When I was 21, I developed hormonal acne in a span of time that felt like it was almost overnight, and it really took its toll on my skin and my confidence. But, as someone who was both acne-sufferer and Korean beauty enthusiast, I learned a thing or two about the best Korean skin care products for acne, and how to treat acne the Korean beauty way — without a full on assault on your body's largest organ.
Treating acne requires balance and patience. Applying too many products with strong active ingredients can irritate your skin, making room for acne-causing bacteria to sneak in there and create more trouble. So, it's best to use a combination of treatment products containing mild exfoliants — like serums, ampoules, and spot treatments — along with gentle, soothing cleansers, toners, and moisturizers that won't clog your pores. It might sound counterintuitive to treat acne by hydrating, but part of the way your skin protects itself from breakouts is by maintaining a healthy barrier against irritants and bacteria. Soothing ingredients also bring down the inflammation and redness that acne causes, which helps heal breakouts faster and reduces the likelihood of scarring.
But before applying any treatment product, keeping your pores free of excess sebum and makeup residue is your first line of defense against acne, and to do this you'll need a gentle but thorough cleansing routine. The Korean double cleansing method involves first washing your face with an oil cleanser that clings to and removes oil-based impurities — like sebum and makeup — and then cleansing a second time with a gentle foaming cleanser. Double cleansing every night will prevent you from going to bed with makeup and sunscreen hiding in your pores and allow your treatment products to absorb better, since there's nothing in their way.
These 12 Korean beauty products for acne can help you get started on an acne skin care routine, or perfect your current one. Since caring for your skin is a delicate process, I recommend only changing one product in your routine at a time — that way it's easy to tell what's helping and what's hurting. But, keep in mind that it takes around 28 days for your skin to renew itself, so unless you're experiencing unusual dryness or irritation, make sure to stick with your acne routine for at least a month before evaluating whether or not it's working. However, if you're experiencing frequent and stubborn cystic acne, it's best to visit a dermatologist.
1. Heal Breakouts Faster With These Targeted Acne Patches You Can Wear Night Or Day
These amazing pimple patches from COSRX have the texture of a cellulose sheet mask but are small circles just a little bigger than a pimple so you can target your treatment to the precise area where you need it. Each box comes with 24 patches in a variety of sizes, to fit whatever size breakout you have. The patches work in two ways: they are soaked with a solution that helps to heal breakouts by killing bacteria and reducing inflammation, and they absorb sebum and pus, which dries the pimple. You can leave these patches on all night for best results, or some people even wear one or two under their makeup.
Apply these patches as needed after cleansing and toning, skipping moisturizer and serum in the spots you've applied them.
2. Heal Breakouts And Reduce Redness And Inflammation With This Concentrated Centella Treatment
Centella Asiatica is a medicinal herb that's been used to treat small wounds and infections, because of it's antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. COSRX's Centella Blemish Ampule contains a concentrated base of Centella Asiatica Water, along with Centella Asiatica Extract, Hyaluronic Acid, and other soothing and hydrating ingredients that help treat acne while preventing irritation and dryness — two things that make acne worse.
This ampoule is free of alcohol, fragrance, and other common acne triggers, and is safe for sensitive skin.
3. Deep Clean Your Pores Once A Week With This Clay Wash-Off Mask
This wash-off mask from Goodal is formulated with glacial clay, which draws excess sebum and other impurities out of your pores — and keeping your oil levels balanced and your pores clear is an important part of fighting acne. Apply this mask to the affected areas for 10 minutes, once or twice a week after cleansing.
4. Unclog Pores And Prevent Future Flareups With This Peeling Serum
Clogged pores are the perfect breeding ground for acne-causing bacteria, and frequent exfoliation is the key to keeping pores unclogged. But people with acne-prone skin should avoid exfoliating with scrubs, which can cause small tears in the skin that lead to — you guessed it — more acne. This peeling serum from Mizon contains eight percent Alpha Hydroxy Acid, a powerful acid that sloughs off dead skin cells that otherwise end up lodged in your pores. AHA is best for treating whiteheads and raised breakouts.
Apply this serum three or four nights a week after cleansing and toning to help keep your pores clear. It's not recommended to apply other acne treatments the same night that you use this serum, since using too many active ingredients at once can irritate your skin. For best results, apply this serum everywhere you're prone to getting breakouts to prevent them from popping up in the future.
5. Nourish The Skin And Gradually Fade Discoloration With This Concentrated Essence Made With Fermented Yeast Extract
Essences aren't common in Western skin care regimens, but they're a star player in any Korean skin care routine. They're designed to protect the skin from losing too much moisture through evaporation after cleansing and prepare it to absorb the next steps of your skin care routine. The Cosrx Galactomyces 95 Whitening Power Essence does not actually whiten the skin — this is how Korean brands refer to "brightening," which means to fade hyper-pigmentation and sun spots, making skin more uniform over time.
This essence is 95 percent fermented yeast extract, which is believed to help heal discoloration by helping skin cells turn over faster. It's also known as a fantastic dupe for the popular SK II Facial Treatment Essence, which contains the same featured ingredient for five times the price.
6. Try This Targeted Blackhead-Clearing Liquid For Clearer Pores & Smoother Skin
BHAs are powerful chemical exfoliators that are able to dive deep into pores and break down clogs from the inside out. This BHA liquid from COSRX contains 4 percent BHA that's been blended into a base of willow bark water to soak up oil, disintegrate blackheads, and exfoliate skin.
BHA works best for blackheads, so it's recommended to apply this liquid on your T-zone, or anywhere where you have blackheads, once or twice daily after cleansing, but before moisturizing. Apply an AHA product to places you experience raised breakouts, like your cheeks and chin.
7. Soothe Redness And Inflammation With This Calming Sheet Mask
This soothing sheet mask from TonyMoly is perfect for calming and soothing inflamed, stressed-out skin. The hydrating formula contains lavender extract, which has calming properties; glycerin to hydrate skin; collagen to increase elasticity; and allantoin, a known skin-soother which can also help quell redness.
8. Hydrate, Protect, And Treat With This Light Centella Cream
The base of this light, hydrating Centella Blemish Cream is, undoubtedly, Centella Asiatica Leaf Water. But aside from this healing and soothing ingredient, it boasts an incredible formula full of ingredients that calm acne and redness, help prevent and fade hyper-pigmentation, and hydrate the skin without clogging your pores. This is an all-around awesome moisturizer free of parabens and potential acne triggers like alcohol and fragrance.
Use this cream day or night as the last step of your skin care routine.
9. Thoroughly Remove Makeup And Excess Sebum That Can Cause Breakouts With This Hypoallergenic Oil Cleanser
People with acne-prone skin have a lot to gain from using the right oil cleanser, one that will cleanse your skin thoroughly without drying it out or leaving an oily residue behind.
I've tried my fair share of Korean oil cleansers, and Banila Co Clean It Zero Purity is my uncontested favorite. It removes all of my makeup and sunscreen, without a trace left behind, and never leaves my skin feeling dry or oily. It's free of mineral oil, parabens, alcohol, fragrance, and other common acne-triggers — and full of antioxidant-rich, soothing natural oils and extracts.
10. Use This Gentle Self-Foaming Cleanser For Your Second Cleanse
Follow your oil cleanser with this gentle Green Tea Real Fresh Foam Cleanser for super clean skin that doesn't feel dry or tight. Many cleansers contain high concentrations of fragrance and harsh cleansing agents, but this cleanser was designed with sensitive and acne-prone skin in mind. It contains fermented green tea, and even has real green tea leaves at the bottom of the bottle that continue to infuse the cleanser with soothing benefits.
11. Balance pH Without Triggering Breakouts Using This Soothing Toner
Toner is a necessary step for people with acne, because it restores your skin's pH to a more acidic state after cleansing, which is crucial to fighting off bacteria and breakouts. But keep your skin far, far away from toners with alcohol. Alcohol can dry skin severely and put acne-sufferers' already fragile barrier completely out of commission. The Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Toner balances your skin's pH while helping to calm inflamed skin, which is all you want and more from a toner.
12. Color Correct Redness, Heal Irritated Skin, & Protect Against Hyperpigmentation
Sunscreen is vital to the health of anyone's skin, but for acne sufferers it plays another very important role: reducing post-acne marks. Everyone gets those red or brown marks after a big breakout, but unprotected exposure to the sun darkens those marks and makes them take much longer to heal.
The Cicapair Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment contains SPF 30, which makes it a great day cream, and has a green tint that color-corrects the redness of acne and irritated skin. The cream also contains Centella Asiatica Complex, niacinamide, and a unique complex of herbs to help reduce inflammation and heal acne.
Bustle may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was created independently from Bustle's editorial and sales departments.