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Backyard Bargains: Six Korean Facial Cleansers That Rock

Don't pay up the won for import skincare when there are plenty of domestic products that make the grade.

I have a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on whom you ask) obsession with skin care products. Throughout the years, my skin has fought against hormones, urban pollution, seasonal changes and, on occasion, tanning out in the sun. And after test-driving numerous moisturizers, cleansers and toners over those years, I’m happy to say that I’ve whittled the field down to the select few that I refuse to live without. That is, until I moved to Korea.

Due to import fees that sometimes cost as much as the product itself, I’m finding it difficult to justify paying almost twice as much now for my usual skin care products without putting a serious dent into my mandatory coffee budget. Fortunately, Korea is quickly developing into a leading international competitor in the cosmetic industry, so there’s no shortage of effective and affordable beauty products here that make the grade. Here are just a few of the best homegrown and cheap facial cleansers to help you avoid stocking up on ramyeon till your next paycheck.

Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist1. Innisfree Green Tea Pure Cleansing Water (12,000 won)
Ideal for all skin types
The great thing about this cleanser is that you don’t have to use water. At all. Did you know that water (especially hard water) actually dries out your skin? When water evaporates, it takes with it the natural oils that reside on the outer layer of your skin, and, as a result, leaves it feeling taut and stretched. Cleansing waters contain agents that help retain moisture while removing the dirt and oil that you’ve accumulated throughout your day. This green tea-based cleanser from Innisfree is chock-full of plant extracts, such as camellia and orchid, as well as witch hazel, which works great as a calming agent to reduce redness and irritation. These extracts also contribute to its fantastic scent. Bonus: It removes make-up, which, if you’re lazy like me, is a godsend to a quicker and easier nighttime regime.

Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist2. The Face Shop Rice Water Bright Cleansing Oil (8,900 won)
Ideal for oily and combination skin types
Maybe the idea of slathering oil onto your skin sounds strange and a tad gross, but cleansing oils are a growing market in the world of skin care products. MAC makes one as do Bobbi Brown and Dermalogica. However, the concept and trend of using oils as cleansers originated from Japanese and Korean cosmetic companies, and illustrates in part why many Asian women have such flawless skin. Fact: oil dissolves oil. Water does not. Have you ever used a cleanser that made your skin feel super squeaky clean afterwards? It might feel great, but that sensation is a sign that your cleanser is stripping away the natural oils required to keep your skin properly hydrated and balanced. These natural oils, known as sebum, are essential in protecting your skin from losing moisture as it gets older. Every skin type has sebum, but those with oily complexions suffer from an excess of it. Cleansing oils gently dissolve the excess sebum along with dirt and make-up on the skin without wrestling out the beneficial stuff that’s actually supposed to be there. The Rice Water Bright series by Face Shop features a mild cleansing oil that uses rice bran and jojoba oils as its base. These two plant-based oils are great because they’re lightweight, won’t clog your pores, and they promote bright and youthful-looking skin.

Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist3. The Face Shop Rice Water Bright Cleansing Milk (6,900 won)
Ideal for dry skin
Here’s another great product from The Face Shop’s Rice Water series—this time for dry skin. The winter season is a time for joyous things, but those with dry skin know that there’s a battle to be fought—the battle to keep skin moisturized at all costs. Flaking, itchiness, irritation and redness are common issues experienced by dry-skinned folks, and I’ve known a few who are forced to smear petroleum jelly onto their faces and pray for relief. There are a few “miracle” products out there like the fabled Crème de la Mer, but unless you’re ok with shelling out 160,000 won for a puny 1 oz. jar, adding a product or two containing effective moisturizing ingredients can deliver similar results. Cleansing milks, like their oily counterparts, promote babying the skin with gentle ingredients. Cream-based cleansers have a milky, thicker consistency that can do wonders for dry skin because they contain certain emollients designed to deeply hydrate the dermal surface. The Rice Water cleansing milk’s consistency is perfect; it isn’t too watery in that it feels like it’s not creamy enough, but it isn’t too thick either, which means less rubbing and subsequent irritation as you take the product off. The base ingredient is mineral oil, but its consistency is more milk-like rather than oily, and the result is luxuriously silky and soft skin.

Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist4. Too Cool For School’s The Rules of Pore, Morocco Ghassoul Foam Cleanser (9,500 won)
Ideal for Oily Skin
Wait… Morocco what? Ghassoul only sounds unfortunate as it’s actually a wonderful type of naturally occurring clay found near the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. It contains a number of essential minerals known to detoxify and balance the skin like calcium, magnesium and potassium. Too Cool for School’s foaming cleanser for oily skin contains a mild amount of ghassoul for gentle cleansing, and it’s effective enough to remove excess sebum while replenishing the skin with yummy nutrients you’d normally get from food. It also contains tiny granules for exfoliation so that these nutrients can penetrate beyond the dead skin layer of your face and do its thing.

Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist5. Charmzone’s Ginkgo Natural Foam Cleansing Cream (9,900 won)
Ideal for aging and photo-damaged skin
There are hundreds of age-defying products on the market nowadays, and most of them come in the form of day and night creams, serums and concentrates. It’s not so easy to find facial cleansers that also help repair skin cells as well as restore the highly vaunted protein called collagen. Collagen and its partner-in-crime, elastin, work together to ensure skin firmness and strength. Unfortunately, our collagen production degrades over time, making us look all saggy and craggy after 40. It sucks. Well, Charmzone makes a cleanser that helps renew that dreaded process by using ginkgo biloba. You’ve probably spotted ginkgo trees around Korea as they’re pretty much everywhere, and even if you don’t know what the tree looks like, you’ve probably seen and smelled its fruits, which fall to the ground at summer’s end and stink like fresh dog poop. Ginkgo is a powerful antioxidant known to boost circulation, rejuvenate and promote younger-looking skin. And don’t worry, the weird smell isn’t bottled into the cleanser.

Photo by Yaeri Song for Seoulist6. ADefying’s Foam Cleansing Cream (14,800 won)
Ideal for acne-prone skin
Danahan’s cleanser for acne-prone skin contains small, but effective amounts of two ingredients known to help regulate and banish pimples—salicylic acid and triclosan. You may be familiar with salicylic acid if you’ve lived through the ‘90s when Clearasil was in its glorious heyday, but perhaps less so with triclosan. It’s an antibacterial agent, sometimes found in mouthwash to prevent gingivitis as well as some antibacterial soaps. If you’ve ever had a pimple, you might’ve heard time and time again to fight the urge to touch your face, or at least the immediate area around your pimple because any irritation to the area will cause your skin to sprout new ones. Well, the people who’ve nagged about that were right. Excess sebum indicates an oily skin type that is prone to getting dead skin, oil and bacteria trapped in the skin. This will inevitably lead to a small, red and totally annoying infection known as the pimple. So, if you’re reading this article with your hands propped up against your face, remove them immediately and go buy this cleanser.

What’s your favorite domestic cleanser?

About the author

Mia Kim

Mia Kim is a Chicago native who likes music, biking, reading non-fiction, and is only somewhat ashamed of her terrible Korean. She's held previous jobs as a waitress, a baker, a window dresser and as a salesgirl selling men's underwear. She now works as an English teacher in Hongdae.

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