I’ve been rotating between three cleansing balms for the last two months, and today I bring you reviews and comparisons of all three:
- Ole Henriksen Pure Truth Melting Cleanser (technically a jelly but it works the same way as a balm; previously reviewed here) ($34 for 118 ml/4 oz.)
- su:m37 Skin Saver Melting Cleansing Balm (~$28-50 for 100 ml online)
- Banila Co. Clean It Zero Purity (for sensitive skin) (~$19-25 for 100 ml online)
First off, let me declare that I will never use a cleansing oil ever again. The big advantage that any cleansing balm has over a traditional cleansing oil is no drips. No drips on the sink, no drips down your arms, no drips down your face. Plus, if you’re traveling, no leaks and no need to cram into your Ziploc because balms are solid. If you’re just getting into double-cleansing/oil-cleansing, I recommend skipping the oils and going straight to balms.
*Side note: Not to be confused with cleansing balms from the UK (e.g., Emma Hardie, Eve Lom, Liz Earle, and others), which work a little differently: they don’t always emulsify with water and are intended to be removed with a hot muslin cloth or flannel. Not a fan because lazy.
Directions: Massage the balm onto your dry face (including gently around the eyes if removing eye makeup), then emulsify and rinse by splashing with water and, as needed, massaging residue off with wet fingers. Follow with a gentle foaming cleanser. Now, my first experience with a cleansing balm–jelly actually–was the Ole Henriksen. I reviewed that back in August 2014 and named it one of my favorites for 2014. Since then, I’ve acquired the su:m 37 out of curiosity stemming from various rave reviews (including this one by The Wanderlust Project), and I’ve acquired the Banila Co. because I wanted to see why it was so popular (and the 50% off flash sale at Soko Glam didn’t hurt). I’ve broken this mega-review into several sections, listing the winners in the categories Packaging, Texture & Emulsification, Cleansing Power, and Value, and then concluding with the overall WINNER. Now let’s get started!
Packaging: Ole for practicality, su:m37 for aesthetics
All three are packaged in open-mouthed jars. The su:m37 and Banila Co. come with spatulas (the su:m37’s on the outside of the jar, the Banila Co.’s on the inside of the jar). When it comes to practicality, the Ole is the most practical with a wide mouth and straight sides. It doesn’t need a spatula because it’s easy to dip a finger in, even when you’re close to finishing the jar. The Banila Co. is a close second;
the mouth is wide but narrower than the jar, so I foresee needing to use the spatula to scrape the product from the sides the sides are actually straight and the mouth is slightly smaller than the Ole.
In last place is the su:m37, with the narrowest mouth and a mouth that is much smaller than the width of the jar. The spatula will definitely be necessary to scrape the sides lest you like twisting and digging your fingers in and getting the balm under your nails. The Ole is also packaged in plastic (as is the Banila Co.), whereas the su:m37 is in a weighty glass jar. Clearly, the su:m37 demands to lounge around at home on a marble countertop and be hand-fed grapes, rather than travel coach-class with me. When it comes to aesthetics though, su:m37 is hands down the coolest with a spatula that attaches magnetically to the top of the lid. When not in use, it looks like a decorative leaf/quill. And the heavy frosted glass and chrome-look lid and spatula are elegant and feminine.
Texture & Emulsification: su:m37 and Banila Co. (tie)
The su:m37 and the Banila Co. are dense yet soft balms. The su:m37 melts into a plush balmy oil while the Banila Co. melts into almost a regular oil (but thicker). If overapplied, the Banila Co. feels like it may run/drip, but it doesn’t. They’re more similar than those descriptions let on though, and it’s difficult to tell the difference between them in terms of texture and emulsification. (The su:m37 has a light citrus (orange peel?) scent whereas the Banila Co. doesn’t really have a fragrance.) Both emulsify satisfyingly into a visible milk that rinses off completely and easily. The Ole is a light jelly that melts almost instantly upon contact into a thin, slippery oil-gel that spreads easily. It emulsifies but not as visibly or completely as the su:m37 and Banila Co.; I always take a tissue or cotton pad and wipe off the dissolved mascara and eyeliner residue under my eyes (I prefer doing this before rinsing). (Following with a foaming cleanser doesn’t remove this residue.) After rinsing, skin feels soft but also feels as if there’s a little moisturizing residue left behind–not a full film or layer of oil but *something*. The residue doesn’t affect how well my foaming cleanser works, and skin feels the same with all three balms after using a foaming cleanser.
Cleansing Power: Ole, su:m37, and Banila Co. (tie)
I did a demonstration on my arm using Heroine Make Long & Curl mascara, Chacott liquid eyeliner, a glitter liquid eyeliner by Sephora, Sonia Kashuk brow gel, Heavy Rotation cream blush, a bright Chanel lipstick, and IOPE cushion foundation. (In the emulsification photo, you can see that the su:m37 and Banila Co. turn milky.) And the winner is…Chacott eyeliner! J/k (although that is seriously my favorite eyeliner). Despite what the arm experiment shows, my use over two months tells me that all three are equally adept at melting makeup on the face (including the Chacott eyeliner). They all dissolve tenacious sunblock and cushion foundation as well as waterproof eyeliner and mascara, provided that you spend several seconds gently massaging the product into the lashes and lashline. I can tell that everything’s been removed because when I swipe on toner/first essence after double-cleansing, the pad is clean.
I no longer use any other makeup remover. I’ve tossed my dual-phase eye makeup removers, cleansing oils, and face wipes. The only area where the balms struggle is the waterline, but that’s purely an issue of being unable to apply balm that close to the eye. When I tightline, a little balm residue usually ends up reaching that area, so I can just use a cotton pad to wipe that area clean.
Btw, so long as you don’t overapply, all three balms can be used to massage off dead flakes. I feel like I get more flakes off from using the Ole, but it’s possible that I just happen to be using too much product for those other balms or that I happen to be not as flaky on the days that I’m using the other balms.
Value: Banila Co.
The Banila Co. is the cheapest (on an absolute and a per-ml basis). That and the su:m37 require very little to cleanse the whole face, so a jar should last a few months. Start off with one pearl’s worth and add little by little if you need to. Both balms spread easily across the face. The Ole, being the less dense product, couldn’t win this battle. To be fair though, the Ole only requires about an almond size for the whole face and a jar will last a few months. Given the Banila Co.’s combination of (1) a little goes a long way and (2) being the cheapest, the Banila Co. is clearly the best value.
Overall BEST Cleansing Balm: Banila Co.!
Oh man, am I eating my words now. When I said that the Ole was one of my favorites for 2014, I also said that I had tried the original Banila Co. Clean It Zero on the back of my hand and thought “meh.” Well, turns out Banila Co. Clean It Zero Purity is a terrific combination of affordability, efficiency, and efficacy. (That said, I still love the Ole and recently bought a mini tub for future travels.) All three balms are high-quality, highly effective cleansing balms, but the Banila Co.’s price really made the difference here.
Second place: su:m37, primarily because it’s the functional equivalent of the Banila Co. but costs significantly more. However, if you can get a good deal and don’t mind the impractical packaging, the su:m37 is worth it for the undeniably luxurious touch it adds to your routine (and bathroom counter).
Third place: Ole Henriksen, primarily because it requires the extra step of wiping off melted eye makeup residue.
If you’ve tried these, let me know what you think (or if you’ve found something even better).
P.S. I won’t pretend that I know how to analyze ingredients, so I’ll just point you to them. The su:m37 ingredients are all in Korean, but Fanserviced translated them here. The Banila Co. and Ole are pictured below (click to enlarge). I do know that the major difference between the Banila Co. Purity version and the original version is that the Purity does not have mineral oil; the Purity also boasts of being free from artificial coloring, synthetic fragrance, alcohol, and parabens.