How to Wash Your Face with a Cleansing Cream or Cleansing Milk: The Right and Wrong Way to Use Them

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How to use cleansing cream or cleansing milk

Should you be washing your face with a cleansing cream or cleansing milk?

According to some facialists and dermatologists, the answer is yes—even if you don't have dry skin!

"The one thing I find that works for many people is a gentle, milky cleanser," says Rescue Spa's Diana Yerkes. "Creamy cleansers are... a great choice for acne-prone as well as sensitive skin types," adds Dr. Mona Gohara.

But not all skincare experts agree. 

Celebrity facialist Vanessa Hernandez says she never recommends cream cleansers "because they don't really work." Plus, they often leave behind residue that prevents ingredients from penetrating, adds Renée Rouleau.

So who's right?

I say that you can go ahead and use a cleansing cream or cleansing milk to wash your face. But they MUST be applied and removed correctly—or they could do more harm than good!

In this tutorial, you will learn:

  • What is cleansing cream vs. cleansing milk
  • Who should try them
  • The right and wrong way to apply them
  • The right and wrong way to remove them
  • Which products I most recommend!

Cleansing Cream vs. Cleansing Milk

How to use cleansing cream or cleansing milk

Cleansing creams and cleansing milks from Biologique Recherche, Omorovicza, Dr Roebuck's, Caudalie, Pai Skincare and 100% Pure.

What's the difference between cleansing cream and cleansing milk? 

Cleansing cream:

Cleansing milk:

Should You Use a Cleansing Cream or Cleansing Milk?

Omorovicza Moor Cream Cleanser and Caudalie Gentle Cleansing Milk

Omorovicza Moor Cream Cleanser and Caudalie Gentle Cleansing Milk.

You'll probably gravitate toward cream cleansers if your skin is on the drier, more sensitive side, while milky cleansers will appeal if your skin is closer to "normal."

And if you're oily or acne-prone, you may be wary of using these cleansers at all!

Well, I believe that both types of cleansers can be suitable for ALL skin—as long as they're used correctly.

Taking the time to work them into your skin and then thoroughly remove them can add more steps to your skincare routine, that's for sure. (And we'll get into the specifics down below.)

If you're in a hurry, you may be better off going with a "one and done" type of cleanser—a sulfate-free gel, foam or lotion that you know rinses clean—and then following with good hydrators. Otherwise, you could be leaving behind irritating, pore-clogging debris. 

How to Apply a Cleansing Cream or Cleansing Milk

100 Percent Pure Coconut Oil Cleansing Milk and Pai Camellia and Rose Gentle Hydrating Cleanser

100% Pure Coconut Oil Cleansing Milk and Pai Camellia & Rose Gentle Hydrating Cleanser.

Alright, so you've got your cleansing cream or cleansing milk. How do you actually apply it?

Start by massaging the cleanser over DRY skin.

Remember that these types of formulas are packed with oils—and oil attracts oil, helping to break up and lift off any makeup or grime on your skin. 

Frequently, people make the mistake of applying cream cleanser or milk cleanser to wet skin. But this will only dilute the product, making it harder to grab onto debris and rendering it much less effective.

Make sure to thoroughly massage the cleanser all over your face and neck, working in light circular motions with your fingertips to help emulsify it. You want to be doing this for about 30 seconds or so.

Do You Wash Off Cleansing Cream or Cleansing Milk?

Dr Roebuck's Noosa Nourishing Creme Cleanser and Biologique Recherche Lait E.V.

Dr Roebuck's Noosa Nourishing Creme Cleanser and Biologique Recherche Lait E.V.

Some manufacturers suggest that you don't need to rinse off their cleansing creams and cleansing milks with water—that you can simply wipe with a tissue before continuing with the rest of your skincare routine....

Don't listen to them! Cleansers are NOT moisturizers. These creamy, milky formulas should always be properly removed. 

So definitely rinse with warm water after you've finished massaging your cleanser over your skin. 

However, water alone is no guarantee that you've now removed all traces of dirt, makeup, oil and cleanser residue from your skin.

You can check for dirt and makeup by performing a little test. Moisten a cotton pad with some micellar water or toner, and swipe it across your skin. If you see anything on the pad, you know that your cleanser didn't do a thorough enough job on its own.

However, even if you don't see anything on the pad, there's a chance you still have a film of cleanser lingering on your skin, since many cream- and milk-based cleansers don't rinse clean. The idea is that they help to hydrate by leaving behind moisturizing ingredients. 

For some skin, this may not cause any issues. For others, it could lead to irritation, clogged pores and even acne. Also keep in mind that any film on your skin may act like a barrier that prevents other topical ingredients from properly penetrating. Plus, you want to be careful about leaving traces of unstable oils on your skin that are prone to oxidation (and are therefore pro-aging).

So what can you do next to ensure your skin is truly clean? I've got some suggestions!

What to Use After Cleansing Cream or Cleansing Milk

How to use cleansing cream or cleansing milk

Cleansing cream or cleansing milk can be removed with a cloth, brush or secondary cleanser.

Since they're packed with oils but low in surfactants, creamy and milky cleansers usually work best when paired with a cloth, brush or secondary cleanser.

Here are the options I recommend:

A Warm, Wet Cloth

Pai Dual-Effect Sensitive Skin Cloth

Pai Dual-Effect Sensitive Skin Cloth.

Removing your cleanser with a warm, wet cloth is a good way to ensure you're not leaving any residue on your skin.

After you've massaged the cleanser around, hold a clean, soft cloth under warm running water (a little steamy is okay). Wring it out and drape the cloth over your face for five seconds. The heat will help to soften both the cleanser and any dead skin.

Then, use the cloth to gently wipe away the cleanser. Rinse out the cloth and repeat this process up to four more times. The buffing action of the cloth will take off the cleanser and give you a mild exfoliation. 

Pai Skincare includes a muslin cloth with its Cleanser, but you can also buy them separately from Eve LomVerso Skincare, Liz EarleThe Organic Pharmacy, REN Clean SkincareAurelia Probiotic Skincare, MV Organic Skincare and The Body Shop.

A Cleansing Brush

Foreo Luna 2 for Combination Skin

Foreo Luna 2 for Combination Skin.

Using a cleansing brush with your creamy or milky cleanser is another way to make sure you're getting everything off. 

Sonic-powered brushes will typically remove six times more dirt and makeup than your fingers alone—and along with that, any cleanser residue.

My favourite is the Foreo Luna 2, which features soft, hygienic silicone bristles and is available in Normal, Combination, Oily and Sensitive versions.

There's also PMD Clean, Clarisonic Mia Smart and Clarisonic Mia Prima.

A Second Cleanser

Indie Lee Rosehip Cleanser and Caudalie Instant Foaming Cleanser

Indie Lee Rosehip Cleanser and Caudalie Instant Foaming Cleanser.

If you don't have a brush or a cloth, you can simply wash your face again with a second cleanser.

In traditional Korean double-cleansing, the first step is a makeup-removing cleanser—which can be your cream or milk—followed by a foam or gel cleanser to actually clean the skin. 

Just make sure to choose a mild, sulfate-free formula. Some of my favourite non-drying cleansers include Caudalie Instant Foaming Cleanser, Indie Lee Rosehip Cleanser, Indie Lee Brightening CleanserFirst Aid Beauty Face Cleanser and Glossier Milky Jelly.

Alternatively, you could try washing twice with the SAME cleansing cream or milk. The second pass should get your skin much cleaner than trying to do it all in one step. You do want to choose a formula that rinses fairly clean. I've had good luck with Dr Roebuck's Noosa Nourishing Cleanser and Burt's Bees Brightening Daily Facial Cleanser, to name a couple of examples. 

If you want to be on the safe side, follow with a micellar water or toner!

Micellar Water or Toner

Ursa Major 4-in-1 Essential Face Tonic and Darphin Azahar Cleansing Micellar Water

Ursa Major 4-in-1 Essential Face Tonic and Darphin Azahar Cleansing Micellar Water.

One more way to rid your skin of any remaining debris is to use a micellar water or toner on a cotton pad.

Micellar water, since it's actually a cleanser, will be the most effective. I like the formulas from Darphin, Caudalie, Bioderma, L'Occitane and BIOeffect. Although you don't have to, I would recommend splashing with water after you use them, just so you don't have cleansing agents left on your skin.

Or, you can use a toner—but look for one like Ursa Major's, which is designed to cleanse as well as tone.

Conclusion

How to use cleansing cream or cleansing milk

Cleansing creams and cleansing milks can be used on ALL skin—as long as they're applied and removed correctly.

While cleansing creams and cleansing milks definitely feel more nourishing than other cleanser formats, you need to make sure you're actually cleaning your skin—not just adding more hydration.

After all, that's the job of your moisturizer. Your cleanser should be gently removing any build-up so that your pores stay clear and your topical treatments can properly absorb.

With these tips, now you know how to make creamy, milky cleansers work for you!

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