Milky Cleansers: What They Are & Why They’re Perfect for Your Skin

They may look a whole lot like what you’d add to your daily cup of coffee or morning cereal… but, in fact, milky cleansers are secret weapons for anyone with skin that’s sensitive, reactive, dry, or even acne-prone.

Foams. Gels. Bars. Balms. Oils. We’ve covered ‘em all when it comes to the types of cleansers there are out there. But one we haven’t really talked about yet? Milky cleansers.

To answer the obvious up top: no, they do not contain milk. Rather, the name comes from the texture and appearance. Milky cleansers (sometimes known as cream cleansers or cleansing milk), look a whole lot like what you’d add to your daily cup of coffee or morning cereal, but are, in fact, secret weapons for anyone with skin that’s sensitive, reactive, dry, or even acne-prone.

What makes a cleanser “milky”?

Unlike many of the cleansers you’ve probably already used, milky cleansers don’t foam. At all. Because of this, they may take some getting used to, especially if you’re the kind of person who believes that unless there are bubbles, it’s not working (I promise it is!).

Instead of relying on a foaming agent to do the cleansing work, milk cleansers are made up of emollient-rich ingredients like oils (jojoba and squalene are two popular types) and vitamin E that break down dirt, makeup and grime much like an oil cleanser. The emollient ingredients in a milky cleanser latch onto oil and dirt (like dissolves like) and removes them without stripping your skin.

Why should I care?

Well, if you like your skin, you should care about milky cleansers. Since these formulas let their ingredients do the work (as opposed to the suds of some other cleansers), they are literally nicer to your skin. The ingredients mimic your dermis’ natural state, thereby respecting your skin by keeping it calm and balanced with ingredients it recognizes, not irritating it with harsh foaming agents. The same oils and emulsifiers that cleanse also soothe redness and inflammation, and lock in moisture.

Should I be using a milky cleanser?

Milky cleansers are unique in that they are great for a wide range of skin types. Since they lock in moisture, dry and mature skin can benefit from milky cleansers. But so can skin that’s oily or acne-prone or sensitive.

Most skincare products that claim to help oily or acneic skin are packed with drying ingredients like salicylic acid. But when skin gets too dry, the sebaceous glands go into overdrive and produce more oil than is necessary. In order to keep things balanced and hydrated, consider adding a milky cleanser to your skincare routine if you’re also using products for acne and oil. Simply drying out your skin won’t fix things; you have to bring skin back to a normalized, balanced state, and milky cleansers keep skin’s pH more balanced than something that foams.

How do I use a milky cleanser?

Just like a regular cleanser, except there won’t be a bunch of bubbles to wash away when you’re done.

If you’re using a milky cleanser in the morning or on makeup-free skin, proceed as usual. On dry skin, massage a few pumps of milky cleanser into your face. Wet your fingertips and continue to massage. After about 60 seconds, rinse your face.

If you’re wearing makeup or feeling particularly oily, consider cleansing twice. The first pass will remove the surface layer of makeup and dirt, so you’ll likely need to go back again for a second pass to actually cleanse the skin and let skin benefit from the cleanser’s ingredients.

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I’ve never tried milky cleansers before! Definitely going to do that now!

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

5 years ago

Great post as always! x

Aja Moore
5 years ago

I highly recommend Glossier’s Milky Jelly cleanser. It works wonders and it will last you months on end before having to restock :)