It’s funny thinking about it now, but I actually didn’t get into skincare at all until I was 33. Before then, I typically washed my face with whatever decently priced and usually scrubby facial cleanser was on sale at the drugstore. I thought the dry, tight, desperate-for-moisturizer feeling I got after every wash meant my cleanser was working. Then I learned about the effect a cleanser’s pH can have on skin. Now I have nightmares about Shiseido Perfect Whip cleanser.
Switching to neutral pH or mildly acidic cleansers made a huge difference to the health and appearance of my skin. Soon after committing to the low-pH life, I started breaking out less. My skin no longer screamed for moisture immediately after cleansing. And even before I fine-tuned the rest of my routine, my complexion gained a new suppleness and healthier appearance. That was enough to reel me in for life.
Problem was, I found the drugstore low-pH cleansers I started out with (CeraVe’s and Neutrogena’s) about as exciting as unseasoned boiled potatoes, and acidic cleansers weren’t much of A Thing in K-beauty a few years ago. The debut of COSRX’s low pH cleanser was a big deal. It took a few years for low pH cleansers to catch on.
Four years later, my bathroom and empties shelf (okay, shelves) have accumulated more bottles of low pH Asian cleansers than 2013 me could ever have imagined existing, let alone owning at once. I wouldn’t say they grow on trees at this point, but the orchard is looking mighty fertile.
This list is a rundown of just the cleansers I’ve liked in the past year or so–basically, the ones I still have hanging around.
This post contains affiliate links, which enable me to receive a small commission on any purchases made through the links. Affiliate links are marked with an asterisk(*). Products provided to me for review by Fifty Shades of Snail sponsors or my employers are marked with double asterisks(**).
What makes a cleanser good?
As much as I harp on pH, having a pH that’s lower than 7 isn’t the whole story. It’s just a starting point. There are mediocre low pH cleansers and outright weak low pH cleansers–it’s just that they tend to suck in different ways than high pH cleansers. Whereas a crappy high pH cleanser generally strips the skin of all its life and leaves it a mummified husk groaning eternally for hydration that it is cursed never to be able to retain, a crappy low pH cleanser typically doesn’t cleanse well enough, leaving skin coddled but sadly still wanting. (I’ve got a list of those brewing, too.)
The cleansers in today’s list perform well for me for a few key reasons. One, despite their comparatively mild formulations (there’s no SLS or SLES in this bunch and not a pH over 7!), they actually do cleanse. Used after cleansing oil as part of my evening double cleanse, they remove all traces of oil and general face gunk, so my skin is ready to properly absorb whatever I apply afterwards. Two, they cleanse without stripping my skin of its natural moisture. I’m left clean but not dry, tight, or uncomfortable. And three, they retain enough skincaretainment value to motivate me even when I’m not really in the mood to wash my face. At this stage of my skincare journey, the fun factor really matters.
Here they are, sorted by how exciting I find them and with their price ranges indicated. This isn’t meant to be a ranking, since these cleansers are more similar than they are different–more of an explanation of some of the differences, so that you can find something to suit your tastes and budget.
8 Cleansers Under pH 7
Cleanser Excitement Level: !
COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser
pH: Between 6 and 7
Ingredients: Water, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate, polysorbate 20, styrax japonicus branch/fruit/leaf extract, butylene glycol, saccharomyces ferment, cryptomeria japonica leaf extract, nelumbo nucifera leaf extract, pinus palustris leaf extract, ulmus davidiana root extract, oenothera biennis (evening primrose) flower extract, pueraria lobata root extract, melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) leaf oil, allantoin, caprylyl glycol, ethylhexylglycerin, betaine salicylate, citric acid, ethyl hexanediol, 1,2-hexanediol, trisodium ethylenediamine disuccinate, sodium benzoate, disodium EDTA (CosDNA)
I’ve lost count of how many tubes of this cleanser I’ve bought in the two years(!!) since its launch, because I find that the boys of my household prefer it strongly to any of the “fancier” or more “fun” cleansers I so generously expose them to. The COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser gives a pretty basic cleansing experience for me due to the antiseptic tea tree scent and the relatively thin lather it produces when foamed by hand, but it cleanses exceptionally well. Lord Fiddy found it more suitable for his oily-leaning skin than many other cleansers he’s tried from my stash. The Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser can also be used unfoamed on a dry face and removes makeup and sunscreen surprisingly thoroughly when used that way, though the process takes more effort than I’m willing to give. (Full review)
Naruko Dermalane 1000 Molecule Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Dual Action Cleansing Foam**
pH: Between 6 and 7
Ingredients: Purified water (aqua), cocamidopropyl betaine, potassium cocoyl glycinate, disodium lauryl sulfosuccinate, PEG-7 glyceryl cocoate, PEG-6 caprylic/capric triglycerides, polyglyceryl-3 caprate, sodium L-2-pyrrolidone-5-carboxylate, trehalose, olea europaea leaf extract, panthenol, phenoxyethanol, caprylyl glycol, chlorphenesin, methylpropanediol, sodium hyaluronate (CosDNA)
I have a soft spot for the big puffs of mousse-like foam produced by foaming pumps like the ones used for the 1000 Molecule Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Dual Action Cleansing Foam. They’re incredibly satisfying to dispense, and skipping the lathering step soothes my lazy soul. Unfortunately, because foaming pumps only work with very thin and watery products, the mousse-like foam is often an illusion that deflates the second it hits your face. This was my key complaint with Naruko’s Long Name Cleanser.
Wimpy foam aside, however, the 1000 Word Name Hyaluronic Acid Cleansing Foam does have its good points. It’s unfragranced and noticeably mild on skin, making it a nice choice when you’re feeling particularly sensitive–I used this up when I was having one of my periodic “oops, Su:m37 products really don’t work for me” flareups and was worried that a more “fun” cleanser might prove too much for my angry cheeks. It leaves my skin feeling fresh and neutral, neither overly cleansed nor still dirty. Also, it works nicely as a feminine wash due to the gentle formulation.
Buy: Naruko US* (check the sidebar for the current Naruko deal!)
SanDaWha Green Tea Mild Foam Cleanser**
Ingredients: Water, sodium lauroyl glutamate, disodium cocoamphodiacetate, lauryl glucoside, stearic acid, camellia sinensis leaf extract (green tea extract, 0.51%), pentylene glycol, chamomilla recutita (matricaria) leaf extract, thujopsis dolabrata branch extract, sorbitan caprylate, magnolia kobus bark extract, salix alba (willow) bark extract, propanediol, glycerin, trehalose, hizikia fusiforme extract, glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) root extract, camellia japonica seed oil, yeast beta-glucan, aloe barbadensis leaf extract, bioflavonoids, brassica oleracea italica (broccoli) extract, olive oil, hyaluronic acid, centella asiatica extract, levulinic acid, polygonum cuspidatum root extract, scutellaria baicalensis root extract, tocopherol, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf extract, (-)-alpha-bisabolol (LOL), rosa canina fruit oil, citrus limon (lemon) peel oil, citrus aurantium bergamia (bergamot) fruit oil, orange oil, geranium oil
This cleanser was actually gifted to Lord Fiddy by W2Beauty as a gesture of appreciation for Lord Fiddy’s sacrifices in making our Father’s Day Daddy Skincare video. It’s part of SanDaWha’s green tea men’s skincare line.
I’ve mentioned before, and still believe, that gendered skincare is mostly just marketing bunk. While there are some differences between men’s and women’s skin, in practice, there are plenty of men whose skin doesn’t match the “typical” profile of male skin, and plenty of women whose skin does, and vice versa on both. Also, most “men’s” skincare lines appear to be pretty much the same as the ones marketed towards women, except with different packaging and fragrances. Apparently, the typical male skincare consumer wishes for his face to smell like cologne. SanDaWha’s Green Tea Mild Foam Cleanser doesn’t, however, and I’m always down for a new pH-appropriate cleanser, whether it’s marketed for people who share my junk configuration or not. This is why I claimed this cleanser when Lord Fiddy showed no interest in it.
As it turns out, SanDaWha does address the generally oilier nature of men’s skin with their men’s cleanser. While I wouldn’t call the Green Tea Mild Foam Cleanser harsh or stripping, it does clean the most thoroughly out of all the cleansers on this list. I stay away from it when I’m feeling dry or overexfoliated. Instead, I use it when I need a deeper cleanse than usual, or when I’m washing off a thick layer of sleeping pack in the morning. I also like the sharp, citrusy green tea scent and the decently substantial foam.
Cleanser Excitement Level: !!
Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Foam EX**
pH: Between 6 and 7
Ingredients: Water, potassium cocoyl glycinate, cocamidopropyl betaine, PEG-200 hydrogenated glyceryl palmate, acrylates/beheneth-25 methacrylate copolymer, disodium cocoamphodiacetate, spirodela polyrrhiza extract, citrus unshiu peel extract, castanea crenata (chestnut) shell extract, theobroma cacao (cocoa) extract, coix lacryma-jobi ma-yuen seed extract, caprylyl/capryl glucoside, dextrin, disodium EDTA, butylene glycol, sodium methyl cocoyl taurate, sodium chloride, citric acid, isostearic acid, potassium hydroxide, PEG-60 hydrogenated castor oil, PEG-7 glyceryl cocoate, ethylhexylglycerin, sodium benzoate, phenoxyethanol, fragrance (CosDNA)
When it comes to Sulwhasoo cleansers, the gorgeously piney, lush-foaming Snowise EX Cleansing Foam tends to get all the glory, but I’m glad I got a chance to try its less-glam sister too. The thick, smooth gel produces a generous amount of lather and a softer and more classically herbal/hanbang scent than the Snowise cleanser, and it leaves my face soothed, clean, and comfortably hydrated. I find myself reaching for this when I’m dealing with more redness than usual. While it won’t do as much as a leave-on skincare product, my skin tends to be a bit calmer after cleansing with the Gentle Cleansing Foam EX than if I were to use one of my other cleansers. On some days, every little bit counts. Lord Fiddy really likes this one, too.
Buy: Sulwhasoo US** (check the sidebar for the current gift with my coupon code!)
Hyggee All In One Care Cleansing Foam**
pH: Between 5 and 6
Ingredients: Betula platyphylla japonica juice, water, glycerin, cocobetaine, potassium cocoyl glycinate, disodium cocoamphodiacetate, sucrose, sodium chloride, citrus aurantium bergamia (bergamot) fruit oil, quillaja saponaria bark extract, camellia sinensis leaf extract, moringa pterygosperma seed extract, xylitol, lactobacillus ferment, lactobacillus ferment lysate, plankton extract, asparagus officinalis stem extract, bifida ferment lysate, saponaria officinalis leaf extract, streptococcus thermophilus ferment, coco-glucoside, aspartic acid, glyceryl oleate, PEG-7 glyceryl cocoate, glyceryl caprylate, caprylyl glycol, sodium cocoyl isethionate, 1,2-hexanediol, maltodextrin, butylene glycol, xylitylglucoside, anhydroxylitol, propanediol, caprylic/capric triglyceride, phospholipids, ceramide NP, calcium gluconate, cholesterol, gluconolactone, ethylhexylglycerin, arginine, phytosterols, disodium EDTA, phenoxyethanol, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate (CosDNA)
Remember how I said that most cleansers with foaming pumps produce puffy but ultimately wimpy foam? Hyggee All In One Care Cleansing Foam is an exception. The marshmallowy mound of foam that it creates is surprisingly hefty and gives a cushiony feeling under my fingertips as I massage it in. The array of hydrating and emollient ingredients in the ingredients may have something to do with this, as well as something to do with the effects of this cleanser. The All In One Care Cleansing Foam is the most moisturizing of all the face washes on this list–it leaves my skin feeling superbly smooth and silky after rinsing. I’m also a fan of the scent of this product. It’s the same sweet vegetal fragrance as Hyggee’s one-step facial essences, which I adore.
I do find the foaming pump on this cleanser a little faulty–it doesn’t always dispense a full puff of foam–but that’s a small complaint and could be related to a particular batch of bottles.
Buy: Beautibi (check the sidebar for my discount code and first-time customer referral link!)
Simplistic Begin Cleanser**
pH: Between 5 and 6
Ingredients: Chamaecyparis obtusa water, water, glycerin, sodium lauryl glucose carboxylate, lauryl glucoside, hydroxypropyl starch phosphate, potassium cocoyl glycinate, honey, pinus radiata bark extract, allantoin, aloe barbadensis leaf juice powder, olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, zanthoxylum piperitum fruit extract, pulsatilla koreana extract, usnea barbata (lichen) extract, butylene glycol, propolis extract, mentha piperita (peppermint) oil (CosDNA)
Honey and propolis? Now we’re talking. I greatly appreciate honey and propolis in skincare for their moisturizing, healing, and anti-inflammatory propertie. Even though a cleanser is a wash-off product, I still appreciate seeing them here. Simplistic’s Begin Cleanser is a clear amber gel, a little on the thin side with a correspondingly thin lather, but what it lacks in heft, it makes up in effects. The Begin Cleanser cleans my skin gently and gives it a little extra bounce and resilience. I also enjoy the minty fragrance, though people whose skin is irritated by peppermint will want to patch test or stay away altogether.
Buy: Beautibi (check my sidebar for first-time customer referral link and my discount code)
Cleanser Excitement Level: !!!
SanDaWha Camellia Secret Zone Soothing Wash**
pH: Between 3 and 4(!!!)
Ingredients: Camellia japonica flower extract, decyl glucoside, pentylene glycol, sorbitan caprylate, lactic acid, glycerin, dipotassium glycyrrhizate, propanediol, sapindus mukorossi fruit extract, water, glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) root extract, trehalose, levulinic acid, glycine soja (soybean) peptide, panthenol, aloe barbadensis leaf extract, bioflavonoids, brassica oleracea italica (broccoli) extract, hydrolyzed pea protein, hizikia fusiforme extract, centella asiatica extract, panax ginseng root extract, camellia sinensis leaf extract, polygonum cuspidatum root extract, scutellaria baicalensis root extract, yeast beta-glucan, artemisia vulgaris extract, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf extract, betaine, hyaluronic acid, chamomilla recutita (matricaria) leaf extract, opuntia ficus-indica fruit extract, rose flower oil (CosDNA)
So I’ve said the Naruko 1000 Words Hydrating Cleansing Foam doubles nicely as a feminine wash. Well, SanDaWha’s Camellia Secret Zone Soothing Wash, a feminine wash, doubles wonderfully as a facial cleanser. It’s got a pH low enough to satisfy the most hardcore low pH cleanser fans, a lovely light floral fragrance, and leaves an imperceptible but effective layer of hydration so that my skin feels immaculate but not parched after I rinse the cleanser off. I would prefer the foam to be more substantial, more like the Hyggee All In One Care Cleansing Foam, but although it’s thin, it moves easily over my skin, without dragging or tapping out at the first touch. Also, since I’m mentally twelve years old, I get a kick out of using a cleanser meant for the Classified Zone to clean my Declassified Zone instead.
(And a review of this for its actual intended purpose is coming soon too.)
Sulwhasoo Snowise EX Cleansing Foam
Ingredients: Water, sorbitol, sodium cocoyl isothionate, lauryl hydroxysultaine, potassium cocoyl glycinate, arginine, oldenlandia diffusa extract, hydrolyzed ginseng saponins, panax ginseng root extract, paeonia albiflora root extract, nelumbo nucifera seed extract, polygonatum officinale rhizome/root extract, lilum tigrinium flower/leaf/stem extract, rehmannia glutinosa root extract, honey, glycyrrhiza uralensis (licorice) root extract, ophiopogon japonicus root extract, niacinamide, lactic acid, sodium salicylate, butylene glycol, 1,2-hexanediol, disodium EDTA, methoxy PEG-114/polyepsilon caprolacton, sodium chloride, acrylates/C10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, titanium dioxide (CI 77891), polyquaternium-7, PEG-14M, ethylhexylglycerin, phenoxyethanol, fragrance (CosDNA)
I don’t think I’ll ever get over how much I love this cleanser, which I’m about to purchase for myself for the third time, having just finished off my second tube of it. There’s something about Sulwhasoo Snowise EX Cleanser that’s just magical for me. Maybe it’s the thick, rich, pillowy foam it creates when mixed with water. Maybe it’s the heady scent of a pine needle-carpeted forest that surrounds me when I use it. Maybe it’s the perfect balance of cleansing, calming, and soothing that this cleanser gives my skin–I consider the Snowise EX Cleansing Foam my ultimate “big guns” cleanser and pull it out whenever either my skin or my mood need a pick-me-up. When I use it regularly, I also find my skin has a hint more of ~that glow~ immediately after washing.
Ultimately, the point of this list is to demonstrate the diversity of the neutral and low pH cleanser options available in the AB world now. There are still others not listed here. The old argument that “low pH cleansers are too difficult to formulate and no one cares anyway” seems to have been proven false–our choices are steadily expanding. So if you’re curious about what effect a lower pH cleanser could have on your skin, you can give it a shot without dying of boredom as you gaze resentfully at your giant bottle of CeraVe.
(No shade to CeraVe. That cleanser was a good intro for me and worked just fine. Just I need a bit more excitement in my skin’s life.)
Curious about other cleansers I’ve reviewed? Check out my Cleansers category!