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If you think that oh-so-tight feeling after cleansing means your skin is super clean, guess what? Your skin is actually miserable. A Korean cleanser can change that, and you can stop feeling like your skin is screaming “moisturize me!” at any given second.
The reason foam-based cleansers make your face feel tight is that they throw off the pH balance of your skin. Remember that old phrase from the ’90s? It’s still true. In order to make sense of it, you need to understand why that “super clean” skin feeling is actually fueling your breakouts (!!!).
TL;DR version: pH works on a numeric scale, with low numbers being the most acidic and high numbers containing the most alkaline (check out a more in-depth explanation here). Cleansers with high pH can wreck your skin’s moisture barrier, a naturally acidic layer of skin that keeps moisture in and bacteria out. Go too many rounds with something foamy and heavy on the alkaline, and your skin will get mega dry no matter what moisturizer you slap on it afterward.
Most cleansers do not indicate the pH on the bottle, so you may be like “How the hell can I know what to use?” Read on, buddy.
The best Korean cleanser for your skin type
1) Cosrx Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser ($9.50, regularly $11)
The first thing a lot of K-beauty fans say when they learn about the importance of pH in Korean cleansers is “But I want that nice foamy feeling!” Thankfully, beauty companies heard you, and there are a few products on the market now that cater to that without driving your pH through the roof. The Cosrx Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser is one of them. It does have a nice foam, but it also falls perfectly at 6.5 on the pH scale, which is exactly around where you want to be to keep your moisture barrier safe. You can read a full review of it here from well-known K-beauty blogger Jude Chao.
2) Sulwhasoo Snowise Brightening Cleansing Foam ($29.96)
Looking for another foamy option that won’t damage your skin? Sulwhasoo is a top luxury line in South Korea that uses hanbang ingredients, which are derived from traditional Korean medicine. If you like the smell of burying your face in a fir tree, you’re going to love Sulwhasoo’s Snowise Brightening Cleansing Foal. With a pH of 5, this Korean cleanser is ideal for your skin’s health. However, it is not for those looking to maintain a low-cost skincare routine, as you can tell by the price. Prowl through a full review here.
3) Neogen Real Fresh Cleansing Stick Green Tea ($14.97, regularly $26)
Want a Korean cleanser that not only keeps your moisture barrier happy but is oh-so-portable? Neogen’s Real Fresh Cleansing Stick in Green Tea might be perfect for you. With 99% plant-derived ingredients and a delightful mixture of green tea seed oil & green tea leaves, this is a great cleanser for fans of matcha. Rating right between a 5.5 and 6 on the pH scale, it’s also not going to irritate your skin in the long term. Read a full review of the product here from K-beauty blogger Skin Full of Seoul.
If the whole pH thing makes you nervous about damaging your skin with a foaming cleanser, you could go a whole different route by using a cleansing balm instead. These have grown more popular over the last few years, and Clean It Zero is the reason that trend started. A lush, comforting balm that completely dissolves any trace of makeup, its pH sits comfortably at 6.1. This Korean cleanser is also great for those of you who enjoy doing facial massage during your skincare routine (and if you don’t, you should start).
5) Tosowoong Enzyme cleanser ($9.39)
If you’ve been tempted by the samples of the Tatcha powder cleanser at Sephora near the checkout, freeze in your tracks. The pH is grossly high at 9, and there are better options that won’t chew off your skin’s moisture barrier. We suggest Tosowoong’s Enzyme cleanser, as it has a much safer pH of 5 and still gives the curious a way to try out the powder cleanser experience. It doesn’t foam up quite as much as the traditional cleanser, but it gets the job done without throwing the skin out of balance. Plus a little goes a long way, which makes the price even more amazing. Check out a more detailed review from K-beauty blogger Snow White and the Asian Pear.
6) Jeju Bija Anti-trouble cleansing gel ($12.97)
Using a pH-friendly Korean cleanser will also address acne issues, but if you feel you want something more tailored for acne-prone skin, Innisfree’s Jeju Bija is a winner. This cleansing gel is not only designed to help soothe angry skin, but it has a pH of 3, which is by far the lowest on this list! It’s worth noting that this cleanser does not foam and feels like a gel in the hand, but if you can let go of the idea that you need bubbles to have a clean face, you’re golden. Read more about it from excellent K-beauty blogger Pico Prince here.
7) Purito Defence Barrier pH Cleanser ($10.89)
Boasting a slew of healing ingredients like Centella Asiatica, tea tree oil, royal jelly extract, and hydrolyzed collagen, it’s no wonder the Purito Defence Barrier pH cleanser feels so good on your face. At a 5.5 pH, it’s the perfect product to kick off your skincare routine both morning and evening. The scent is a very mild tea tree, so if you like its fragrance, check out this one!
Looking for more skincare tips? Here’s what you need to know about doing a multi-step skincare routine and the best sheet masks to add into it. You may also enjoy our primers on choosing the best cleanser, toner, sunscreen and more.
MORE BAZAAR DEALS:
- The 20 best Korean Beauty sheet masks
- The best Korean beauty products for $10 or less
- 5 Korean sunscreens that are safer than your drugstore brand
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Colette Bennett is a writer and editor who specializes in web culture, skincare, and geek everything. Her work has appeared on CNN, HLN, Engadget, Kotaku, Colourlovers, and Continue Magazine. She's also represented CNN as a speaker for its Leadership Unplugged program.