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The best cleansing balms of 2024, according to dermatologists

Cleansing balms help break down makeup, dirt and buildup from your skin — without leaving the skin feeling dry or stripped.
Cleansing balms are usually thicker in consistency than lotion or foam formulations, according to our experts.
Cleansing balms are usually thicker in consistency than lotion or foam formulations, according to our experts.Farmacy Beauty; Elemis; Clinique

Much like moisturizing and wearing sunscreen, cleansing is considered a nonnegotiable when it comes to building out a skin care routine. Why? Because it’s crucial for removing buildup from the skin — be it makeup, sunscreen, excess oil, etc. — so that pores don’t clog and the skin can breathe and repair itself properly. That said, there are endless choices for cleansers on the market and finding the right one for your skin can be tricky. If you’re searching for one that effectively cleans the skin while simultaneously nourishing and soothing it, then a cleansing balm might be your best option.

“Unlike your classic face washes that either foam or lather, cleansing balms have a more solid base formula when at room temperature,” says Dr. Pooja Sodha, board-certified dermatologist and director of the center for laser and cosmetic dermatology at George Washington University (GW) Medical Faculty Associates. “Because it’s an oil and emulsifier mixture [in one], it goes on smooth and removes dirt, grime, and makeup while hydrating skin and not stripping it or disrupting the pH.”

SKIP AHEAD The best cleansing balms | Cleansing balm benefits | How to shop for cleansing balms

Cleansing balms are also usually thicker in consistency than lotion or foam formulations, and  unlike traditional cleansers, are usually oil-based instead of water-based, according to Dr. Sejal Shah, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of SmarterSkin Dermatology in New York City.

Below, we’re sharing the best cleansing balms on the market according to dermatologists, along with their expert insight on how they work, their benefits, and how to shop for them.

Selected.Our top picks

How we picked the best cleansing balms

To help us find the best cleansing balms on the market, we spoke with board-certified dermatologists to find out their top recommendations as well as their tips for what to look for when shopping. Here’s what they recommend keeping in mind when choosing the right cleansing balms for your skin:

  • Skin type: Shop for your specific skin type and know what to avoid. For instance, if you have oily skin avoid formulas with ingredients that could potentially clog pores. Additionally, if you have sensitive skin or an inflammatory condition like rosacea, steer clear of potentially irritating ingredients like fragrance, dyes, and alcohols. 
  • Ingredients: While all cleansing balms have an array of oils and butters, most of them also have additional ingredients that can benefit the skin, so look for ones that target your specific concerns. For example, someone with sensitive skin should look for balms with calming ingredients like aloe vera or niacinamide
  • Consistency: Some cleansing balms are very rich and buttery, while others are more lightweight in texture. Dry and sensitive skin types should look for richer textures as they’ll be more moisturizing, while normal, combination, and oily skin types should look for lighter, creamier consistencies. Ultimately though, it will come down to personal preference. 

The best cleansing balms

Our experts recommended various cleansing balms that have gentle surfactants (which are ingredients found in all soaps and cleansers that work by breaking down oils and fats, allowing them to be washed away), along with nourishing ingredients that will help clean the skin while hydrating and soothing it. They recommended formulations that work for all skin types, including those with oily or acne-prone skin, and dry and sensitive skin.

Farmacy Green Clean Makeup Meltaway Cleansing Balm

Recommended by both Shah and Dr. Marisa Garshick, board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at Weill Cornell’s Department of Dermatology, this formula works as a makeup remover and cleanser in one. “It’s really nice and light and contains antioxidants and papaya enzymes that give you some natural gentle exfoliation,” says Shah, who recommends it for normal to oily skin types. In addition to papaya enzymes, it also has turmeric extract to help soothe the skin, as well as glycerin for hydration. It smells like a blend of lime, bergamot and orange essential oils, according to Farmacy, so if you are prone to disliking fragrance in your products, you may want to consider other options. 

It’s also a favorite of NBC Select managing editor Leah Ginsberg, and NBC Select updates editor Mili Godio, who has rosacea. “I find it super gentle on my skin and it doesn’t leave a dry, tight feeling that’s so common after cleansing,” says Godio. “It also does a great job at removing any dirt and makeup from the day, even tough mascara and liquid eyeliner.”

E.l.f. Holy Hydration Makeup Melting Cleansing Balm

Shah is a huge fan of this formula from E.l.f. because of how hydrating it is. “It has a lot of skin barrier strengthening ingredients, [which is] really good for dry and sensitive skin,” she says. On top of sunflower seed oil, it also has skin-strengthening ceramides, peptides, and hyaluronic acid to leave skin soft, hydrated, and plump, according to the brand. 

Elemis Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm

This formula acts as a cleansing balm, oil, and milk, all in one, according to experts. As Garshick explains, this nourishing formula has a mix of oils and waxes that help to seamlessly break down makeup while leaving skin moisturized and smooth. The formula’s hero ingredients include elderberry oil, which is high in essential fatty acids that aid in oil regulation and optimal skin hydration; starflower oil, a rich natural source of gamma linolenic acid, which reduces water loss and inflammation; and padina pavonica, a type of Mediterranean brown algae known for supporting hydration, according to Garshick. “My makeup comes off instantly and I love that a little goes a long way,” says NBC Select associate reporter Bianca Alvarez who uses this formula when she wears makeup, once to three times a week. 

Andalou Naturals Deep Hydration Nourishing Cleansing Balm

You can apply this cleansing balm to dry skin first and then it will melt into a gentle cleanser to eliminate makeup and buildup, while also nourishing the skin, says Garshick. It has biodesigned collagen, which is a vegan form of collagen that helps plump and smooth skin, and hyaluronic acid to add hydration and leave the skin feeling moisturized and refreshed, she says. This formula also has coconut oil, which is comedogenic, so those with oily and acne-prone skin may want to steer clear.

Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm

While this formula from Clinique is suitable for all skin types, Shah says she especially likes it for those with acne-prone skin. “It’s not very abrasive and it doesn’t feel oily on the skin,” she says. In my experience, it breaks down stubborn makeup and sunscreen without leaving my skin feeling heavy or greasy.

It Cosmetics Bye Bye Makeup 3-in-1 Makeup Melting Cleansing Balm

This formula is a favorite of Shah’s because of its blend of ceramides (which help strengthen the skin barrier), antioxidants and vitamin C. The vitamin C and other antioxidants work to brighten dull skin and protect against free radical damage, according to the brand. You can use it one of three ways: as a makeup remover (just massage it into the skin without adding water), as a cleanser (add water) and as a face mask (leave it on for 10 minutes before rinsing or wiping off), according to It Cosmetics.

Glow Recipe Papaya Sorbet Enzyme Cleansing Balm

Another pick from Garshick, this formula has antioxidants, fatty acids, and vitamins A, C, and E. The papaya enzymes gently exfoliate and cleanse the skin, while also removing residue and buildup, says Garshick. Made with three forms of papaya — including the oil, extract, and enzymes — the vitamin-rich formula works to simultaneously smooth, brighten, moisturize, and soothe the skin. Despite having exfoliating properties, it’s safe for daily use because of its other soothing ingredients, plus it’s been tested for sensitive skin, according to the brand.

Naturium Purple Ginseng Cleansing Balm

Garshic recommends this formula, which has purple ginseng, linoleic oils, and plant-based esters, for all skin types as it does a great job at dissolving makeup, oil, and hard-to-remove sunscreen. She also says it’s lightweight, noncomedogenic so it won’t clog pores, and feels utterly luxurious to use. Reviews call it gentle, fast-acting, and soothing.

Versed Day Dissolve Cleansing Balm

This Versed balm transforms from an oil-based formula  to a gentle milk texture that won’t leave behind an oily residue, according to Garshick. “Especially at night, I love massaging it into my skin because it feels so rich and moisturizing, and it leaves my skin feeling supple and clean,” says NBC Select associate updates editor Zoe Malin. “It doesn’t irritate my dry, sensitive skin either. It feels much more luxurious compared to using a gel or foamy face wash.” Like other formulas on this list, to activate it, you should use a dime-sized amount on dry skin and massage it into your face (including your hairline and jawline) with wet fingers and rinse and pat dry for best results, according to Versed.

Bliss Mighty Biome Pre/Post Biotics + Barrier Aid Deep Cleansing Balm

This Bliss formula has prebiotics to attract water, postbiotics to help stimulate skin cell renewal, and a blend of beta carotene, ceramide NP, and squalne to help soften and smooth the skin, according to Garshick. Additionally, it helps fend off free radical damage that we’re exposed to from factors in the environment, such as pollution, which can lead to irritation and premature signs of aging. It’s also fragrance-free and comes in a recyclable jar.

Drunk Elephant Slaai Makeup-Melting Butter Cleanser

Not only does this buttery formula help remove makeup, but it has antioxidants and oils that give your skin extra moisture so it won’t feel dry after use, says Garshick. When you add water, it activates the formula and transitions it to a milky texture that leaves skin soft, hydrated, and radiant, according to the brand. “I love the texture of this cleanser — it feels luxurious and moisturizing when you massage it into your skin,” says Ginsberg. “The result feels almost like a face oil, but then when you add water and massage, it turns into a milky cleanser that’s easy to rinse off. It does a good job of cleansing off my sunblock, foundation, blush, etc. The only thing I really don’t like is its scent, but luckily it doesn’t linger once you wash it off.”

Cleansing balm benefits

Cleansing balms are highly effective at breaking down makeup and buildup without leaving the skin feeling dry or stripped. “There’s this idea that two things that are more similar are going to be attracted to each other, so when we think of makeup, a lot of formulas are oil-based, so that’s why using an oil-based cleanser can be beneficial because like attracts like,” says Shah. “It’s going to be more effective at removing makeup products.”

Cleansing balms are also very nourishing and soothing, making them a great option for those with sensitive, dry and reactive skin. “Unlike some of the other more traditional cleansers, especially those that foam up, a cleansing balm is going to be really nonirritating and won’t dry the skin out or compromise the skin barrier,” says Shah. “It’s really good for all skin types but especially dry sensitive skin types.”

Additionally, cleansing balms can help get rid of excess oil in those with oily and acne-prone skin. “Some people with oily skin think they shouldn’t use cleansing balms because they’re oil-based, but the truth is that oil actually helps remove some of the excess oil on the skin that can clog pores,  without stripping the skin,” says Shah. “Oil attracts oil.”

How to shop for cleansing balms

While all cleansing balms aim to break down makeup and grime without stripping the skin, they often vary in texture/consistency, ingredients and cost. Case in point: Some formulas have active ingredients like hyaluronic acid and vitamin C in addition to just oils and butters, and are lighter in consistency with prices ranging from under $15 to over $60. When shopping for a cleansing balm, our experts recommend keeping your skin type and certain ingredients in mind, as well as your budget. Below, we dive deeper into how to find the best cleansing balm for you.

  • Determine the consistency you want. Some cleansing balm formulas can be quite viscous and rich, while others are lighter and creamier in consistency. If you have oily skin, you may want to opt for a lighter formula, whereas if you’re dry, a thicker texture may be right up your alley. It can be tough to know the consistency of the balm without opening up the product, however, looking for key words like “creamy” and “lightweight” is a good idea.
  • Look for ingredients that suit your needs. On top of oils and butters, cleansing balms have other beneficial skin care ingredients, including but not limited to ceramides, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid and more. Decide what your skin goals are and go from there — for instance, if you’re looking to strengthen your skin barrier, look for a cleansing balm that contains ingredients like ceramides and vitamin E.
  • Decide how much you want to spend. You can find cleansing balms in the aisle of your local drugstore, as well as floating around high-end department stores. In other words: cost varies dramatically in this skin care category. Figure out how much you’re willing to spend and then search for formulas within your budget. Garshick says there are great affordable and high-end options, so don’t stress if you can’t shell out for one of the pricier products.

Meet our experts

At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest. 

  • Dr. Sejal Shah is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of SmarterSkin Dermatology in New York City.
  • Dr. Marisa Garshick is a board-certified dermatologist a clinical assistant professor at Weill Cornell’s Department of Dermatology.
  • Dr. Pooja Sodha is a board-certified dermatologist and director of the center for laser and cosmetic dermatology at George Washington University (GW) Medical Faculty Associates.

Why trust Select?

Kaleigh Fasanella is a beauty and wellness writer with over a decade of experience contributing to digital media outlets. For this piece, she interviewed multiple board-certified dermatologists and researched cleansing balms on the market. We included  highly rated products as well as balms that dermatologists specifically recommended to us.

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