Originally posted 22 April 2014, edited 13 March 2017.
Thoughts from 2017: I don’t recommend any of these cleansers. In the time since this review was published, Skin & Tonics and then Snow White and the Asian Pear published detailed explanations of why low-pH cleansers are better for skin (most of the cleansers here have high pH levels). In the meantime, I realized that my skin is a hateful bitch when it comes to ingredients in second cleansers, hence the crazy redness on my hand at the end of the post. Finally, I’ve embraced double cleansing with a passion and never ever skip it. This post, my first review on fan-b, uhh, wasn’t a very auspicious beginning for the blog. lol But I’m thankful that I’ve come so far in the past three years, mostly thanks to the wise counsel of my blogging colleagues.
To begin, let’s start at the end: the makeup removal and cleansing process. Sometimes (all the time) at the end of a long day my makeup feels disgusting: it’s swimming on my face, mixed with oil and the special NYC brand of grime that leaves a black film on everything in the house. In those moments, the height of luxury is getting everything off my face as soon as possible, as efficiently as possible.
Enter foaming cleansers. These cleansers are dispensed in a gel or cream form, then pouf up when exposed to makeup and water.
The bubbling action is supposed to gently loosen makeup, oil, and grime in one step; there’s theoretically no need to scrub hard or do two-step cleansing. In case you’re not familiar, two-step cleansing is a process whereby an oil or cream cleanser is first used to loosen and remove makeup and then a second cleanser is used to remove any remaining traces of cosmetics and clean the skin. I’ve done this before, but let’s be honest: by the time I stumble into the bathroom at night I’m looking for the shortest path between A and clean skin. Editing in 2017: Now looking back at my very first skincare review, LORD, NO TRACY, NO! I’m all about the double cleanse now, especially after seeing how crappily these foam cleansers worked and how much they irritated my skin.
I thought I’d love bubbling cleansers the moment I heard of the concept
, but finding the right one took some testing and I encountered some surprises. But they all sort of sucked in different ways. Along the way I tried Too Cool for School’s O2 Bubble Cleansing Pack, samples of Etude House’s Baking Powder B.B. Deep Cleansing Foam in blue, Skin79’s O2 BB Cleanser, and The Face Shop’s Rice Water Bright Foam Cleanser.
Other second cleansers I’ve reviewed since then (many of which are vastly better):
- 8 low-pH cleansers that didn’t work for me
- CosRx Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser
- Makeremake, the kbeauty brand that only sells cleansers
- Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser
- Innisfree Blueberry Rebalancing 5.5 Cleanser
- Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip
- Susanne Kaufmann Cleansing Gel Review
Where to put it in your routine: put it in the second, water-soluble cleanser slot. Need a basic outline of when to use your products? Here you go:
The Psychology of Bubbles
When we choose a foam cleanser with lots of bubbles are we getting little more than air?
I was lured to foaming cleansers by the promise of self-sufficient bubbles that would gently melt away grime, but how much do plentiful bubbles contribute to getting clean? I wanted to know if bubbles were directly related to cleansing power, so I devised a quick home test to compare performance.
I had quite a surprise when testing and photographing the foam cleansers up for review: the cleansers with the most bubbles were the least effective at cleansing without additional agitation.
Here’s the test: I made a heart using three swipes of Etude House red eye shadow (from the So Hot Play palette—review coming soon!). I then added a generous squirt of cleanser, a little water, and mixed the two together, taking care not to rub into my skin more than to mix cleanser and water. I then let the mix froth for four minutes. At the end of four minutes I rinsed my hand off under a strong stream of warm water.
The most effective cleanser in terms of getting everything off without agitation was Etude House’s Baking Powder cleanser. Although the cleanser touts its bubbling action, it produced the least foam of the gel bubbling cleansers.
Next in terms of efficacy without outside intervention was The Face Shop’s Rice Water Bright foam cleanser, which bubbled just a little, but still managed to clean quite a bit without my help.
Skin79’s O2 BB Cleanser produced the most foam, but those bubbles didn’t translate to superior cleansing power.
The worst product in terms of removing the eye shadow was Too Cool for School’s O2 Bubble Cleansing Pack. It didn’t bubble as much as the Skin79 cleanser, not did it clean better.
The evidence is clear: we can’t conflate the volume of bubbles with a cleanser’s ability to clean without some helping agitation. The ability to clean seems to depend on the ingredients, so don’t expect all bubbling cleansers to take the wheel in terms of cleanup. I find the bubbling action fun and I’ve never had a problem with my favorite foam cleaner cleaning poorly, so I’m going to just keep in mind the need to lend a hand or two.
Korean Beauty Foaming Cleansers Review
Least Favorite: Etude House Baking Powder Cleanser
I tried a sample of Etude House’s Baking Powder foaming cleanser once, but didn’t finish using the rest of the sachets because I found it a bit painful. The bubbling action was noticeable to the point of the bubble particles and exfoliating grit somehow feeling like pop rocks on my face. It was irritating–and I have no problem doing home chemical peels on the weekends, so it’s not like my skin is terribly sensitive. This was really not pleasant to use.
Not Great: Too Cool for School O2 Bubble Pack
Although the Too Cool for School cleanser is serviceable, it doesn’t foam up as much as the Skin79 cleanser and it leaves a slight residue on skin, both of which contribute to a feeling that you’re not totally clean. At the same time, the formula is more drying than one would wish. I like the Too Cool branding with its ultra hipster website and insanely cute dinosaur line drawings on some packages, but the products I’ve tried have been less exciting than the packaging, with a few notable exceptions.
Where to find full-size: eBay
Worth a Shot: The Face Shop Rice Water Bright Cleansing Foam
The Face Shop’s Rice Water Bright cleanser is the odd one out here. It’s not really a gel, more like a cream, and it doesn’t have quite the same self-bubbling action of the other contenders. It does foam up very well although it takes more time than the others to fully rinse off. This isn’t my favorite for nighttime makeup removal, but I’m going to continue testing it as a morning cleanser and let you know the results later. SPOILER: IT WAS AWFUL AND HURT MY FACE.
My Favorite: Skin79 O2 BB Cleanser
The winner of the tests was Skin79’s O2 Bubbling Cleanser. Although I love it now, I didn’t initially understand the specialness of the cleanser. I smeared the gel on and rushed right along with rinsing my face, never giving time for foam to form and bubbles to bubble.
Once I slowed down, gave the cleanser about 15 seconds to activate, and felt the gentle yet evident bubbling action I was hooked. I can actually feel slightly tickly bubbling on my skin as the foam devolves from thick lather to loose bubbles. Add to this the fact that the Skin79 cleanser washes off easily and doesn’t leave the feeling of a residue, tightness, or overclean squeakiness and I’m buying this item in bulk despite my limited storage space for beauty products. Although the bubbles don’t do jack, I like the sensation and this cleanser makes me look forward to washing my face.
In terms of value, it ranges from something of a luxury to quite affordable depending on where one shops. I’ve seen prices in the $20+ range not including shipping on Korean sites, but I bought mine for just over $12 with free shipping within the US just over two months ago. It arrived two days later (I bought two bottles at once, so I received Priority Shipping and it was shipped from NJ to me in NYC–not that far at all, but that’s still incredibly fast turnaround by the seller). I use three pumps of the cleanser at least once per day and I’m still working on the first bottle.
Skin79 O2 bb cleanser is my absolute favorite Korean skincare product, which is why it’s the product I’ve decided to review first.
2017: now that I read this review again I’m pretty horrified. This product isn’t anywhere near my top 5 water-soluble cleansers, let alone my top 5 products. 🙁 I think this really shows the importance of trying a lot of stuff for the sake of context when attempting to do product reviews.
A Last-Minute Reaction
Just as I thought I was done with writing this review, the skin on my test hand became bright pink and splotchy where I had done my tests! I had felt a bit of irritation when using two of the cleansers on my face, but I didn’t expect to see a patch of my skin bright and irritated at work! Stop the [Word]presses! We’ve got to go back into the lab.
Is the cause just using a bunch of cleansers in a short time or is there something in one (or more) of these cleansers that’s causing my skin to become irritated?
I didn’t anticipate this problem (and I had wanted to give all the cleansers a fair and even playing field), so everything was initially used on the back of one of my hands. For the irritation test I decided to split up the test patches on my arm to try to identify the irritant. I’ve done the test and waited a few hours, but it looks like nothing has changed. Given that I scrubbed my hand pretty hard at the end of the testing process and used some Tony Moly peach hand cream on the spot after the tests, it could be a case of irritation to the scrubbing mixed with the hand cream. I’m going to monitor the situation and I’ll edit this post if something changes.
What I’d recommend now in 2017: double cleanse (oil cleanser first then follow with a low-pH, water-soluble cleanser like these except…not terrible). If you’re looking for a great, affordable, low-pH water-soluble cleanser, check out CosRx’s Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser. You can get it for under $10 on Amazon. Here’s my full review.
Do you have a favorite foaming cleanser that I missed? Was I too tough on your favorite? Any idea why the Skin79 cleanser isn’t as ubiquitous as the bb creams? Ever have a bad reaction to a cleansing product? Talk to me in the comments. >:)
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