Problem Pages

Colin Solves Your Problems 15: Removing Make Up From Dry Skin

Removing Make Up From Dry Skin


Today’s problem comes from Jessica, author of the mischievously named blog Out in a Pout

As a makeup artist and skincare buff, I’ve been around the block a time or 20 when it comes to new products. I’m not easily taken in by marketing and here say; it’s my analytic nature that lead me to your blog. I’m a fan of cold, hard, peer-reviewed facts, and when it comes to my skin, I don’t care if it grows in the ground or in a Petri dish- I want products that I know work. While I consider myself an old-hand at decoding ingredient labels, when it comes to understanding certain mechanisms and chemical interactions, it’s great to be able to turn to experts like yourself.

My present issue comes to me courtesy of my extremely dry skin and my inability to find a cleansing product that satisfies my needs. In the most general of terms, I find that if a cleanser works well at removing makeup, it leaves my skin dry and stripped. I learned ages ago that my skin does not tolerate foaming or lathering cleansers well. Even simply splashing my skin with water will leave it visibly taught when it dries. Of course, milky lotion or cream cleansers leave me feeling more comfortable, but they often leave traces of makeup behind.

In a moment of desperation a few weeks ago, I reached into my pantry and grabbed a bottle of extra virgin olive oil to cleanse my face, and I’ve been using it ever since. The oil does a great job removing makeup, but I am less than fond of the washcloth removal process that straight oil demands. I worry about the abrasiveness of the cloth irritating my skin (yes, I’m sometimes that sensitive!) as well as the possibility of the cloth harboring bacteria. After doing some research on oil cleansing, I’m wondering if adding a bit of emulsifier to my oil would be appropriate. I’d love to have a cleanser that does it all: removes makeup and dirt and rinses clean without stripping my skin’s vital oils and disrupting its protective barrier.

My research shows me that polysorbates are commonly used emulsifiers in commercial cleansing oils, and I’ve seen mention of DIY oil cleansers that use them, but I’ve hit a bit of a stumbling block. Polysorbate 20, 80, 85- what are the differences? Which would be best for my purpose, or is there something I’m missing all together that may be a better option for me? Of course, I’d also welcome suggestions on which oils would be best for “cleansing” my skin: I found the distinction you spoke of between unpurified and filtered oils ( very interesting, as I had been planning on purchasing some olive oil unsaponifiables for my little experiment (

You also mention in your article that adding emulsifers to make the oil easier to remove could have the consequence of disrupting the skin’s barrier. This had occurred to me as well, and of course, if that were to happen it seems like it would negate the benefits of oil cleansing for me, so that is a concern. Finally, I’ve read a bit about how different oils have different abilities to essentially lift away excess oil. As I understand it, the mechanism has something to do with the cleansing oil’s similarity to sebum and the “like dissolves like” principal (is molecular weight at play here?) but I’d love to have a more solid understanding of these interactions. I’ve even seen people say that adding too much of certain oils (castor, for example) can actually dry the skin out- definitely NOT what I need!

Thanks again for all of your insight, and for writing such a wonderful blog!

And thanks to you Jessica for such a detailed and comprehensive question.  You seem to be pretty well informed on the issue already and I am not sure there is a huge amount I can suggest that you haven’t already thought of yourself.  I think removing make up is a challenge for people with dry skin, as you point out.  The cleansers that are able to shift the make up effectively also degrease your skin leaving it dry and as a result in bad condition.

The option of using oil to remove it should overcome it to some extent.  Neat olive oil does work for some people, but you are right again about the drawbacks.  It isn’t in a good form to handle and you need to use something to both apply it and remove it.  Any cloth is going to be potentially irritating in itself for someone with particularly sensitive skin.  Cotton wool springs to mind, but I don’t know how soft it is in reality.

The choice of oil is another issue.  I would consider mixing in a bit of mineral oil. As you point out, like dissolves like and a lot of makeup is based on mineral oil.  I’d also consider grape seed oil as it is very light.

Adding an emulsifier should make it easier to wash off and I don’t think the differences between the polysorbates would make much difference here, just keep them as low as you can.  But your suggestion of olive oil unsaponifiables is an interesting one.  I don’t know how they would work, but they probably wouldn’t do your skin any harm and may do it some good.   I’m tempted to do some experiments with those myself.

As to the like dissolves like notion – it is more to do with the chemistry of the oil, though molecular weight does play a part.  It is a rule of thumb not a hard and fast physical rule anyway. Experimenting to see what works is the best method.  I am not sure how any oil would actually dry skin out.  That is not something I have ever experienced but I suppose it could happen.  Again, everyone is different and experimenting is the only way to be sure.

The last thing I would try as a treatment for your dry skin would be lanolin.  This can be applied neat.  I do when I have dry skin sometimes.  Or you can melt it into some other oil, which makes it easier to use.  In either case, I find it gives me the most long lasting moisturising effect.

I hope these tips have been helpful.

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