It’s been a big couple of years for COSRX. They’ve expanded beyond their beginnings as a small and relatively unknown brand focused on bare-bones AHA and BHA products, into a global name with a presence in brick-and-mortar retail chains like ULTA. Last year, the big COSRX news for me was the expansion of their Advanced Snail line, with the Advanced Snail Radiance Dual Essence and then a new cleanser and sheet mask too. (Also, but this year: the Advanced Snail hydrogel eye patches.)
Currently, the exciting COSRX news is the expansion of their newer Pure Fit Cica line. Specifically, the cleansing products that will officially launch later this month. I’m very fortunate to have a great relationship with some people at the brand, so when one of my friends there offhandedly mentioned a new cleansing balm(!!!!) I shamelessly asked if I could maybe possibly get some to try. She said yes. Now I’m here to report back.
The products featured in this post were provided at my request by the brand. This post may contain affiliate links, which enable me to earn a small commission on purchases made by clicking the links. Affiliate links are marked with an asterisk(*).
What does “Cica” mean?
If you’ve been paying attention to K-beauty for a while, you’ve very likely seen “cica” products, which have been around for years.
Cica products feature extracts and derivatives of the centella asiatica plant, also known as tiger grass (as seen in Dr. Jart’s Cicapair Tiger Grass line) or gotu kola. It’s traditionally used in Asian folk medicine to treat wounds, burns, and inflammatory skin conditions, and there’s evidence to support its wound healing and anti-inflammatory properties, especially when the isolated centella asiatica compounds asiatic acid, madecassic acid, asiaticoside and madecassoside are used. While that doesn’t mean that every cica product will deliver healing and soothing benefits, since extract potency and concentrations vary wildly between suppliers and brands, it does mean that cica products are marketed towards sensitive or damaged skin. As is the COSRX Pure Fit Cica line.
COSRX Cica Creamy Foam Cleanser Review
When planning out this post, I wasn’t sure in which order to present the products. I settled for starting with my least favorite of the three.
Why is it my least favorite? Why?? How dare???
It’s not that it doesn’t cleanse well. It does. It cleanses maybe a little too well.
The COSRX Cica Creamy Foam Cleanser delivers a very satisfying cleansing experience. Pearly white right out of the tube, it lathers up to a thick, rich-feeling foam with a fresh eucalyptus scent. That lush foam massages easily over skin and rinses off cleanly. Unfortunately, that lush, clean-rinsing foam takes away more than just my usual cleansing oil or balm residue and general skin debris. It also takes away my skin’s own moisture.
That is because unlike the milder, low pH cleansers I’m used to, the Cica Creamy Foam Cleanser is a true soap. Instead of using synthetic detergents like coco betaine or even sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) or sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), this product derives its cleansing agents from the reaction of fatty acids (here, myristic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, and lauric acid) with lye (aka potassium hydroxide). Lye is a strong base; the saponification reaction results in a very high pH final result. The pH of the Cica Creamy Foam Cleanser is about a 9, according to my test strips.
My skin, and the skin of many of you guys whom I’ve talked to over the years, greatly prefers low pH cleansers. Personally, I find face washes with a pH between 5 and 7 to be ideal. The pH level of a healthy skin barrier is within that range, and in my experience, cleansers with pH levels too far above it tend to disrupt and weaken the moisture barrier, allowing its own naturally occuring lipids to be washed away. This can result in tight, dry, sensitive skin that loses hydration easily.
I had a bad feeling about this cleanser going in, thanks to the ingredients and that pH test. But I wanted to give it a shot anyway. “At least it’s not a 10 or 11, like some other cleansers I’ve tried,” I told myself, and lathered up with it morning and night. It feels absolutely wonderful while in use. Then my skin feels squeaky clean afterwards, which is exactly what I don’t want.
It took about a week before my skin felt so tight, itchy, and uncomfortable that I had to throw in the towel. Granted, that’s longer than I last with most high pH cleansers, probably because this one is at least not so high pH that a single use leaves my face red and irritated. (Maybe it’s the cica.) But the tightness and discomfort are why it’s my least favorite of the three. I’ll use the rest of it up as a brush and puff cleanser.
Because there are no real universal rules in skincare, however, I’m aware that some people actually favor high pH cleansers, whether because they have a naturally oily skin type that benefits from harsher cleansing, or for other reasons. For those who do like this style of cleansing, this one is a lovely experience. Just not for me.
I would also note that while this cleanser does contain the beneficial centella asiatica extracts and centella-derived compounds, it (like the other two cleansing products in this review) also contains some fragrant essential oils, which some people may find irritating. I don’t, but consider your skin’s triggers before pulling the trigger on any of these.
COSRX Cica Creamy Foam Cleanser ingredients: Water, glycerin, myristic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, lauric acid, potassium hydroxide, glyceryl stearate, 1,2-hexanediol, polyquarternium-7, ethylhexylglycerin, citrus limon (lemon) fruit extract, citrus nobilis (mandarin orange) oil, disodium EDTA, butylene glycol, eucalyptus globulus leaf oil, lavandula angustifolia (lavender) oil, pinus palustris oil, melia azadirachta leaf extract, melia azadirachta flower extract, sodium benzoate, coccinia indica fruit extract, amber powder, solanum melongena (eggplant) fruit extract, ocimum sanctum leaf extract, curcuma longa (turmeric) root extract, centella asiatica leaf extract, corallina officinalis extract, moringa oleifera seed oil, hydrogenated phosphatidylcholine, caprylic/capric triglyceride, sucrose stearate, centella asiatica extract, cetearyl alcohol, centella asiatica root extract, asiatic acid, asiaticoside, madecassic acid, madecassoside
Before we move on: Don’t confuse this with the existing COSRX Pure Fit Cica Cleanser*! The Pure Fit Cica Cleanser is a much milder cleanser with a pH of around 5.5 that I really like and used down to the last drop last year.
COSRX Cica Clear Cleansing Oil Review
Since I started with my least favorite, I might as well do my second least favorite (or second most favorite, depending on how you look at things) next.
Double cleansing–the use of an emulsifying, oil-based “first cleanser” to break up and remove makeup and sunscreen before washing with a water-based, usually gel or foaming “second cleanser”–is one of the most foundational practices of East Asian skincare routines, like those you’ll find in K-beauty. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I’ve used a lot of cleansing oils over the years. Some were godawful, many were okay but forgettable, and a very rare few made their way onto my “I’d repurchase and reuse this any time” holy grail roster.
COSRX Cica Clear Cleansing Oil falls somewhere in between “fine” and “awesome” for me. In terms of functionality, it easily lifts and dissolves even water-resistant sunscreen and makeup. It emulsifies well and rinses away pretty cleanly, leaving just a bit of residue that all of my current gentle, low pH cleansers easily dispatch. I like the grassy citrus scent, too. My only real complaints about it are that it’s thinner than I generally like and therefore more runny, and it isn’t quite as slippy as my favorites, so I feel a bit more friction when I massage it in. These are fairly minor complaints in the grand scheme of things, however. For those who don’t have issues with the fragrant essential oils in this one, I think it’s going to be a nice option to try.
Incidentally, you may have noticed that although these products belong to COSRX’s cica line and contain all the expected cica ingredients, I haven’t mentioned any particular “cica” effects. That’s because these products all wash off. Any treatment-type ingredients in them don’t have much time to affect skin before they’re rinsed away. I feel the same way about the cica in these as I do about the snail secretion filtrate in the COSRX Advanced Snail Mucin Gel Cleanser: it’s a fun addition, but for actual effects, look for leave-on products instead.
COSRX Cica Clear Cleansing Oil ingredients: Ethylhexyl palmitate, sorbeth-30 tetraoleate, triethylhexanoin, glycine soja (soybean) oil, caprylic/capric triglyceride, simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) seed oil, citrus aurantifolia (lime) oil, citrus limon (lemon) peel oil, citrus aurantium bergamia (bergamot) fruit oil, tocopherol, helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, caprylyl glycol, ethylhexylglycerin, avena sativa (oat) kernel oil, olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, oenothera biennis (evening primrose) oil, persea gratissima (avocado) oil, prunus amygdalus dulcis (sweet almond) oil, water, 1,2-hexanediol, centella asiatica extract, centella asiatica leaf extract, centella asiatica root extract, pinus pinaster bark extract, asiaticoside, asiatic acid, madecassoside, madecassic acid
COSRX Cica Smoothing Cleansing Balm
Finally! My favorite of the three!
A good cleansing balm makes me very happy. Not only are they spill-proof, making them nice both for travel and for clumsy users like me, but something about scraping a chunk of the solid balm out of the jar and feeling it melt softly into an oil on my face just sparks a lot of joy. Unfortunately, not all cleansing balms are great. Some don’t melt evenly, leaving me feeling like I’m dragging oil-coated chunks of wax across my cheeks. Others don’t emulsify or rinse off well, forming a sludge of oil, makeup, and sunscreen that I have to fight to remove with my second cleanser.
COSRX Cica Smoothing Cleansing Balm does neither of these things. It softens up readily on my face, transforming from balm to an oil of exactly the right thickness for my tastes. Like the Cica Clear Cleansing Oil, it quickly cuts through even my most stubborn makeup options and water-resistant sunscreens. It emulsifies and rinses away more thoroughly than the cleansing oil. And it leaves my skin feeling fresh and clean afterwards. There’s a slight green herbal scent, and I feel compelled to make note of the fragrant essential oils again for those who are sensitive to them, but other than that, I find the experience of this cleansing balm completely delightful.
There is, however, one issue that some people have with cleansing balms, and if they have that issue with cleansing balms, they’ll have that issue with this one.
That issue is microplastics.
Many cleansing balms use polyethylene or other plastics to achieve that cleansing balm consistency and performance. These ingredients then get washed down the drain and may eventually end up in the ocean. While the actual concentration of these ingredients in any given package of cleansing balm will be quite low, some people choose to avoid cosmetics that contain them. So if you prefer to do so, I want to make sure you’re aware that this product does contain polyethylene. The fact that it does is about the only reason I have for not considering this product a holy grail.
COSRX Cica Smoothing Cleansing Balm ingredients: Ethylhexyl palmitate, sorbeth-30 tetraoleate, caprylic/capric triglyceride, polyethylene, lavandula angustifolia (lavender) oil, helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, eucalyptus globulus leaf oil, caprylyl glycol, ethylhexylglycerin, anthemis nobilis flower oil, avena sativa (oat) kernel oil, butyrospermum parkii (shea) butter, cocos nucifera (coconut) oil, olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, oenothera biennis (evening primrose) oil, persea gratissima (avocado) oil, prunus amygdalus dulcis (sweet almond) oil, simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) seed oil, water, 1,2-hexanediol, centella asiatica extract, centella asiatica leaf extract, centella asiatica root extract, pinus pinaster bark extract, asiaticoside, asiatic acid, madecassoside, madecassic acid