From balms and oils to cleansing waters and milks, our pick of the best makeup removers will leave skin feeling soft, smooth and makeup-free
To achieve a bright, glowing complexion, you need to start with the basics – and that requires you to stick to the golden rule of removing your makeup and SPF every night. Ideally, this should be the first step in your evening routine, so skin can repair itself while you sleep. Failure to thoroughly cleanse skin can lead to clogged pores, resulting in acne breakouts, dullness and even premature ageing. And those expensive serums and moisturisers you’ve bought to apply afterwards? They’ll be pretty much redundant if you skip the initial cleanse, since those products won’t be effectively absorbed.
So, for those occasions you just want to crawl straight into bed and fall face-first into a pillow (we know, we’ve been there), we’ve found an array of hardworking cleansers that ensure makeup removal is super-easy – giving you zero excuses for racoon eyes the following morning. Trust us, your skin will thank you for it.
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How to choose the right makeup remover for your skin type
Since the whole point of removing your makeup is to prevent breakouts, it’s important to choose the right formula for your skin type. Sensitive souls should stick with a gentle cleanser – light, creamy and milky formulations containing ingredients such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid and emollients – to support the skin’s barrier rather than stripping it. Avoid products containing alcohol, fragrance and sodium lauryl sulphate, since they can be harsh on delicate skin. Similarly, those with dry skin should consider giving their complexion a deep but gentle cleanse with a balm rich in hydrating oils, which will remove all traces of makeup and dirt while maintaining the skin’s natural balance.
Contrary to popular belief, oils and balms can also work well on oily skin. Look for formulas that are non-comedogenic (lanolin and coconut oil are common culprits), while jojoba, grapeseed and sunflower seed oil all get huge ticks for spot-prone complexions. Water-based products such as cleansing waters and foaming gels also work well because they help to manage excess oil; but if you’re prone to acne, then you should also follow up with a thorough second cleanse.
What types of makeup removers are there?
Makeup removers come in many guises, most of which are either oil- or water-based, or bi-phase (a water-based cleanser that contains potent oils to remove even the clingiest of mascaras).
Micellar waters are a popular choice since they effectively remove even the most stubborn of makeup in a few simple swipes of a saturated cotton pad, without the need to rinse. The micelles – or oil molecules – present in these formulas help draw out impurities and often contain hydrating ingredients to boost skin health. That said, we’d always recommend following up with a separate cleanser to really get to work beneath the pores.
Meanwhile, cleansing balms and oils attract dirt and makeup like a magnet, plus they noticeably soften and hydrate the skin more than any other cleanser, including nourishing ingredients such as vitamin E. Some will transform into a light milky lather or translucent oil to dissolve makeup, which you can then remove with a washcloth.
And finally, in an era where we should be making more sustainable swaps, the use of reusable pads – made from microfibre, bamboo or organic cotton – is on the rise. There’s a range of brands that claim to gently buff away makeup without the need for cleanser, and these make a great planet-friendly alternative to makeup wipes.
How much should I spend?
For most people, makeup removal will be the first step in their evening routine, and it doesn’t require you to spend an awful lot. Most of our favourites sit within the £13 to £18 price range – but, as you’ll discover below, there are some great budget buys that perform just as well as their more-expensive counterparts.
However, if you’re someone who prefers a more pared-back routine because you wear very little makeup day-to-day, or you have a very specific skin type that would benefit from a little extra TLC, a formula with added benefits – such as antioxidants, exfoliating fruit enzymes and ceramides – may be worth the investment.
How we test makeup removers
We put as many makeup removers as we could get our hands on to the test, comprising cleansing balms, oils, gels, milks and foams, micellar waters, sponges and even cleansing wipes. We use them to remove a full face of makeup every night, taking into consideration factors such as how they feel on the skin, how much residue is removed in a single use, whether the product stings or leaves eyes feeling cloudy on removing eye makeup and the length of time each product lasts in relation to its cost. Only the products that erased all traces of our testers’ skin and eye makeup made the list (needless to say, you won’t find a disposable wipe in sight).
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The best makeup removers you can buy in 2023
1. Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm: Best makeup remover for stubborn makeup
Price when reviewed: £27 (125ml) | Check price at Look Fantastic
When it comes to removing a full-face of makeup, this bestselling fragrance-free balm does all the hard work, so you don’t have to. Formulated to suit all skin types, it gets to work instantly, transforming from a solid balm to a super-light oil that gently dissolves layers of eye makeup, sunscreen and surface oil with minimal effort. It’s also easy to rinse off, although we’d recommend using a flannel or muslin cloth to help remove all traces. It certainly feels like a luxury option and is well worth its mid-range price tag.
2. RoC Multi-Action Milk Make-Up Remover: Best makeup remover for eyes and lips
Price when reviewed: £13 (400ml) | Check price at LookFantastic
Milky cleansers are great for sensitive skin, and while there are lots out there, this is a front-runner for us because it truly makes light work of mascara, stubborn eyeliner and lipstick. Claiming to cleanse, tone and moisturise in one, it’s also gentle on the most sensitive of eyes – our tester reported no stinging or redness, and it took just two cotton pads to get everything off. A third pad left skin feeling clean as a whistle and soft to the touch. This product is also excellent value; a little goes a long way, so it will take a while to make a dent in the whopping 400ml bottle.
3. JoJo Glow Reusable Makeup Remover Pads: Best eco-friendly option
Price when reviewed: £18 (pack of three) | Check price at JoJo Glow
When it comes to makeup-removing sorcery, these reusable pads are quite magical. The microfibres effectively lift makeup without the need for a cleanser, although they’ll also pair brilliantly with your favourite micellar water or toner as a sustainable alternative to disposable cotton pads. Soak in water, and just a few swipes will be sufficient to remove surface impurities. The texture is wonderfully soft on skin and the pads are also gentle on the eyes – hold over stubborn mascara for a few seconds to loosen and it should come away easily. And if you’re worried about washing them, don’t be. You can throw these in the washing machine up to 200 times for easy cleaning, and they come out as soft as the day you bought them.
4. La Roche-Posay Rosaliac Make-Up Remover Gel: Best makeup remover for sensitive skin
Price when reviewed: £15 (200ml) | Check price at Boots
When it comes to catering for sensitive complexions, French pharmacy label La Roche-Posay is leading the charge with this gentle, textured gel cleanser formulated with redness- and breakout-prone skin in mind. It’s also a no-rinse cleanser, making it the perfect companion for travellers. The gel feels cooling and non-sticky upon application, and effectively removes skin impurities in a single step, without the need for intensive rubbing or tugging. Our tester, who suffers with particularly sensitive eyes, found this perfectly tolerable on the delicate eye area and loved the fact there was no residue left behind, but found that it was perhaps too gentle to effectively remove waterproof mascara.
5. Mara Chia + Moringa Algae Enzyme Cleansing Oil: Best makeup remover for glowing skin
Price when reviewed: £50 (120ml) | Check price at Cult Beauty
Cleansing your skin with oil may seem counter-intuitive, and yet – spoiler alert – like attracts like, so it’s actually one of the most effective ways to dissolve oil-based makeup and sunscreen without stripping moisture from your skin. This luxury cleansing oil from Mara goes one step further, lightly exfoliating and hydrating too, thanks to the addition of fruit enzymes and marine botanicals. It’s certainly lighter than most oils; massage into dry skin and it successfully removes all traces of makeup while feeling wonderfully pampering. The secret weapon is squalane, which is similar in structure to the skin’s own sebum, making it super-effective at breaking down dirt and makeup. It also doesn’t leave a greasy slick around your eyes that clouds your vision, as some oils do.
6. Herbal Essentials Himalayan Infused Micellar Water: Best makeup remover for hydration
Price when reviewed: £15 (200ml) | Check price at Amazon
You’ll find a wealth of micellar waters out there that are great for removing impurities and eye makeup, but what makes Herbal Essentials’ formula different is its base ingredient: pure Himalayan spring water, which is packed with minerals such as potassium and magnesium to keep skin healthy. As well as successfully removing all traces of makeup – including stubborn mascara – this cleanser feels super-hydrating and contains vitamin B5 to condition and purify the skin. Another notable ingredient is betaine, which is known to soothe and calm, so this could also be great for those who suffer with redness or irritation.
7. Farmacy Clearly Clean Makeup Meltaway Cleansing Balm: Best makeup remover for acne-prone skin
Price when reviewed: £32 (100ml) | Check price at Cult Beauty
With a solid, waxy texture that transforms into a silky oil on contact with fingertips, then a milky lather on the skin, this dreamy balm isn’t only free of essential oils that might aggravate acne, but it contains papaya enzymes to gently exfoliate, plus hydrating sunflower seed oil to effortlessly remove makeup without stripping. And it really is effortless. Our tester commented that skin not only felt wonderfully clean and clear after use, but super-soft to the touch, too. We also love that it comes with a handy (and hygienic) spatula for application.
8. Nivea Double Effect Eye Make-Up Remover: Best budget makeup remover
Price when reviewed: £4.99 (125ml) | Check price at Amazon
This affordable solution has been designed specifically with the delicate eye area in mind, so it’s great for sweeping away mascara, eyeliner, and brow pencil prior to a second, more thorough cleanse. The bi-phase formulation means it contains both oils to dissolve long-wear makeup (without the need to aggressively tug at your lashes), and water to hydrate. In terms of effectiveness, it certainly does the job.
9. Skin in Motion Purify It Witch Hazel Cleansing Water: Best makeup remover for gym bunnies
Price when reviewed: £15 (100ml) | Check price at Skin in Motion
Much like a micellar, Skin in Motion’s cleansing water is a solution that sweeps away grime, makeup, sweat and sunscreen without any rubbing, tugging or rinsing required. But the secret ingredient here is witch hazel, a natural astringent that not only lifts impurities (without drying), but has anti-inflammatory properties, too, so it’s great for soothing redness. This makes it brilliant for removing makeup and sweat following a workout, and even to soothe post-exercise hot flushes. It feels incredibly cooling and refreshing on application, and is gentle enough to use around the eyes, too.
10. Pacifica Vegan Cream Creamy Gel Cleanser: Best makeup remover for all skin types
Price when reviewed: £16 (140ml) | Check price at Cult Beauty
If you need a cleansing formula that’s effective enough to melt makeup without stripping or triggering irritation, this coconut-based, sulphite-free gel transforms into a soft creamy lather to leave skin looking replenished and balanced. Our tester trialled it on a full face of makeup numerous times – and each time it did the job, leaving skin feeling smooth, soft and clean. When applied to damp skin, it appeared to become thicker and foamier with every circular motion, which left you feeling like skin was being thoroughly cleansed. And because it contains vegan collagen, it has a wealth of hydrating and elasticity-boosting benefits. Plus, we love the chic, shower-friendly pump bottle.