From gels and creams to milks and lotions, the formulations of your beauty products can determine whether they become your favorites or the ones you stay away from and push to the back of the cabinet. While we all have our preferences as to which formulations we like, it actually goes beyond what you’re partial to because each one has a specific benefit for select skin types and skin problems. Confused as to which products to pick? Once you consider their formulations, it will all make sense.
Milks and Lotions
Best For: Sensitive, combination and normal skin types
These are two of the most gentle options, which is why sensitive, combination and normal skin types prefer them. Milk and lotion cleansers boast low amounts of oils and emollients, giving them a light moisturizing effect that doesn’t leave an oily residue on skin. They tend to be water-based and don’t contain many surfactants (chemicals that allow for a formula to foam), so they don’t foam much. Therefore, you won’t get the sudsy experience that you may get with other cleansers, but your skin will be left feeling soft.
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Best for: Dry Skin
Cleansing balms are a newer way to cleanse and are good for those who need moisture because they’re loaded with emollients. They go on supersilky and leave your skin feeling hydrated, refreshed and clean. “They’re essentially oil-based cleansers, but in a solid form, so they’re more nourishing,” says cosmetic chemist Ni’kita Wilson.
Best For: Dry Skin
Cosmetic chemist Randy Schueller says that oils are good for dry skin because they’re nonstripping and void of detergents and surfactants, which are common in cleansers that foam. They don’t give the typical sudsy action that a traditional cleanser provides, but rather an emulsification of the oil when it hits water that makes it turn white. “Oil cleansers follow the principle of like dissolving like, meaning that oil dissolves oil on the skin. But, some can leave behind a greasy residue—that’s the biggest difference between a foaming or detergent-based cleanser and an oil-based one.”
Best For: Normal and sensitive skin types who wear minimal amounts of makeup
Trending these days, micellar water follows a similar philosophy of an oil cleanser, but water is the main ingredient. It contains small micelles, which are tiny bundles of surfactants encased in water that trap dirt, oil and makeup. These are incredibly light (they feel like you’re just wiping water on your skin) and there’s no tingling effect or scent either, but rather more of a refreshing feeling. “You don’t have to wash micellar waters off, but if you do, just use a tissue or wipe,” says Frauke Neuser, senior scientist for Olay. If your skin is oily or you wear a lot of makeup, a micellar water may not leave your skin feeling clean enough and a second round of cleansing with something heavier may be necessary.
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