Review: Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil

Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil clean rinse

When you’ve lived as long as I have, you realize that anything can change in a flash. Nothing is permanent. Not even cleansing oil dry spells.

After my failures with Ciracle Deep Cleansing Oil and Nature Republic Forest Garden Chamomile Cleansing Oil, my horrifying encounter with Missha Perfect BB Deep Cleansing Oil, and a couple other unpleasant run-ins that I haven’t written up yet, I was starting to think I would never find a cleansing oil I loved again. Then I had a wonderful fling with Amorepacific Treatment Cleansing Oil and got my hands on Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil, the subject of today’s review. Now those dark days of cleansing oil dissatisfaction feel like a particularly smelly but distant dream.

The products featured in this post were provided for review by a Fifty Shades of Snail sponsor. Affiliate links are marked with an asterisk(*). Also, I haven’t been able to fix or replace my busted camera yet, and I am SO SORRY about the photography you’re about to see.

Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil review

I received my bottle of Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil from Sulwhasoo US*, who included it in a big box of products for me to try out earlier this year.

Purpose: Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil is an emulsifying oil cleanser that removes sunscreen and makeup as the first step in a double cleansing routine.

Best suited for: All skin types.

Do not use if: You are sensitive to fragrance, isopropyl palmitate, botanical extracts or oils, citrus ingredients, or anything else in the ingredients list.

When and how to use: Use to remove makeup and sunscreen at the beginning of your evening skincare routine. Spread 1-2 pumps of product over dry face. Massage gently until makeup is broken down and lifted from skin. Massage again with wet hands to emulsify. Rinse and follow with a water-soluble second cleanser. (Need help putting the steps of your routine in order? Read this post!)

Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil ingredients: Isopropyl palmitate, pentaerythrityl tetraethylhexanoate, C12-15 alkyl benzoate, pentaerythrityl tetraisostearate, caprylic/capric triglyceride, PEG-20 glyceryl triisostearate, PEG-8 isostearate, prunus armeniaca (apricot) kernel oil, spirodela polyrrhiza extract, coix lacryma-jobi ma-yuen seed extract, castanea crenata (chestnut) shell extract, citrus unshiupeel extract, pinus koraiensis seed oil, sesamum indicum (sesame) seed oil, camellia japonica seed oil, prunus mume fruit extract, nelumbo nucifera germ extract, squalane, dextrin palmitate, glyceryl behenate/eicosadioate, butylene glycol, fragrance

Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil English ingredients

CosDNA analysis

Notable ingredients: Sulwhasoo has packed this product with lovely-sounding herbal oils and extracts. They make for an appealing ingredients list, but in my opinion, here they exist primarily to support the story that Sulwhasoo products tell. It’s a story of lovely traditional herbal ingredients for you to massage into your skin. It’s a very compelling story, but since this happens to be a cleanser (and a very good one), those fancy herbal ingredients aren’t going to stick around. So we won’t be calling them out individually.

The one ingredient that I do want to call out is the main one in the product. Isopropyl palmitate is a synthetic ester made from isopropyl alcohol and palmitic acid. It scores a whopping 4 on CosDNA’s acne scale.

CosDNA’s ratings are nowhere near perfect, and comedogenicity ratings are inherently flawed, as my friend Michelle explains over at Lab Muffin, but if you’ve had negative reactions to this or similar ingredients, make sure to patch test with extra caution and not with your whole face.

Personally, I don’t have issues with isopropyl palmitate, which is also present in my former favorite cleansing oil, so I tested with my whole face and came out the other side very happy.

Sulwhasoo cleansing oil Fifty Shades of Snail review
The bottle comes sealed with a plain cap and the pump included separately. Yes, I made an exclamation point out of the cap and package insert.


I have several criteria for cleansing oils. One is that they shouldn’t be so thin that they drip and run off my face. That’s partly because I loathe getting drips on my counter and floor and partly because I love my eyelash extensions, which I won’t have anymore if they come into contact with cleansing oil.

My second requirement is that the cleansing oil should smell nice, or at least not horrible. For some reason, this seems difficult for many brands to achieve.

On those first two metrics, Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil scores all the points. It has enough body to stay put after application even if I leave it on for 15 minutes or so before massaging (which I do occasionally to loosen the gunk in my pores). The thickness and slip of this cleansing oil also provides plenty of lubrication for the massage step.

On the fragrance question: the Gentle Cleansing Oil smells absolutely perfect, at least to my taste. It has that signature warm, herbal Sulwhasoo fragrance, nicely balanced here: noticeable at first but not too strong and doesn’t linger a second past its welcome.

My third and most important requirement is that a cleansing oil cleanse. Let’s take a look at how Sulwhasoo’s performs.

To prepare, I caked my hand in sunscreen and BB cream. I applied three layers of my very hard-wearing Biore UV Perfect Bright Milk sunscreen, then added three layers of Sulwhasoo Perfecting Cushion Intense, which the brand also provided. The Perfecting Cushion Intense is the fullest-coverage foundation product I own, which made it a good candidate for this test. (By the way, when applied like a normal person would, it absolutely does not look the way it does below. Review with swatches and proper, non-madwoman application coming soon.)

I let each layer of sunscreen and makeup dry in between the next for maximum staying power.

On top of all those layers, I used a Revlon Colorstay lipliner to write some totally random and not at all significant letters. Then I finished the drawing with a Revlon Colorstay eyeliner and a random Innisfree lipstick.

Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil test
The results were not pretty, but they sure will be hard to remove.

After the makeup madness dried to a nice thick crust, I took this party to the bathroom and massaged a squirt of Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil into the mess.

Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil makeup removal

The Gentle Cleansing Oil lifted all that makeup and sunscreen off my hand with just a few passes of light massaging.

One thing I have not been able to test is this product’s performance on mascaras on eyelashes, since I can’t do that without ruining the extensions. Based on its effectiveness at removing everything else, my instincts say it’ll do just fine, but I can’t be confident about that. As far as makeup on every other part of the face, however, I find it exceptional.

Next, I wet my fingertips with a little water and massaged again to emulsify the cleansing oil and make it rinsable.

Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil emulsified

As impressed as I am with the Gentle Cleansing Oil’s makeup-removal abilities, however, its emulsifying powers wow me even more. This stuff emulsifies like a beast. Just a touch with water and the oil turns thin and milky. I have used several cleansing oils and balms that needed real effort to emulsify. The Gentle Cleansing Oil, on the other hand, seems capable of emulsifying from nothing but a bowl of water giving it The Look from across the room. I’ve been using this product for over three weeks now and am amazed how easily it emulsifies.

The good thing about a cleansing oil that emulsifies well is that it tends to rinse cleanly. That’s because the whole point of emulsifying is to mix the oil with the water so that more water can rinse it away. Emulsifiers are why I prefer commercial cleansing oils to oil cleansing with straight carrier oils, which take a lot more work to rinse away.

And boy, does the Gentle Cleansing Oil rinse away well.

Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil clean rinse
As clean as the reputation of a Girls Generation member.

I used the Biore UV Perfect Bright Milk as my base for this test partly because the matte finish and peachy-pink cast of the sunscreen would make it easy to tell whether the Gentle Cleansing Oil had actually taken everything off.

It did. It really did. Not a trace of sunscreen or makeup left behind. The absence of water beading also suggests that the oil hasn’t left a film of residue behind, either, one key issue with a lot of cleansing oils and balms. Neither does rinsing take much manual labor. A couple of quick splashes will do it.

In terms of performance, Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil has a lot in common with the Amorepacific Treatment Cleansing Oil that I started falling in love with in deluxe sample form last year. Similar consistencies and very similar makeup removal and clean-rinsing properties. What makes me love Sulwhasoo’s cleansing oil more than AP’s is the fragrance, since I like herbal scents more than floral. Basically, what I’m saying is that this is absolutely my jam.

Conclusion: After going almost all of 2016 without finding a cleansing oil to love, I’m starting 2017 with a holy grail cleansing oil in hand. There is balance in the universe after all.

My one gripe with this product is its price. With that being said, at two pumps of product a day, the 200 ml bottle should last a solid three months or so, based on how much I’ve used so far. And the fact that I actually look forward to cleansing now makes the Gentle Cleansing Oil worth a repurchase for myself. I’ve spent a long time using cleansing oils that made me dread starting my routine each night. This is a great change.

Rating: 5/5

Rating scale:

1 – This should be taken off the market, or this failed at its one primary job.

2 – Caused me some problems or doesn’t work very well; would not buy again.

3 – Meh. Neither great nor bad.

4 – Pretty good. Worth rebuying.

5 – I’ll never be in the market for a replacement unless this one is discontinued.

Where can I buy Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil?

I received my bottle of Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil from Sulwhasoo US, where a 200 ml bottle is $38*. Check the special codes section in my right-hand sidebar, as Sulwhasoo US regularly offers Fifty Shades of Snail readers extra gifts.

12 thoughts on “Review: Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil

  1. how does this stack up to the illi oil?

    PS: Been catching up on your posts after a while and I kinda miss your old layout! From a functional perspective the recent posts can get lost in the carousel rather than in a list view and the body text is pretty small. Anyways, keep it up! Always looking forward to your reviews 🙂


  2. great review, fiddy! when testing mascaras at a department store sometimes I’ll use the wand on the little hairs on my wrist to check formula. that might be a way for you to check cleansers!


  3. Hello Fiddy, sorry to drift away from the subject, but I’m ok on cleansers atm.However, I’m not surprised for this cleanser being as superb as you describe it- it’s Sulhasoo,dude! Very upper shelf in my list….I just started using the Sulwhasoo capsulised fortifying serum and am totally mesmerised by it’s smell.It smells like my Chinese medical practitioner’s office lol Looking forward to see the results! I’ve been thinking to ask you, since I’m willing to try an eyebrow tattoo pencil and have been looking at Tony Moly,or Missha,or Clio,do you have any idea which one’s better? Do you know if they really last for longer than a day?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I prefer the Sulwhasoo as it’s just amazingly clean rinsing, but I think the illi is the best of the more affordable cleansing oils I’ve tried. Top 3 would be the Sulwhasoo, then the illi and Amorepacific in a tie 🙃

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting review. With the acne trigger I’ll have to pass, but I’m happy to hear you found a little luxury gem to treat yourself to at night. We all need that!

    I just got the Re:cipe one. It’s a rose scent with real rose petals and the packaging is pretty. I haven’t tried it but it looks lovely in my bathroom. I still stand by my very mature Apple Jolly Rancher Innisifree. That might be too runny for you though.


  5. I’ve been using some samples of this and am loving it, but apparently it has been reformulated into an EX version? At least, that’s the only version I can find on the Sulwhasoo US site. Do you know of any differences?


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