Hannah Frye

mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

By Hannah Frye

mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.

how to double cleanse

Image by McKinsey Jordan x mbg creative / Stocksy

January 11, 2023

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Double-cleansing is nothing new. However, with the collective move away from disposable makeup wipes, it only makes sense that it’s picked up in worldwide popularity as of late. 

If you’re ready to make your routine less wasteful and nourish your skin, this practice is for you. Here’s the 101 on benefits and how to optimize the first cleanse for each skin type, all from experts. 


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What is double-cleansing?

Double-cleansing is a skin care method in which you first cleanse your face with an oil-cleanser, followed by a water-based face wash.

Thanks to the popular K-Beauty (short for Korean beauty) 10-step skin-care regimen (double-cleansing makes up the first two steps), the trend continues to rise in popularity and has caught on worldwide. Korean beauty products tend to prioritize the skin barrier and hydration first and foremost, so an oil-based cleanser naturally fits into this philosophy.

“Using an oil-based cleanser helps to balance oil within the skin by replacing sebum in clogged, dirty pores with beneficial oils that help to hydrate and maintain skin’s barrier,” board-certified dermatologist Kim Nichols M.D., FAAD, of NicholsMD, tells mbg. As you may already know, a happy skin barrier is essential to maintaining healthy skin overall. 

This step is generally reserved for night cleansing only, as there’s less to wash off upon waking. However, some skin types may prefer to use just an oil cleanser in the morning, so keep that in mind as one option. 

Why you start with an oil cleanser.

The oil cleanser will help to free your skin makeup, sunscreen, sebum, and skin care left on the skin. “It works by attracting and bonding to excess dirt, bacteria, makeup, and sebum, helping to remove them from pores,” Nichols explains. See, oil attracts oil, so oil-based cleansers are able to break down lipid residues on the skin (of which, many creams, makeup, and sunscreen are).

After you wash off the oil cleanser, your second cleanse (more on this next) will be able to deeply clean the skin without having to break through makeup, dirt, bacteria, and the like. Plus, the rest of your routine will be even more effective. 

“By properly eliminating buildup, makeup, and sunscreen, it ensures that the rest of the skin care routine can properly penetrate,” board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, M.D., FAAD, tells mbg.

These oil-based cleansers come in many different forms from balms to micellar cleansers (which have oil micelles in them) and simple oil washes. The important thing in choosing a product is to keep your skin type in mind, which will help guide your oil selection (more on that later).


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Why you end with a water-based cleanser.

The water-based cleanser is your day-to-day face wash. Most traditional face washes tend to lather when emulsified, but not every cleanser is formulated in that fashion, as each skin type has different needs. 

“The second, water-based cleanser should target each individual’s skin care concerns to either exfoliate, smooth, brighten, or hydrate the skin,” Nichols notes. We’ll dive deeper into which second cleansers are best for each skin type, but just know that customizing this step is just as important as your oil cleanser selection. 

Why you may want to double-cleanse: 4 benefits.

Now that you’re familiar with the concept, let’s dive into the benefits. The extra step may seem a bit excessive, but the benefits are more than worth the extra minute: 


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Perhaps the most obvious benefit of oil cleansing is that you’ll literally melt away your makeup. You’ll skip the aggressive rubbing, harsh chemical-based makeup removers, and wasteful disposable wipes. 

Once you’ve tried this step, you’ll understand the hype—oil removes makeup even more easily than popular alternatives. “Makeup and SPF are usually heavy oil-based products, so it’s easy for oil-based cleansers to break that down since the molecular structure is similar,” esthetician and skin care educator at Heyday Skincare Glenise Gomez tells mbg. 

“A great example is using oils to remove waterproof makeup like mascara,” she continues. Even the most stubborn makeup out there will easily melt away with an oil cleanser—something you can’t say about every makeup remover. 

Those with oily or acne-prone skin tend to be the most hesitant when it comes to using an oil cleanser. It’s only natural to assume that putting more oil on already oily skin is a recipe for disaster, but derms refute that claim. 

“Oil cleansing can help to balance oil within the skin, as it helps to remove oil without stripping the skin of its natural oils or leading to dryness,” Garshick explains. “Excessive dryness of the skin can actually cause the skin to produce more oil,” she continues. 

So, by feeding your skin with nourishing, noncomedogenic oil during your cleanse, your skin won’t feel the need to overproduce sebum to hydrate your skin. Not to mention, those prone to breakouts should be putting an emphasis on getting a deep cleanse every night, and oil cleansers are the perfect tool. 


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If your skin typically feels tight after cleansing, it may be due to a stripped barrier. “Certain cleansers are formulated with ingredients that could strip the skin of moisture, causing additional irritation for those with already dry skin,” Nichols says. This includes makeup wipes, astringent cleansers, and the like. 

“Oil-based cleansers effectively cleanse the skin of dirt and bacteria without dehydrating skin; in fact, they often help to replenish hydration levels within the skin and aid in restoring skin’s barrier,” she continues. 

“Oils also have the capacity to lock in moisture, thus omitting damage to the skin’s barrier and minimizing inflammation,” Gomez explains. 

4. It’s less wasteful. 

Makeup wipes may be convenient, but at what cost? Although a sheet of cotton may not seem like a lot of waste, it adds up when hundreds of thousands of people are using them worldwide. Oil cleansers provide a safe and effective alternative to disposable wipes, so why not? 


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How to double-cleanse. 

Now the fun part—here’s exactly how to use an oil cleanser. Remember that you don’t need to use a double-cleansing method in the morning, so reserve this process for the evening: 


Start with oil on dry skin.

This part might take some getting used to, but you’ll want to apply your oil cleanser to dry skin after washing your hands. The latter is important, as you don’t want to spread bacteria and dirt on your hands to your skin.

“Oil cleanser is best used on dry skin because oil and water do not mix well,” Garshick says. “Oil is attracted to oil, so when applied to dry skin, it works to eliminate excess oil and can help to gently but effectively remove makeup and buildup,” she adds. 

Use a little over a quarter size of oil cleanser or balm. If you have a balm-like product, you may want to massage it in between your hands before applying it to the skin to ensure the oil is in liquid form, making it easier to spread. 

Rub the cleanser onto your skin in circular motions, and be sure to lightly massage oil on the eyelids and lashes (with eyes closed, of course). If you wear makeup and sunscreen on your neck, be sure to get that area covered as well. 

In general, you’ll want to do this for about 15 to 20 seconds. Each product is different, so be sure to check the label on your cleanser to double-check. 

After you’ve massaged the oil onto your skin, get your hands wet. Use the water on your damp hands to emulsify the formula. This step will ensure you’re maximizing the cleansing ability of your oil and serve as a pre-rinse. 

Next, rinse off your oil cleanser. You may choose to use a gentle face washcloth to assist in this step, but it’s not entirely necessary. Do your best to get all of the oil cleanser off your skin, especially in hard-to-get areas like the hairline


Use your water-based cleanser. 

Now with damp skin, it’s time to go in with your water-based cleanser. These formulas need to be emulsified as well, so add a bit of water to your hands before reaching for your cleanser. 

Rub the cleanser between your fingers and then apply it to the skin. Just like with your oil cleanser, you should rub the water-based wash on your skin in circular motions. Be sure to get into the neck and hairline, too. 

For anyone using an exfoliating cleanser with chemical exfoliants (like salicylic acid), benzoyl peroxide, or small oil beads, keep the cleanser away from your eye area. If you already went in with a dry oil cleanse, then your mascara, shadow, and liner should come off without the extra cleanse. If not, go in with micellar water afterward.

Best water-based cleansers

After washing your skin for 30 seconds to a minute, rinse it all off. You shouldn’t have any product residue on the skin. However, it’s important to distinguish the difference between a good rinse and an excessive rinsing.

If you’ve rinsed your skin for about 15 seconds, your product is likely gone. If you over-rinse, you run the risk of drying out your skin. 

Fun fact: You don’t have to dry your skin with a towel after cleansing. In fact, many towels can collect bacteria and come in the form of abrasive materials, so you might be better without a full-face dry. Simply pat the corners of your face dry and dab whenever there’s water dripping. 

After that, your skin will start to absorb the water left on your face, which will assist in maintaining moisture balance. 


Continue with the rest of your routine. 

While your skin is slightly damp, apply any humectant products (if you use them). Hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and aloe vera are the most popular humectants. Many of these ingredients are found in facial moisturizers, so feel free to apply your moisturizer to damp skin as well. 

However, if you’re using any form of retinol or chemical exfoliant serums (AHAs, BHAs, etc.), then it’s best to apply them to dry skin. When you apply a product to damp skin, it will absorb more of the product, and it will penetrate deeper into the skin. 

This is great for hydrating ingredients but not the best for actives like retinol. If you do apply retinol to damp skin, you’ll run the risk of irritation, redness, and the like. 

Some products, like prescription-grade retinoids, call for a 30-minute wait time between cleansing and application, so check the label on your product or ask your dermatologist for the best application protocol. 

How to customize for your skin type.

The basics of double-cleansing are fairly universal. However, which oil cleansers you use should cater to your skin type and skin goals. Here are a few ways to customize your routine: 

Oily and acne-prone skin.

For those with oily or acne-prone skin, stick to noncomedogenic oils. Even though you’re washing the oil off, it’s best to avoid common pore-cloggers like coconut oil, just in case. Here’s a list of safe options for your oil base: 

  • Grapeseed oil
  • Jojoba oil 
  • Rosehip seed oil 
  • Hempseed oil 
  • Evening primrose oil 
  • Sea buckthorn oil 
  • Tamanu oil 

There’s plenty more out there than listed here, but that should be a good starting point. To ensure your product is fully noncomedogenic, paste the ingredients list into this Pore-Clogging Ingredients Checker from Acne Clinic NYC

One particularly beneficial oil for acne-prone skin is rosehip seed, as it’s rich in vitamin A—the same ingredient that makes retinol. The Pai Light Work Rosehip Cleansing Oil is one A+ pick—especially for those with sensitive and acne-prone skin. 

You may also consider a water-based cleanser with ingredients like salicylic acid, mandelic acid, gentle physical exfoliants (like oil-based beads), or astringents like tea tree oil. The Biba Los Angeles Mandelic Cleansing Gel is ideal for those with breakouts who want a gentle (yet effective) second cleanse. 

Dry skin. 

For those with dry skin, heavier oils are a better fit. Ingredients like coconut oil may actually be beneficial for this skin type, as the risk of pore-clogging in dry skin types tends to be less. Dry skin types may benefit from thicker oil cleansers found in the form of a balm, like the Farmacy Green Clean cleansing balm. 

As for the water-based cleanser, look for something gentle and hydrating. Dry skin types may prefer a creamy cleanser as opposed to a gel cleanser, like the Alpyn Beauty Juneberry & Collagen Hydrating Cold Cream Cleanser. Be sure not to cleanse the skin for too long (no longer than a minute), as you’ll run the risk of stripping the skin. 

Sensitive skin. 

For those with sensitive skin, stick with fragrance-free products all around. From your oil cleanser to your water-based wash and beyond, it’s best to avoid ingredients like essential oils, as they may irritate your skin. 

Simple formulas will be your best friend. The Typology 7-Ingredient Cleansing Oil is a perfect fit—it’s packed with nutrient-dense oils like sunflower seed and sweet almond oil and derivatives of coconut. 

Sensitive skin types can be oily or dry, so consider any fragrance-free water-based cleanser in each category depending on how your skin feels. For both oily and dry skin types with sensitivity, the First Aid Beauty Face Cleanser is an ideal option for your second cleanse.

Combination skin.

Those with combination skin tend to fall in the middle of dry and oily skin, so you’ll want to stick with middle-ground products. If your skin fluctuates with the seasons, then you may want to rotate between a thicker oil cleanser and a thinner one like jojoba oil. 

As for your water-based cleanser, look for a hydrating gel formula like the Inn Beauty Keep It Clean gel cleanser. This way your skin will be deeply cleansed without stripping too much moisture. Plus, this one is a great year-round staple that will meet your skin where it’s at, whether it be on the drier or oilier side.

Average skin.

If your skin is typically neither oily nor dry, then you can pick from most of the products out there (lucky you!). If you’ve had acne in the past, it’s best to stick with noncomedogenic options. 


Should I double-cleanse every day?

Yes, you can double cleanse every day by starting with an oil-based cleanser, followed by a water-based wash. Do this step at night to ensure any and all SPF, makeup, and debris from the day are adequately removed.

How often should I double-cleanse?

Double-cleanse every night. Even if you don’t wear makeup during the day, double-cleansing will help remove sunscreen, dirt, and debris. This way, your water-based cleanser and other topical products can penetrate the skin even deeper, thus being more effective. You don’t need to double-cleanse in the morning.

Do dermatologists recommend double-cleansing?

As shown above, dermatologists like Garshick and Nichols are huge fans of double-cleansing. Dermatologists will tell you to ensure your oil- and water-based cleansers are tailored to your skin type for the best results. See above for more information.

The takeaway.

Out of many ways to remove makeup, oil cleansing just might be the best. Dermatologists love oil cleansing because of its ability to balance the skin, remove makeup and dirt, and prevent over-drying the skin. Be sure to tailor your products to your skin type and always listen to your skin. Ready to buy? Here’s our curated list of the 11 best oil cleansers on the market right now to ease your search