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Korean skincare for acne: K-beauty secrets to help banish breakouts

Curious about how Korean skincare can help you get clearer skin? Experts explain what you need to know.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 4, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Camille Dixon
Facelift And Skin Care Concept. Portrait Of Beautiul Asian Woman Massaging Her Neck Sitting In Front Of The Mirror. Lady Applying Moisturizing Cream, Doing Anti Wrinkle Massage At Home
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 4, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Camille Dixon
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

If you’re tired of breakouts affecting your skin and confidence, you're not alone—acne is a global issue that many people around the world struggle with! You’ve probably tried various creams, cleansers, and lotions that promise to vanish those zits, but have you ever considered K-beauty? 

Korean skincare takes advantage of innovative ingredients to help combat acne-prone skin. Here, we’ll explain what you need to know about them and share the top K-beauty acne products that could be game-changers for your skin!

What’s the difference between Korean and Western skincare? 

Research shows that a majority of Koreans have sensitive skin, so Korean skincare products often use gentle ingredients that are effective yet better suited for sensitive skin types.¹ This is why some Korean skincare products may be a good option if you have acne-prone skin and struggle with sensitivity.

Ingredients used in Korean acne products

If you look at the back of a Korean skincare bottle, you may see the ingredients like snail mucin and tiger grass. K-beauty is known for using innovative ingredients you may have never heard of!

Snail mucin isn’t just helpful for its anti-aging properties; it’s also gaining traction for treating acne. A study even found that serums with snail mucin reduced acne caused by face masks (aka maskne!).²

And then there’s Centella asiatica, better known as tiger grass. This ingredient helps with decreasing inflammation and boosting collagen production.³ The bioactive ingredients in Korean skincare are sourced from all over—animals, plants, and even cutting-edge biotechnology.⁴ 

Korean acne products also contain familiar, effective ingredients as well. A study in Korea showed that triclosan, salicylic acid, and azelaic acid-based cleansers reduced both inflammatory and noninflammatory acne.⁵ Salicylic acid is a common ingredient in skincare products since it possesses anti-inflammatory properties and decreases skin lipids.⁶ Triclosan is an antibacterial ingredient and is effective at treating acne.⁷ Azelaic acid has also been shown to be safe and effective for those with acne-prone skin.⁸

Intrigued by how you can incorporate these products into your skincare routine? Keep reading!

Korean skincare routine for acne 

Korean skincare stands out from Western skincare because it typically involves a more extensive routine. A Korean routine for acne includes double cleansingtoners and essences, and twice daily moisturizing. Most Korean skincare routines also include a weekly mask and exfoliation.

Cleansing and exfoliation

Double cleansing is an integral step in Korean skincare. People first cleanse their skin with an oil-based cleanser to remove sebum, makeup, and sunscreen from their skin. Cleansing your skin with oil may cause less skin irritation and dryness than a foaming cleanser.⁹ It is typically followed up with a water-based cleanser.


Toning the skin is essential in Korean skincare. Korean toners use hydrating ingredients to cleanse pores without stripping skin of essential moisture.

Many Korean toners use bioactive ingredients, such as carrot seed oil. Carrot seed oil is a skin-cleansing ingredient that makes the complexion look brighter. It’s also calming and moisturizing.¹⁰

Mask and spot treatments

K-beauty typically uses skincare masks 1-3 times a week. People can still use a spot treatment on days they don’t use a mask. Korean spot treatments typically contain botanical ingredients, such as green tea, which has been shown to treat melasma and hyperpigmentation.¹¹

Serum and moisturizer

Korean beauty uses targeted serums formulated with ingredients that help specific skin concerns. Some may contain anti-aging or moisturizing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid. 

Hyaluronic acid may be a good ingredient for those with dry skin who struggle with acne. Even though hyaluronic acid isn’t an acne-fighting ingredient, it is hydrating and helps the skin retain moisture.¹²

No matter the skin type, a moisturizer completes every Korean skincare routine. Some dermatology providers recommend the use of moisturizers to support the treatment of acne, especially when benzoyl peroxide or a retinoid is used.¹³

Best Korean skincare for acne 

We’ve curated a list of standout Korean skincare products specifically designed for acne-prone skin. So, without further ado, let’s uncover these K-beauty game-changers.

Peach & Lily Ginger Melt Oil Cleanser

The Melt Oil Cleanser by Peach & Lily is a good option for sensitive skin users. This cleanser is formulated with beneficial ingredients such as grapeseed oil. Grapeseed oil contains resveratrol which has antimicrobial and antioxidant activity.¹⁴ 

As an oil-based cleanser, it removes makeup effectively, and the brand claims it’s suitable for oily skin types. This product doesn’t contain PEGs and is gluten-free, vegan, and cruelty-free.

Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow PHA + BHA Pore-Tighten Toner

As an exfoliating toner, this product uses polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) to cleanse and tighten pores without stripping the skin. 

BHAs are lipid-soluble, meaning they can better penetrate the sebaceous follicles which is helpful for those with oily skin.¹⁵ PHAs are similar to alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) as they exfoliate dead skin cells and improve skin texture, but tend to be better tolerated by those with sensitive skin.¹⁶ 

Remember that these ingredients can still irritate the skin, so consider conducting a patch test if you have concerns.

COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence

Essence is an alternative to a toner. While toners tend to cleanse and prep the skin, an essence is versatile and contains more targeted ingredients.

As we mentioned, snail mucin is an effective bioactive ingredient for acne-prone and sensitive skin types. This essence also contains sodium hyaluronate, which soothes sensitive skin and balances microbiota.¹⁷

Dr. Jart Pore Remedy Purifying Mud Mask

The Pore Remedy Purifying Mud Mask is one of the many products in Dr. Jart’s sheet mask line. The package contains one sheet for the bottom of your face and one for the top. Remove the film at the top and bottom, and apply both sides to the face. This mask is formulated with PHAs, green mud, and sea salt. 

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Korean acne products are designed to be gentler, but they may also contain acne-fighting ingredients similar to those found in Western products.

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What is a Korean skincare routine for acne?

A Korean skincare routine starts with a double cleanse to clear sebum, makeup, and sunscreen from your skin. You may follow up with exfoliation after this to remove dead skin cells, though some people prefer using exfoliants as a weekly treatment.

After cleansing and exfoliation, toner or essence is used. If you’re using a treatment, such as a mask, you’ll use it after a toner. That’s because a toner preps your skin for additional treatments and helps your skin absorb the products.

From here, moisturizing is key. Use a moisturizer or serum with ingredients such as hyaluronic acid to lock in hydration. For a daytime skincare routine, finish with sunscreen to protect your skin from UV rays.

Is Korean skincare better than American?

It depends on the user and their preference. Korean skincare products are often gentler than those that are popular in the West, mainly because of bioactive ingredients.

However, Western skincare may work better for some users. You can talk to your dermatology provider (you can get paired with one by completing our skin quiz) about which acne-fighting products are right for you.

What is the perfect skincare for acne?

The ideal skincare for acne will vary from person to person. However, a simple three-step routine can help prevent acne breakouts. In the morning, start the day by cleansing, moisturizing, and using an SPF. At night, use a cleanser, treatment—such as a toner, essence, mask, or exfoliator)—and finish by moisturizing.

What ingredients are commonly found in Korean skincare products for acne?

Korean skincare products for acne often feature unique bioactive ingredients like snail mucin and Centella asiatica (tiger grass). Snail mucin has been researched for its potential in treating acne, especially acne caused by wearing medical face masks. Centella asiatica is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to boost collagen production. These ingredients are typically gentler and can be especially beneficial for sensitive, acne-prone skin.

How often should I use a mask for acne in a Korean skincare routine?

In a typical Korean skincare routine focused on treating acne, using a skincare mask a couple of times a week is common. These masks may contain botanical ingredients like green tea, known for treating conditions like melasma and hyperpigmentation. 

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Kim, Y.R., et al. Sensitive skin in Korean population: An epidemiological approach. Skin Res Technol. (May 2018).

  2. Puaratanaarunkon, T., et al. Efficacy and safety of a facial serum containing snail secretion filtrate, Calendula officinalis, and Glycyrrhiza glaba root extract in the treatment of maskne: A randomized placebo-controlled study. J Cosmet Dermatol. (October 2022).

  3. Bylka, W., et al. Centella asiatica in cosmetology. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. (February 2013).

  4. Nguyen, J.K., et al. Bioactive ingredients in Korean cosmeceuticals: Trends and research evidence. J Cosmet Dermatol. (July 2020).

  5. Goh, C.L., et al. Meeting the Challenges of Acne Treatment in Asian Patients: A Review of the Role of Dermocosmetics as Adjunctive Therapy. Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery. (April-June 2016).

  6. Lu, J., et al. Salicylic acid treats acne vulgaris by suppressing AMPK/SREBP1 pathway in sebocytes. Exp Dermatol. (July 2019).

  7. Fox, L., et al. Treatment Modalities for Acne. Molecules. (2016, August 13).

  8. Hashim, P.W., et al. The Efficacy and Safety of Azelaic Acid 15% Foam in the Treatment of Facial Acne Vulgaris. J Drugs Dermatol. (2018, June 1).

  9. Chen, W., et al. The optimal cleansing method for the removal of sunscreen:Water, cleanser or cleansing oil? J Cosmet Dermatol. (January 2020).

  10. Goyal, A., et al. Bioactive-Based Cosmeceuticals: An Update on Emerging Trends. Molecules. (2022, January 27).

  11. Hu, S., et al. The Use of Botanical Extracts in East Asia for Treatment of Hyperpigmentation: An Evidenced-Based Review. J Drugs Dermatol. (2020, July 1).

  12. Draelos, Z.D., et al. Efficacy Evaluation of a Topical Hyaluronic Acid Serum in Facial Photoaging. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). (August 2021).

  13. Chularojanamontri, L., et al. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents? J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. (May 2014).

  14. Lin, T.K., et al. Anti-Inflammatory and Skin Barrier Repair Effects of Topical Application of Some Plant Oils. Int J Mol Sci. (2017, December 27).

  15. Moghimipour, E. Hydroxy Acids, the Most Widely Used Anti-aging Agents. Jundishapur J Nat Pharm Prod. (Winter 2012).

  16. Grimes, P.E., et al. The use of polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) in photoaged skinCutis. (February 2004).

  17. He, C., et al. Sodium hyaluronates applied in the face affects the diversity of skin microbiota in healthy people. Int J Cosmet Sci. (June 2023).

Camille Dixon is a certified Physician Assistant at Curology. She received her Master of Medical Science in Physician Assistant Studies from Midwestern University in Downers Grove, IL.

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
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