The Hunt for Dry Skin Cleansers: Donginbi Red Ginseng Treatment Cleansing Oil Gel

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This is the latest entry in my ongoing hunt for gentle, non-foaming cleansers. The surfactants that make the foam in foaming cleansers tend to be harsher and remove more oil than dry skin can tolerate. My skin is so dry and prone to flaking that I’ve sworn off foaming cleansers entirely, at least for the time being. My first review was a dud, and the second was solid but not life-changing. Third up: Donginbi Red Ginseng Treatment Cleansing Oil Gel.

My last two cleansers were new to me, but I was very familiar with the brands; Holika Holika and Too Cool For School are well-known and popular brands in South Korea.

Donginbi is brand-new to me. I had never even heard the name mentioned before. But I saw that bottle and read that it was a non-foaming cleanser featuring red ginseng, that eternal Korean hanbang favorite, and it was in my cart before the drool even hit my keyboard.

don front

That drool was worth it. THAT DROOL WAS WORTH IT, YOU GUYS.

What it’s supposed to do

Donginbi Red Ginseng Treatment Cleansing Oil Gel offers a “rich, honey texture red ginseng oil that works to deep clean and moisturize your skin.” Although it has the phrase “cleansing oil” in it, it’s actually a second cleanser, meant to go after your oil cleanser.

As you can infer from the name, it prides itself heavily on its “six-year-old red ginseng”. Ginseng (Panax ginseng) has been a popular herbal remedy in Korea for thousands of years with a number of uses. Studies have shown that ginseng may be able to inhibit melanogenesis (the creation of melanin) meaning it can fade dark spots and brighten complexions. According to another study, it has potential potential anticytotoxic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging effects.

Normally, this is where I say “eh, whatever, I’m washing it off my face so the good stuff doesn’t have time to do good stuff,” but there’s something magic in this bottle, you guys.

How to use it

This goes in the place of your usual foaming cleanser. Oil cleanse first if you double cleanse, then apply to damp skin, massage for a little bit, and rinse off with lukewarm water. They suggest using 2-3 pumps, but 1 pump was plenty for me. It doesn’t foam or lather, which may take some getting used to.

don back


Olive Oil PEG-7 Esters, Macadamia Integrifolia Seed Oil, Water, Glycerin, Silica Dimethyl Silylate, Polysorbate 80, Fragrance (Parfum), Panax Ginseng Root Oil, Phenoxyethanol, Caprylyl Glycol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Butylene Glycol, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Panax Ginseng Root Water, Astragalus Membranaceus Root Extract, Ganoderma Lucidum (Mushroom) Extract, Zingiber Officinale (Ginger) Root Extract, Alcohol

As has been covered extensively here and elsewhere, low pH is super important for cleansers (between 4.5 and 6.0 is ideal). This is a perfect 5.0.

(BONUS: this site gives allergen info for specific ingredients in the fragrance!)

Ingredient highlights

As I mentioned, ginseng features heavily in this product – it’s got ginseng root oil, extract, and water. Other good stuff: astragalus root, used heavily in traditional Chinese and Korean medicine that can stimulate hyaluronic acid synthesis; Lingzhi mushroom extract, another traditional medicinal and beautifying extract with potential antioxidant effects; and ginger root extract, which has anti-inflammatory and melanin inhibiting effects.

It’s primarily olive oil esters, which are derived from olive oil but actually 1) are water-soluble, not oil-soluble and 2) function as a surfactant, albeit a very gentle one. (Check out my post on surfactants for what that means – basically, surfactants are the things in a cleanser that cleanse.)

Overall, this is a pretty short ingredients list for a cleanser, and appears very well-formulated.

What it’s like in action

The Donginbi Oil Gel is a thin, honey-colored gel, about the viscosity of syrup but not sticky.

don pump

In my experience, there are two problems with most non-foaming cleansers:

  1. They don’t feel like they’re doing anything, cleansing-wise, and
  2. They don’t rinse off c0mpletely, leaving behind an emollient film.

I have had 0% issues with either of those problems. Negative percent issues. While the Donginbi cleanser doesn’t foam, it maintains its gel texture throughout the entire cleansing process, giving plenty of lubrication as you massage. You can really feel it clearing away the gunk on your skin.

It also rinses like a dream. A few splashes and it’s gone completely, leaving behind obviously clean but soft and moisturized skin. It has a very strong smell that’s kind of a two-parter: it starts out as straight ginseng (the smell of wet soil from a well-cared-for garden – I love it, but it’s very earthy); as you cleanse, it brings out a second smell that’s a sort of men’s cologne-type smell. I like it less, but it doesn’t linger after you’ve rinsed.

don texture

My experience





Is that enough? Have I blogged sufficiently? No? Okay.

I already covered the mechanics of cleansing. It gets me feeling clean, which was a feeling I thought I was giving up when I switched to non-foaming cleansers. It rinses away completely – again, something I thought belonged solely in the realm of foaming cleansers. My skin doesn’t feel stripped afterward and I don’t have to rush to put on a hydrating product afterward, which is rare for my super-dry skin.

Honestly, the above paragraph is all that I’d ever hoped for from a cleanser. I assumed that cleansers were about what they did or didn’t take away from my skin; I didn’t think they could add anything. The most I could hope for was that it would take away the dirt and grime while leaving my skin’s natural oils in place. It does. Cool.

But after a few days of use, I noticed I was…glowing. Don’t get me wrong, I am familiar with The Glow, and I’ve gotten to a point where I can harness it most days. But with the Donginbi cleanser, I noticed I was glowing all the time, including immediately after cleansing. I’d rinse, glance at myself in the mirror, and BOOM. Glow.

After two weeks of daily use, my complexion was brighter and more even, my skin was flaking less, hell, even my products absorbed better. It not only exceeded my expectations for this product, it exceeded my expectations for what was possible from a cleanser.

It does have downsides. It’s on the pricey side ($28 for 8.5oz), it’s not sold many places, and that ginseng/cologne smell is very strong. None of those things will deter me in the slightest from repurchasing.


The best cleanser I’ve ever used, bar none. It so far exceeded my expectations that even its negatives – price and smell – can’t impact its overall score.

Overall score: 5/5

You can buy Donginbi Red Ginseng Treatment Cleansing Oil Gel from Koreadepart for $28 or from Amazon for $32.


  1. I think this review set a record for how quickly it landed something in my cart. I’m overdue for a koreadepart order anyways!! Super excited to get this!!

  2. This looks great! What a bummer it is so expensive. I actually have two of their items and they looked really promising. Just gotta test them thoroughly

  3. Ugh, I want this to work for me, but that olive oil V.V I am excited to see a gel cleanser so effective though, as someone who has also sworn off foaming cleansers this gives me hope!

    1. It’s actually an ester of olive oil, so it has a completely different molecular structure and (as far as I can find) is much less comedogenic than olive oil. Unless you know you have a sensitivity to Olive Oil PEG-7 Esters, this one might be safe for you!

  4. You mention this is meant as a second cleanser, but do you think it has the capability to remove very light makeup on its own? Like, say, a layer of sunscreen and a tinted moisturizer? I’m in cleanser hell and this sounds sooooo tempting, but at the same time my penny pincher budget keeps elbowing me for considering an expensive product that’s just there to clean up after another product of the same kind. Ughhhhh, skincare, why so difficult?!

    1. Since this has so many water-soluble ingredients, it wouldn’t function like an oil cleanser and wouldn’t dissolve oil- or silicone-based products the same way. Sorry! 🙁

  5. Thanks for the review! I know you’ve already said that this doesn’t function as a true first cleanser, but how would you rate its cleansing power relative to other non-foaming second cleansers? I haven’t actually found an oil based cleanser that doesn’t break me out something terrible so I’ve been using a pool cleanser (Caolion brand) as my only cleanser which seems to clean my sunscreen off well enough (I just use indoor type sunscreens like Biore watery essence) but the all the friction from the rubbing after it thickens sort of irritates my skin so I’m looking for something that doesn’t thicken up. Do you think this cleanser would have similar cleansing power?

    1. Yes, I’ve found that this leaves me feeling as clean as any foaming cleanser without feeling stripped or tight. I highly recommend giving this a try!

  6. I love reading your blog but a lot of the stuff you like is really difficult to get in Korea, like this which is $50 here, and the honey wrapping moisturizer sounded great too. But it’s not on gmarket and I’ve never seen that brand anywhere. I wish there was more overlap with the western ab community and the Korean ab community, although it’s not your fault- just vast difference in the products available to us.

    1. Aw, such a bummer! That’s interesting that there’s such a difference between western and Korean AB, even though the products are coming from the same place.

  7. I’ve also been having such a hard time finding a decent second cleanser that doesn’t dry out my skin! Even cleansers that are specifically for sensitive skin and that say they’re not drying, will dry me out. Argh! #firstworldproblems, I know! Anyway, your post convinced me to try this cleanser. I hate heavy fragrances, but your pros have me sold! Low ph, non-drying, skin glow, earthy hangbang ingredient?! Sounds amazing! I managed to get it for $24.46 on Korea Depart. Can’t wait to try it!

  8. Hello! I’ve been using this product for about a week and a half now but I’ve yet to find something enjoyable about it.. I get the feeling I’m using it wrong. I’ve been using 2 pumps for single-step cleansing(on towel-dried skin) and have found it quite difficult in the sense that it doesnt slide against my face very well? Lots of tugging and pulling.
    Also I may have a sensitivity to one of the ingredients because I started to break out more after using which is a bummer. I’m just going to hold out hope that I’ve just been doing something improper 🙁

    1. It’s a second cleanser, so you should use it on wet skin the same way you would with a foaming cleanser. But the syrupy gel non-foaming texture definitely isn’t for everyone! I hope it works out for you in the end :/

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