What's In My Skincare Wardrobe: Cleanser Edition

One of the ongoing themes that I've been championing for a while, and it's also favoured by other diehard Asian skincare devotees with serious skincare stashes, is the 'Skincare Wardrobe'; the idea that you can have a 'closet' of options to select from rather than wearing everything all at once.

This week, I'm going to be featuring the cleansers currently in my 'Wardrobe', because I have ... 7 cleansers (+1 I am testing, for a total of 8) currently on rotation and they all see regular use.  Shocking, I know!  But would it be so strange to have 8 different styles of shirts, ranging from tank tops to winter sweaters?  Nope.  Hence, the concept of the 'Skincare Wardrobe', and we're going to peek into my cleanser 'closet' today.

Cleansing Water, Oil Cleanser, Makeup Wipes, Foaming Cleanser, Powder Cleanser
So many cleansers!  Can you really use them all?  Spoilers: yes.

Last week in The Painful Path to K-Beauty Wisdom: 7 Mistakes Beginners Make, under the section 'Buying 'cult' products that don't suit your skin type', I mentioned this concept again:
I look at my products as a 'wardrobe' of options; I may have items in my closet ranging from bathing suits to winter coats, but that doesn't mean I'm going to wear every piece of clothing I own at once.  However, having a range of skincare options is actually a good thing, in my opinion, because it populates your wardrobe with options that you can mix and match depending on the 'weather' that day.
This is a really important concept to keep in mind when you're reading tall tales of the supposed number of products used in an Asian skincare routine; even routines I have posted, such as the Multi-Step Korean Skincare Routine: Winter/Spring 2015, Part II: Current Products, featured a staggering 30 products in its lineup:

Multi step Korean skin care routine
Image from: Multi-Step Korean Skincare Routine: Winter/Spring 2015
Sure, it looks like a lot.  The thing is, real routines don't actually look like that; if you check out my Instagram, you'll see typical AM and PM routines that I actually use, on a daily basis.

Here's a random selection of two AM routines, one featuring body lotion, and a PM routine complete with a mask pack:

Left to right: AM routine ft a sheet mask, AM routine ft body care, and PM routine ft mask pack.
As you can see, there are some consistent products, but even though I didn't deliberately pick these to illustrate my point (I only realized after I had collaged them together, haha) these routines all use different cleansers, which makes them perfect for today's post.  (Gotta love that serendipity.)  There's a pump-foamed cleanser, a cleansing water, and a foam-with-water cleanser.  They're all part of my Skincare Wardrobe, and I pull them out on different occasions.

That doesn't mean that I use it as an excuse to have a million things open at once, so there's no hope of using them before they expire, but it does meant that I have the flexibility to customize my daily routine to perfectly suit my skin's needs that day, and that's what the multi-step Asian skincare hype is all about, in my opinion.  Customization for the win!

In this post:
  • Cleansing waters
  • Cleansing wipes
  • Oil, balm, cream, and gel oil cleansers
  • Cleansing powders
  • Self-foaming cleansers
  • Water-soluble foaming cleansers

I will also mention, before we jump in, that all of my cleansers are low pH.  pH is just one of the considerations that goes into my choice of cleansers- as you're going to see from all the rejects I've 'purged' from my closet like outdated shirts and ratty jeans.

Before we jump into that list, I'd like to offer a quick reminder about the context of pH and the importance of neither overstating, nor understating, its importance.

Why bother with low pH at all?  Because it's supported by experts who have credentials in the field, and there is a wealth of research out there if you'd like to investigate yourself- as I did.  Last year, inspired by Skin & Tonics' groundbreaking post- backed by studies- which introduced me to the link between pH and skincare, I dove into researching the impact of high vs low pH cleansers in the hope I would find a loophole that would let me continue using my HG high pH cleansers.  Sadly, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence and studies which support low pH skincare, so I bid goodbye to my old alkaline friends and set out to find more acidic pastures.

Although pH is the first consideration when I choose a cleanser, it's merely the first in a long list of criteria that a cleanser has to meet in order for it to find a spot in my wardrobe.  It's important to keep that in mind; Tracy from fanserviced-b recently wrote and excellent (and hilarious) post on this concept using Dante's Inferno to illustrate her points.  If you've ever wanted to see how intimately Renaissance damnation and the choosing of cleansers cleansers are linked, this post is a must-read.

So that being said, keep in mind that low pH is just the "foot in the door" of my personal cleanser criteria; they're going to have to bring a lot more to the table than that to earn a place on my bathroom counter!

Cleansing waters

Cleansing waters were new to me until fairly recently, but they've quickly made a permanent spot in my wardrobe.  Known as 'micellar' waters in the west, they're a type of cleanser which feels like water and doesn't necessarily require rinsing, yet contains tiny oil molecules (aka micelles) which give the water the ability to cleanse away sebum, dirt, and impurities. (I always get a kick out of that term, because I imagine your pores getting scolded by a scandalized nun.)  Some are closer to an oil cleanser and require rinsing, but I only use the ones that are the no-rinse type; I want to be able to splash them onto a cotton puff, swab down my face, and carry on.

They're meant to be a gentler way to remove makeup and the grime from the day, but I find they don't have the cleansing power of a typical 1st cleanser, and I don't find they do a good enough job if I need to double cleanse.  So why are they beloved by me and in my lineup?  For me, they're an excellent no-cleanse AM cleanser, for the days where my skin feels like it either doesn't need, or doesn't want, to be cleansed.  My skin hates the water here, so water-only cleansing is out; on days when my skin feels too delicate, irritated, dry, or simply doesn't seem to need cleansing, I can swipe it down with a cleansing water and carry on with my other steps.

Here's the ones I'm using right now:

Su:m37 Skin Saver Essential Cleansing Water & Bifesta Cleansing Lotion Bright Up

Sum37 Cleansing Water, Bifesta Cleansing Water
Su:m37 at left, Bifesta at right, Selena cotton squares at upper right.
I find the Su:m37 is a little richer and more nourishing than the Bifesta; if I'm trying to be uber-gentle with my skin in the AM, I tend to reach for the Su:37; if I feel like I need something a little stronger (but still not as strong as a regular cleanser) I will go for the Bifesta.  I have a third cleansing water, the Illi Total Age Care Cleansing water, waiting in the wings for when I use up either of these (the bottles are HUGE) and am ready to crack open a new bottle.  But for now, having 2 options for cleansing waters is plenty!

Cleansing waters which didn't make the cut: Bioderma Crealine H2O Cleansing Water; my first cleansing water and often considered the "gold standard" of cleansing waters.  I purchased it in a smaller size and liked it enough to empty it, but if I had all three to choose from, I'd go for the Su:m37 over the Bioderma as the expensive option, and the Bifesta is quite cheap yet still effective.

Where to get it: Bifesta 
I purchased the Bifesta from Sasa for $9 (plus shipping), but it's available on Amazon for $14-$20, and ebay for $13

Where to get it: Su:m37
I purchased my Su:m37 water from Insider Beauty on sale, it retails at 400ml for $34 (free shipping over $35), and it's also available on Amazon at 100ml for $19 or 400ml for $35-$43 and ebay at 400ml for $35  11/27 Update: Insider Beauty is having a Black Friday sale: get 20% off with code THANKSGIVING

Cleansing wipes

I know, I know.  Cleansing wipes aka makeup remover wipes are not good for you.  They can be rough and irritating, they're full of bad things, they leave behind dirt and residue, and they don't clean well.  And yet, I still use them- if I'm in a situation where it's either the wipes, or nothing.  I do what I can to avoid situations where I can't do at least a basic routine of cleanser, toner, and moisturizer, but life happens.  When it's a matter of going to bed with a dirty face vs going to bed with a less dirty face, I use these:

Cremorlab T.E.N. Cremor Cleansing Veil (70 sheets)

Cremorlab makeup wipes
Gotta love that snap-seal lid to keep things from drying out.
I saw adoredee give these a shout-out on her instagram, and since I have a serious packagingboner for Cremorlab, and their Gel Oil is a staple, I gave these a try.  Although I don't love these, when they run out, I will likely repurchase them, which is more than I can say for any other makeup wipe I've ever used.  As far as wipes go, I like these a lot.  I don't use them often, so they'll last a while; I may be in danger of them drying out first.  Still, when you need them, they're very handy!

Cleansing wipes which didn't make the cut: Echoice Ginko Moisture Cleansing Tissues  They were .. makeup-wipe-ish?  Utterly forgettable.  I can't even remember if I liked or disliked them.

Where to get it: Cremorlab is hard to source, you can get it on peachandlily at 70 sheets for $24, or 10 sheets for $5.00.  If you haven't used peachandlily before, you can get $10 off your first order with this referral link, if you want to use it.  I purchased mine directly from Korea, using a buying service, such as Avecko.  I also found them for $13 on ohmyface.com, but I have never bought from here and I have no idea if it's legit.

Oil, balm, cream, and gel oil cleansers

My skin hates these.  Double cleansing, at least in the K-Beauty world, consists of using an oil-type 1st cleanser that acts like a makeup remover; it breaks down makeup and sunscreen and is meant to be followed up with a 2nd cleanser.  Usually 2nd cleansers are foam-types, although this is flexible if you find something else that works.  This is different from the "Oil Cleansing Method" which uses straight oils or a blend of straight oils, and has to be wiped off after you ... do things (I don't even know here, this is not something I have done.)  Asian oil cleansers are formulated with emulsifiers, which means they can and do rinse away with water.  There are a few variants on oil cleansers, such as balm cleansers which are solid-form oil cleansers, and gray-area cleansers such as gel oil cleansers which are ... an oily gel?  Gel-y oil?

Cream cleansers, on the other hand, do not emulsify or rinse away; they need to be wiped off and do not rinse cleanly.

I have two in my lineup:

Leejiham (LJH) Dr's Care Cleansing OilCremorlab T.E.N. Cremor Cleansing Gel Oil

LJH Cleansing Oil, Cremorlab Cleansing Oil
Cremorlab is dangerously low.  Must not panic shop, must not panic shop ...
To date, these are the only oil (or oil-type) cleansers my skin did not absolutely hate.  I have dehydrated skin and it tends to slurp up things I apply to it; while this can at times be a good thing, it also means that things easily absorb into my skin- and then if they aren't meant to be absorbed, they get stuck there.  Then they clog my poes and my skin erupts.  So, take this section with a grain of salt- if you are in the market for a 1st cleanser, there will likely be many other cheap, good options out there.  It's just that my skin is a jerk.

I use the LJH Dr's Care oil when I want to massage my skin to loosen blackheads, sebaceous filaments, and pore clogs (collectively known as 'grits') out of my skin; although this is the only oil my skin has ever tolerated (shoutout to Tracy of fanserviced-b for suggesting it) I still have to be very, very meticulous in cleansing this back out of my pores afterward or there will be much regret.  Still, although it's more pricey than others, I'm just so grateful that I have at least one oil cleanser my skin will put up with if it has to.  This bottle is a repurchase after I ran out of a travel size decant.

I use the Cremorlab Gel Oil when I want to double cleanse my face, which is several times a week.  If I go outside my house, or want to work with the windows open, I wear sunscreen.  I have Fitzpatrick Type I/II skin, which means a serious sunscreen is necessary all the time if there's going to be sun exposure involved, so double cleansing is necessary to get all that heavy sunscreen off.  Although I no longer accept things for review, I'm glad Peach and Lily sent this to me to try; it's not something I would have ventured on my own as I was deep in a "why do all oil cleansers hate me" funk, but it's proven to be my go-to 1st cleanser and as soon as I get down to the last 1/4th of the bottle, I'm repurchasing it.  Based off how low it is in this photo, I probably should get on that ... whoops!

You can read the full review, including my poetic odes to the amazing rose scent, here: Cremorlab T.E.N. Cremor Cleansing Gel Oil, Why Can't I Quit You?  This cleanser rinses much cleaner than any oil cleanser I've tried, but still takes off makeup and sunscreen like a champ.  Just don't try to massage with it.

1st cleansers which didn't make the cut:  Oh man, so many.  Mizon Almighty Cold Cream Cleanser (review).  Su:m37 Skin Saver Melting Cleansing Balm.  Mizon Oil Bubble Deep Cleanser.  Mizon Real Oatmeal Cleansing Sherbet.  Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil (review).  Etude House Real Art Moisture Cleansing Oil (review).  Holika Holika Soda Pore Cleansing BB Deep Cleansing Oil (review).  My skin hates oil cleansers.

Where to get it:  LJH Dr's Care Cleansing Oil
I got mine from KoreaDepart, You can find it on Amazon for around $40and on LJH's US site for $42.

Where to get it: Cremorlab Gel Oil
Right now, only from Peach & Lily for $32, but as I mentioned above, you can get $10 off $50 on your first order with this link, if you choose to use it.  It's also available for around $20 from ohmyface.com with $10 shipping under $70, but again I've never used this site so ymmv!  I plan to use Avecko's buying service to repurchase it when the time comes. 11/27 Update: Peach & Lily have 20% off their entire site for Black Friday with code GiveThanks20

Cleansing powders

Cleansing powders have been my jam this year, because although not all powder cleansers are low pH, it's comparatively easy to find ones that are.  They're excellent for travel, although not for taking into the shower with you, and they're fascinating to use- you pour a small amount of the powder into your hands, then add water, and presto!  Sudsy lather.

The only one I am using right now is the Su:m37 White Award Enzyme Powder Wash

Su:m37 Cleansing Powder
I love how Su:m37 makes even a set of packets look fancy- what a lovely tin.
Although I've flirted with a few other powder cleansers since trying this one, this remains the only one still enjoying a dedicated spot in my bathroom kit.  Although this does contain some more serious surfactants (you can read a full ingredients list in the review here) I find that this works really well for me as a second cleanser that can power away oil cleanser residue but isn't stripping to my skin.  It's also my cleanser of choice (AM or PM) when I am travelling, because the small packets of dry powder are so convenient to pack.

Cleansing powders which didn't make the cut:  Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Wash (reviewed by Fiddy of 50 Shades of Snail), O'Slee Hydra-White Cleansing Powder.  I found both to be more drying and have less lather, but others have used them and loved them, so as always, ymmv!  Both are quite a bit cheaper than the Su:m37, which is a luxury brand.

Where to get it: I purchased mine from 11st's EN site, and I have a guide here.  If you don't want to get it from 11st, you can get it on Amazon for $41, or from ebay in sample or full sizes.  Even the full size is a tin of packets, so samples are easy to come by!

Self-foaming cleansers

Self-foaming cleansers is a bit of a misnomer, but I wasn't sure what else to call this category.  These are cleansers which don't require water + agitation to form lather, they either react with the air (as some shaving creams do) or they are bottled with a pump mechanism that foams the product as it's dispensed.

Right now I have two, but that's because I'm testing one; normally I have just one of these open:

Medicean ER Nature Cleansing Foam Oily Skin & Hada Labo Gokujyun Super Hyaluronic Acid Foaming Wash

Medicean Foaming Cleanser, Hada Labo Foaming Pump
I am using the Medicean on the left side of my face, and the Hada Labo on the right side as I test it.
Self-foaming pump cleansers can often be good low pH options (the Hada Labo is one of the most popular low pH Asian cleanser options out there) because they don't rely on traditional methods to create foaming action, which means they are gentler on the skin.  The downside, in my experience, is that they're too gentle to completely clean out oil cleanser residue, but again that's just my skin and it's weirdness with oil cleansers.  Many people, such as adoredee, love the Hada Labo cleanser and it works really well for them.  I'm currently comparison testing the Hada Labo, so I can't say too much about it, but I do find it very similar to the Medicean and thus the following comments apply to both.

I use the Medicean when I want a very gentle, non-drying, but still foaming cleanse- such as in the AM.  They're very boring to use, but not everyone cares about skincaretainment in their cleanser.    Although it's not strong enough to work as as second cleanser after using a true oil cleanser (such as the LJH Dr's Care), because the Cremorlab Gel Oil rinses so much cleaner than an oil cleanser, I can get away with using those two as my double cleanse.

Self-foaming cleansers which didn't make the cut:  Missha Super Aqua Oxygen Micro Visible Deep Cleanser, Skin79 O2 Bubble BB Cleanser, both of which are the other type of self-foaming cleansers, reacting with air to create foam.  I found the Missha too be too harsh and stripping, and the Skin79 would have fainted if I tried to clean off oil cleanser residue with it.

Where to get it: Medicean ER Nature Cleansing Foam Oily Skin
I purchased this directly from Korea using a buying service, so you would need to use Avecko to get it.  The Hada Labo is very similar and more readily available.

Where to get it: Hada Labo Gokujyun Super Hyaluronic Foaming Wash
I purchased mine from Amazon Prime for $16, it's also available on ebay for $15 or thereabouts.  It's also one of the most common options you'll find in stores that carry Asian cosmetics, so check those out if you have one locally!  Please note that there is also a tube version, which is high pH; make sure you're looking at the one with the self-foaming pump.

Water-soluble foaming cleansers

If I'm doing a 'real' double cleanse with the LJH Dr's Care Oil, I need a serious second cleanser to power that stuff back off.  When it comes to my personal experience (and skin) nothing beats a traditional foaming cleanser for getting goo off my face; these are the workhorses in my wardrobe.

These are your traditional "mix with water and agitate into a lather" foaming cleansers.  In my experience, these are the most likely to be high pH, and I hear it's because it's challenging to formulate a traditional foaming cleanser and have it be low pH.  These also tend to be the "strongest" cleansers, tackling oil cleanser residue and other grime to thoroughly cleanse the skin.  They can also be stripping; one should approach these cleansers with caution, as these are also the most likely to contain foaming agents and surfactants which may not agree with your skin.  My current cleanser does not contain SLS or SLES, but thankfully I don't seem to have issues with either.

The one I'm using right now is the Sulwhasoo Snowise EX Cleansing Foam

Sulwhasoo Foam Cleanser
I had to throw something in here because white on white proved impossible to photograph.
Although the Su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick has been my go-to 2nd cleanser for a long time now (I'm down to the dregs of my 3rd tube), lately I have been feelin' all things Hanbang (traditional Korean herbal medicine) and thus the MRCS has taken a back seat to my latest love.  And love it I do; it has ridiculous amounts of foam, it's low pH, it comes in a pretty tube, and the scent is as Hanbang as one could want; here's a quote from my review Low pH & High Luxury: Sulwhasoo Snowise EX Cleansing Foam:
Scent:  Like a forest is trying to hump your face.  Personally, I've grown to love the Hanbang (한방, traditional Korean herbal medicine) herbal smells favoured by companies like Sulwhasoo, but if you don't like using things that smell like a grove of pines and field of flowers are trying to make sweet love to your epidermis, stay away.
Don't get me wrong the Miracle Rose Stick contains fermented rose goodness and even contains rose petals, but after 3 tubes of it, I was feeling the urge to switch it up a bit.  You can read a full review of it here: Su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick

What makes me enamoured of the Snowise foam is not only the smell, but the abundance and texture of the foam you can produce by either doggedly agitating it with your hands like so:

Sulwhasoo Snowise EX Cleansing Foam Review
Image from Low pH & High Luxury: Sulwhasoo Snowise EX Cleansing Foam Review
I don't normally bother to lather it up this much because it takes a few minutes, I normally just rub my hands until I have suds and carry on.  But you can also get mega foam by breaking out a foaming net and get instant gratification like so:

Sulwhasoo Snowise EX Cleansing Foam Review
Image from Low pH & High Luxury: Sulwhasoo Snowise EX Cleansing Foam Review
Mmmm, delicious clouds of floofy foam, and SLS and SLES free to boot!  I will say that some people have tried this and the Hanbang scent is just too hardcore for them, so keep that in mind.   Although I don't normally get crazy with a foaming net (I'm lazy) the massive foam is excellent for cushioning my skin if I decide to use my Clarisonic brush (with the ultra soft Cashmere head) and really deep-clean my skin.

This tube is actually a repurchase; I bought it in sample sachets from Amazon, blew through them all (at 3-5 uses a packet) and now I'm on this travel size which was less than $10 on ebay and is so pretty!  Pretty packaging is such a nice bonus.

Where to get it: Amazon: 80ml for $19, or 150ml for $38 | Ebay: Sample sets less than $1015ml for less than $1030ml for $10, or 150ml for $38.  You may also be able to find it for cheaper directly from Korea using Avecko, or other Korean resellers.
Oh, and if you'd like to pick up a foaming net, they're dirt cheap: less than $1 on ebay and $2-$7 on Amazon.  If you have a local Muji or Daiso store, they should be $1-$2 there as well!

Final thoughts

So, does your average person need 6+ cleansers in their repertoire?  Absolutely not.

At minimum, I recommend two; a 1st cleanser to break down and remove sunscreen (+ makeup if applicable) and a 2nd cleanser to actually cleanse the face including any residue left behind.  However, I enjoy trying and testing (and reviewing) new products, and my closet of cleansers keeps me prepared for whatever strange mood my skin's in that day, or whatever appeals to me the most.  Cleansing is my least favourite step, but having enjoyable options keeps the spark alive!

Have a skincare wardrobe, or specifically a cleanser closet?   Snap a pic and tag me at @snowwhiteandtheasianpear on Instagram, because I'd love to see them!  Do you have several?  One true love?  How do you keep your cleansing 'spark' lit?  Hit me up on IG with your 'closet'!  (。♥‿♥。)

All the best,


**Disclaimer: All products reviewed/mentioned in my blog, are 100% purchased with my own money, with a single exception of a press sample I tested & reviewed in 2015 which swore me off of them forever.  This blog contains  both affiliate and non-affiliate links, and clicking the former before you shop means that this blog may receive a small commission to assist in this blog supporting itself.  Please see my Contact Info & Disclaimer policy for more information.


  1. I tend to only try one new cleanser at a time, esp after learning about high pH and that I was drying the heck out of my face in the past! I'm currently using Etude House Real Art cleansing oil ( a recently discovery I love!) and CeraVe for my double cleanse. I used to use DHC oil and thought that was my go to for oil until I got a sample of the Etude House oil. I do agree it's fun to switch it up sometimes; who can say you haven't found the perfect one yet?

    I'm very curious about the Hada Labo foaming cleanser though... :)

    1. One at a time is the best way to go for sure! I am glad that the EH Real Art works for you- it was an absolute mess for me, haha. Skincare is so amazingly YMMV, it never fails to amaze me.

  2. I tried the Snowise foam based on your recommendation and I love it. However, I'm lazy and don't wait for that floofy foam to make its appearance. I simply rub the cleanser in my wet palms and get on with it. Having said that, Snowise has now taken a backseat because I have fallen in love with cream cleansers and the washcloth method. Foam, even something as good as Snowise, is for absolute lazy days, which are rare these days because I love the washcloth method so much. :)

    1. It definitely takes some work to get the epic foam for sure- have you thought about using a foaming net to skip the effort requirement of the foam? Of course, if you're feelin' the cream cleansers right now, you should just enjoy your newfound love affair! ;)

  3. Hello :)
    I'm kinda a new lurker. Thanks for sharing this detailed routine and quick review about the products.
    I have never used serum/essence before (only cleansing and moisturizing, and wasn't really dedicated... How i regret it now looking at my clogged and enlarged pore T__T)

    So i wonder how do you use your LJH essence? Do you just put on few drops on palm and pat them on the skin or do you add them to your sheet mask/moisturizer? :)

    Is it possible to use multiple essence? I have quite a sensitive skin that is combination/dry during winter time, so i kinda want a bit more hydratation. I started using Cosrx Snail Mucin essence (and totally love it) few weeks ago and wonder if i could use both this and LJH essence in the same time.

    thanks in advance for your feedback :)

  4. Hello, I just want to ask how about cleansing balm because I didn't see you talking much about that field. I am dramatically confused between choosing a cleansing balm (which requires a towel to wipe off but cheaper) and a cleansing oil (which is easier to use but tends to dry me out). Thank you a lot!

    1. Sadly, all the cleansing balms I have tried did not agree with my skin. Cleansing balms are just cleansing oils in a more solid form. :)

      Take care!

  5. So glad to hear I'm not the only one that does this! I have quite a few on the go at one time.

    1. I'm trying to use mine up so I can get more, haha!

  6. I really enjoyed reading this! I'm looking for a really good second step cleanser that gives a deep clean. do you have any recommendations for a good low pH cleanser that are a little less expensive than snowise foam and the Su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick. they're a little out of my price range

    1. I've actually just posted a series of starter kit routines, including some affordable low pH cleansers! :D

  7. You might want to try innisfree jeju volcanic cleansing foam