To Westerners like me, oil cleansing is maybe the most counterintuitive part of the Korean skincare routine. We’ve been taught by Neutrogena commercials and Seventeen articles that oil should stay far, far away from our faces, and yet here are the oil cleansers, asking us to not only rub oil all over our faces but use it as a way to get clean.
For those unfamiliar with oil cleansers, the idea is that there are a bunch of things you put on your face, like makeup and sunscreen, that dissolve in oil but not in water. (It’s how makeups and sunscreens manage to be water-resistant.) Since “like dissolves like”, you can dissolve all that gunk at the end of the day with an oil cleanser, then rinse it away with water thanks to its special emulsifiable formulation.
After that, you follow it up with a second cleanser (usually a traditional foaming one) to get the dirt, grime, and excess oil. The best analogy I’ve heard for double cleansing is that washing your face without oil cleansing first is like taking a shower with your clothes on. Sure, you’ll get cleaner, but you won’t get clean.
There’s one more major plus for oil cleansers: your pores are filled with oily sebum, and (to repeat a phrase) like dissolves like, so the only way to get into your pores and de-gunk them is with another oil. A lot of people get “grits” when they oil cleanse – hard little strands of sebum and dirt that the oil loosens and removes. It is EXTREMELY satisfying. (Personally, I only get grits when my pores are super duper clogged; my pores are usually clean enough that grits are but a beautiful fantasy.)
To share an oil cleansing anecdote: a few months ago, I was sick and didn’t leave the house for a few days, so my makeup and sunscreen stayed in the medicine cabinet, untouched. I skipped double cleansing for that time and just washed my face with a foaming cleanser before bed. After three or four days of that, I noticed I had WAY more clogged pores and sebaceous filaments. My skin looked and felt really congested.
I added oil cleansing back in, and after a few days all of those clogs had popped out, leaving me with my usual smooth skin. Now, I oil cleanse every night no matter what I put on my face that morning.
So without further ado (maybe someday I’ll review a product without writing a novel to preface it), here are two oil cleansers I’ve been using recently. They’re both great but very different. You’ll probably like one of them and probably won’t like the other, but which is which depends on your own personal preferences.
Oil Cleanser #1: Aritaum Fair Smile Fermentation Cleansing Oil
What can’t you ferment? Korean beauty products have taught me that: nothing. There’s nothing you can’t ferment.
This is a liquid oil cleanser that boasts a fermented triple-complex of rice, soybean, and barley. It claims to remove even thick makeup easily and leave skin moisturized. It comes in a very pretty, delicate-looking but sturdy plastic pump bottle.
Like all oil cleansers, you use this on a dry face with dry, clean hands. (Any hint of water will cause the oil to start emulsifying, meaning it can’t do its oily work.) I find two pumps is the right amount for me. I spread it over my face, massage for about 30 seconds, add a splash of water and massage a bit more to emulsify, then rinse it off before continuing on with my second cleanser.
C12-15 alkyl benzoate, pentaerythrityl tetraethylhexanoate, cetyl ethylhexanoate, caprylic/capric triglycerides, PEG-20 glyceryl triisostearate, triethylhexanoin, PEG-8 isostearate, pentaerythrityl tetraisostearate, isopropyl palmitate, Butyrospermum parkii (shea) butter, Gossypium herbaceum (cotton) extract, Lactobacillus/soybean ferment extract, monascus/rice ferment, Saccharomyces/barley seed ferment filtrate, Glycine max (soybean) seed extract, isostearic acid, butylene glycol, water, fragrance
I never really care about ingredients in cleansers; you wash it off almost immediately, so the good stuff doesn’t stay on your skin long enough to do good stuff.
If you’re sensitive to mineral oil or any pure plant oils, though, you might be heartened by this ingredients list. It’s mostly esters and caprylic/capric triglycerides, which is derived from coconut oil but is much less comedogenic. If your skin objects to most cleansing oils, this might be one to try.
What it’s like in action
Let’s break this up into four stages: application, massage, removal, and cleansing ability.
Application: this is the thinnest cleansing oil I’ve ever used – it’s only slightly more viscous than water. That means it can get real messy to apply it, and I usually end up with oil dripping down my wrists. It smells like baby powder with a slightly floral tinge; the scent is strong but not at all overpowering.
Massage: since this is such a thin oil, this isn’t one to spend five minutes luxuriating over a facial massage with. It doesn’t give enough slip to do anything more than a once-over to remove makeup and sunscreen, which means this is not one that will get grits out. This is a slap-it-on, rub-it-around, rinse-it-off kind of experience. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing depends on what you’re looking for in an oil cleanser.
Removal: the thin texture finally has its shining moment. This is a DREAM to rinse off. It usually takes me two or three splashes to fully emulsify an oil, and then another ten to fifteen splashes before it feels completely rinsed off. This one takes one splash to emulsify and three or four to rinse clean.
Cleansing ability: I’m not much of a makeup person, so I can’t tell you how it does on tough waterproof stuff. On my day-to-day makeup, which includes blush, eyeliner, eyeshadow, and mascara, I had zero problems.
Oil Cleanser #2: A’Pieu Clean Up Herb Source Cleansing Balm
This is a cleansing balm, which means it’s solid in the tub but melts down to an oil texture on your face.
According to the sturdy and efficient plastic jar, this cleansing balm will “remove impurities and makeup residues to make your skin clear and balanced with comfort of nature from herb source energy.” And who doesn’t love some good herb source energy?
Like most cleansing balms, this has a second plastic lid under the screw top that houses a little plastic spatula. You use the spatula to hygienically scoop out about an almond-size dollop of balm, then massage it over your face, add some water to emulsify, then rinse clean and follow up with a second cleanser.
Mineral oil, Macadamia ternifolia seed oil, Macadamia integrifolia seed oil, cetyl ethylhexanoate, PEG-20 glyceryl triisostearate, PEG-10 isostearate, polyethylene, Limnanthes alba seed oil, Simmondsia chinensis seed oil, Cananga odorata flower extract, Lavandula angustifolia flower water, Rosmarinus officinalis leaf water, Mentha rotundifolia leaf extract, Anthemis nobilis flower water, Chamomilla recutita flower water, Mentha piperita leaf water, Hibiscus sabdariffa flower extract, Jasminum officinale flower water, Aloe barbadensis leaf water, Oenothera biennis seed extract, Peucedanum graveolens (dill) extract, Malva sylvestris extract, Gossypium herbaceum seed extract, Apium graveolens root/seed extract, Elettaria cardamomum seed extract, Arctium lappa seed extract, Myristica fragrans kernel extract, Myristica fragrans extract, Carthamus tinctorius seed extract, Foeniculum vulgare seed extract, Piper nigrum seed extract, Monarda didyma leaf extract, Plantago asiatica seed extract, Lepidium sativum sprout extract, Trigonella foenum-graecum seed extract, Salvia officinalis extract, Origanum vulgare, Coriandrum sativum seed extract, Moringa oleifera, Moringa pterygosperma seed extract, Hibiscus syriacus seed extract, Santalum album seed extract, Nigella sativa seed extract, Perilla frutescens flower oil, Medicago sativa, Eugenia caryophyllus, Cuminum cyminum seed extract, Tarragon extract, Carum petroselinum seed oil, Carum carvi seed oil, Borago officinalis seed oil, Sansevieria trifasciata, Portulaca oleracea extract, trihydroxystearin, isostearic acid, tocopheryl acetate, butylene glycol, water, 1,2-hexanediol, ethylhexylglycerin, phenoxyethanol, fragrance
Woof. They weren’t kidding about that herb source energy. This thing is PACKED with plant extracts and oils, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how sensitive and reactive your skin is. But, again, it’s not spending long on your face, so I’m not gonna dive deep.
The important takeaway is that this is a mineral oil based cleanser, so if you’ve had a bad reaction to mineral oil in the past, avoid this one. If you’re new to oil cleansers, mineral oil is actually one of the least comedogenic oils, so it’s a safe place to start.
What it’s like in action
This is an almost perfect dupe for Banila Co Clean It Zero. Same texture, same feel, same cleansing ability, same emulsifying/rinsing properties. Only the smell is different. If you’ve tried Clean It Zero, you can skip this part, because you already know what it’s like in action.
Application: It’s a thick, almost waxy solid in the tub that scoops out easily with the spatula. It melts on contact with skin, turning into a thick, luxurious oil texture. It’s not at all drippy and, minus the part where you’ve got a spatula in one hand and are trying to close the jar with the other, the application is a mess-free process. It smells herby, floral, nice, forgettable.
Massage: Mmmmm, this is the stuff. Much like Banila Co Clean It Zero, this is what I go for when I want to spend some time pampering myself (or clearing out my pores). The thick texture provides plenty of slip and lubrication, meaning I can massage to my heart’s content (no longer that 5 minutes, though – more than that could damage your skin). It also provides enough protection from friction that I can spend more time on areas of my skin with more clogs, and this thing is killer at getting out grits.
Removal: This one takes some effort to get off. It’s not too bad, but since it’s so thick, it’s a little more resistant to emulsifying and rinsing. It doesn’t leave any film behind, though.
Cleansing ability: In the only thing it has in common with the Aritaum cleanser, I also feel plenty clean after using the A’Pieu. It powers through my makeup and sunscreen no problem.
These are both very good oil cleansers that do exactly what they set out to. They’re also about as different as oil cleansers get.
So which one should you get, if you decide to get one?
If you like your skincare routine to be as quick as efficient as possible; if you just want to get your makeup off before falling asleep; if you want a pretty bottle on your shelf and no-drama cleaning power on your face: go with the Aritaum.
If you’re a sheet-mask-wearing, bubble-bath-taking, massage-loving luxury enthusiast; if you’re okay with spending more time on cleansing if it means de-gunking your pores; or, if you hate messy oils and want a clean and contained experience: A’Pieu’s your girl.
Personally, I like having both, because I’m all of those things at different times. I thoroughly enjoy using both these products, and my skin is thanking me for it.