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7 environmentally-friendly cleansers for normal to complicated complexions

Photography By Michael Comninus for RIISE, @itsall.fluff, @graciousminds
Published 24.03.22

Cleansers are the foundation of any good skincare routine, the kind of essential beauty product that most of us consider a non-negotiable.

We ask a lot from our cleansers. They need to repair, restore, nourish, prep, and, ultimately, bode well with our skin type. For that reason, this isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. It can take a long time to find your “one” (especially in such a crowded marketplace). And, if we’re being really honest, like a good pair of jeans, once you do find a cleanser that suits, you tend to stick with it. 

There’s one more thing that can further complicate this delicate epidermis dance: the environment. Is it possible to balance our complicated complexions and varying skin concerns with our values? 

This was the existential skincare question that was posed at the start of this cleansing journey, and one we feel we’ve come close to answering. A few months ago, we asked seven RIISE staff and friends – each with different complexions and skin concerns – to trial some of the top-rated environmentally responsible cleansers available to us. 

For a bunch of mostly sensitive (skin) types, the results were better than expected. From refillable products to organic formulas, here’s why we think these ethical cleansers are worth ditching your mainstream products for.

 

Aotea

Vela Days

FOR SENSITIVE SKIN THAT’S PRONE TO HORMONAL BREAKOUTS

Aotea Kūmarahou and Mānuka Honey Cleanser – $37.00

New Zealand brand Aotea uses mātauranga māori (māori knowledge) and scientific research to develop therapeutic skincare products. Its cream cleanser combines two of New Zealand’s native flora (kūmarahou and mānuka honey) to gently clean the skin and remove makeup. 

Mānuka honey has both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, while also being deeply moisturising. As someone prone to inflammation and hormonal breakouts, RIISE friend Annabel was keen to see if Aotea’s cleanser could improve her skin concerns. “I loved the smell, the texture and the calm it brought to my skin. It reduced inflammation and any redness straight away,” she says.

“I’m used to using a gel-based cleanser, so I found this one a lot creamier in consistency. I liked that it foamed up a little but stayed smooth and left my skin feeling hydrated…I think, in future, I’ll use it with a reusable face pad for a little extra oomph when cleansing.” 

Another plus for Annabel was Aotea’s simple glass packaging. As part of the brand’s commitment to a circular economy, it has introduced closed-loop packaging. Customers can return empty bottles and jars for them to be sterilised, repacked and reused.

FOR DRY SKIN THAT NEEDS ALL THE HELP IT CAN GET

Vela Days Lipid Complex Cleansing Balm – $89.00

Our features writer Courtney trialled this oil/gel-to-milk cleanser by beauty brand Vela Days. The cleansing balm is enriched with ceramides (lipids AKA fat molecules) and is made from plant oils that contain vitamins A, B, D and E and omega-6 and -9 to restore skin and provide long-lasting moisture. It’s vegan and cruelty-free, artificial fragrance–free and comes in a recyclable acrylic bottle.  

Courtney describes her skin as “dry and formerly problematic”. She’s used the same gel cleanser for the last seven years, so trying something new was a bit of a big deal. “This was my first time using a cleansing balm and I really loved it. The cleanser looks a bit like shaving cream, which you warm between your hands to turn into oil before massaging onto dry skin. You then lather it with water, which you can repeat for a second ‘wet’ cleanse. 

“After using a gel cleanser for so long, it’s been so nice to find a product that doesn’t leave my skin feeling stripped. I actually love that this leaves a bit of an oily feeling/residue on my skin, while still giving a deep clean. I would definitely buy this product again – I’m making a permanent switch to a cleansing balm.” 

RIISE was gifted product from Vela Days for this article.  

Foile by Michael Comninus for RIISE

Gracious Minds by Leif Prenzlau for RIISE

FOR REACTIVE, SENSITIVE SKIN – THAT STILL NEEDS A DEEP CLEAN

Foile Milky Emulsion Cleanser – $55.00

Foile’s milky cleanser contains meadowfoam to balance the skin’s oils, rice powder to lightly exfoliate, gotu kola to support collagen production and matcha to brighten overall complexion. 

Though she has sensitive skin (so doesn’t like to shake up her usual routine), our editor-in-chief Wendy gave this cleanser a go – and was pleasantly surprised. “I like that it had a very fine grain, so felt like it was really cleaning my skin and offering some exfoliation – without stripping or irritating it,” she says. “As someone with reactive skin, finding a way to exfoliate without causing more drama is actually really tricky. This was about as close as I can get to the feeling of a ‘deep’ clean without paying for it in inflammation.” 

Like all of Foile’s products, the cleanser comes in a signature refillable bottle – which is one of the reasons Wendy says she’ll buy it again. “The refillable element is the biggest sell…it does a good job but the fact it stands alongside other products and has the low-waste element is enough to make me pick it again.”

FOR COMBINATION SKIN WITH AN OILY T-ZONE

Gracious Minds Daily Elements Oil-to-Milk Cleanser – $59.95

Australian beauty brand Gracious Minds is all about harnessing potent plant-based extracts to create results-driven formulations, particularly for people with sensitive skin. Its Daily Elements oil-to-milk cleanser is ultra-gentle, removing dirt and makeup without stripping the skin’s natural oils. The formula contains a selection of organic ingredients and high-strength antioxidants, including sea buckthorn, sacha inchi and red algae. 

RIISE friend Alana tried this product and loved the ease of using an oil cleanser. “I have combination skin (with the usual oily T-zone) and applying the Daily Elements cleanser to a dry face has significantly improved the consistency of my evening skincare routine. The fresh, herbaceous scent is instantly calming and I love the golden colour.” 

Though she enjoyed the “light, bright texture of the oil” (which has a creamier consistency once you add water), she found it didn’t clean as deeply as other gel cleansers she’s used in the past. “Which is OK because, though it doesn’t feel as strong as some cleansers I’ve used, I much preferred using it as a luxurious addition to my normal routine for a double cleanse. I found that cleansing with this product a few times a week as an extra step in a skincare routine was more effective than an everyday cleanse – for me anyway.”

Another thing Alana rated about this cleanser was the minimalist packaging. All of Gracious Minds’s products are filled in glass bottles and customers can return labels and pump parts after use to be recycled with TerraCycle
 

Fluff

Conserving Beauty

FOR SKIN THAT HONESTLY CAN’T DECIDE WHAT ITS PROBLEM IS

Fluff Cleanser – $43.00

You’ll find a lot of Fluff products in our team’s skincare routines, including RIISE’s freelance writer Bianka’s. She discovered Fluff about four years ago and says she hasn’t turned back since.

Fluff’s cleanser is a hybrid formula of oil and butters with a texture that is both creamy and oily. Its key ingredients include ashwagandha root, hemp seed oil, jojoba oil, aloe vera, olive oil and shea butter. 

It doesn’t really sound like the kind of cleanser someone with a self-described “extremely oily” skin type should use, but Bianka wholly endorses this product. “Given my background (Greek), I have all the benefits of the skin type: large pores, proneness to blackheads and a constant shine (but not the cinematic quality) that builds up around my forehead and nose. Funnily enough, my skin is also extremely sensitive and weather changes can cause excessive dryness on my cheeks and under my eyes,” she says. 

“I found prior cleansers were vicious to my skin and stripped away every natural oil on it. I was always too dry, too red, too inflamed, or the recipient of some heinous allergic reaction – until I tried the Fluff cleanser. It changed the game completely. I’ll buy it forever, now and always.” Aside from the fact it so obviously bodes well with her skin type, Bianka also loves the 100 per cent natural ingredients, refillable packaging and the cleanser’s texture: “soft, smooth as silk finish and very velvety. Like a mother’s kiss on the forehead or the touch of a lover you actually like”. 
 

FOR COMBINATION SKIN THAT IS SOMETIMES A LITTLE SENSITIVE

Conserving Beauty Sea You Cleansing Balm – $48.00

Part-time skinfluencer and full-time RIISE editorial assistant Katelin trialled a cleanser from “Australia’s first water-responsible beauty brand”, Conserving Beauty. Unlike other beauty products which can contain 70–90 per cent water, these guys have ditched the H₂O in favour of pure ingredients and powerful formulas.

The Sea You Cleansing Balm is an ultra-hydrating oil-to-milk cleanser that contains nine “traceable and ethically sourced” ingredients to “gently melt the day away”. As someone with combination and sometimes sensitive skin, Katelin loved that this balm was fragrance-free, removed all the impurities of the day and left her skin feeling soft and smooth. She also liked the Vaseline-like texture: “It glides really easily over the skin and if removed properly with a lukewarm cleansing cloth (as instructed) doesn’t leave any residue.” 

RIISE was gifted product from Conserving Beauty for this article.  

Mutki

FOR SKIN THAT IS PERFECTLY NORMAL AND PREFERS TO KEEP THINGS NATURAL

Mukti Organics Hydrating Cleansing Lotion – $64.95

Mukti is a cruelty-free, vegan and certified-organic brand that creates products with a minimal impact on the environment.

RIISE friend (and regular Mukti user) Cairie trialled the hydrating cleansing lotion for this piece. The creamy cleanser contains Kakadu plum and mountain pepper leaf extracts and is enriched with shea butter and macadamia oil to gently remove dirt, makeup and impurities without stripping the skin’s natural oils.

Though her skin type is normal, Cairie says it can be sensitive and reacts to chemical-heavy products. She loved that Mukti’s cleanser was made from mostly natural ingredients and felt gentle, not harsh, on her skin. 

She also liked the texture of the cleanser and Mukti’s packaging: “Having used Mukti’s cleansing balm before, I found this one even more enjoyable. I liked that you mixed/lathered it with water, which felt like more of a ‘cleansing’ experience. The balm is a lot thicker and doesn’t give as deep of a clean as this one, especially if you’re wearing makeup. 

“I also love that Mukti uses glass packaging and that the cleansing lotion is a decent-sized bottle. They have a great recycling initiative, so you can send empty jars and bottles back for recycling, free of charge too.”

RIISE was gifted product from Mukti Organics for this article.

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