The Top Shelf Cleanser Trials


Having a reliable cleanser routine is a little like having a perfect leather jacket, in that neither of those things are critical for survival. But they are both comfortable and reliable and good to have. They also happen to be similar in that at press time, I have neither a great leather jacket nor a perfect cleanser :( I know what you're thinking: My life is empty and sad. I am doing my best.

Without a face washing routine of my own, I just use water or whatever I can find at the moment, which is no way to live. (Once, while stranded at a friend's apartment, I washed my face with Dr. Bronner's Lavender Soap and a paper towel.) But Into The Gloss is literally full of cleansing routines that are already tried and very true. I plucked a few to see if I could co-opt them as my own, developing a highly sophisticated rating system for each. And because I'm committed to the Method, I attempted to live like each of the below. So let's get started. Jourdan Dunn, you're up first:

Jourdan Dunn

It is very hard to live like Jourdan Dunn because we lead dramatically different lifestyles—she an international supermodel, I a person who has traveled internationally at least a few times. The only thing I did to prepare for the Jourdan Dunn cleanse was wear leather pants, because she loves them (especially if they're Rodarte). I took them off mid-routine because they were uncomfortable, and thus I abandoned the Method. Somewhere, Daniel Day-Lewis sheds a single tear.

Jourdan Dunn's cleanser of choice is Emma Hardie's Moringa Cleansing Balm which, oh my God, is one of the best things I have ever used on my face. The product is very oily and conditioning, and it is the nicest smelling cleanser in this roundup. Despite being a oil-rich cleanser (grapeseed and almond for moisture; neroli and orange for brightening and rejuvenating), my face feels perfectly clean afterwards. Jourdan sometimes switches this out with coconut oil, which I will not do. Jourdan! Girl. Hold your Emma Hardie balm close and never let it go. Afterwards she uses Pixi Glow Tonic, an exfoliating toner with glycolic. "I'm hooked!" She says. Me too. My skin looks better than when I started, and I've only just begun.

Rating: 9 out of 10. An excellent cleansing routine. The combination of nourishing balm with an exfoliating toner is exactly the way I want to live my life. The only downside—or upside, I guess, if you're Jourdan Dunn—is that it's a little too luxe and impractical for every day, despite how good it is. It is the leather pants of face cleansing routines.

Kim Kardashian West

If there's any person I trust to effectively wash her face, it's Kimberly Kardashian West. She has to be camera-ready every single day, and yet her skin still looks like this when she takes it all off. Meanwhile, I get 40 pimples whenever I try a new brow product.

I figure this is because she cleanses well. Kim first removes her makeup with Neutrogena Makeup Removing Towelettes—a classic—and then follows with By Terry's Pureté de Rose Cleansing Gel, which is not a classic because it's discontinued. Instead I opt for their Cellularose Nutri-Pure Rose Cleansing Balm. Together, they soothe my skin into Nirvana. But when I went to apply my night cream, my skin still felt filmy and even pilled a little. Uh, Kim??

Rating: 4 out of 10. Kim K loves a drugstore product. This is a trait the two of us share and bond over constantly while drinking champagne. But the By Terry balm, while extremely nice to use, didn't quite do it for me. Maybe if it was a gel, or maybe if I was Kim Kardashian West, things would be different.

China Machado

China Machado, Princess of North Haven, Long Island, is the definition of aging gracefully. Her Top Shelf contains exactly three products, one of which is bubble bath, and another of which is Pond's Cold Cream. "It’s what my mother used, and it’s not too greasy," she says. My mother uses Pond's Cold Cream too, so I'm particularly excited to try this. Also, it is $5 at Target.

For the first time in my life (and perhaps not the last) China Machado lied to me, because it is definitely greasy. But that's useful (and exceptionally gentle) when you're taking makeup off. Eyelash extensions are incompatible, but otherwise, Cold Cream lifts the most indelible makeup from your face without stripping your skin at all. There is some residual grease left behind though, which is nothing an astringent toner can't solve. Did somebody say Pixi Glow Tonic?

Rating: 8 out of 10. Suspiciously good. Ingredient purists will give the mineral oil some side-eye, but I'll be damned if this cleanser didn't effectively clean my oily mug for less money than a cup of coffee—and for that, I love it. China Machado partied with Frank Sinatra and you're over there spending $30 on face wash. Evaluate your life choices.

Emily Ferber

For my last trial, I decided to test the routine of my workplace nemesis and direct manager, Emily Ferber. In part because she is somebody whose opinion I (begrudgingly) trust, but mostly because she NEVER stops talking about Avène Antirougeurs Dermo-Cleansing Milk. Day in and day out, it's all I hear from her. Here is a true conversation we had the other day:

Me: "Hey Emily, do you have notes on the Top Shelf draft?"
Emily: "Avene Antirougeurs is a superior face wash for its ability to cleanse and calm skin."

But she's right—it's good. The whole routine is wonderful, actually, because it's founded on calming inflammation in addition to effectively cleansing. The Antirougeurs is a gentle cream cleanser (the label says milk, but it's a bit thicker than that), so it conditions while it washes, and it's really good when left on for a minute or two before rinsing as Emily is wont to do. Then, Sisley's Floral Toning Lotion is a great follow-up to finish the job. Although if you're looking for something cheaper, Thayer's Rose Petal Witch Hazel is a fine sensitive skin alternative with similar ingredients.

Rating: 7 out of 10. Very good, but very pricey with the Sisley. Should Emily decide to give me a raise, I'll gladly revisit this score.

—Brennan Kilbane

Photographed by Tom Newton.