There are few universal rules in skin care, but you should always cleanse your face at least once per day. Whether you should wash your face more often depends on your skin type, but the general rule of thumb is once daily for dry skin and twice daily for oily skin.

The best type of facial cleanser also depends on your skin type, skin goals, and other factors. Oil cleansing, for example, makes for an effective makeup remover. But, what is oil cleansing exactly and how do you know if it's right for you? Keep reading to find out.

What Is Oil Cleansing?

Like the name suggests, oil cleansing involves using an oil-based cleanser to wash your face. Oil cleansers are applied and massaged into dry skin to loosen and break down impurities before rinsing. But, what can you use for oil cleansing? You may use pure oils, like Sweet Almond or Jojoba Oil, or an oil-based product, like the EltaMD Oil-in-Gel Cleanser. This formula combines the best of both water- and oil-based cleansers, starting as a gel that uniquely transforms into an oil when activated with water.

While oil-free skin care routines are often touted as the key to clear, acne-free skin, blemish-prone folks shouldn't be afraid of oil cleansing. In fact, it's been used for centuries in ancient civilizations known for their skin care practices, including in Egypt and Asia.

Today, oil cleansing is sometimes used as part of a double cleansing method popularized by modern Korean skin care routines (but with roots going back to 14th century Korea, Japan, and China). While most regimens call for one step dedicated to cleansing, this method suggests you cleanse twice—first with an oil-based cleanser and second with a water-based cleanser.

Oil-Based vs. Water-Based Cleansers

Many types of cleansers are categorized based on their consistency: gel, foam, cream, etc. But, they can also be divided into oil- and water-based categories depending on how they work.

Water-based cleansers work like soap. They're formulated with surfactants, which are commonly used in products that stir up dirt and debris on your face. The EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser is an example of a water-based cleanser. It foams up when in contact with damp skin to loosen impurities so they can be rinsed away.

Oil-based cleansers work like solvents. Adding oil to the mix sounds counterproductive, but the "like attracts like" principle explains why this method works. Oil attracts oil (and water and oil don't mix), so an oil-based cleanser can break down the oils in makeup and sebum more efficiently than a water-based cleanser.

These types of cleansers also differ in how they're used. Water-based cleansers are applied to damp skin, while oil-based cleansers are applied to dry skin. Once the cleansers have been worked into the skin, they're similar in that they both should be rinsed away with lukewarm water.

Key Benefits of Oil Cleansers

So, what is oil cleansing good for?

For starters, it's an excellent multipurpose cleanser. After a long day, there's a lot of buildup sitting on the surface of your skin that needs to be washed away before bed. Between sweating, touching your face, and simply walking through the world, you may be surprised by the accumulation of dirt, pollutants, bacteria, and oils on your skin. An oil-based cleanser eliminates these impurities to prevent acne. It can also double as a makeup remover. Heavy foundations and mascara can be difficult to remove, and an oil cleanser melts it all away.

Oil cleansing is also great for removing sunscreen. If you're wearing sunscreen every day and reapplying every two hours when in the sun, as board-certified Dermatologists recommend, you'll want to wash that away at the end of the day, too. An oil-based cleanser is a powerful way to break down stubborn water-resistant sunscreen.

This cleansing method is also moisturizing. Individuals with dry skin often mistake their dryness for dehydration. Dehydrated skin lacks water, but dry skin lacks oil. Starting your skin care routine with an oil-based cleanser is a good way to put some oil back into your complexion. Not only does this soften the skin, but it won't leave it feeling tight and dry like some harsh water-based cleansers can.

Should You Add Oil Cleansing to Your Routine?

Oil cleansing can benefit a lot of people. Whether it's a good fit for you ultimately depends on your skin type and conditions.

  • Dry skin: This method can be used on all skin types, but it's especially beneficial for those with dry skin. Some water-based cleansers can strip the natural oils found in the top layer of your complexion, which are necessary for a healthy skin barrier. Oil-based cleansers wash away excess oil without exacerbating dryness.
  • Sensitive skin: Those with sensitive skin may also benefit from this method given that oil-based cleansers are usually formulated with mild ingredients. Still, a patch test is always recommended if you have sensitivities or allergies.
  • Oily and acne-prone skin: When it comes to oily, blemish-prone skin, it depends on the individual and the ingredients. Using a non-comedogenic oil cleanser is generally beneficial, seeing as these oil-based formulas wipe away the excess sebum that leads to breakouts without stripping away the good oils your skin needs to stay healthy. Just steer clear of pore-clogging oils like Coconut Oil. If you have severe breakouts, consult your Derm for advice.

No matter what product or method you use, take the time to find what works for your skin and your lifestyle. There are a plethora of options out there that can help. The EltaMD Oil-in-Gel Cleanser, for example, is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive and acne-prone skin, and contains moisturizing oils, free radical-fighting antioxidants, and soothing plant extracts to lift impurities without disrupting your skin's natural balance. The result? Clean, smooth skin that glows from the inside out.


  • Lacey Muinos

    Lacey is a Southern California-based freelance writer who combines her passions—fitness, health, and a vegan lifestyle—with her work to help readers feel and be their best. Her work has been featured in Healthline, Livestrong, Verywell Fit, Eat This Not That, KinderBeauty, and more.

    View all posts