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.

8 thoughts on “Colin Solves Your Problems 15: Removing Make Up From Dry Skin”

  1. Jessica, it sounds like my skin is not quite as dry as yours, but I used to have a similar problem. Micelle solutions turned out to work surprisingly well for me. They are by far the gentlest way of removing make-up that I’ve encountered. I currently use Bioderma’s Sensibio, but before that I tried one by La Roche-Posay and it worked just as well.

    Colin, can you do a post on how these micelle solutions work?

  2. Emulsified “cleansing” oils are available commercially. DHC’s olive based is well loved and can be purchased online and delivered worldwide. They will send you free samples before purchase if you wish. It’s a fabulous product. Nude has one as well as Shu Uemura and Philosophy. Or as you said you can make your own. Use polysorbate 20 or 80 at a ratio of ten percent to oils of choice.

  3. Y,

    The idea of micelle solutions (aka micellar water) has indeed crossed my mind- they’re not as popular here in the US as they are in Europe, but I certainly am familiar with them (as Colin mentioned, I am a beauty blogger, and a professional makeup artist as well) and have done some minimal research on them. (Colin has even discussed Micelles on this site, albeit not in direct reference to micellar solution). In fact, The Beauty Brains recently did a post on micellar water that explains it really well (with pictures, even!)

    The only thing holding me back from trying one is the very thing that attracts me: most of the formulas (like the two you mention) contain very mild cleansing agents. While this is exactly what I need, I worry they simply wont do the job of removing a full face of makeup and sunscreen. Still, it may be a leap worth taking!

    Funny you should mention commercial cleansing oils. I actually have one sitting upstairs right now waiting to be reviewed, and I took Philosophy’s to task when it first launched (FYI, full of irritants and comedogenic ingredients).

    My main issue with the commercially available cleansing oils, however, is the price. I just can’t stomach paying $30-40 for a formula that I know costs basically a few dollars (if that) to produce. Sure, it may come to that eventually, but my point in contacting Colin was to see if I could essentially create my own formula for less. Wish me luck!

  4. Jessica,
    Philosophy’s whole line is full of crap and overpriced in my opinion.
    I’ve used the DHC’s brand only and my own. I think they are among the masters of creating a natural and good for you aura around their run of the mill. chemically average products.
    We seem to share similar outlooks. Even if I really like a product(the DHC) I simply can’t allow myself to be suckered like that. 90% markup is sinful.
    I’ve had great success with the ten to one ratio oil to polysorbate ( I use 80) ratio. I’ve used different ratios of oils like olive grapeseed,sweet almond, peanut(one of my faves), pecan( gifted by a friend locally produced, apricot mineral and of course castor. In case you’re interested I am 40 fair, slightly dry, slightly sensitive, very typical Irish skin. Not sure what side of the mineral oil fence you’re on but since cost is a factor adding mineral oil to the mix works amazingly well. It’s cheap, readily available, in cosmetic grade non comedogenic and won’t degrade. I mean this is a rinse off product, how beneficial will anything be in the pricier oils. I much rather invest in my leave on oils…
    Good luck

  5. Denise and M, and anyone else reading:

    Ever since consulting with Colin, I’ve been making my own oil mixture. I use grape seed oil and just 5% Polysorbate 80. I may still experiment with the olive oil unsaponifiables and mineral oil just to see what happens, but the simple 2-ingredient blend has been great.

    Also, I want to mention that not a month after this original post, I started using Bioderma Crealine micelle solution (which Musing had been suggesting to me for ages). It has become a must-have product in my home as well as my professional kit.

    I was pleasantly surprised at just how well this removes makeup by itself, especially considering how gentle it is. I generally use it at night after my oil cleanser to ensure all of my makeup is removed, and then by itself in the morning to refresh. I also feel like it helps to soothe and exfoliate (though the latter is a function of the cotton pad rather than the solution). Definitely recommended!

  6. I’m recovering from contact dermatitis (allergic to methylisothiazolinone). Parts of my face are extremely dry and flakey. I have had good results with Thayers alcohol free witch hazel and also La Roche micellaire solution, however still looking for a suitable moisturizer that minimizes redness. Any suggestion would be helpful.

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