her accolades include the High Honors and Beauty Is As Beauty Does awards. Beyond skincare, she's a certified Reiki Master and yoga instructor.

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