The Hot Cloth Cleanse Cult

It’s universally acknowledged by beauty experts that the most important step in any skincare routine is not moisturising but cleansing. After years of frustration with ineffective facial wipes and harsh washes, I’m now an ardent member of the Hot Cloth Cleanse Cult, and think you should be too.


Three years ago, I had no idea what a hot cloth cleanse was. I used facial washes, mostly from The Body Shop, which smelt nice and didn’t irritate my sensitive skin, but frustratingly meant my skin was permanently parched I now know that facial washes are notoriously drying. Then, when I really started getting into beauty with Sali Hughes’s columns in The Guardian, which are brilliant and have done my face, hair and skin major favours not so much my bank balance, I was intrigued by her enthusiasm for something called hot cloth cleansing. This is the very popular method of using a balm, cream, oil or foam cleanser and then washing it off with a hot damp flannel or muslin cloth. Ever since trying it in 2011, I’m a sworn convert to the hot cloth cleanse cult, and convinced that it’s probably actually the best thing you can do for your face, whatever your skin type.

The Method

Hot cloth cleansing is not only good for exfoliation, it also allows you to use pretty much any cleanser you wish. I prefer to use a gentle cream cleanser in the morning, and then a duo team of oil and balm cleansers in the evening to get all make-up and dirt off my face before bed. This follows the method prescribed by skincare guru Caroline Hirons who I’ve mentioned plenty times on this blog before – have a read of her cleansing cheat sheet here which is not only informative but hilarious. Since you don’t accumulate much dirt over night though you should still cleanse in the morning, you don’t need a double-cleanse in the morning, but if wearing make-up and/or SPF throughout the day you should go in with an oil or gel to break-down the make-up and dirt first, and follow up with a balm or milk to nourish.

Now for the cleanse itself. With dry or slightly moistened hands, rub around a £1-coin sized dollop of whatever cleanser you’ve chosen, be it oil, cream or balm between your fingers and massage onto a dry face in circular motions. If you’re into facial massage, there are instructions for a particularly rigorous one here, or if you prefer you can see the well-known Eve Lom 7-step massage video here, which is the one I like to do every so often. Massage in for a minute or so, using a cleanser that you can use all over your face, including around the eyes this is especially important if you’re taking off eye make-up, but make sure you are extra gentle around this part of the face. Then, either run a hot tap or prepare a basin of hot water not burning, but you want it pretty hot to get the benefit and wet your flannel or muslin cloth entirely, ringing out well before massaging in circular motions off the skin using different sections of the cloth, dipping back into the hot water if necessary. For a clear video demonstration of how this works, check out the video in the aforementioned Sali Hughes column on cleansers here.

As far as cloths are concerned, I always use a clean flannel in the morning you don’t usually accumulate that much dirt overnight after all and use the same one in the evening, but put it in the wash after that, otherwise you’re just putting dirt back on your face the following morning. As Caroline Hirons wisely states: “Don’t be cheap. Or gross.” If you’re worried about using a cloth, especially a flannel or terrycloth, then don’t be. I have very sensitive skin that goes instantly bright red at the slightest provocation, so I was definitely trepidatious when I first tried the hot cloth cleanse, which requires, somewhat obviously, a cloth of some description. For the first year or so of HCC-ing I used only muslin cloths, which were gentle although I didn’t feel I was getting the maximum exfoliating benefit advocated by flannelers, but I was worried these would be harsh enough on my skin. It was when I stayed at my boyfriend’s place one night about 18 months ago, and realised I forgot a muslin, that out of necessity I hot-cloth-cleansed with a regular face cloth, and I instantly noticed a difference. After this discovery I bought some flannels from Mothercare, thinking if they were soft enough for babies they’d probably not make my face too upset, and I can highly recommend those. You can also buy them cheap from IKEA, but I’m happy with the bundle of Mothercare flannels I keep in the bathroom, though it might a bit strange for relatives and friends who come over to see myriads of baby cloths drying on the radiator.  Oh well.

The Products

Hot cloth cleansing launched into prominence in the beauty industry with the iconic balm cleanser from Eve Lom, which I’ve tried a sample of and liked, and would consider purchasing one day though it ain’t half pricey. Now if you have sensitive skin, there may be a bit of trial and error involved, as two hugely popular, sworn-by cleansers meant for HCC-ing with, the Emma Hardie Amazing Face Moringa Balm and the Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish, did not agree with my poor unsuspecting face at all. Make sure you do a bit of background research on the best cleansers for your skin type, but if you’ve got dry and sensitive skin like me then I can’t recommend Una Brennan’s Rose Hydrate Creamy Cleanser for the morning enough. In the evening, I use the pre-cleanse oil also by Una Brennan I’ve written about these cleansers here followed by my balm cleanser of choice right now, Aurelia Miracle Cleanser, which I’ll review soon. Once you find your cleanser – or cleansers, if you prefer as I do – that work for your skin and its needs, I can guarantee you’ll see a difference.

In the madness of my recent home move, I foolishly abandoned the code of the HCC cult for a few days, using only Bioderma and facial wipes for speed and, together with the stress of moving I’m sure, my skin suffered badly for it, with dry patches and congestion setting in. Almost immediately after starting my usual flannel cleansing routine again my skin’s on the mend, and I doubt I’ll be veering from the path again any time soon. Far from a chore to be done with as soon as possible, hot cloth cleansing is an excellent way to feel refreshed in the morning and superbly relaxed in the evening. Come on, join the cult.