Facial cleansers: oil, cream, milk or foaming?

We know that cleansing is an important process to clear our skin of any dirt or impurities and we do have many options of cleansers available in the market. Those that I’m familiar with are oil cleansers, milk or cream cleansers and foaming cleansers.

Oil-based cleansers
The Japanese are known for using this type of cleansers not just to remove their makeup, but also to cleanse their face. As such, many of the good oil cleansers come from brands like Shiseido, Shu Uemura, Kanebo, DHC or Fancl, just to name a few. The idea of oil removing oil maybe alien to some but it actually works very well for those who have tried. Personally, I like using oil-based cleansers to remove my makeup, compared to other types of cleansers. However, I don’t quite like the idea of washing my face just using an oil-based cleanser although it is possible since most of them emulsify with water, thus leaving our skin clean but not dry.

Cream or milk-based cleanser
This type of cleansers are often said to be good for matured skin as it is not over drying. I’ve tried a couple of brands in the past, and always only used them to remove my makeup. However, compared to oil-based cleansers, I find that they do not remove all my makeup that effectively. In addition, I don’t like the “film” they leave behind. But, I admit that they’re good in the sense that they do not dry out my skin.

Foaming cleanser
Despite the fact that I have matured skin type, I prefer using foaming cleanser. It could be psychological, because I feel that my skin is cleaner using this type of cleanser. However, there is the concern that such cleansers can dry up our skin – which is true if it contains SLS. Hence, although I always use foaming cleanser, I ensure that the ones I use do not contain SLS.

My cleansing routine
I’ve always been double-cleansing my face. If I wear makeup, I’ll first use an oil-based cleanser to remove my makeup before using my foaming cleanser. If I don’t use makeup, then I use a milk cleanser first, before ending off with my foaming cleanser.

What’s your favorite?
What about you? What is your cleansing preference? Which is your favorite? And anyone uses washing powder to cleanse their face? If yes, I’ll also be interested to hear about your experience.


  1. Jyoan says:

    I prefer gel cleansers, as they have a wonderful feel. My skin is sensitive to milk cleansers, and quite a lot of foaming cleansers. I also love to use oils for makeup remover. =)

  2. Jojo C says:

    Thanks for the review. I’ve tried washing powder and i actually quite like it, the only problem i have with it is that it takes time to foam up (i only tried the fancl one). But yea, it’s not something that i would stick to as i am quite lazy and always rushing in the morning.

    Lately I’ve read all the raves about glycerin soap (as in handmade all natural soap), apparently despite their higher pH, they are actually very mild and gentle on the skin, they said low ph does not equal to mild and gentle, I just order a olive oil castille soap, just wanna see if they are really as good as they all claim. What’s your say?

  3. sesame says:

    Gel cleansers would be something like Cetaphil’s? Now I remember using the Lavera one too…doesn’t foam that much. Don’t really like using it.

  4. sesame says:

    It does…as in taking a longer time to foam? I think I’ve only come across Fancl and Haba and one more Japanese brand but never got to try. If it takes longer, than I’ll rather stick to foaming cleanser.

    I personally don’t like using soap. It’s very strange considering they foam well. Even those 100% handmade using glycerin or castille type made my skin feel too squeaky clean and I just feel that my natural lipids are being stripped off. It’s not drying but I just don’t like the feeling so soaps, natural or otherwise, only goes on my body.

  5. Jojo C says:

    I’m not sure about the other brands, but the fancl one, they advertised as not using foaming agents, so they need air to bubble up. When you buy their washing powder, you get this sponge ball for free, you add water and the washing powder to it, and roll it between your palm for like 1 minute or 2 which is way too much trouble for me, I like the feel of the really fine bubbles on my skin, but i just really dun have the minute or 2 to spare in the morning…

    Well i’ll try the castille soap that i ordered and see how i go, if i dun like it on my face, i can always use it on my body#k8SjZc9Dxk0#k8SjZc9Dxk won’t go to waste.

  6. Yosita says:

    I just got your email about the cleansing method and I forgot to tell you that I’m now trying Burt’s Bees Lemon & Poppy Seed Facial Cleanser to remove my light make-up before using Laniege’s Sensitive Gel Cleanser which is a gentle foaming cleanser that doesn’t contain alcohol, colouring and fragrance. I like the combination as I still get to use a foaming cleanser at the end of the routine, which is ultimately my favourite type of cleanser.

  7. stella says:

    how about cleansing water? i haven’t used that before but a consultant from a french brand was recommending it to me recently, you apparently use it after your cleansing milk/oil or just swipe it over your face in the morning, it’s supposed to leave your skin nicely balanced without drying it out

  8. sesame says:

    I never read about the Fancl one but it’s interesting they use air to bubble up. Maybe I’ll try it next time…everything I get to Fancl, I leave empty handed.

    Yeah, soap is good as in if you don’t like it for your face, you can always use it on your body.

  9. sesame says:

    You like foaming cleanser too? Somehow, the lathering feels very nice and comforting for me. ?

  10. sesame says:

    I hardly come across cleansing water. It sounds a bit like toner? Did you try it?

  11. AtelierGal says:

    Oil-based for removing makeup, esp. mascara, then followed by foam cleansing.

    Most Japanese mascara & eyeliners are oil-resistance so I would use warm water & milk cleanser instead.

    I would try to avoid milk cleanser as and when possible because I hate the filmsy feeling it leaves on my skin

  12. sesame says:

    You hate the “film” too? It feels kind of sticky afterwards doesn’t it?

    But funny it doesn’t remove eye makeup for me. Next time I try with warm water and see if it’ll work better for me. Probably cos I don’t use so much eye makeup, so oil has generally worked well for me.

  13. elaine l, says:

    i actually prefer cream cleanser, dont exactly know what to call it but it’s like a white creamy moose(eg. biore) i dont really like gel ones as i think they can be quite drying. i got myself sukin foaming facial cleanser today from watsons, 20% off ? haha never tried it before but it seems promising and i got even excited to use it when i saw it in the picture you posted. btw, have you tried the brand called bods? it’s an Australian organic brand that is recently brought in by Watsons too. was comtemplating to get the cleanser, but i caved in to the cheaper one.

    I haven’t tried milk cleansers before. have been using cleansing oil to remove makeup before normal facial cleanser

  14. anya says:

    i prefer double-cleansing method too, starting with DHC deep cleansing oil, followed by DHC washing powder <3

  15. BT says:

    I’m fan of washing powder. I read an article before that powder form will suits sensitive skin better because powder required less unnecessary chemical ingredients. Anyway, I love all types of facial wash except soap.

  16. flym says:

    I share much of the same sentiments as you regarding the different cleansing methods.

    I’m intrigued that you would double cleanse (milk cleanser -> foaming type) even without makeup. I would just wash with the foaming one. May I know why you double cleanse?

    I find that if I use waterproof makeup or sunscreen, oil cleanser is a must.

    Sometimes cleansing milk doesn’t remove makeup that completely, so I triple-cleanse, i.e. cleansing milk -> cleansing milk again -> foaming cleanser.

    I’ve tried the Fancl foaming powder. Really good cos it rinses clean without tightness. With some other foaming cleansers that are mild or non-drying to the skin, sometimes you still feel something on the wet skin after washing. You don’t get that with the foaming powder.

  17. Raelynn says:

    on day sthat i wear just sunscreen, i’ll use a foaming wash. i’m currently using up this Diorsnow cleanser which foams really well (a bit too well for my liking, but it removes the sunscreen so not much complaints yet). When this bottle is finished, i’ll be gng back to my Aesop Fabulous Face Cleanser, which is a low foaming cleanser and doesnt feel like my skin is stripped of it’s moisture.

    However, because of it’s low foaming abilities, i’ll have to use a cream cleanser before the foam.

    Also, currently i’m using my mom’s cream cleansers to remove my makeup because i’m out of cleansing oil, but it’s cream cleanser–> tissue off–>cleansing lotion(which is essentially a toner that’s the same brand)–>foaming wash. i agree that without the toner/lotion, it’ll leave this filmy feel and it doesnt remove mascara well.

    I would still prefer to remove heavy makeup with cleansing oils. My first experience was with Thann and Hann’s oil, which i was quite happy with as it emulsified fairly easily, i just found it a chore and i tend to have to rinse with quite an amount of hot water to remove the oil. Tried yoursessentially’s revitalizing oil cleanser, didnt like it at all, it was too thick and sticky to massage and it was a pain to remove. Might email Jess about it to ask if she can come up with another blend that i can use…

    About cleansing water, i know that the face shop has one under it’s brightening rice cleanser series, i’m currently using it. It’s alright to use to remove remanents of cream cleansers or on days when u’re applying only loosepowder or something, just that it smells like it has a certain amount of alcohol in it (havent looked at the ingredient list clearly yet). They do instruct you to rinse off with warm water after wiping.

    Conclusion: oil and low foam double cleanse for heavy makeup, cream and low foam for light makeup, low foam for only sunscreen days.

  18. Sherry says:

    I prefer cream and foam. oh there is gel too!

  19. sesame says:

    Oh I love Sukin’s cleanser and have used like 6 or 7 bottles so far. I find it good for the price range but I’m planning to move on to try others. Watsons has a couple of new organic/natural brands which look interesting. Didn’t see the Bods one you mentioned. I saw the new Yes To Carrot (Tomato and Cucumber) and thinking of trying their facial cleansers.

  20. sesame says:

    You use DHC? I’ve been wanting to try the DHC cleansing oil but never got to it. Now I’ve using the Muji one for sensitive skin without parabens…liking it!

  21. sesame says:

    I read your post on the Fancl washing powder. very interesting!

  22. sesame says:

    I used to just use foaming cleanser in the morning but sometime this year, I got obsessed with cleansing thoroughly especially my lesson with the waterproof sunscreen. My pores are also slightly enlarged so I feel I need to cleanse more thoroughly.

    I think I know what you mean about something on the skin – like a residue? Hmm…I’ve got to give washing powder a try!

  23. sesame says:

    I tried YE’s revitalizing oil cleanser and didn’t really like it that much too…but I was able to cleanse it off with a foaming cleanser. Still, I think it’s more suited for the oil cleansing method.

    I wonder if the cleansing water cleanse well? But I suppose it is more to cleanse off the cream cleanser like what you’ve indicated so the cream cleanser must do an effective job first.

  24. sesame says:

    I actually like the texture of milk cleanser now that I’ve tried it. It’s a bit lighter than cream ones.

  25. Dee says:

    I feel the same way about foaming cleansers. My skin feels cleaner if I use a foaming cleanser. I’ve used cream cleansers before, and I didn’t like it too much. I double cleanse as well since I’m a bit OCD on having any kind of dirt in my pores. I’ve heard great things about DHC’s oil cleanser, I really want to try it.

  26. Marilyn says:

    I’m currently using a gel cleanser from Dr Wu and I’m quite pleased with it. Though it doesn’t lather up as much as the SKII foaming cleanser which I was using prior to this, I like the fact that it’s not too harsh on my dehydrated, combination skin and it’s also cheaper. As I also like to double cleanse, this gel cleanser complements my oil cleanser.

    Slightly OT, I’ve tried the Burt’s Bee Very Volumizing Pomegranate & Soy Shampoo which you recommended in your earlier post and I really LOVE it. It works well on my oily scalp and smells really nice. Thanks for your recommendation.

  27. molly says:

    Whenever I powder my face (I dont use make-up), I will use Fancl Cleansing Oil, followed with the Fancl’s Washing powder. I swear by it. Even without using the oil, the washing powder is not drying despite my more than mature skin (I am 52yrs of age.) I find my skin squeaky clean.

    I have not tried any other brands washing powder.

  28. ayn says:

    Ever since I wear make up, I’ve been doing double cleansing. I used cleansing oil first. Mine is Elianto Honey Cleansing Oil. It does removed make up well though there is still that oily feeling after. There isn’t that much cleansing oil in our country. Though Shu’s cleansing oil is present but I don’t want to stash away my money on it when I know there are better and CHEAPER brand in the market.

    I’ve been using foaming cleanser before. But lately I’ve been hooked with bubble foam cleansers (Skinfood to be exact) ?

  29. sesame says:

    I also want to try DHC but I recently read that Fancl’s maybe better so am not sure which to get now.

  30. sesame says:

    Oh I see Dr Wu around in Watsons. Their products look promising.

    I’m glad the Burt’s Bee shampoo is working well for you! I like it but I now can’t get good volume because of my darn hair dryer. ?

  31. sesame says:

    Wow, so many raves on Fancl’s washing powder! I have to try it sometime soon…

  32. sesame says:

    The Elianto Honey Cleansing Oil sounds interesting. I haven’t come across cleansing oil containing honey yet. Shu Uemura’s oil contain mineral oil if I remember correctly…so not much of a loss not to use it.

  33. Cindy says:

    To JoJo C: just wanted to make sure you knew that castille soap is well known for having low suds – will still be wonderful, I’m sure. It is just the property of the olive oil.

  34. pf1123 says:

    Contrary to most, I don’t like cream or foaming cleansers. I find that they strip my face natural oil too much. My face gets too squeaky clean like feel.

    I prefer my Istrilene gel cleanser. Its really a treat to use. Now that I’m overseas and didn’t bring it due to packing reasons. I’m missing it. And my face is breaking out due to insufficient/inadequate cleansing, I believe.

    On this travel, I brought my L’octtaine organic olive milk cleanser thinking to finish it up as its looks like its got enough to last me for the whole trip. That sucks. Instead of taking my makeup off, I feel like it makes the makeup sink into my skin more!

    Then I will wash my face with the mousse cleanser of the same range. That one is ok. But I somehow feel that they’re not doing their job properly. ?

    I usually use an oil cleanser to remove makeup and then another cleanser for double cleansing.

  35. Jyoan says:

    Hmmm, haha, not sure what example to give for gel cleanser that would be easier to understand. Probably something like Nivea Oxygen Power Cleansing Gel. Quite a lot of good reviews for it so far. Gel normally feels like those serums, such as Olay White Radiance, or moisturizers, like Garnier Aqua Defense. Generally it would be transparent in colour.

  36. sesame says:

    Hey how are you? I was just thinking that you must be very busy travelling cos haven’t heard from you for awhile. In fact, when Stella mentioned cleansing water, I thought about your Istrilene toner.

    Oh dear…travelling can wreak some havoc, also in part due to the weather and stress. Sorry to hear about your experience with L’Occitane’s. I haven’t tried L’Occitane’s products outside their Immortelle range. I did like their cleansing foam but it was a bit ex.

    Btw, I managed to get the cotton pads from Muji finally and realized that my Lavera toner is okay afterall. I just need to make sure I keep to just 3 mins.

  37. sesame says:

    I haven’t seen any of those you mentioned but I think they’re like the Lavera one I tried before. It’s also call a cleansing gel and is transparent.

  38. Tine says:

    I prefer gel cleansers as they suit my oily skin. Whenever I use makeup, that’s when I double-cleanse with my Kanebo Freshel C cleansing oil. Good stuff.

  39. Jojo C says:

    What does it mean by castille soap has low suds? ><

  40. sesame says:

    Oh you use Kanebo oil cleansing oil…The Japanese sure have an upperhand in this skin care product.

  41. sesame says:

    I believe Cindy meant the soap has low foaming abilities and does not feel as soapy.

  42. chenyze says:

    i the rhassoul clay you recommended way back for facial cleansing! it cleans well, but still leaves me feeling sufficiently moisturized. plus it’s useful for travelling cuz it’s not a liquid!

  43. sesame says:

    No, not enough to use alone. I used it for cleansing in the morning at one period but still needed to moisturize afterwards. But my skin has changed somewhat and I no longer can use rhassoul clay cos my skin becomes drier.

  44. pf1123 says:

    Hi, yes…still travelling. Long one this time…

    Hope to go back soon to catch up on all the blog readings. ?

  45. stiffedneck says:

    Hi Sesame,

    Are there any popular products that you’d recommend for ppl living in the States like me since I can’t buy those organic products in Singapore that you review? So far I only use products mostly from Sephora, and they’re not organic and I’d like to switch to something more natural. Thanks.

    And I double clean as well. A milk cleanser first, then a foaming one. I tried gel before but I didn’t like it. I recently bought the oil one from Shu Umera. Till the ones I’m using run out (probably by the end of fall), then I’ll switch to Shu oil. Do you double clean in the morning as well?

  46. sesame says:

    Hmm…you have a lot of choices in States! I find it hard to recommend not knowing your skin type or what you’re looking for. Is there a product you specifically need.

    I can think of some brands in the mid range – John Masters Organics, Juice Beauty, Living Nature – these are available at Sephora here so I assume they’re available in Sephora over at your end?

    Yes, I double cleanse in the morning too – a milk cleanser and then a foaming cleanser.

  47. CY says:

    i do a double cleanse as well to remove make-up.

    Currently using The Face Shop- using milk based cleanser to wipe off. and then use the foaming cleanser.

    Of course, there are times I will be lazy.. oh well….

  48. stiffedneck says:

    Hi Sesame,

    I forgot to mention my skin type, my bad :-). I have combination skin, medium color, rarely having pimple. However, right now I’m having an acne break out for the first time. I’ve been on a prescribed lotion (1% phosphate) for a month and it helps very little.

    But anyway, I really wished that we have the products here like u have in Singapore. Everytime I see u doing a review on some great product, I just want to go back to Singapore hahaha. Even thought its Sephora, not all of them carry the same products. I was thinking of trying the Juice Beauty. They don’t have Living Nature here. I never tried John Masters Organics before, but temping to. I believe u liked their shampoo?

  49. sesame says:

    No, never tried John Masters Organics shampoos before but some reader gave positive feedback. Their skin care line is not bad in terms of some of the products.

    If you want to try DIY ingredients, you can check out Rose Mountain or Garden of Wisdom. I’ve been buying more stuff from the latter these days via sprees. Marie-Veronique Organics btw, have some good products that are natural and organic too.

  50. stiffedneck says:

    After hearing how much u like Marie-Veronique sunblock, I ordered the tinted one and really like it. So thanks for the recommendation.

    I’ll make sure to check out Rose Mountain and Garden of Wisdom. May I ask you something that’s not related to this topic? What can u do with emu oil in terms of beauty-related tricks? Like I said, I’m having an acne break out and can only use sunblock in morning, and a prescribed lotion at night besides exfoliating and mask once a week, so I don’t know wat to do with the emu oil bottle now.

  51. sesame says:

    I’ve tried emu oil by rubbing it neat on my acne spot. It sort of calm the acne down, made it subside but the acne takes a long time to heal. I found that by adding a drop of tea tree oil with the emu oil and rubbing, the healing is faster.

    In addition, I’m also using the emu oil as a face massage oil on a weekly basis. Depending on what’s your skin condition, you can add some essential oil if you like. I use rose geranium to balance my oil production. Otherwise, you can use the emu oil neat. After you massage the oil, you can leave it on without washing off or using other products. Once a week is good. I find that using emu oil on top of my other skin care products is too much of a good thing so if I do use the oil, it’s only by itself.

    I’m also trying an experiment to see if emu oil can really thicken skin by rubbing the oil on my hands nightly. So far, can’t tell.

  52. stiffedneck says:

    thanks for explaining to me Sesame.

  53. sesame says:

    You’re welcome!

  54. Siew Ying says:

    I stopped using commercial cleansers for some time already, as I find that they usually stop working so well for me after some time, and also, they are taxing on the pocket of a poor student like me. I’ve fallen in love with using African Black Soap for washing my face – it’s cheap, effective for pimples, and does not dry skin. I’ve gotten positive feedback from a friend that I’ve recommended to use for her rashes – she was amazed that her rashes calmed a lot within one week. I’ve switched a while to UNT Nettoyant for cleansing, but found that it didn’t curb my pimples. So i’m back to using African Black Soap again. I prefer the one with Shea Butter, as it’s not as squeaky clean as aloe vera.

  55. sesame says:

    Ah…African Black Soap. Read quite a bit on this soap and am intrigued. But I dislike using soap as a whole even those that are free of SLS, etc. Glad it’s working well for you though.

  56. Dora says:

    I use the La Roche Posay Toleriane Dermo-Cleanser and I can agree that as a cleansing milk it really does not remove makeup efficiently. I pre-cleansed quiet some time with jojobaoil & clean water, but my skin dried out from this (the cleanser does not really remove the oil afterwards – so I am afraid it isnt removing my sunscreen much better). And my skin hates oils in generel, it always wants water rather than fat.
    But still I always read how people are happy with this cleanser and I wonder if I am wearing more makeup than the average person that I really need at least 4 full cotton pads to remove my makeup (and even then I am unsure) – or is that normal for cleansing milk? How many do you usually need? I am really curious about that.
    I red your articles about pre-cleansing because I still have not found a cleanser without alcohol/essential oils or any other oils that do not need to be removed with water (yeah, my skin is a total diva ? ). I am thinking about the Avene cleanser for hyper sensitive skin but I guess since all those cleanser are that mild there is probably no point. Or do you have any recommendations? Are there water based cleansers? I am afraid only oil really removes makeup though.

    Thank you so much for all those provided information!
    Lots of love
    Dora =)

  57. Dora says:

    I just wanna mention that the current routine is – despite the waste of product – not a solution. My skin always burns afterwards because of all the cotton pads and cotton balls used on my skin (I already use the very soft ones and I only tap then on my skin, never rub! If i rub my skins gets red and very angry) – and water irritates it quiet a lot. I use thermal water to clean products off but still – the cotton pads. I guess I am whining here. There really seems to be no solution except using no makeup.
    Dora =)

  58. Sesame says:

    Dora, I don’t use any cotton pads to remove my makeup. I just use my cream/milk cleanser with my fingers and to remove and then follow by a gentle foaming wash. Currently, I use Lily Loves Pearl Purifying Cleanser and it feels wonderful – doesn’t strip oil. The other one I love is Mukti, also a gel foaming cleanser. One more I found great but very pricey is REN. You can read my reviews listed below for your reference. If you double cleanse, I don’t see a reason why you need to use cotton pads. Another alternative is to pre-cleanse with your cleansing milk twice using your fingers. That’s better than rubbing with the cotton pads.


  59. Dora says:

    Thank you so much! You are being very helpful! I will have a look at all those products.
    Dora =)

  60. Sesame says:

    You’re welcome Dora! Hope you’ll find something that works for your skin.

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