Cleansing Balms vs Cleansing Oils – Which Is Better?


Double cleansing is probably one of the most defining (and important) steps of any Korean skincare routine. It involves cleansing your skin in two steps: first with an oil-based cleanser, followed by a water-based cleanser. Using an oil cleanser in addition to a water-based cleanser ensures that you remove oil-based impurities including sunscreen, makeup and excess sebum to help prevent clogged pores and acne.

There are so many Korean oil cleansers to choose from (and some really great Japanese ones too). These come in two forms: solid cleansing balms and liquid cleansing oils. If you’re just starting a Korean skincare routine, you might be wondering what the difference is between a cleansing balm and a cleansing oil and which one is better for you skin. To help you create the perfect skincare routine for your skin, I’m going to answer this question for you today.

Don’t have time to read this entire article, and just want some product recommendations?

What Is Double Cleansing?

If you’ve got clogged or enlarged pores, acne, blackheads, oily or very dry skin, then you might really benefit from double cleansing.

Double cleansing is a pillar of the Korean skincare routine – so much so that I wrote the first article of this blog on this skincare step. As I mentioned above already, double cleansing essentially involves washing your face in two steps: first, by using an oil-based cleanser, followed by a water-based cleanser.

korean double cleansing routine oil cleanser water foaming cleanser COSRX banila co clean it zero cleansing balm
The first double cleansing duo I ever used. I still really love both products but I’m using a cleansing oil instead of a balm at the moment.

An oil-based cleanser removes oil-based impurities including sunscreen, makeup and sebum while a water-based cleanser removes water-based impurities such as sweat, bacteria and dead skin cells. Using an oil-based cleanser in addition to your regular (water-based) cleanser therefore helps to prevent your pores from becoming clogged, which can lead to blackheads and acne.

how to double cleanse korean skincare double cleansing

Will An Oil Cleanser Make My Skin More Oily?

The first question that people ask when first discovering oil cleaners is “won’t it make my skin more oily?”. I asked the same question because my whole life (before starting a Korean skincare routine), I cleansed my face multiple times a day and used an astringent toner to try to keep any oil away. I also avoided applying any type of moisturizing products and never wore sunscreen. But this just led to even more sebum production AND damaged my skin’s moisture barrier too!

Since using an oil cleanser (in my evening routine only, followed by a low pH water-based cleanser), I’ve found that my skin has improved so much. It’s definitely MUCH LESS oily (even in the middle of our hot and humid summer) and I don’t have as many clogged and enlarged pores.

So the answer is no, an oil cleanser definitely won’t make your skin more oily (unless you’re over-cleansing of course). The reason for this is that the oils in your oil cleanser actually help to pull oil-based impurities from your pores.

And oil-based cleansers won’t leave an oily residue as they contain emulsifiers (surfactants), which when you apply water to your face (after you’ve massaged your oil cleanser into your skin), help to dissolve the oil cleanser and rinse it off your skin without leaving any oil behind. There are many different types of emulsifiers used in skincare products, and just some of the ones you might find in oil cleansers include: polysorbate 60, PEG-40 sorbitan peroleate, PEG-20 glyceryl triisostearate, PEG-10 isostearate and sorbeth-30 tetraoleate.

Do I Need To Use An Oil-Based Cleanser?

As you might know, oils and water don’t mix – which means that only using a water-based cleanser won’t efficiently remove impurities such as sunscreen, makeup and excess sebum.

I use the word ‘efficiently‘ because water-based cleansers can still remove sunscreen and other oil-based impurities with the help of the surfactants they contain. However, these don’t work as well as oil cleansers, which as the name suggests contain large amounts of oil which really help to lift off anything oil-based from your skin.

This is especially the case when it comes to removing some types of sunscreens (including zinc oxide-based ones). The ingredients in some skincare products (such as crosspolymers and silicones) make them quite difficult to wash off your face with a water-based cleanser only (even if you cleanse twice).

Some people prefer to wash their face twice using a water-based cleanser (instead of using an oil-based cleanser first), however I’d be concerned that this might affect my skin’s moisture barrier due to pH-altering affects of most water-based cleansers (with the exception of some low pH cleansers). The pH of healthy skin is slightly acidic and using a high pH cleanser (that is alkaline) damages the acid mantle of your skin, allows bacteria to grow and yep, you guessed it – leads to acne or worsening of other skin conditions such as rosacea.

What’s The Difference Between A Cleansing Oil And A Cleansing Balm?

Okay, so hopefully I’ve convinced you that using an oil cleanser will help to improve your skin and won’t make it more oily. But now you might be wondering what the difference is between a cleansing balm and a cleansing oil, and is one better than the other? These were the same questions I asked when starting my skincare routine – so hopefully I can save you hours of research by summarizing the differences in this post.

It’s mainly the texture and packaging that differs between liquid cleansing oils and cleansing balms. Cleansing balms come in tubs and are solid with a butter-like consistency, while cleansing oils are liquid and generally are sold in pump-style bottles. Neither works better than the other, instead there a few pros and cons to using each (which I’m going to talk about next) and it really comes down to your personal preference.

I’ve recently switched from using the Banila Co Clean It Zero Cleansing Balm to the iUNIK Calendula Complete Cleansing Oil. I really like both, and each has it’s pros and cons. As you can see, the cleansing balm comes in a tub and the cleansing oil comes in a pump bottle.

I’ve now tried both forms of oil cleansers and I prefer the liquid oils to balms at the moment (as I’m a busy mum and prefer the convenience of a pump bottle to opening and closing a tub and using a spatula). I know, it probably doesn’t save that much time, but after a long day looking after a toddler, I prefer the easiest option. However, some people prefer balms over oils, so you may need to try both balms and oils to decide what works best for your skin (and lifestyle) as everyone is different. I’ll just summarize some of the pros and cons of both below to help you decide what might work better for you:

Why You Might Prefer A Cleansing Balm

If you wear a lot of makeup (especially eye makeup), you might prefer a cleansing balm as they tend to be better at removing makeup. I don’t wear much makeup at all (most days I only wear a non-waterproof mascara and lip gloss), so this hasn’t been a problem for me when using cleansing oils.

You might also prefer a cleansing balm if you travel a lot as tubs are way easier to pack up and take places without risking it spilling in your bag or being confiscated at the airport. I’ll also note that although I find using tubs more inconvenient compared to a pump bottle, they are less messy. There have been occasions where I’ve pressed the pump too hard or I’ve missed my hand and the cleansing oil has gone over my sink or onto my clothing (I know, I’m clumsy).

One particular aspect of cleansing balms that I really like is how relaxing and therapeutic it feels to massage them into my skin at the end of a hard day. Oils feel more slippery and don’t feel as thick on your skin and if your oil has a very thin consistency you have to try to rub it into your skin quicker before it runs down your face or hands (I told you they’re messier). Also, if you have very dry hands like me, you’ll likely feel your dry hands rubbing your face instead of a nice soft balm.

korean double cleansing method banila co clean it zero cleansing balm oil cleanser
I love the smooth texture of cleansing balms. it feels so relaxing to massage a balm into my skin at the end of a day and feel all the oily gunk lift off my face.

Balms also tend to be a little more affordable than oils. Although they appear more expensive, I’ve found balms to last me much longer than oils as you don’t need to use as much.

Some Great Cleansing Balms To Try:

If you’re wanting to start a double cleansing routine and think cleansing balms are for you, then perhaps give one of these best-selling cleansing balms a try:

  • Banila Co Clean It Zero Cleansing Balm (available in Original, Purifying, Revitalizing and Nourishing formulations). This is the cult favorite cleansing balm and also the first oil cleanser I ever used. I really like how smooth and rich this cleansing balm feels as it melts into your skin (it’s really so relaxing!). It’s available at SokoGlam, Yesstyle and Amazon.
  • Beauty of Joseon Radiance Cleansing Balm. I love Korean skincare products that incorporate traditional hanbang ingredients into their formulations. This particular cleansing balm offers benefits that go beyond cleansing as it contains many hanbang ingredients including ginseng, rice water and fermented grains. It’s available at SokoGlam, Jolse and Amazon.
  • Botanic Farm Grain Ferment Cleansing Sherbet. This cleansing balm not only removes makeup and sunscreen really well, but it also contains a blend of 3 ingredients (rice ferment filtrate, rice bran ferment and soybean ferment extract) to help revitalize your skin and brighten your complexion. It’s available at SokoGlam, Yesstyle and Amazon.

Why You Might Prefer A Liquid Cleansing Oil

As I’ve already mentioned, I find cleansing oils easier to use as they come in a pump bottle. This type of packaging (as opposed to tubs) also makes them more hygienic to use. Even if you’re using a clean spatula every time you use a balm, there’s still a chance bacteria can get into the product every time you open the lid.

Although cleansing balms work out cheaper in the long run (because they last a little longer if you’re careful not to overuse the product), I like that there is more price variety with cleansing oils.

Cleansing oils also vary in consistency, with some being more watery (a thin liquid) and others being thicker and richer. This is great if you favor certain textures over others or if you’re experimenting with what thickness works best for your skin.

Remember I mentioned how oil cleansers emulsify on contact with water? Well, cleansing oils tend to emulsify easier than cleansing balms, requiring less massaging of the skin. So you might prefer a cleansing oil if you’re time poor and extremely tired by the end of the day and want a no-fuss skincare routine. They are also good if you want to be extra gentle around your eye area to avoid getting wrinkles!

iunik calendula cleansing oil korean skincare
It’s almost empty! I really do have reorder another one before I run out. I’m pretty time poor at the moment and so the simpler my skincare routine, the better. Cleansing oils save me a little bit of time (I know it’s not much, but it all adds up).

I personally also like that the cleansing oils I’ve tried don’t make my vision blurry and make me feel like there’s a film over my eyes for a while. The cleansing balms I’ve used in the past (although safe to use on the eyes) caused my vision to be blurry for a minute or two, which is a bit inconvenient when I’m trying to rush through my evening routine and get to bed before my toddler wakes up again.

Although I don’t wear much makeup, cleansing oils are perfect for cleaning makeup brushes too – so if you have makeup tools that regularly need a good clean, then a cleansing oil might be for you.

Some Great Cleansing Oils To Try:

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve recently made the switch to cleansing oils and although I do miss my cleansing balm sometimes, I’m really happy with the oil I’m using so far. If you think you’d prefer a cleansing oil over a cleansing balm, then you’re in luck because there are so many great oils to choose from. I’ll list some of my favorites below (this includes Korean and Japanese products):

  • iUNIK Calendula Complete Cleansing Oil. I love iUNIK so much that I recently wrote a guide to their range of serums! This is the cleansing oil I’m currently using and I’m so happy with it. Just like all iUNIK products, it has a clean, minimal ingredients list. This cleansing oil contains a mix of 6 different plant oils as well as calendula extract. It’s available at Yesstyle, Jolse and Amazon.
  • DHC Deep Cleansing Oil. This Japanese cleansing oil is a cult favorite. It’s olive oil-based formula works so well at lifting makeup and sunscreen off your face without leaving a greasy residue (it easily rinses away). It also has a very minimal ingredients list and leaves the skin feeling very moisturized. It’s available at Yesstyle and Amazon.
  • Hada Labo Gokujyun Cleansing Oil. Another awesome )and cult favorite) Japanese cleansing oil. Some call this one a cheaper version of the DHC Deep Cleansing Oil as it’s formula is also olive oil-based, although it has a thinner consistency. However, it also contains jojoba oil and hyaluronic acid. This oil cleanser also does well at washing off makeup and it rinses off very cleanly too. It’s available at Yesstyle and Amazon.

Why Can’t I Just Use Pure Olive Oil To Cleanse My Skin?

Some of the best oil cleansers on the market contain olive oil as a main ingredient – so why can’t you just use pure olive oil (the type you buy at the grocery store) to cleanse your face?

Although olive oil is beneficial for our health and our skin, using pure olive oil as a cleanser would likely lead to clogged pores and acne as it will leave residue on the skin. This is because the oil cleansers that contain olive oil also contain surfactants, which help to lift the oil (along with all the oil-based impurities) off your skin.

So it’s better to stick to olive oil-based cleansers (such as the DHC Deep Cleansing Oil and the Hada Labo Gokujyun Cleansing Oil I mentioned above)

What About Micellar Water? Can I Use It As An Oil Cleanser?

As the name suggests, micellar water is water-based. It’s actually a mix of water with tiny lipid molecules (micelles) suspended in it. So, although it’s water-based, micellar water does act somewhat like an oil cleanser. This is because the micelles are actually surfactants which as I’ve mentioned attract oil and oil-based impurities

However, as popular as micellar water is, it doesn’t work anywhere near as well at removing makeup and sunscreen and actually requires a lot of rubbing with cotton pads (since micelles are a mild surfactant).

Micellar water can also be quite drying to the skin compared to cleansing balms and cleansing oils, which can be bad news for those with dry or acne prone skin. It can also irritate sensitive skin when not rinsed off (due to the residual surfactants left on the skin).


Double cleansing is an important step to include in your skincare routine if you want to efficiently remove makeup, sunscreen and excess sebum to help prevent clogged pores and acne. Although there are two forms of oil cleansers to choose from (cleansing balm and cleansing oi), the main difference between the two is packaging and texture. It’s really a matter of personal preference as to which one you use (there’s no right or wrong choice). Sometimes skincare involves experimenting with a few different products before you find one that suits your skin (as painful as it is to admit that a cult favorite doesn’t work for you). Hopefully this article has helped you choose an oil cleanser – whether it’s a balm or liquid oil. Actually, let me know in the comments which oil cleanser you prefer or which you think you would like to try – I’d love to know!