The Korean Skincare guide to banishing acne once and for all

The Korean Skincare guide to banishing acne once and for all

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Zits. Pimples. Spots. Blemishes. Acne has a myriad of names and takes just as many forms--annoying whiteheads, persistent blackheads, inflamed bumps. But no matter what kind of acne you might struggle with, Ohlolly is here for the rescue using our version of Korean skincare routine.

Focusing on a gentle and effective way to fight acne, here’s all you need to know.

Not all skin is created equal. Since everyone’s skin is different, unfortunately there is not one magical Korean skincare product that will universally heal everyone’s acne. However there are general principles and tips that can help you achieve a blemish-free complexion.

First, choosing the right products that target your specific type of acne, plus for your specific skin type is crucial. And just as important is being consistent with your routine. The best products in the world won’t heal your acne if you use them one night and then sleep in your makeup the next night. It takes time to truly heal blemished skin so give your skin the love and time it deserves. And trust me, your skin will thank you.

So what causes acne? The most common causes of acne are a buildup of dead skin cells, bacteria and an overproduction of sebum (oil). Hormones can also cause acne, however hormonal acne can be more difficult to prevent, but once the acne has appeared, there are some amazing Korean skincare products that can help heal blemishes faster. More on that later, I promise.

Now, let’s discuss different skin types. There is general assumption in American skincare that if you have acne, then you have oily skin. Look down the drugstore aisle at products that target acne-prone skin and you’ll see rough exfoliators that strip away your skin’s natural oils, toners full of drying ingredients like alcohol and “creams” loaded with harsh chemicals that often leave your skin more irritated than clear. Korean skincare products are ahead of the acne game with products that fight acne and add hydration to boot. Proper hydration is crucial to achieving clear skin, especially if you have oily skin.

Your skin can simultaneously be oily and dehydrated. This realization totally changed my outlook on fighting acne. If you deal with oily skin and yet your skin often feels tight and dry right after cleansing, is lackluster in appearance or is very sensitive then you most likely have dehydrated skin. When your skin is dehydrated is leads to overproduction of oil, which, of course, is a leading cause of acne. And dehydrated skin is best combatted by layers of hydration, which is a key component of the Korean skincare routine.

Keeping your skin hydrated can also help rebuild your skin’s moisture barrier. Your skin’s moisture barrier is the outermost layer of your skin that helps lock moisture in and keep bacteria out. As we age our skin’s moisture barrier breaks down, letting bacteria in, which is another acne-culprit.

Using the Korean skincare routine as our guide, let’s get to the fun part: the blemish-battling products, plus more tips for healthy, hydrated and beautifully clear skin.

Ohlolly cleansers for clearing acne

Step 1. The Double Cleanse

Cleansing is the first essential step to clear and glowing skin. If you haven’t committed to the double cleanse yet and are still dealing with breakouts, no more excuses. Using an oil-based cleanser is the best way to remove unwanted oils from your skin, like oil-based makeup and sebum. Since those of us with acne-prone skin typically have an excess of sebum, an oil-based cleanser is vital.

All Clean Balm by Heimish
Natural, Paraben-Free and Hypoallergenic! Ideal for all skin types, especially those with sensitive skin. Heimish All Clean Balm goes on as a solid balm, transforms into a silky oil cleanser on the skin then becomes milky while rinsing. The soft and lightweight texture effortlessly removes makeup and residue without stripping off skin's natural oils. Formulated with citrus herb oils to naturally brighten and nourish skin.

Next, follow up with a gentle water-based cleanser. If you deal with oily skin, a foaming cleanser is great. We recommend A-Clear Foam Cream by Dr. G. A-Clear is a specialized line from Dr. G that targets troubled skin.  

A-Clear Foam Cream by Dr. G
A-Clear Foam Cream is proven to help prevent acne. The rich foam smoothly removes excessive sebum, black and white heads from pores. Tea-tree oil and salicylic acid keep troubled skin clean, while plant components, like sage extract, provide moisture and a calming effect.

If you deal with dry or dehydrated skin, a gentle gel cleanser is a great choice. Low pH Gel Cleanser by CosRx is perfect for sensitive skin and also contains tea-tree oil, which has natural antibacterial qualities.

Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser by CosRx 
Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser is made with all natural ingredients to soothe, exfoliate and hydrate. Designed to restore the optimal pH balance to the skin and cleanse without irritations. Tea tree oil, and other natural ingredients, provide gentle yet effective deep cleansing. Cleanser gently removes overnight build-up of sebum and dead skin cells for fresh, clean skin.

Ohlolly exfoliators for clearing acne

Step 2. Exfoliate

Exfoliation is a necessary step for clear skin because exfoliating removes dead skin cells. When dead skin cells pile up, your skin’s ability to retain moisture diminishes, resulting in dry, cracked skin that allows for external bacteria to easily penetrate. If you want to learn more, read our post, Exfoliate Like a Pro.

There are two different kinds of exfoliation--manual and chemical. Manual exfoliation relies on bits or beads to scrub away dead skin. The best part of manual exfoliation is the instantaneous freshly-cleaned feeling, but the key for effectiveness is to be gentle! A too vigorous scrub can actually break your skin’s protective barrier, allowing more bacteria to get in and acne to make camp. Use a gentle exfoliator, like Crystal Deep Peeling by Dr. G, once or twice a week.

Crystal Deep Peeling by Dr.G
Crystal Deep Peeling uses crystal particles to remove dead skin cells from dull skin for a deep, yet delicate exfoliation. Natural salt ingredients, lemon and asiatic pennywort extract provide a professional peeling effect without causing skin irritation. The result is instantly smoother and brighter skin.

Chemical exfoliators rely on acids, typically AHA’s or BHA’s, to rid skin of dead skin cells and deep-seated grime. Don’t be troubled by the word chemical, these acids are naturally-derived and are clinically proven to exfoliate while being gentle enough for even sensitive skin. In fact, chemical exfoliators are ideal for those with sensitive skin because there is no chance of over scrubbing. An Ohlolly favorite is pre-soaked peeling swabs which exfoliate and provide skin a boost of hydration. You can read our full review of these magical q-tips here.

Lotus Vinegar King Swab Peeling by Holika Holika
Reveal radiant skin with Daily Garden Lotus Vinegar King Swab Peeling by Holika Holika. These king-sized cotton swabs are infused with sugar cane to naturally exfoliate dull skin. Lotus vinegar and AHA removes impurities and improves skin tone, leaving your skin soft and smooth.

Ohlolly Toners for clearing acne

Step 3. Tone

After cleansing and exfoliating, toning balances your skin’s pH levels and preps it for the next layers of treatment. But the right toner can also do double-duty and help fight acne. Enter A-Clear Balancing Toner by Dr. G, another amazing product from Dr. G’s A-Clear line.

A-Clear Balancing Toner by Dr.G
A-Clear Balancing Toner is an alcohol-free toner that controls excessive sebum. Natural salicylic acid and anti-bacterial complex smoothly remove dead skin cells for clean skin. The mojito complex (carbonated water, lemon, apple, mint, lime) helps ease sagging skin while the bisabolol has an excellent calming effect.

Another option to soothe, balance and tone is from Benton, the beloved Honest TT Mist.

Honest TT Mist by Benton
Made with 85% tea tree ingredients, this refreshing mist prevents and improves damaged skin while providing a boost of hydration. Honest TT Mist matches the skin’s natural pH levels and is made entirely with low stimulation ingredients, making it safe for the most sensitive and troubled skin. 

Ohlolly Treatments for clearing acne

Step 4. Treat

Okay, this step is a doozy but is really the heart of the Korean skincare routine, potentially including multiple layers. Essences, serums and ampoules all come into play in this step, each treating a specific skincare issue and of course, adding extra hydration. To fight acne, Ohlolly’s top picks come from CosRx.

If whiteheads or hormonal acne are your main concern try  AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid. AHA’s are also a great choice if you have damaged and dry skin or skin with hyperpigmentation.

AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid by CosRx
Whiteheads, excess sebum, congested pores be gone. No frills and just 10 ingredients make the CosRx AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid a one-step solution for troubled skin including persistent acne, hormonal acne, sun damage and hyperpigmentation. The star ingredient is a natural AHA sourced from Pyrus malus (apple) fruit water. Along with Glycolic acid, it works to gently exfoliate dead skin cells and reduce the appearance of fine lines, large pores and acne scarring.

If blackheads are more your concern try BHA Blackhead Power Liquid. BHA’s are oil-soluble, making them a great exfoliator if your skin is more oily.

BHA Blackhead Power Liquid by CosRx
Experience a whole new way to exfoliate with no harsh peeling or irritation. Treat and prevent blackheads and blemishes with this powerful solution from CosRx made with 4% natural BHA. A very light serum-like texture provides a deep cleanse to flush out the clogged pores and reveal a clearer and brighter complexion. White willow bark tree extract and Niacinamide sink deep into the skin to purify and brighten, while Sodium hyaluronate plumps and hydrates.

Note: Be extra careful when mixing chemical exfoliants like AHA and BHA. Although these exfoliators are completely safe, even for those with sensitive skin, it’s best to never overdo it. Using multiple products with chemical exfoliants does not mean your skin will heal quicker. Similar to manual exfoliation, too much chemical exfoliation can actually cause your skin to be irritated. Begin by using one chemical exfoliation once a week and slowly increase to two or three times per week.

If your skin is extra-sensitive to AHA or BHA products, or tends to become red and irritated, we recommend a botanical treatment like Dr. G. Red-Blemish Soothing Ampoule.

Red-Blemish Soothing Ampoule by Dr. G
A calming face serum packed with antioxidants and skin-healthy plant extracts, Dr. G Red-Blemish Soothing Ampoule provides effective relief from redness and inflammation. Deeply hydrate and quickly soothe for a healthy, dewy glow. Ampoule is perfect for easily irritated, itchy, hypersensitive skin and those with Rosacea and acne-prone skin. Free of mineral oil and parabens.

Ohlolly masks and pads for clearing acne

Sometimes, no matter how religious you are about your skincare routine, a pimple appears. Again, CosRX saves the day with their Acne Pimple Master Patch. Packed with active ingredients these patches never fail to fight blemishes fast. Put on one as soon as you see or feel a pimple and then watch your pimple magically disappear.

Acne Pimple Master Patch by CosRx 
A spot acne treatment designed to shrink and heal active acne, pimples, whiteheads and blackheads. These soft, round patches are loaded with active ingredients that treat breakouts by eliminating infection and bacteria. The patches breakdown debris from blackheads and absorb oil and waste from whiteheads, while protecting the skin from external pollutants. Three different sized patches insure that all your troubled spots are covered.

One to two times a week apply a sheet mask, which contains concentrated essences for deep hydration and treatment. For oily skin, try Wonder Pore Black Mask.

Wonder Pore Black Mask Sheet by Etude House
Deeply clean your pores while hydrating with Wonder Pore Black Mask Sheet by Etude House. Wonder Pore Mask is soaked with oak tree charcoal which helps eliminate dirt and bacteria trapped in pores. This black mask also controls excess sebum, leaving your skin clear and refreshed.

For dry and irritated skin, use I’m Real Tea Tree Mask Sheet.

I’m Real Tea Tree Mask Sheet - Skin Soothing by Tonymoly
Infused with tea tree oil, which is a natural anti-inflammatory agent, this face mask soothes irritated skin. This mask is also infused with lemon, rosemary, thyme and jasmine extracts. Each mask features a three-layer cotton sheet for better absorption of essence.

Ohlolly Moisturizer for clearing acne

Step 5. Moisturize

This step not only adds another layer of moisture but it also locks in the previous layers of treatments. CosRx makes a rich moisturizer that is gentle enough for everyday use and leaves your skin super soft thanks to BHA.

BHA Blackhead Power Cream by CosRx 
Achieve healthy, smooth, baby-soft skin with CosRx BHA Blackhead Power Cream. Reduce excessive oil production, lift away dead skin cells and prevent blackheads and whiteheads from building up. With 4% Betaine Salicylate (BHA) at pH level of 4.0 - 5.0, this cream is ideal for acne-prone, sensitive skin with red, uneven texture. The accompanying ingredients such as beeswax, sunflower seed oil and centella asiatica leaf water keep the skin calm and perfectly hydrated.

For a lighter moisturizer try A-Clear Balancing Moisturizer by Dr. G. This moisturizer uses botanical ingredients, like tea tree oil to help acne.

A-Clear Balancing Moisturizer by Dr. G (not photographed)
A-Clear Balancing Moisturizer is a light, yet moisturizing oil that replenishes moisture while controlling excessive sebum. Patented phyto oligo has a calming effect that helps ease red skin, while baobab and peptide improve skin texture as well as moisture barrier. A-Clear Balancing Moisturizer is a 2-in-1 (essence + lotion) moisturizer that leaves skin feeling fresh and smooth.

Ohlolly SPF for clearing acne

Step 6. Protect

Protecting your skin from the sun is a step you should never forget no matter what your skin concerns are. Sunscreens are crucial especially if you’re using any products that have chemical exfoliants, like AHA and BHA; (vs. ,) your skin is extra-sensitive to the sun’s harmful rays. For oily skin try A-Clear Oil Control Sun by Dr. G or Oil Capture Peach Sun by Peripera.

A-Clear Oil Control Sun (SPF 50+ PA+++) by Dr. G
This gentle and oil-free sunscreen is perfect for those with sensitive, easily irritated skin types. In addition to the SPF and UVA/UVB protection, A-Clear Oil Control Sun also brightens skin and helps helps prevent fine lines and wrinkles. Sunscreen adheres smoothly onto skin, leaving skin feeling refreshed and moisturized.

Oil Capture Peach Sun (SPF 50+ PA+++) by Peripera
A sunscreen for oily and normal-to-oily skin. This non-sticky formula will not only give you the SPF 50 protection but will also control the greasy appearance while retaining the moisture of your skin. Peripera’s Oil Capture Peach Sun can also be used as a makeup base. The light luminous tint creates a brilliant and bright skin tone, ready for your makeup.

For dry skin, try our bestselling sunscreen which is simultaneously weightless and super-moisturizing.

Ultra Moisturizing Sun Cream SPF50+ PA+++ by Kicho
Kicho Ultra Moisturizing Sun Cream, specially formulated for the face, offers a range of protection levels to suit any activity. Effective worn alone or under makeup, the cream protects skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays, and gently covers with a fresh moisturizing texture. The moisturizing cream is absorbed easily for a weightless finish without shine, sticky residue or milky appearance. Formulated without benzophenone, artificial dyes, talc, mineral oil or animal ingredients.

No matter what your age, skin-type, or specific skin concerns, if you’re struggling with acne, you are not alone. Acne is the number one skin problem in the U.S. Remember the best cure for acne is to give your skin the time and love it deserves. And if you ever have questions you can always email us at

Written by Kait / Editor & Producer @