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The Korean Double Cleansing Method: 2 Simple Steps

Korean Double Cleansing Method

Before you even think about applying your expensive serums or moisturizers, proper skincare requires you to thoroughly cleanse your face. 

Think about it. 

Without proper cleansing, you’ll massage the gunk all around as you apply your skincare products. Ick!

This is where the Korean double cleansing method comes in.

Table of Contents

The 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine

If you haven’t heard about the 10-step Korean skincare routine yet, then it’s either:

  • A) You may be living under a rock, or
  • B) You’re new to skincare

This awesome (yet demanding) method reflects the Korean way of cleansing the skin to get that so-called “chok chok look.” This look is characterized by even skin tone, hydrated skin, and minimized pores and wrinkles.

At the heart of the skincare routine — and even those of normal ones — is the cleansing step.

People may debate about how effective certain ingredients are, but all would agree that maintaining a clean face keeps skin problems away.

What Is Korean Double Cleansing?

Double cleansing just means cleansing twice. It is a method popularized by Koreans where two types of cleansers are used.

These are also the first steps in the 10-step Korean skincare routine to ensure proper absorption of subsequently applied products during the process.

The first step is to use an oil-cleanser followed by a water-based cleanser.

If you’re having a hard time understanding why this should be done, remember Chemistry 101: “Like dissolves like.”

Only oil-based products are able to effectively dissolve other oil-based products. The same goes for water-based materials.

This has to do with the polarity of the molecules. It’s not hard to see this demonstration in real life. Oil and water don’t mix.

So basically, if you wash your face with only a water-based cleanser, you will be leaving out all non-polar things on your skin such as oil, sunscreen, and certain types of makeup.

Why Do It

Step 1: Oil-Based Cleanser

Step 1

An oil-based cleanser can either come in liquid or solid form. For solids, they can either be cleansing balms or creams, which, in our opinion, is more easily applied compared to the liquid form.

When choosing an oil-based cleanser, you can’t just pick the first oil cleanser you see. A lot of plant-based cleansing oils are comedogenic, meaning they can clog the pores. 

What It Does

An oil-based cleanser dissolves molecules from your skin that may irritate it. These include excess sebum, sunscreen, and pollutants. Your long-stay makeup can also be oil-based.

Note that some of the common oil-based products we use daily can cause discoloration and infection if not removed properly.

Once the oil cleanser binds to these particles, they are effectively washed off with rinsing.

Using an oil-based cleanser is also a good way of keeping your skin hydrated. As a bonus, they can also lessen the appearance of wrinkles because of the moisture and nourishment provided.

Oil cleansers contain a lot of fatty oils that plump up the skin while deeply hydrating it.

How to Use an Oil-Based Cleanser

An oil-based cleanser is applied when the face is dry. Unlike foam and water-based cleansers wherein you still need to lather, oil cleansers are used directly on the face.

Don’t be surprised if you end up looking like a mess afterward. It will be slightly gross at first, especially when you see gunk moving around your face.

Your eye shadow will blend with your mascara, and this is totally normal. In fact, this is an indication your oil cleanser is moving. It’s melting off all the undesirable oil-based materials on your face.

After massaging it onto the skin, apply a little water afterward and continue massaging. This turns the mixture milky. Finally, remove the cleanser using a gentle washcloth.

Some people use water to rinse it off. But we’d recommend you to use a washcloth to gently and effectively remove the cleanser together with all the gunk.

Some Oil-Based Cleansers You Can Try

Though there are many effective Korean cleansing oils available, we compiled a shortlist of the best of the best below.

Banila Co Clean It Zero Cleansing Balm Original

This affordable cleansing balm melts away makeup quickly. What we love about this is it is non-comedogenic and uses gentle plant extracts to cleanse the skin.

It has papaya and cherry extracts that are good sources of Vitamin C and A, respectively. These vitamins help nourish the skin by making it brighter and more hydrated.

The Face Shop Rice Water Bright Light Cleansing Oil

Rice water has been used since the Joseon Dynasty in Korea after they discovered that it has great effects on the skin. Today, scientists have found out this is due to the vitamins and amino acids contained in the water.

This Face Shop oil-based cleanser is perfect for those who have oily or combination skin. It does not contain mineral oil and does not cause breakouts or irritation.

Hanskin Pore Cleansing Oil

This Hanskin cleansing oil is all about the pores. It contains polyhydroxy acids, or PHAs, that slough off dead cells from the skin. It’s one of the mildest acids available so it’s safe enough for sensitive skin types as well.

As you wash off all the oil-based gunk off your face, you’re assured of a gentle exfoliation and de-clogging of your pores. It also contains tea tree leaf and Jojoba oils that prevent blackheads and breakouts from forming.

Step 2: Water-Based Cleanser

Step 2

The next step and second cleanse method is to wash your face with a water-based cleanser. Water-based cleansers can be either foaming or non-foaming.

Foaming water-based cleansers are generally more alkaline compared to non-foaming ones. This means they could easily upset your skin compared to the latter. Take this into consideration when choosing a water-based cleanser.

What It Does

Water-based cleansers do the same thing that oil-based cleansers do, except that this time, they attract and remove polar molecules from the face. These polar particles include sweat and dirt.

As the final cleansing step, this should ideally remove all the remaining impurities from the skin. 

However, although we like the squeaky clean feeling after cleansing, this should not be the goal. The skin should not feel too tight after using a water-based cleanser. Instead, it should feel soft and hydrated.

How to Use

For foaming water-based cleansers, wet the face and apply the product while massaging the skin gently. Basically, it’s just the usual method of washing your face.

For non-foaming water-based cleansers, however, since it is quite awkward to wash the face with little lather, we recommend using a konjac sponge. This helps create a nice lather that can also reduce skin irritation when applied.

Recommended use of konjac sponge sponge is 2-3 times a week for sensitive skin.

Some Water-Based Cleansers You Can Try

There are a lot of popular Korean face washes that you can choose from. We listed our favorites below. 

Sulwhasoo Snowise EX Cleansing Foam

This Sulwhasoo foam cleanser is infused with white clay components that remove dirt and other impurities from the skin. There are also Korean herbs in this product that remove dead skin cells for a brighter complexion.

This water-based cleanser has a slightly acidic 5-6 pH level which mimics the natural skin pH.

COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser

The COSRX Low PH Good Morning Gel Cleanser is a 2-in-1 product that works as a water-based cleanser and gentle exfoliator at the same time.

The exfoliation is done by BHA, which is great for those with oily skin and acne-prone skin types. In addition, it also has tea tree oil that helps clear the complexion and remove dead skin cells, giving you a near flawless look.

The low pH of this water-based cleanser ensures the skin is not left to fend for itself after cleansing. This cleanser won’t leave you with a dry and tight face after use. Even though it’s exfoliating, the skin feels nourished after rinse.

Innisfree Blueberry Rebalancing 5.5 Cleanser

Like COSRX, this water-based cleanser by Innisfree promises to rebalance your skin’s PH to a subacidic level. The acidic contents make sure that your skin stays moisturized throughout the cleansing process. It also preps the skin to absorb your other skincare products better.

The star ingredient of this water-based cleanser is Blueberry which is rich in many antioxidants to nourish your skin. This face wash gives you a plumper, healthier, and firmer complexion.

How to Do It

Benefits of Double Cleansing Your Skin

Of all the steps in the 10-step Korean skincare routine, double cleansing is the one you should not miss. It’s basic — and NECESSARY.

The most obvious benefit of double cleansing is having clean skin, which is important in keeping it healthy and free from breakouts. Another benefit is attaining that clean canvas for your skincare products and makeup.

Korean cleansers are formulated in a way that not only cleanses the skin but also provides nourishment.

Do you still need to do the double cleansing skincare routine even when you don’t wear makeup? The answer is YES.

Is It Possible to Over-Cleanse?

It definitely is! Soaps are designed to strip the skin of its natural moisture and oils that it tends to work harder just to protect itself.

We can’t blame soap manufacturers, though. Soap, by definition, is supposed to be alkaline. This is to ensure the effective removal of dirt and sebum from the skin.

However, this can harm the skin in the long run. The skin can be cleaned thoroughly even without the harshness of alkalinity.

As a general rule for double cleansing, you should choose cleansers with a pH below 7. The skin’s healthy pH is below 5.

Choosing cleansers with pH more than 7 will leave the skin feeling tight and clean, but you’ll have to apply more products in order to compensate for the natural goodness you just rinsed off.

The Cleanser for Your Skin Type

The Cleanser for Your Skin Type

As with any other skincare product, take into consideration your skin type when choosing oil-based and water-based cleansers. Of course, the basic rule is to check if you are allergic to any of the ingredients. This is especially true for those with sensitive skin types.

If you have dry skin, go for cleansers that are hydrating. They should be able to gently remove unwanted things from your face while keeping most of the natural moisture in. When hunting for an oil-based cleanser, look for jojoba oil as it effectively conditions the skin. Nature Republic Forest Garden Cleansing Oil has this wonderful ingredient.

For those with oily skin and acne-prone skin, make sure that your cleanser is powerful enough to keep the pores clean while removing excess sebum. Again, don’t aim for the squeaky clean feel no matter how much you like that. The Innisfree Bija Anti-Trouble Gel Cleanser is a good product to try.

Wrapping Up

The Korean double cleansing method is at the heart of the 10-step Korean skincare routine because it is the most essential step in the process. You can forget about expensive serums and ampoules when you can’t even properly cleanse your skin.

Cleansing is basic and is the most important step in any skincare routine.

So treat yourself with an oil-based cleanser like the Banila Co Clean It Zero Cleansing Balm Original, followed by a water-based one such as the COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser for that fresher, cleaner feel. Or you opt to use a Korean foam cleanser!

And so, get started with your double cleansing routine and enjoy better skin now!


September 2, 2021 – Updated article content

August 20, 2021 – Improved article formatting, reviewed and updated overall content

July 15, 2021 – Reviewed and updated article links, embedded 1 new YouTube video for visual aid

Paola Diaz
Paola Diaz

Hi, I'm Paola! A skin care enthusiast and nature lover. Creating content that promotes proper skin treatment and keeping a healthy glow is my way of sharing with the world how healthy skin can go a long way. I’m a firm believer of natural beauty that radiates inside all of us. All we need is the right kind of nourishment that inspires our wellness from inside out. So it’s really not about physical beauty alone – it’s the beautiful life we can create for ourselves when we connect with our own nature and see there is beauty that shines from every one of us.