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Dispatch from Seoul: The Korean Shortcut to Radiant Skin

South Korea has become ground zero for beauty innovation in the last few years (BB creams, anyone?). Lucky for us, former Birchbox copywriter Mai is teaching English in Seoul this summer—and sending us weekly updates about her finds in beauty, food, and beyond. Here, she talks about her latest skincare obsession.


No Korean drugstore would be complete without an aisle full of cleansing oils.

Every time I step out of my apartment here in Seoul, I see women with the kind of skin that almost defies description: radiant, dewy, and seemingly immune to blemishes. Of course, maintaining a perfect complexion requires ongoing discipline. As my Korean friend joked to me while we were standing in a bustling drugstore, “the girls in this country start taking care of their skin when they’re ten years old.” When I pressed her to reveal the details of her countrywomen’s routines, she kept returning to one subject: cleansing oils.

Though cleansing oils are still an unfamiliar concept in the US, they’re as widespread in Korea as kimchi. At first, they baffled me—how can an oil cleanse your skin?—but then I decided to give them a try, and now I’m hooked. Read on to learn which cleansing oil is so popular in Asia!


Shiseido’s Tiss Deep Off Oil

Cleansing oils are prized for their ability to sweep away excess oil from the T-zone and dissolve makeup, especially sunscreen (Korean women are fanatical about their SPF, since pale skin is generally viewed as more attractive). Used regularly, they can also get rid of the dead cells that lead to whiteheads, yet they don’t have the abrasive qualities of many run-of-the-mill scrubs. 

While there are plenty of homegrown Korean brands touting their own cleansing oils, the best seller (according to my friend) is actually a Japanese import: Shiseido’s Tiss Deep Off Oil. It works a little differently from the way you might expect. First off, you use this cleansing oil before your regular cleanser, not as a replacement. You start with dry, unwashed skin, apply three to four pumps to your face, then add a splash of water—at this point, the golden oil turns milky white. Surprisingly, it has a thin, almost liquid consistency, which isn’t the least bit greasy or pore-clogging.


After testing out Shiseido’s cleansing oil this week, I can say with confidence that it rocks. I like how it balances out my combination skin, and I’ve definitely noticed a reduction in breakouts. Though I still have a month left in Seoul, I’m already planning on buying every last bottle from my local drugstore—but first, I might need to get a bigger suitcase.

Would you want to incorporate a cleansing oil into your skincare routine? 


If you want to try a cleansing oil but have no plans to fly to Asia, check out Dermalogica’s Precleanse.

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