Comparisons: Cleansing Balms

What is a cleansing balm and why would you use it?

A cleansing balm is a kind of cleanser that breaks down makeup and acts like a magnet for dirt, lifting both away without drying out your complexion. It has similar properties to a cleansing oil. In fact, a balm is basically an emulsion - oil and other liquids blended into a thick cream. When applied, a balm should break down into an oil.

Cleansing balms are appropriate for any age or skin type, but they can be especially useful for older skin during the winter when your complexion is likely to be dehydrated. They're less messy than oils, and frankly, I think they have a more luxurious feel.

Balms can be used on their own, simply massaged into the skin and then wiped away. They came to my attention, though, when I started reading about the Korean double cleanse.

What is a double cleanse and why should you do it?

Korean products have been flourishing in the skincare market for the last few years, and so have the stories about the famous (or infamous?) 10- and 12-step regimens. I'm not ready to commit that much time, but it has made me realize that I could have been doing more for my skin than I was.

My compromise has been to start doing the double cleanse - a two step process that involves using an oil-based product followed by a foam. The oil or balm locks onto anything oil-based - sebum, makeup, pollutants - and draws it out of your pores. Then the foam clears other debris such as sweat and dirt.

I've been doing it for about six months, and my pores look smaller, my skin is always radiant, and I made it through the winter without any noticeable dryness.

On that note, here are a few of the brands I've tried and what I thought about them:

Blood Orange Cleansing Balm
Brand: 100 Percent Pure
Price: $38.00 for 3 ounces / $12.66 per oz.

Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm
Brand: Clinique
Price: $29.50 for 3.8 ounces / $7.76 per oz.
Both of these products have been really effective. The Blood Orange balm is the best I've used, but it's a little spendy so I've only repurchased it once. It has a smooth texture and a very pleasant fragrance, though, so I think it's worth it if you're willing to pay the extra money. The Clinique balm is just as good, though. It costs slightly less and is unscented, so if fragrance bothers you, this is the one I'd recommend.

Cleansing Oil-in-Balm
Brand: Sephora
Price: $18.00 for 3.04 ounces / $5.92 per oz.
This Sephora brand balm is really just okay. The texture is waxy and thick, like a paste - it doesn't melt away into an oil as readily as some of the other balms I've tried. That said, it still gets the job done. Since it doesn't melt well, it doesn't rinse off that easily, but if you're doing a double cleanse and following up with a foam, that's not really an issue. It does certainly lift the grime away - I just finished a jar, and my skin has continued to look great. It did its job. The balm does smell slightly of baby powder, which I happened to like. So it's a good product for the price point.

Coconut Oil Cleansing Balm
Brand: YesTo
Price: $10.99 for 4 ounces / $2.74 per oz.
This YesTo balm is not something I could recommend. It has almost the consistency of straight-up coconut oil, but with a slightly gritty feel. I had a hard time rinsing the oil away, even with a foam cleanser follow-up - it just wanted to cling to my skin. I used it three or four times and then got rid of it. This is just speculation, but I think that if I had kept using it my pores would have gotten pretty clogged. I don't like to predict something like that without evidence, but I didn't want to risk a breakout.

A few other balms I'd like to try:

Nourishing Cleansing Balm for the Face
Brand: Diptyque
Price: $65.00 for 3.5 ounces / $18.57 per oz.

Green Clean Makeup Meltaway Cleansing Balm
Brand: Farmacy
Price: $34.00 for 3.2 ounces / $10.63 per oz.

Refreshing Cleansing Oil Balm with Apple Seed
Brand: Innisfree
Price: $17.00 for 2.7 ounces / $6.30 per oz.

Review: Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask

If I'm being honest, I'd probably call the Laneige "Lip Sleeping Mask" a glorified lip balm. After all, it doesn't do much more than protect and soften lips overnight -- but it does that really well.

I got this as a sample just when I needed it most - in the dead of winter, when my lips were dry and chapped. I've been wearing it every night since, and I've been waking up with soft, smooth lips every morning. I even use it sometimes in the morning as a base under lipstick (especially helpful if I'm going to wearing a matte).

What I love most about this lip product is the texture. It feels a lot like Vaseline, but there is no petrolatum in it. That should be good news to anyone who's sensitive to petroleum jelly - I am, and if I tried to leave Vaseline on my lips overnight, I'd wake up with itching and irritation.

The mask protects as well as a petroleum jelly product, though. Its combination of waxes and butters - plus sodium hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid) - locks in moisture. It also stays put through the night - I typically wake up with a thin film still on my lips.

The jar comes with a cute little rubber spatula (which I immediately threw in a drawer). A little goes a long way, so I expect my full-sized jar to last until next winter (in fact I still have the sample jar - it lives in my travel kit).

Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask

Review: YesTo Tomatoes Peel Off Mask

I may be in my mid-40's, but I still struggle with mild breakouts from time to time. It can happen at any age - no matter how well you cleanse, you may still be subject to hormones and environmental factors that can lead to clogged pores.

Summer is the time I experience this the most - humidity leads to sweat which leads to salt and grime sitting on the surface of my skin which leads to the occasional angry red bump. Once the temperature gets above 80 degrees, I am never without the YesTo Tomatoes blemish clearing facial wipes. Those are infused with salicylic acid, an ingredient that helps to unclog pores. When the weather gets warm, I make them an occasional part of my nightly cleansing routine (like, once a week). (Hint: They're also great for obliterating the bacne that can be a part of what I like to call "the sweaty season".)

The mask doesn't have salicylic acid, but it does share another powerful ingredient - lycopene extract. Lycopene is one of those miracle ingredients that benefits skin in multiple ways. It's a powerful antioxidant, so it helps protect from sun damage and environmental factors. In turn, that helps prevent a whole host of things, like clogged pores (which lead to breakouts) and even the breakdown of collagen (which leads to wrinkles).

We think of lycopene as an ingredient that can be found in tomatoes, but it's also in a lot of tropical fruits like papaya, guava and mango. Eating those kinds of fruits will also be beneficial to your skin. But really, what's more fun than a mask? Especially a peel-off mask?

The peeling action in the YesTo Tomatoes Peel Off Mask is augmented by another ingredient we're seeing a lot of in skincare products lately - charcoal. Charcoal is getting popular because it attracts and absorbs foreign substances but is not metabolized by the body. Think of it as a dirt magnet, extracting oil and grime from your pores and lifting them away.

This mask has an applicator that I'm not in love with. The rubber tip has an opening in the center where the product comes out. I think that tip is meant to be used like a spatula, but I found it much easier to apply with my fingers. (Also: I squeezed and squeezed before realizing that the tip has an on/off setting - you have to turn it 180 degrees to 'ON' to get the product to come out.)

I left the mask on for about 15 minutes, although it was probably dry within 5. Afterwards, it peeled away pretty cleanly. The mask itself is a dark gray, so I couldn't literally see what was being pulled out of my pores, but afterwards my skin was so smooth. I'm not sure I've ever seen it cleaner.

I did feel a little dry afterwards, but that was probably to be expected. I should point out that I only applied the mask around my t-zone - across my cheeks, chin and nose - but tried to keep it away from some areas that are legitimately dry, like around my eyes and mouth.

As it happens, I've been dealing with a tiny breakout for the last few days. I used the mask last night, and today my skin is even and there's no evidence that there was ever a pimple there. If I were younger and more breakout-prone, I'd probably use this mask weekly, but as it is I'll probably only use it a few times a month over the summer. I think it's really great though! YesTo is really hitting it out of the park lately!

YesTo Tomatoes Detoxifying Charcoal Peel-Off Mask