It always cracks me up when people describe me as someone who’s tried just about everything in Korean skincare, because that’s far from the truth. There are so many product categories I’ve barely touched. One of those categories is the powdered foaming cleanser, which only came to my attention when my friend Cat at Snow White and the Pear reviewed the Su:m37 White Award Enzyme Powder Wash back in June. That was around the same time that I was beginning to discover Tosowoong, so when I spotted a powder cleanser among their products and read its claims to pH 5.5 status, I snatched it up. Thank the snail gods I did. My skin adores this stuff so much that I’ll find it difficult to switch to any other cleanser.
Purpose: Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Wash is a pH 5.5 foaming facial cleanser that claims to deep-clean skin without drying it out.
Do not use if: Your skin truly cannot tolerate sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), alcohol denat., or anything else in the ingredients list. But if you are avoiding those ingredients because you’re afraid they’ll be too stripping, read this review first.
When and how to use: Shake a small amount of cleanser into the palm of your hand or onto a damp cleansing tool. Add water and lather. Gently massage over your face, then rinse thoroughly.
Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Wash ingredients: Zea mays (corn) starch, sodium lauroyl aspartate, sodium cocoyl isethionate, sodium palmitate, sodium lauryl sulfate, titanium dioxide, dipotassium glycyrrhizate, methylparaben, alcohol denat., perfume, maltodextrin, papain, badger oil
CosDNA analysis turns up a couple of major flags in this list. SLS rates a 5 as a potential acne trigger, while alcohol denat. scores a 5 as a potential irritant. Once again, however, I definitely urge you to read on before you allow those ingredients to put you off.
Notable ingredients: Typically I use this section to talk about the potentially beneficial ingredients I find in a product’s ingredients list, but here I’m going to take a different approach and talk about the ingredients that many people consider dealbreakers. SLS, for example, is almost universally panned by those who know a bit about skincare. It’s known as the harshest of the sulfates and considered a one-way ticket to stripped, dried skin, even among people who haven’t yet seen the pH 5.5 light. Alcohol denat. is often shunned for much the same reasons.
What I’ve found from my month and a half of using this product is that when you’re trying to assess how stripping a cleanser will be, the ingredients may not matter quite as much as the pH. This is because the mechanism by which a cleanser strips and dries out skin (or doesn’t) isn’t quite as clear-cut as “sulfates bad, SLS devil.” My theory, developed over the last month and a half, is that in order for the sulfates to do your moisture barrier harm, the pH of the cleanser itself must be damagingly high.
What happens is that an alkaline cleanser will weaken the structure of your acid mantle. If you attack your skin with soaps or with surfactants like SLS while it is in that compromised state, then those surfactants can indeed bind to and wash away many of the natural and necessary lipids that are meant to remain in your moisture barrier. But if the cleanser is at a skin-safe pH, the acid mantle’s integrity remains intact. The surfactants are unable to make off with your ceramides and lipids and happy fatty acids. That’s my theory, anyway, and my reading supports it (more in-depth post on this coming soon). I came up with this theory because of how Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Wash makes my skin feel.
(This theory is also the reason I disagree with people who say that using a strong, alkaline cleanser is okay if you “balance” your skin’s pH with a balancing toner afterward. The damage is being done during the act of cleansing. Attempting to rapidly lower your skin’s pH after the fact won’t fix that unless your balancing toner can travel back in time, slap the high-pH cleanser out of your hands, and replace it with a pH 5.5 cleanser, and if your toner could do that, you wouldn’t be reading this review because the space/time continuum would be terribly damaged and none of us would be here anymore because your toner probably would have prevented us all from existing in the first place. Skin pH returns to normal not long after cleansing anyway. Shortening that period by a half an hour isn’t going to undo the harm that was caused by the cleansing process.)
Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Wash comes in a fairly plain plastic bottle with a flip top that reveals a small opening.
Inside the bottle are suspicious-looking little grains of powdered cleanser with a somewhat strong detergent-y smell (which is much fainter when the product is lathered up, so don’t worry). The opening reminds me of the large openings on some spice bottles. Luckily, this bottle is designed to prevent accidental giant spills of product.
The actual opening inside the bottle is in the middle, and when the cap is screwed on, that opening is blocked, so that only the grains which have been shaken into that top section can be dispensed. This is a pretty handy design for people like me, who get a little overenthusiastic with spice shakers sometimes.
Whether you’re using your hands or a konjac sponge to cleanse your face, you’ll only need a small sprinkle of powder to make a decent amount of foam. When I started using Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Wash, I used it with a konjac sponge, because that’s what I’ve been using to wash my face for over a year, and habit dies hard.
Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Wash contains papain, a mild enzyme exfoliant derived from papayas. From the very first few times I used this cleanser, I noticed my skin feeling softer and softer and silkier and silkier. With no other changes to my routine, I could pretty confidently point to the cleanser as the source of the new improvement. I wondered if I could ditch the konjac sponges without missing the gentle exfoliation they provide, so I gave it a shot.
I haven’t used a konjac sponge since then. My skin doesn’t miss it at all. My skin doesn’t miss my old Hada Labo cleanser, either.
Here’s the thing about Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Wash: It’s pretty much the most perfect cleanser I’ve ever found for my face. My own pH testing verifies the company’s claim that it is pH 5.5, which I consider the ideal cleanser pH. It cleans my skin thoroughly, leaving no residue behind, so that my face looks and feels perfectly fresh and sparkling clean. And, best of all, through the magic of a low pH, Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Wash achieves that without stripping my skin, drying it out, or otherwise compromising its natural protective barrier. I have been using this cleanser twice a day for a month and a half, and in that time, my skin has not gotten any drier.
In fact, in that time, my skin’s barrier seems to have gotten better. When I rinse my face now, it feels literally buttery. It’s the opposite of a squeak. I can feel the healthy layer of lipids doing their protective thing on the surface of my skin, and making my skin extra glowy at the same time.
I tried three other cleansers just once or twice each during the testing period for the Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Wash. The three other cleansers were all mild, low-pH cleansers: the classic Hada Labo cleansing foam, the Hada Labo es cleansing foam for sensitive skin, and the famous Su:m37 Enzyme Powder Wash, which I got in sample packet form from the awesome and bad-ass Tracy of Fanserviced. None of those cleansers gave me the same buttery skin texture upon rinsing. I could tell from texture alone that they were removing more of my natural lipids than the Tosowoong, and the Su:m37, while still miles above any alkaline cleanser, actually gave me the tiniest hint of a squeak. What I’m trying to say is that no other cleanser I’ve tried has come close to the incredibly non-dry clean that I get every single time I wash with Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Wash. I can cleanse, get distracted, forget to put anything else on my skin for an hour at a time, and not feel tight or uncomfortable at all.
I consider it extremely important to maintain that upper layer of lipids as much as I can, because some of my other skincare steps involve a controlled weakening of it. Chemical exfoliation, after all, speeds up the removal of the dead skin cells that form part of the moisture barrier, and retinol accelerates their sloughing, too. If I want to continue attacking the signs of sun damage and aging at the rate I am now (or harder), I have to make sure my skin can handle it. Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Wash cleans my skin thoroughly without weakening the barrier it needs to stay healthy and able to hold moisture despite the actives I throw at it every day.
Oh, and guess what? Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Cleanser is incredibly cheap and, because it comes in dry form, makes traveling with one’s skincare wardrobe a little easier.
Conclusion: I don’t switch cleansers often. I stuck with my Hada Labo for over a year, and I see myself sticking with Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Cleanser for even longer. It offers exactly the perfect mix of pH 5.5 gentleness and deep and thorough cleansing, keeping my skin moist and happy without letting a single speck of dirt or grime stay behind. I’m super happy with this product. I’m happy enough, in fact, to consider it a new Holy Grail. This cleanser is the main reason I now discourage sponsors and potential sponsors from sending me cleansers. I just don’t want to feel obligated to use anything else right now.
Where can I buy Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Wash?
Remember how I said Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Wash is incredibly cheap? You can snag a bottle at the following Fiddy-trusted shops. Affiliate links are marked with an asterisk(*).
The 70ml bottle is generous, especially since only a little product is needed at a time–one bottle should last several months.
Have you found your perfect cleanser yet? Tell me about it in the comments!