Introducing The Kit’s new editor-tested shopping awards, the Shop Smart Guide. The idea is simple: Every month, The Kit editors exhaustively test-drive items in desert-island categories — not the season’s exciting yet ephemeral trends but the evergreen essentials you’re most likely to buy now and wear or use forever. We’re talking mascara, jeans, retinol serum, red lipstick, white sneakers, etc. Our hope is that Shop Smart helps you reach that mythic shopping ideal: to buy less but better. Here, our guide to black turtlenecks.
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I remember the exact moment I became obsessed with cleansing balms. Five years ago, I was battling hormonal acne. Desperate, I tried all kinds of products to address my unhappy skin, but nothing worked. Then, a light in the darkness: A beauty director friend recommended a cleansing balm. She told me that cleansing balms are less drying and create an overall more calming cleansing experience — perfect for my oily, acne-prone skin. Since they’re formulated with oils and other nourishing emollients, they cleanse skin without your face feeling like it’s being pulled back.
To go with the cleansing balm, the beauty director handed me a muslin cloth. She instructed me not to wash off the cleanser, but to instead wet the cloth with hot water and place it over my face (in the manner of spa facialists), and to take a deep breath before removing it.
Since that day, my evening skin care routine has forever changed. Even after a late night out with friends, I’ll take the time to do my two-minute cleansing ritual. Nothing satisfies me more than sloughing off makeup, sunscreen and other buildup with a soothing at-home spalike treatment.
Now that I’m a few years into my devotion, I can tell you that there are a few things that make a cleansing balm truly stand out. Texture and the ease of breaking down makeup are non-negotiable. Also, the whole process has to give you joy — from scooping out the product to how lovely it feels against your skin. For this test drive, I put each cleansing balm to the same test: I applied my most stubborn pencil eyeliners and evaluated how fast and easy the balm melted it away.
Scroll down to see which six products made my cut for the best cleansing balms.
Farmacy Green Clean Cleansing Balm, $46, sephora.ca SHOP HERE
The winner: Farmacy
The cost: $46
The claim: Melts away stubborn makeup, SPF, dirt and oil and leaves skin hydrated with zero residue.
The review: First things first: I’m thankful for the little spoon that’s included in the packaging. I always feel a touch queasy when the product doesn’t come with one and I have to resort to using my fingers. I’m able to use a dime-sized amount of product to clean my entire face — a great sign. The scooping process is as smooth as scooping a pint of ice cream you let sit out on the kitchen counter for five minutes of defrosting. As I work the sorbet-like balm — which smells like lime gelato — into my skin, it turns into a silky oil texture without feeling greasy. The sunflower and ginger root oils melt my waterproof eye pencil with ease, while the turmeric and moringa extract helps remove sunscreen residue and other impurities. The balm leaves my skin feeling clean — and refreshingly zesty.
Eve Lom Cleanser, $105, nordstrom.ca. SHOP HERE
The worth-every-penny cleansing balm: Eve Lom
The cost: $105
The claim: It cleanses, decongests and removes makeup without stripping the skin.
The review: That story earlier about my first cleansing balm encounter? It was with the famed British beauty brand, Eve Lom. Since then, I’ve bought the product multiple times, but it had been a couple years. I tried it again for this story to see if it still stacks up, and boy, does it.
Featuring four aromatic oils, including Egyptian chamomile oil to soften and soothe, clove oil for clarity, eucalyptus oil to decongest and hops oil to tone, this cult cleanser is a bit gritty at first, which helps gently exfoliate your skin. As I slowly massaged it into my skin, it turned into a lovely balmy texture. A major bonus: This cleansing balm comes with a full-sized muslin face cloth, the perfect sidekick to elevate a mundane cleansing experience to a spa-worthy one. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the heftier price tag, I would boldly deem this as the best cleansing balm ever.
Glow Recipe Papaya Sorbet Smoothing Enzyme Cleansing Balm, $42, sephora.ca SHOP HERE
The cost: $42
The claim: Smooths the look of skin, while melting away makeup, dirt, oil and SPF.
The review: At the beginning of the lockdown, Glow Recipe had just launched its innovative take on the cleansing balm. I remember being eager to put it to the test. Result? It was one of my small joys during that time. I thoroughly enjoyed slathering this all over my face, even though my work-from-home job didn’t require me to wear makeup anymore. Despite having a slight fragrance (which reminds me of a Chinese papaya milk dessert my mom makes from time to time), it didn’t irritate my very sensitive skin.
For this test drive, I wanted to see if the balm could go one step further and remove my stubborn makeup. True to its claim, my makeup instantly melted off. Post-cleanse, my skin felt smoother, too, thanks to resurfacing papaya enzyme and hydrating papaya seed oil. After a few days of using it, my little whiteheads disappeared, too.
Belif Aqua Bomb Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm, $45, sephora.ca SHOP HERE
The cleansing balm for acne-prone skin: Belif
The cost: $45
The claim: A hydrating formula that melts onto skin and removes all makeup and impurities in one go.
The review: My sister and I have long been fans of the Korean beauty brand Belif — we particularly love its Aqua Bomb collection because it hydrates our acne-prone skin without suffocating it. Before the brand came to Canada, we’d always save room in our luggage whenever we travelled to Seoul. So when Belif launched a cleansing balm, I had a feeling I’d instantly fall in love with it — and I was right.
A few highlights: Its sorbet formula turns into a watery texture that feels super hydrating on skin without being too oily. It’s a great option to reach for if you have oilier or acne-prone skin. With marshmallow root to protect and moisturize skin and lady‘s mantle, which provides antioxidants and pore-minimizing effects, this fragrance-free formula left my skin feeling completely refreshed. I didn’t even feel the need to double cleanse.
Dior Prestige Rose Cleansing Oil-Balm, $146, nordstrom.ca SHOP HERE
The cleansing oil balm: Dior
The cost: $146
The claim: Formulated for even the most sensitive skin, it melts away impurities and traces of even the most stubborn makeup.
The review: I first experienced this product a couple of months ago when I checked myself into the Dior Spa in Paris during fashion week. Between my facialist’s massaging technique and the product’s subtle rose scent, I felt all that pent-up travel tension and harboured toxins in my skin just … release. I’ve never fallen in love with a product during a treatment so much. I noted every hand movement, so that I could recreate the experience at home.
Unlike a lot of solid, sorbet-like textures in the cleansing balm realm, this Dior product is more of a gel-like balm. As I massaged the product into my skin, the rose balm transformed into an oilier texture — a lovely option for cleansing oil fans who want to enter cleansing balm territory. It’s also rich in glycerin, so its formula protects skin’s hydration. I suggest you take the luxe silicon spatula included with the product and take a generous quarter-sized amount to get the full spalike experience.
Drunk Elephant Slaai Makeup-Melting Butter Cleanser, $45, sephora.ca SHOP HERE
The exfoliating cleansing balm: Drunk Elephant
The cost: $45
The claim: Transforms from an oil to a milk to cleanse and moisturize, leaving a dewy glow.
The review: I love a brand that really thinks about the user, and Drunk Elephant is definitely one of those brands. On the lid of this cleansing balm, there’s a tone-on-tone spatula that easily clips on and off, which prevents the spatula from sliding off every time I grab for it in my medicine cabinet. This already garners bonus points.
Apart from its nourishing cleansing balm — which features soothing fruit extracts and oils to protect the skin and keep the skin feeling moisturized — the product also includes a little bottle of bamboo and charcoal powder exfoliant. I love (gently) using it on my sensitive skin in the morning to slough off any flaky skin or overnight oil buildup. I do have one suggestion: Since it takes a bit of energy to work the solid into the skin, I suggest first rubbing it between your hands to heat it up and create that oily-meets-balmy texture before applying it to your face. After massaging it onto your skin, add a bit of water to turn the cleanser into a milky texture. It leaves skin feeling hydrated and quite smooth. All this for $45? A steal.
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