Do you have great skin? Are you happy with your cleanser and not looking to change it?
If you answered yes to these questions please, for the love of Kai’s godly thighs, close the browser and go be happy. There is a world of beautiful, interesting things that deserve your attention and this may not be one of them.
In the event that you want to consider a different cleanser and you think that your skin could improve…welcome to our shared nightmare.
Cleansers are Tricky as Hell: Descent into the Underworld
The nature of this nightmare is two-fold. Cleansers offer skin a range of wonderful ways to die. By die I don’t mean die. I’m being dramatic due to cleanser stress. But seriously, cleansers are tricky as hell. So, into hell we go without our guide Dante and his guide Virgil. I’ve certainly experienced disappointment when vaunted cleansers with theoretically perfect stats didn’t work for me due to ingredient sensitivities.
Meanwhile, the Asian Beauty blogosphere seems to erupt into chaos every other week over questions of the role of pH in the health of skin, which prevents us from having a productive discussion about just what the fluff to put on one’s skin in order to make it as happy as possible while getting all the nasty off.
You would not be wrong to say that I’m obsessed with cleansers. In 2015, I’ve reviewed more than 15 oil cleansers. I later reported my dissatisfaction following tests of 8 water-soluble, second step cleansers. More recently I wrote about cool new cleanser trends from Korea. On top of all of this, I have at least 6 cleansers scattered between my office, bathroom, and makeup/skincare workstation that I haven’t even written about yet.
The cause of my obsession is a collision between the vagarities of my sad skin and the realities of the kbeauty cleanser marketplace.
My skin hates certain cleansing ingredients, meaning that cleansers that work fabulously for other people cause redness and pain in my skin. My skin doesn’t love sodium lauryl sulfate (commonly abbreviated as SLS), but it hates stearic, myristic, and lauric acids. We’re talking red, itchy, painful skin. This means no Su:m 37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick or lots of other beloved cleansers that work great for other skin. Depending on the state of my skin, it also doesn’t love papain, papaya enzyme, which is commonly used in low-pH powder cleansers. My skin is a hater.
Added to this is the scientific, peer-reviewed evidence that speaks to the usefulness of low pH cleansers. Although Kerry at Skin & Tonics and Cat at Snow White and the Asian Pear set the course for the low-pH lifestyle in 2014 by pointing out that low-pH cleansers are essential for the well-being of one’s moisture barrier (which helps to keep dryness and acne at bay), there simply aren’t a ton of low-pH kbeauty cleansers. For people with very dry or sensitive skin, avoiding cleansers that bubble or physically tug on skin might be critical, too.
The problem is that discussion of what’s important to avoid in cleansers often devolves into a this or that, black and white thing. The issue much more complex: depending on the trickiness of your skin, you may need to consider a number of issues when making your choice. In fact, I would say that you should consider a number of issues when selecting a cleanser if you’ve made it this far into the post without clicking out and enjoying a virtual tour of an art museum.
In cases like this, I like to recall Natalie Zemon Davis’ introduction to Society and Culture in Early Modern France where she talks about how she didn’t think about her subjects fitting into a one- or two-dimensional chart, but a many-dimensional chart (which is why her work is so good and ground-breaking imo). When I think about a cleanser I imagine how the things I’m concerned about fit together and whether the sum of everything is acceptable, unacceptable, or ideal. Replace thought of “either/or” with “both/and.”
Everything matters. Embrace complexity if you’re trying to reach cleanser heaven for the sake of your struggling skin.
What I look for in a second-step, water-soluble cleanser
I consider all of these factors when testing and shopping for cleansers. I consider the criteria at the top of the list to be most important, but exceptional performance in any of the categories–either good or bad–can skew my opinion hard. For example, if someone made a fresh-rose-scented cleanser I might not budge on my ingredient and pH standards, but I can see myself spending wildly and shopping crazily to acquire it.
- acceptable: doesn’t make my skin turn red and painful
- best: no hint of irritation or pinkness even when my skin is most vulnerable
- low pH level
- acceptable: pH level is less than 7 when mixed with water
- best: pH level is 5.0-5.5 when mixed with water
- skin feel
- acceptable: it isn’t painful or annoying to use
- best: it feels like being washed clean by the fluffy hands of god
- acceptable: doesn’t smell bad to me
- best: smells delicious to me
- acceptable: mentioning the retail price does not make me wince and think about how much I’ve benefited from capitalism
- best: costs less than $20
- acceptable: the packaging and dispensing method do not prevent me from wanting to use it
- best: I could use this in the middle of a hurricane while dead drunk without any problems
- pain-in-the-ass-ness of buying
- acceptable: I can buy it without needing to use a proxy shopping service
- best: I can buy it from a U.S.-based retailer
CosRx Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser: Nightmare No More
When Fiddy at Fifty Shades of Snail reported on the development of a new low-pH cleanser by CosRx due to the demand for one outside of Korea I was on the edge of my seat. So much so that when Cupidrop offered me a free tube shortly before their shipment arrived on Release Day I broke with my usual “too lazy to deal with press samples” policy to accept.
Has CosRx delivered the best cleanser conceivable, the new ultimate product that I think can’t ever be replaced? No.
That said, the fact that I look at this product and think “lord, Tracy, it’s just a cleanser” rather than “this is the work of an evil god” can be considered a win for the product.
Has CosRx hit every cleanser criteria I have at least “acceptable” level, making it my current favorite everyday cleanser? Yes.
Water, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate, Polysorbate 20, Styrax Japonicus Branch/Fruit/Leaf Extract, Butylene Glycol, Saccharomyces Ferment, Cryptomeria Japonica Leaf Extract, Nelumbo Nucifera Leaf Extract, Pinus Palustris Leaf Extract, Ulmus Davidiana Root Extract, Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose) Flower Extract, Pueraria Lobata Root Extract, Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil, Allantoin, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Betaine Salicylate, Citric Acid, Ethyl Hexanediol, 1,2-Hexanediol, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Sodium Benzoate, Disodium EDTA.
CosDNA analysis. The only common irritant is Butylene Glycol, which rates 1 out of 5 (5 being most likely to cause issues) as a potential acne trigger.
So we’re talking no SLS, no SLES, no myristic acid, no stearic acid, and no lauric acid. When I first tried this my skin seemed to heat up a bit and flush, but that hasn’t happened since the initial test (and I’ve been using this for almost one month now). This initial reaction happens with most of the products I use (not just cleansers), so it’s a topic I’m going to be looking into more in the coming months.
pH level: best
This cleanser clocks in at about 5.0-5.5 straight out of the tube and about 5.0-5.5 when mixed with NYC’s glorious 7.0 tap water. Perfecto.
skin feel: acceptable
This bubbles up (but doesn’t foam) and leaves my skin feeling clean and refreshed, but not over-clean. It doesn’t seem to add any sort of heavy moisturizers or film on my skin, but it does somehow leave it feeling pleasantly moist (beyond just the water I’ve splashed on my face ahahah). If Dante’s god was three-personed and therefore had six hands, I feel like I’ve been stroked by two of them when using this.
This smells sharp and tea tree-ish. It fades when the cleanser is mixed with water. It’s not my favorite thing to smell (especially in the morning–tea tree is just a lot to take), but it isn’t bad.
The price of this cleanser ranges from $6.18 (plus shipping) to $12 for a 150ml tube. I’ve paid $45 for a cleanser before (minus a coupon and Birchbox points, but still FORTY-FIVE DOLLARS WTF Sunday Riley), but that doesn’t feel right to me whereas I can use and recommend this without thinking of how it’s someone’s food budget for a whole month.
convenience of use: best
This is dead simple to use. It’s a squeezy tube that I can take into the shower, use without a scoop, and the packaging can handle dings from when my kitten decides to jump in and out of the tub for some reason (not even kidding). Half the cleansers I’m using now have fiddly, breakable packaging and require spatulas, so the fact that this is so low-stress is actually a big win for me and it means the CosRx cleanser gets used a lot.
pain-in-the-ass-ness of buying: best
This was almost instantly available at a bunch of Korean beauty e-tailers immediately upon launch, including U.S.-based shops. What’s amazing is that the prices at U.S. shops aren’t much different from those of Korean shops, so heeeyyyy party in the U.S.A.
How this beats similar products
Ciracle Anti-Blemish Teatree Wash
I think that the new CosRx cleanser handily beats the older cleanser from sister company Ciracle. The Ciracle cleanser contains Sodium Laureth Sulfate, often called SLES, which has been criticized for its harshness (although it’s not as harsh as SLS). The smell of the Ciracle cleanser is stronger and more complex, in my opinion, making this something I don’t particularly love having around my nose. The price when I bought this cleanser was higher per millilitre, but it has since come more or less in line with the new CosRx cleanser.
LJH Leejiham Tea Tree 30 Cleansing Foam
The LJH cleanser took the half-heartedly awarded crown in my sad battle between 8 second-step cleansers, but it has drawbacks: the pH level isn’t ideal and the price is extremely high imo. The CosRx cleanser improves on the pH level and slays in terms of price.
Verdict: CosRx now makes my go-to everyday second-step, water-soluble cleanser.
Where to buy it
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