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.
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.
Keep scrolling to read more on how to heal acne with the Korean skin care products, below.
Editor's note: If you're experiencing frequent and stubborn cystic acne, it's best to visit a dermatologist.
Use Acne Patches On Whiteheads Overnight
COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patch, $7, Amazon
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.
According to one reviewer: "I started buying these in bulk because I can't go without them! Since high school, I've had issues with cystic acne and these have FINALLY given me the answer to healing my acne quickly after popping. They effectively suck all the moisture and bacteria out , leaving a very flat, less inflamed pore the next morning."
Reduce Redness & Inflammation With Centella
COSRX Centella Blemish Ampule, $23, Amazon
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.
According to one reviewer: "This is my second bottle of this stuff and it's effective for sure. I like to just do a spot treatment on pimples and let this sit on them for a couple hours with nothing else on them and it really reduces the size and redness."
Use A Clay Mask To Clear Your Pores Once A Week
Goodal Wash Up Deep Clean Pore Glacial Clay Wash Off Pack, $23, Amazon
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. According to one reviewer: "This is my go to mask. I've had it for about three months now and I use it once or twice a week. I'm a darker Filipina with hyperpigmentation, and I have very sensitive acne prone combination/oily skin. When I say that I have sensitive skin, I mean that when I react badly to a product, a huge pimple will form on my cheeks that will leave an ice pick scar when it heals. This has helped clear out my acne."
Exfoliate With A Chemical Peeling Solution
Mizon AHA 8% Peeling Serum, $17, Amazon
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 8% 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.
According to one reviewer: "I started using this toner a couple weeks ago. I have always had issues with enlarged pores and large blackheads on my nose and chin area. The blackheads have almost completely disappeared. Just like with any product it won't necessarily work for every skin type but I am so glad it worked for me. It has a silky texture and citrus scent. I don't break out very often just have very large dark black heads and it helped with that."
Try An Essence To Gradually Fade Discoloration
Cosrx Galactomyces 95 Whitening Power Essence, $20, Amazon
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% 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. According to one reviewer: "This stuff is amazing! I have been using it for maybe five days and my acne scars have noticeably began to fade. I was impressed when I woke up the first morning after using it and noticing how much lighter my dark marks were. Even my under eye area (which I've never really had any problems with) seems to look better after using this product for just a few days. I couldn't recommend this stuff enough!"
Clear Blackheads & Exfoliate With A BHA Cream
COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Cream, $17, Amazon
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% 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.
According to one reviewer: "This thing helped me a lot with whiteheads, pimples, and excessive oil production on my face. It also has a great price point. I recommended it to my friend who has very oily and acne prone skin, and it worked so well for her as well. Helped stabilize skin and reduced swollen pimples even when she was too busy to eat health and stayed up late."
Soothe Redness & Inflammation With This Calming Sheet Mask
TonyMoly I'm Real Lavender Mask Sheet, $3, Amazon
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. According to one reviewer: "These clear up my acne soooo well. Never had a face mask that I could actually see results with so fast."
Hydrate & Protect Your Skin With A Light Centella Cream
COSRX Centella Blemish Cream, $21, Amazon
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.
According to one reviewer: "I've used this for a few days now and I'm already so impressed with the results. I have oily, acne prone skin and this has helped heal active break outs. My cheeks use to have little acne bumps all over and they're smoothing out. I love CosRx products and this is my new go to. Definitely will be buying this again!"
Remove Your Makeup Every Night With A Cleansing Balm
Banila Co Clean It Zero Purity, $20, Amazon
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. According to one reviewer: "This is an awesome cleansing balm! It has made a noticeable difference in my hormonal acne scars/hyperpigmentation and has an amazing texture. I have been using it twice daily as part of my double cleansing routine for a couple months now."
Double Cleanse With A Gentle Self-Foaming Cleanser
Neogen Dermalogy Green Tea Real Fresh Foam Cleanser, $19, Amazon
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. According to one reviewer: "Love this foam cleanser. I have combination, acne prone skin and I use this day and night. The green tea works really well with my skin in reducing redness and irritation, and the foam is especially gentle on my skin. Have seen great improvements in my skin since using!"
Balance Your Skin's pH Using This Soothing Toner
Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Toner, $16, Amazon
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. According to one reviewer: "I have sensitive, dry, and acne prone skin... Getting good skin has always been a struggle for me, and finding the right toner has been tough. I've tried everything, but this toner is the only one that's done the job. As soon as I apply this, my skin feels calm, hydrated, and happy."
Color Correct Redness & Protect Against Hyperpigmentation
Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment SPF 30, $50, Amazon
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.
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. According to one reviewer: "I bought for teen, in hopes of evening her skin tone while dealing with the challenges of acne. So far it has bought out the natural glow of her skin and help reduce the puffiness of any breakouts. I recommend this if you prefer to go without makeup, this will restore your skin to its natural glory." Bustle may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was created independently from Bustle's editorial and sales departments.