I’ve been smearing makeup on my arm (and cleaning it off) for about 3.5 years now. As a result, I have quite a lot of opinions on makeup remover — I’ve tried just about everything you can find at the counter (plus a few more).
Makeup remover is, to some extent, a matter of preference. What are you used to, what format do you prefer, how much makeup do you wear? When I’m swatching, my goal is to get my arm completely clean of often-stubborn products (like heavy-duty foundation, bright lipsticks, and long-wear eyeliners) as quickly as possible, with a minimum of scrubbing, no residue, and without drying my skin. Hands-down, the most effective category is oil cleansers. I prefer them to foams, lotions, cold creams, other liquids, and soaps.
You apply oil cleanser to dry skin, massage it around, add water (to emulsify), massage again, and rinse clean.
Cleansing oil doesn’t leave your skin feeling oily, and it won’t clog your pores or cause acne (the molecules are too large to penetrate). I’m probably going to horrify some aestheticians by saying this, but I don’t use a second product after washing my face with oil cleanser. Once the makeup/sunscreen is off, I’m done.
Anyway, having tried a number of oil cleansers, I wanted to share with you my personal rank list, from best to worst.
1. Shiseido Ultimate Cleansing Oil ($25, 5 oz)
This is, unequivocally, the best cleanser on the market. Designed to remove Shiseido’s notoriously protective sunscreens, it’s the most effective, gentlest, least obtrusive, no-residue, non-drying, best-thing-I’ve-tried. It’s my #1 choice at home and “in the field.” I never need a second product to get my arm “all the way clean.”
Oil cleansers turn cloudy/white when you get them wet (somehow this makes me feel that they’re working), and Shiseido’s does this best. If you plunge an oiled hand into a bowl of water, it makes a satisfying “poof” of white as the oil dissipates into the water.
2. Bobbi Brown Cleansing Oil ($39, 6.7 oz)
If Shiseido’s Cleansing Oil is, for some reason, unavailable, my second choice is Bobbi Brown’s. It gets almost everything off (though if I’m swatching something particularly tenacious, I might have to follow it with a chaser of Chanel Gentle Biphase Eye Makeup Remover).
With repeated use, I feel like it builds up a bit of residue. But you’re probably not going to feel that in a single face-washing.
3. Shu Uemura Cleansing Beauty Oil Premium A/O Advanced Formula ($75, 15 oz)
Shu Uemura Cleansing Oils come in several “flavors” — Pore Clarifying (pink) for oily/acne-prone skin, White Recovery Brightening (purple), Classic (yellow), Premium for dry/sensitive skin (this used to be called “Rich” and it was orange… they’ve reformulated and now the bottle is yellow).
Anyway, my favorite is “Green,” which is supposed to address aging concerns, yet still feels light. I think it has the best scent, and it seemed to me to be the most effective of Shu’s oils. (Green is also their #1 seller.)
Shu has a sterling reputation for cleanse off oils (and many people feel they basically invented the category), but in a head-to-head (or should I say arm-to-arm?) test, Shu would sometimes leave behind “ghosts” that another cleanser (Shiseido, Laura Mercier’s old Light formula) would remove completely.
Honestly, Bobbi Brown’s Cleanse Off Oil and Shu Uemura’s Premium A/O are probably a tie for me, but since Shu no longer has a physical presence in the U.S., it’s a little harder to get. (You have to order from their website. Though, on the plus side, free shipping and no tax.)
4. Laura Mercier Purifying Cleansing Oil ($40, 6.8 oz)
Laura Mercier used to make two formulas of cleansing oil (Light and Rich) — and Light formerly held my #2-favorite spot.
“Rich” oils, oils intended for dry or mature skin, often don’t rinse clean. They seem like leave-in conditioner for the skin… they feel sort of oily even after you’ve washed them away.
Maybe a year ago, Laura Mercier reformulated their oil cleanser, and the new edition feels like a combination of the old Light and Rich. I’m not a fan.
5. MAC Cleanse Off Oil ($26, 5 oz)
MAC’s Cleanse Off Oil just isn’t my favorite. It simply doesn’t seem as effective as the others when it comes to removing makeup.
6. Lumene Lift Touch Revitalizing Cleansing Oil ($10, 6.8 oz)
Lumene is just about the cheapest cleanse off oil you can buy, and a while ago I bought some for home use (both face and arm). It was even on sale at CVS when I bought it, so I only paid $5 a bottle.
Now this sounds absolutely crazy, but I stopped using Lumene on my face because it was drying my skin. How can a cleanse off oil (which even mentions dry/mature skin on the bottle) be drying? Well, the bottle also mentions “toning,” so maybe that ingredient is the culprit. Has anyone else had this experience? I did buy this about a year ago, so it’s possible the product has been reformulated since then.
What’s your favorite makeup remover, readers? Are you on the oil bandwagon? Do you have a favorite that I haven’t tried yet?