The past year has seen a rise in the number of launches focused on the fundamentals – not super serums, but good old cream masks; not lunchtime aesthetic procedures, but facials and massages. No, it’s not the end of the high-tech race to produce the next power-packed Insta-salve, but getting the essentials right is once again important – and shouldn’t it always be? We break it all down.

The ultimate essential: Cleanser

Sounds obvious? Hands down one of the biggest product categories in beauty today, it also now
comes in way more forms than the classic foam. Here, what each does best and why.

Micellar Water

Basically made up of tiny balls of cleansing oil molecules (said to be able to attract dirt and sebum) that are suspended in water, it’s every makeup artist’s go-to product as it’s fast and fuss-free (no rinsing required), but still hydrates. Dab onto a cotton pad, swipe, and you’re done.

Try: La Mer The Cleansing Micellar Water, $175



With the richest texture, it conditions and hydrates while cleansing, making it ideal for women with dehydrated or mature skin, or travellers in cold or harsh climates. Massage over dry skin and it helps remove everything from makeup to pollutants.

Try: Estee Lauder Advanced Night Micro Cleansing Balm, $56



Possibly the most commonly used cleanser, its cream-to-foam format is suited for everyday use as it gets rid of impurities without drying or irritating skin (folks with combination or oily complexions, take note). Refreshing enough to be used either alone or after a makeup remover, depending on how much foundation you’ve got on.

Try: Cle de Peau Beaute Softening Cleansing Foam, $89



What those with dehydrated or delicate complexions should use. While these watery lotions aren’t the strongest of cleansers, they’re extremely soothing and leave skin feeling soft, smooth and supple. Also works for those who use light or no makeup.

Try: Bobbi Brown Soothing Cleansing Milk, $61



Yes, this is also considered a cleanser. After all, besides refining and evening out skin tone and texture, exfoliating helps clear skin of surface dead skin cells that dull the complexion, clog pores and prevent skincare from penetrating easily. It can be drying though so, depending on your skin, once to twice weekly is enough.

Try: Clarins One-step Gentle Exfoliating Cleanser, $50



These remove surface impurities and oily residue from makeup without stripping skin’s essential moisture or disrupting its natural pH balance. Use this to get rid of stubborn gunk and face paint effectively without having to double cleanse. Another perk: They often boast skin-nourishing benefits.

Try: Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil, $52



Still life & interior photography (Clarins) Jasper Yu Art direction Adeline Eng

This story first appeared in Female‘s February 2017 issue.

Like this? Check out simple lifestyle habits to help you get great skin, the best facial cleansers to remove party makeup and our top 20 moisturisers that treate, hydrate and condition skin.