The New Cleanser: Ultra-Moisturizing Soapless Balms and Oils

A round-up of our favorite soapless moisturizing cleansers


Since experiencing the deeply moisturizing and soothing benefits of a cleanser designed for use with less (or in some cases without) water, I decided to make the up-and-coming product a permanent part of my nightly routine. Not only does the low pH make them “soapless” and gentler on skin, but these little wonders take care of the common winter dryness plague.

They also can eliminate the need for rinsing with harsh water and for using moisturizer overnight—a practice said to clog pores unnecessarily. (For those wary of adding yet another bottle to their bathroom cabinet, try tissuing off your favorite neutral lotion to address flaky patches without over-moisturizing.)

Hydration addicts will also want to check out our companion piece on hydrating mists, another product that heals and protects skin during winter or any other harsh conditions.

A creamy non-foaming cleanser, Clark’s Soothing Herbal Face Wash ($45) has a smooth consistency and a pleasant lavender scent that doesn’t overpower. An ideal travel wash, the cleanser easily towels off without water which makes for superior moisturizing.

Elemental Herbology’s
Purify & Soothe Cleansing Balm
($64) comes out of the tube as a mix of oil and a salve-like substance—similar in consistency to Ren’s (see below). Unlike some soapless cleansers, this one massages on all over the face, including the eye area—a big help when removing eye makeup. Packed with Aloe Vera and omega-3 fatty acids, this cleanser also helps soothe and heal sunburned skin. While directions calling for removal of the balm with muslin soaked in warm water seem a little over-the-top to us, we can’t argue with the benefits of a clean, rosy complexion.

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Kiehl’s provides an even consistency with their Centella Skin-Calming Facial Cleanser ($29). which has all of the essential ingredients—aloe for moisture, chamomile to soothe—and a few more for a powerful punch. Centella, a mildly antibacterial plant with anti-oxidant properties invigorates skin with its anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and stimulating qualities. Interestingly, the Centella cleanser can be used with or without water.

A light gel formula, Carita’s Ideal Hydration Lagoon Gelee goes on clear, gently cleansing the face with its moisturizing microbeads. Comprised of hydrating lagoon water from the Polynesian island of Raiatea, the gel lightly massages into skin before removing it with a cotton pad soaked in warm water.

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Like all Ren products, the No.1 Purity Cleansing Balm ($55) performs well, has a subtle scent and uses top-notch ingredients—all housed in attractive packaging. While a little oily coming out of the bottle, the balm pack a serious moisture punch. The heaviest of the cleansers on the list, Ren’s balm is ideal for anyone with really dry skin or when the climate is especially harsh.

With somewhat of a cult following, Shu Uemura lives up to the hype. Their Cleansing Beauty Oil Premium A/I ($72) doesn’t emulsify as much as Ren and Elemental Herbology’s cleansers but its pleasantly light scent makes washing your face into a pampering ritual.