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5 Best Korean Cleansers for Acne-prone Skin (2021)

5 Best Korean Cleansers for Acne-prone Skin (2021)

Check out these top Korean cleansers to discover the perfect one for your acne-prone skin.

Product Name Ranking Key Ingredient pH level Consistency Fragrance & Essential Oils/ Alcohol-free Skin Type Price
Cosrx | Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser
Best Overall
Tea tree leaf oil; Betaine Salicylate 5-6 Gel N/Y All Check Here
Etude House | SoonJung 5.5 Foam Cleanser
Strong Runner-up
Madecassoside 5.5 Foam Y/Y All Check Here
Pyunkang Yul | Low pH Pore Deep Cleansing Foam
Best Budget
Green tea extract; witch hazel extract; centella asiatica; tea tree leaf extract 5 Foam N/N All Check Here
Purito | Defence Barrier Ph Cleanser
Best underrated
Centella asiatica; Tea Tree Leaf oil 5.5 Gel N/Y All Check Here
Yadah | Anti-Trouble Bubble Cleanser
Best for Fungal acne
Salicyclic acid; green tea leaf extract 5.5 Foam N/Y All Check Here

How to Pick the Best Korean Cleansers for Acne-prone Skin?

The first step to any skincare routine is cleansing the skin. That’s precisely why it’s crucial to find a cleanser that will effectively wash away the dirt, oil, and impurities from your skin, while helping you fight acne.

But, with so many Korean cleansers in the market promising the same thing, choosing the perfect cleanser for you can be difficult.

Because of this, it’s important to know the qualities you should look for in a good cleanser. The best Korean cleanser for acne-prone skin is pH balanced, and contains acne-fighting or sebum-controlling ingredients. It should also be free from comedogenic and fungal acne-causing ingredients.

Let’s discuss these considerations one by one.

Low pH cleansers

A woman washing her face with water with a slightly acidic pH. (From: Unsplash)

A woman washing her face with water with a slightly acidic pH. (From: Unsplash)

If you have acne-prone skin, the first thing you should look for is a low pH cleanser. This refers to a type of facial cleanser that has a slightly acidic pH of around 4 to 6, which emulates the skin’s natural pH levels.

 

The skin’s average pH level is slightly acidic, at around 4.7, because of its acid mantle. This is a protective film that shields it from bacteria and other contaminants. Using an alkaline cleanser damages this acidic barrier, leading to skin irritation and dehydration.

 

The pH level of low pH cleansers ensures that they can effectively cleanse the skin without compromising the acid mantle. This ensures that skin cells are able to store water more efficiently, and are safe from irritation and dryness.

This benefits acne-prone skin in two ways. First, a healthy acid mantle reduces irritation that usually causes inflammation and acne.

Second, dehydrated skin causes sebum overproduction because the skin’s oil glands try to compensate for its lack of moisture. The excess oil produced can potentially clog the pores and cause acne. A healthy acid mantle ensures that the skin is adequately hydrated. This keeps sebum levels normal and ultimately curbs possible breakouts.

Given these benefits, you can see how low pH cleansers are beneficial for acne-prone skin. For best results, get a cleanser with a pH level of 4.5 to 6.

Sebum control

A good cleanser for acne-prone skin will also contain ingredients that help in oil control. In this department, there are two star ingredients to look out for: Centella asiatica and green tea.

Centella asiatica

A closer look at the Centella asiatica plant. (From: Pixabay)

A closer look at the Centella asiatica plant. (From: Pixabay)

Also called tiger grass or cica, Centella asiatica is a wonder ingredient used for a variety of skin concerns. Cica contains antioxidant, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. These make it the perfect ingredient for calming acne breakouts. It’s even great at fighting redness and reducing pigmentation issues that follow acne breakouts!

That’s not all, though. What’s great about cica is its ability to help control sebum production. This ingredient rejuvenates the skin’s protective barrier in two ways. It reduces transepidermal water loss (TEWL), as well as increases hyaluronic acid production. These prevent skin dehydration and the resulting sebum overproduction.

Green tea

Some green tea leaves in a basket during harvest. (From: Pixabay)

Some green tea leaves in a basket during harvest. (From: Pixabay)

Another ingredient often used in Korean beauty, green tea is known for its acne-fighting properties. This ingredient has been proven effective against acne-causing bacteria. It also reduces sebum production significantly. In fact, one study found that regularly applying a 3% green tea extract formulation to the skin significantly reduced oil production.

Acne control ingredients

To effectively get rid of acne, you also need to look for ingredients that can treat it. The following ingredients help control breakouts through clearing pores and fighting acne-causing bacteria:

Salicylic acid (BHA)

Salicylic acid penetrates deep into the pores to dissolve dead skin cells that may potentially clog it. This prevents breakouts through clearing clogged pores and starving the acne bacteria of its food source. Ultimately, this reduces blockage of pores or hair follicles.

In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using salicylic acid for pustules, papules, blackheads, and whiteheads. This is because salicylic acid has been proven effective in treating acne without irritating the skin.

AHAs

A product containing AHA for exfoliation. (From: Unsplash)

A product containing AHA for exfoliation. (From: Unsplash)

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), are a group of plant- and animal-derived acids. These are normally used to target skin concerns like acne and photoaging. AHAs loosen the bonds that hold skin cells together, encouraging the growth of more skin cells. This increases cell turnover, and allows the skin to shed dead skin cells more quickly.

 

AHAs are used in varying concentrations to address numerous skin conditions. Lower AHA concentrations (up to 10%) tend to be used in nonprescription creams and skincare products. Meanwhile, chemical peels (20% or higher) can be used by qualified professionals to treat calluses, keratoses, and acne.

 

Multiple studies have backed the ability of AHAs to significantly reduce all acne types. One study, for instance, showed that using a 30% glycolic acid peel is as effective as salicylic acid in reducing papules and pustules.

Copper peptides

Peptides are naturally occurring compounds.They are normally used in skincare because of their ability to boost collagen production.

 

Peptides easily bind with copper enzymes, hence the name copper peptides.

 

Given their role in stimulating collagen production, copper peptides are associated with wound healing and anti-aging benefits. Additionally, they promote the production of glycosaminoglycans—a group of sugars in the body, which includes hyaluronic acid.

With these benefits, copper peptides play a huge role in keeping the skin soft and smooth. Their wound-healing properties are crucial in reducing acne scarring. At the same time, their role in boosting hyaluronic acid levels ensures the skin is adequately hydrated. This helps to regulate oil production and decrease the risk of acne breakouts.

Fungal acne safe

A woman who suffers from fungal acne on her right cheek. (From: Pixabay)

A woman who suffers from fungal acne on her right cheek. (From: Pixabay)

If you have clusters of small, itchy pimples, you might be suffering from fungal acne. This condition can coexist with acne vulgaris, and might be the reason why your pimples won’t go away even after numerous treatments.

Fungal acne is caused by an infection of the skin’s hair follicles due to an overgrowth of yeast. This is different from acne vulgaris, which occurs when pores are clogged by sebum and dead skin cells.

To avoid fungal acne, you should prevent applying products that may upset the balance of yeast, fungi, and bacteria in the skin. This includes esters, as well as fatty acids and oils with a carbon chain length of 11 to 24, which are food for Malessezia fungus.

 

Fatty acids, oils, and esters are used in most skincare products. The most commonly used fatty acids and oils are lauric, palmitic, stearic, oleic, and linoleic acid. Esters, meanwhile, are easily distinguishable since they all end in -ate (e.g., isopropyl palmitate, glyceryl stearate, etc).

 

You should also stay away from fermented skincare products like galactomyces. This common Korean skincare ingredient drastically increases the activity of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, which is linked to Malassezia and fungal acne growth.

Avoid comedogenic ingredients

Last, but not the least, check your product’s ingredients for any comedogenic ingredients. This refers to ingredients that are likely to clog the pores and cause acne.

 

To find out whether an ingredient is comedogenic or not, check out the comedogenic scale. This site lists out different ingredients in skincare and cosmetic products, and how likely they are to clog the pores.

 

Of these, we will be focusing on two specific ones commonly found in cleansers: myristic and stearic acid.

Myristic acid

Myristic acid is a fatty acid that binds to both water and oil, allowing it to effectively wash away dirt, oil, and other impurities.

However, myristic acid has a comedogenic rating of 3. This means it has a moderate possibility to clog the pores and cause breakouts.

In addition, myristic acid is a fatty acid with a 14-carbon backbone. This makes it a potential fungal acne trigger that can worsen fungal acne as well.

Stearic acid

Stearic acid is a fatty acid that binds with dirt, oil, and water, to effectively cleanse the skin. Unlike most surfactants, stearic acid is not stripping and even bolsters the skin’s protective barrier. This makes it great for dry skin types but not oily and acne-prone skin.

Stearic acid is moderately comedogenic, with a rating of 2 to 3–a moderate possibility to clog the pores and aggravate breakouts.

Additionally, stearic acid contains a long fatty acid chain, which can potentially trigger fungal acne.

Best Korean Cleansers for Acne-prone Skin (2021)

COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser

Best Overall
A closer look at the COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser. (From: ph.althea.kr)

A closer look at the COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser. (From: ph.althea.kr)

Key features

  • Non-irritating and non-stripping with a pH of 5
  • Clears pores and fights acne with salicylic acid
  • Treats acne and control sebum with tea tree oil
  • Hydrates the skin with allantoin
  • Alcohol-free and sulfate-free

The COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser is a crowd favorite, and for good reason. This cleanser contains betaine salicylate to clear the pores and treat acne. It also contains tea tree oil—an amazing acne-fighting and sebum-controlling ingredient. With a pH of 5, this cleanser keeps your skin clean, healthy and hydrated. Thus, it’s no surprise that this cleanser has bagged Best Overall in our list.

This product features ingredients that, while effective against acne, are non-irritating. Using betaine salicylate ensures that it can effectively exfoliate the skin and clear the pores from any dead skin cells or clogged sebum. Betaine salicylate works just like salicylic acid, but is much gentler, making it suitable for daily use even for sensitive skin.

Tea tree oil, meanwhile, is known for the multitude of benefits it gives acne-prone skin. It significantly reduces the amount and severity of acne. What’s more, it has also been proven to reduce sebum production, and even decrease pore size!

The COSRX Low pH Cleanser also features allantoin, an ingredient that boosts the moisturizing benefits of Hyaluronic Acid. At the same time, this cleanser doesn’t have alcohol or sulfates, which can irritate the skin and strip it of moisture. This ensures that this cleanser is hydrating, and won’t harm the skin’s moisture barrier.

 

This product is not fungal acne safe, so those suffering from fungal acne may want to check out a different cleanser.

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Etude House Soon Jung 5.5 Foam Cleanser

Strong Runner-up
A closer look at the Etude House Soon Jung 5.5 Foam Cleanser. (From: beautymnl.com)

A closer look at the Etude House Soon Jung 5.5 Foam Cleanser. (From: beautymnl.com)

Key features

  • Contains madecassoside for calming acne and controlling sebum production
  • Hydrates the skin with madecassoside and panthenol
  • Hypoallergenic and suitable for all skin types
  • Alcohol- and sulfate-free

If you’re looking for a gentle, hypoallergenic product to help with your acne, the Etude House Soon Jung 5.5 Foam Cleanser is for you.This cleanser features madecassoside, an ingredient with wound-healing properties that can quickly calm breakouts and reduce inflammation. It can also soothe irritated skin, making it a perfect choice for all skin types. Thus, it’s no surprise that it’s hailed as the Strong Runner-up in this list.

This cleanser’s star ingredient, madecassoside, is one of the main components of Centella asiatica. This is actually what provides cica most of its benefits. Just like cica, madecassoside helps reduce redness and inflammation associated with acne breakouts. It also hydrates the skin, which brightens the skin and fades marks and blemishes.

Madecassoside also works together with panthenol to increase the production of hyaluronic acid. This helps revitalize the skin’s protective barrier, keeping it safe from irritation and dehydration.

What’s more, the Soon Jung 5.5 Foam Cleanser is free from sulfates and alcohols, which dry out and irritate the skin. Its pH level of 5.5 is also perfect for effectively cleansing the skin without compromising the acid mantle.

 

Those with fungal acne should be careful when using this product. That’s because it contains Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, an ester and a fungal acne trigger. Consider patch testing this product first, or try out a fungal acne safe cleanser instead.

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Pyunkang Yul Low pH Pore Deep Cleansing Foam

Best Budget
A closer look at the Pyunkang Yul Low pH Pore Deep Cleansing Foam. (From: iHerb.com)

A closer look at the Pyunkang Yul Low pH Pore Deep Cleansing Foam. (From: iHerb.com)

Key features

  • Contains AHA, Centella asiatica, green tea, and witch hazel extract to fight acne
  • Regulates sebum production with green tea and cica
  • Reduces redness and acne marks and cica
  • Clears clogged pores with AHA
  • Contains cica and hyaluronic acid for added hydration

Our Best Budget cleanser is none other than the Pyunkang Yul Low pH Pore Deep Cleansing Foam. This affordable cleanser features a chock full of effective acne-fighting ingredients: witch hazel, cica, and green tea. It also contains naturally-derived AHA for clearing clogged pores and removing dead skin cells.

The great thing about this cleanser’s ingredients is that they target different acne-causing factors. Green tea extract is effective in fighting against acne-causing bacteria and preventing excessive sebum production. Cica is great for oil control as well. It also alleviates inflammation, soothes the skin, and helps reduce blemishes and acne marks after breakouts.

This cleanser also contains naturally-derived AHAs, which are great in treating acne. Their exfoliating properties also help eliminate dead skin cells, which can cause acne breakouts.

With witch hazel, the Pyunkang Yul Low pH Pore Deep Cleansing Foam also helps in drying out acne and alleviating inflammation associated with acne. To top it all off, this product contains hyaluronic acid which keeps the moisture barrier healthy, safe from irritation and dehydration.

 

However, this product contains isopropyl alcohol, which can be drying and irritating to the skin. It also contains essential oils which can further irritate the skin, as well as witch hazel which is not well-tolerated by all skin types. Patch testing is advised prior to using this product to ensure it won’t induce irritation and aggravate existing acne.

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PURITO Defence Barrier pH Cleanser

Best Underrated Product
A closer look at the PURITO Defence Barrier pH Cleanser. (From: puritoen.com)

A closer look at the PURITO Defence Barrier pH Cleanser. (From: puritoen.com)

Key features

  • Contains cica and tea tree oil to treat acne and control sebum
  • Fights redness and inflammation with cica
  • Hydrates and protects the skin with allantoin
  • Alcohol- and sulfate-free

PURITO may not be as well-known as other KBeauty brands, but its Defence Barrier pH Cleanser is something you wouldn’t want to miss. With a pH of 5.5, this budget-friendly, cruelty-free cleanser is non-stripping. It’s also sulfate-free, but cleanses so deeply that it can even remove make-up! With amazing ingredients like cica and tea tree leaf oil to fight acne and reduce skin oiliness, it’s definitely deserving of the title Best Underrated Product in our list.

This cleanser utilizes tea tree oil as a key ingredient to treat acne and reduce its severity. Tea tree oil also minimizes sebum production, which prevents excess oil from clogging the pores and causing breakouts.

Centella asiatica is another star ingredient in this cleanser. Its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties can help calm breakouts. At the same time, it boosts the skin’s hydration levels, keeping it smooth and healthy. With consistent use, cica can also fade blemishes and dark spots.

The PURITO Defence Barrier pH Cleanser also features allantoin, a moisturizing agent. This prevents transepidermal water loss (TEWL) in the skin, keeping it adequately hydrated. It also does not contain alcohols, sulfates, and essential oils, thus minimizing the risk of irritation even for sensitive skin.

 

However, it’s important to note that this product contains lauric acid, which is comedogenic and a known fungal acne trigger. Patch testing is essential prior to using this product as your regular cleanser.

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YADAH Anti Trouble Bubble Cleanser

Best for Fungal Acne
A closer look at the YADAH Anti Trouble Bubble Cleanser. (From: iHerb.com)

A closer look at the YADAH Anti Trouble Bubble Cleanser. (From: iHerb.com)

Key features

  • Clears pores with salicylic acid
  • Fights acne with salicylic acid and green tea
  • Contains green tea and aloe vera for sebum control
  • Moisturizes and the skin with aloe vera
  • Fungal acne safe

Struggling with fungal acne? We highly recommend the YADAH Anti Trouble Bubble Cleanser, which easily claims the title of Best for Fungal Acne in this list. This product contains ingredients like salicylic acid and green tea to fight acne. At the same time, it’s also formulated with absolutely no fungal acne triggers. What’s more, this product comes with an easy-to-use foam pump for the best cleansing experience.

 

Foam pumps make for more economical packaging, as one pump normally dispenses enough product for a single use. They’re also more hygienic, preventing any form of contact that may contaminate the product inside with germs and bacteria.

 

This cleanser features green tea extract and salicylic acid to fight acne. Regular use of green tea is associated with significant reduction in the number of comedones and acne. It also helps reduce sebum production, thus reducing the risk of acne breakouts.

Salicylic acid chemically exfoliates and clears up the pores, removing dead skin cells and excess sebum. It’s also a recommended treatment for acne, thanks to its proven effectiveness against different types of acne.

The YADAH Anti Trouble Bubble Cleanser also contains aloe vera, which is known for its wound-healing and anti-inflammatory properties. Aloe vera also moisturizes the skin, while tightening the pores and regulating oil production.

With a pH of 5.5, this cleanser won’t overly strip your skin of its natural oils. In addition, this product doesn’t contain known irritants like sulfates and alcohols. It’s completely free from fungal acne triggers, too, making it perfect for all skin types.

 

Unfortunately, this product contains essential oils. Those sensitive to essential oils or fragrance should do a patch test before using this product.

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