The Best Korean Cleansing Oils for Your Skincare Routine

It's time to start doubling up.

woman washing her face at the sink
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Of all the products tasked with keeping skin clean and clear, cleansing oils are perhaps the most misunderstood. Despite their staple status in Korean skincare, Western consumers who struggle with acne or oily skin often avoid cleansing oils out of misplaced fear that their slick formulas will aggravate pre-existing acne. According to Dr. Zion Ko Lamm, a board-certified Internal Medicine physician specializing in skincare, this assumption couldn't be further from the truth.

"There's a lot of fear-mongering going on with cleansing oils," she tells Marie Claire. In reality, cleansing oils are an effective tool for breaking up and removing impurities from the skin without stripping it of its natural oils. "The best way that I like describing them is by saying that they work on the principle of like-dissolves-like,” Dr. Lamm says. “[T]hey're really effective at dissolving and removing oil-based impurities, as well as sunscreen and makeup, including waterproof formulas. Foaming and gel cleansers, on the other hand, often rely more heavily on surfactants."

Long story short, adding one of the best Korean cleansing oils to your routine can actually help reduce acne, shine, large pores, and excess oil.

There are a vast number of oils in an array of thicknesses and levels of comedogenicity, and they use a broad range of active ingredients. To find the best cleansing oil for your skin, Dr. Lamm unpacks the key ingredients, application process, and go-to formulas she recommends to her own patients ahead.

Why a Korean Cleansing Oil?

Korean beauty has risen in popularity over the last decade, introducing Westerners to ingredients like essences, sheet masks, and, of course, cleansing oils. The latter is a staple in Korean skincare.

In Korea, Dr. Lamm explains, "People spend the majority of their time of their skincare routine in the cleansing stage, and I feel like that's very different from the Western world, where it's more about the actives you're putting on your face. Koreans are known for their double cleansing method—sometimes even triple cleansing method, if you include cleansing toners and things like that."

Oil cleansers are a must if you decide to try double-cleansing. "You use an oil-based cleanser and then a water based one," says Dr. Lamm.

She adds that Korean cleansing oil formulas are especially popular because the double cleansing routine has been around in the country for so long. As a result, she says, "there are a lot more advancements and innovations" in Korean formulations than there are in Western ones. In particular, she cites the inclusion of ingredients like ginseng oil and ginseng seed oil, which are more common in Korean products.

If you're more accustomed to Western cleansers that rely on acids and surfactants, you may be used to your face feeling tight, dry, and "squeaky clean" after each wash. This won't happen after using a Korean oil cleanser. The sensation may make you feel as though your skin isn't fully cleansed, but Dr. Lamm says that's just a misconception.

"That squeaky clean feeling is actually a warning sign that your skin barrier could be compromised," she tells Marie Claire. "Any time you use a cleanser, you never want that feeling of tightness. You want to be left with your natural oils and you want to be able to move your face without it feeling so tight." Hence why oil- and water-based cleansers are so integral to the Korean double cleansing routine.

How to Use a Korean Cleansing Oil

Because oil-based cleansers tend to have a runny consistency, users can't quite follow the pea-sized drop rule that applies to gels, creams, and foams. Instead, Dr. Lamm says, "These cleansers generally have pumps, so you want to do at least two to three pumps."

Most cleanser pumps distribute a lot of product. You can use your discretion, as the amount of cleanser you apply isn't the most important part of your oil cleansing experience.

"It's less about how much you use it, and more that you want to be fully immersed in it, and you want to use it for at least 60 seconds," Dr. Lamm says. "The 60-second rule is a real thing. It takes that long for things to break down. So if I had to choose between how much and how long, I would choose how long."

Finding the Right Korean Cleansing Oil

Cleansing oils are suitable for a range of skin types, from dry to normal, combination, and even oily—"even though that seems counter-intuitive," Dr. Lamm says. Still, because they are so many types of Korean cleansing oils, you won't regret taking the time to find a formula suited to your individual needs.

Let's say you're searching for a less comedogenic (meaning, less acne-prone) cleansing oil. Dr. Lamm advises looking for products with jojoboa oil or even grapeseed oil on the ingredients list. Drier skin types, meanwhile, should seek out oils with additional hydrating and moisturizing ingredients, such as squalene, argan oil, vitamin D, or rosehip oil.

Another consideration is the texture or viscosity of the oil. If you have oily or combination skin, Dr. Lamm advises a lighter option. "Everything is a spectrum in terms of comedogenicity and how light an oil texture can be versus how rich, so you can get really creative and empower yourself to choose the right cleansing oil for your skin type," she says.

Best Korean Cleansing Oils

Meet the Expert

Dr. Zion Ko Lamm
Dr. Zion Ko Lamm

Dr. Zion Ko Lamm is a board-certified Internal Medicine Physician who specializes in skincare. She is known for her popular online content about skin health and Korean beauty, in particular. She is currently based in South Carolina.

Gabrielle Ulubay
Beauty Writer

Gabrielle Ulubay is a Beauty Writer at Marie Claire. She has also written about sexual wellness, politics, culture, and fashion at Marie Claire and at publications including The New York Times, HuffPost Personal, Bustle, Alma, Muskrat Magazine, O'Bheal, and elsewhere. Her personal essay in The New York Times' Modern Love column kickstarted her professional writing career in 2018, and that piece has since been printed in the 2019 revised edition of the Modern Love book. Having studied history, international relations, and film, she has made films on politics and gender equity in addition to writing about cinema for Film Ireland, University College Cork, and on her personal blog, Before working with Marie Claire, Gabrielle worked in local government, higher education, and sales, and has resided in four countries and counting. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, and spent two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy.

Deeply political, she believes that skincare, haircare, and sexual wellness are central tenets to one's overall health and fights for them to be taken seriously, especially for people of color. She also loves studying makeup as a means of artistic expression, drawing on her experience as an artist in her analysis of beauty trends. She's based in New York City, where she can be found watching movies or running her art business when she isn't writing. Find her on Twitter at @GabrielleUlubay or on Instagram at @gabrielle.ulubay, or follow her art at