Ideally, you would take away 10 things from the infamous 10-step Korean skin care routine. But if there were just one thing you could take away from that regimen/way of life, it’s the importance of taking off your makeup and then washing your face. They are two different things, you guys! For the K-beauty purists, that requires one of the best Korean makeup removers, which hail from brands at the forefront of the country’s innovative skin care industry. All these cleansers contain nourishing and hydrating ingredients that melt away makeup, sunscreen, and other surface-level grime without disrupting your skin's natural protective barrier.
Because Korean skin care tends to emphasize skin barrier maintenance, all these cleansers are suitable for people with sensitive, reactive, and/or dry skin — even the exfoliating cleanser here contains its fair share of calming and hydrating ingredients. But they’re all equally effective on acne-prone skin, since any oils in these cleansers are noncomedogenic. So rather than skin type, choose your cleanser based on your preferred form: Decadent balm, fluid micellar water, or classic cleansing oil.
Start your search with the best Korean makeup removers listed ahead, then pick up a water-based cleanser to complete that double-cleansing routine. Then maybe upgrade to an essence. And a toner. And a moisturizer. And definitely sunscreen. And maybe an ampoule? Just an idea.
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1. The Cleansing Balm
This Banila Co cleansing balm is one of the most beloved Korean makeup removers of all time. It’s a simple, foolproof option for all skin types, and it’s strong enough to melt the most stubborn makeup (including Halloween makeup, as one Redditor pointed out). You can’t go wrong with the original formula linked to here, but it comes in a few other versions, as well: Purifying, which is made for irritation-prone skin; Revitalizing, which has extra antioxidants in the formula; and Nourishing for extra-dry skin types.
2. The Micellar Water
Micellar water (also called cleansing water or beauty water) feels lighter and more refreshing than cleansing oil, but it works equally well for cutting through excess sebum, sunscreen, and waterproof makeup. It’ll leave your skin feeling just as soft and hydrated as an oil cleanser would, too. I like this one from TO DO LIST, a small, female-owned brand that makes products targeted toward sensitive skin. The hypoallergenic formula is infused with 10 Korean herbs, like calendula, mugwort, and lemongrass, which acts as a natural toner. It’s garnered a small but loyal following on Amazon, where reviewers rave about how effective, gentle, and affordable it is.
3. The Oil-Gel Hybrid
For the makeup-erasing powers of a cleansing oil and the purifying lather of a gel, pick up this hybrid cleanser from belif. The consistency actually lies somewhere between an oil and a cleansing milk — it’s much lighter and more fluid than traditional cleansing oils — and it works up into a fine lather that won't strip or irritate dry, sensitive skin. Instead, it leaves skin feeling soft, nourished, and thoroughly clean, just like a cleansing oil (and a gel cleanser) should.
4. The Brightening One
Rice water is a staple ingredient in Asian skin care (as it has been for centuries), particularly for its stores of brightening antioxidants and skin-softening fatty acids. This oil cleanser from The Face Shop contains both rice extract and rice oil, along with jojoba oil for an added dose of antioxidants. Amazon reviewers like its lightweight texture, which feels especially nice on oily skin types.
5. The Exfoliating One
This is basically Skinfood’s cult-favorite Black Sugar Mask, but in cleansing oil form. Finely ground sugar, which buffs away dead skin cells on the surface of your skin, is the first ingredient in here, while fruit acids help clear out your pores at a deeper level. All in all, that's an ideal combo for clearing up blackheads. What's more, sake (aka, fermented rice water) provides brightening benefits, while strengthening proteins and ceramides counteract any harsh effects exfoliating can wreak on your skin.
6. The All-Natural One
This Purito cleansing oil is composed of five plant-based oils and not much else, which makes it among the “cleanest” Korean cleansers you can find. It’s certainly the simplest on this list. The oil lineup includes olive, sunflower seed, jojoba seed, sweet almond, and grape seed, which are all rich in antioxidants and fatty acids that help protect, brighten, and nourish your skin. Since it’s free of fragrances and alcohols, it’s especially safe for people with sensitive, allergy-prone skin.