Our editors searched Japanese e-commerce sites (such as @cosme, Amazon, and Rakuten) for the best cleansing gel. We then chose the 25 most popular products and tested them for the following:
- Cleansing Power
Cleansing gels tend to be mild, but we wanted to see what options, if any, would be suitable for waterproof makeup and oily skin. We also asked a specialist in cosmetic ingredients to inspect the formulas, seeking options for sensitive skin. We then compiled everything we learned into a buying guide about and list of the best Japanese cleansing gels available online.
Top 25 Best Japanese Cleansing Gels Available Online
We tried the cleansers out on waterproof makeup (which usually contain plenty of oil). We measured moisture levels in our skin. We asked a researcher who used to work in cosmetic R&D to pick out the mildest formulas for us. Then, based on how they performed on our tests, we ranked the top 25 Japanese cleansing gels available online.
※Japanese prices for the products are given; they’ve merely been converted into USD for easy viewing.
1. Bioré Makeup Remover Cleansing Gel
Best for Those Who Want a Little Bit of Everything: Cleansing, Hydration, Mild Ingredients, and a Good Deal
This was the only cleansing gel we tested that had it all: cleansing power, hydration, and ingredients. Plus, it’s a drugstore brand available at a drugstore price.
Unlike most gel cleansers, this worked on waterproof mascara–and even tint and waterproof eyeliner significantly faded. It spread far and felt light. We also liked the floral scent.
|Japanese||ビオレメイクとろりん なで落ちジェル||Type||Water-Based w/ Oil|
2. FANCL Mild Cleansing Gel
Best for Those Who Need Cleansing Power: Thick Gel that Washes away Even Waterproof Items
This is about as powerful of a gel cleanser you’re going to find; waterproof eyeliner disappeared and the mascara and tint became faint shadows.
The gel was thick and slid smoothly against skin. However, it was just the slightest bit drying, so make sure you follow up immediately with moisturizers. And while the formula was fragrance-free, it smelled a little like chlorine.
|Japanese||ファンケル マイルドクレンジング ジェル||Type||Water-Based w/ Oil|
3. Cinderella Time Booster Serum Nano – Cleansing Gel (Extra Moisturizing)
Best for Those in Need of Extra Skincare: Cleans, Hydrates, and Functions as a Serum
This balanced hydration with cleansing. While it wasn’t powerful enough to work on waterproof items, we liked that it doubled as a serum and was designed to nourish your skin, not simply strip it.
While this is categorized as a gel cleanser, it actually was quite thin and felt more like liquid or oil. Honestly, it didn’t seem like we were using gel at all.
|Japanese||シンデレラタイム ブースターセラム ナノクレンジングゲル 高保湿タイプ||Type||Water-Based w/ Oil|
4. Curél Makeup Cleansing Gel
Best for Those who Need a Mild Cleanse: Slick Texture and Gentle Ingredients
The gel was dense, and it took some time to spread on and rinse off. Still, it cushioned skin from rubbing and tugging and featured mild ingredients.
Waterproof items didn’t budge, however. You can only use this only light makeup; eye products may require a separate eye makeup remover.
|Japanese||キュレル ジェルメイク落とし||Type||Water-Based w/ Oil|
5. maNara Hot Cleansing Gel
Best if You Want to Try Hot Cleansing Gel: Warm, Buttery Texture and Impressive Cleansing Power
Once you start massaging the gel into your face, it heats right up. It also spread easily, melting into skin and obliterating waterproof mascara.
Despite the warmth and the cleansing power, the formula was actually hydrating. It smelled of citrus fruit.
|Japanese||マナラ ホットクレンジングゲル||Type||Water-Based w/ Oil|
6. softymo LACHESCA Gel Cleansing
Worth Checking out: Silky Texture, Zero Fragrance
This was a loose, spreadable gel. Warning: product does spurt out of the tube.
There was no scent to it, and it wasn’t drying. Nothing particularly stood out, but nothing was poorly done either.
|Japanese||ソフティモ ラチェスカ するりんジェルクレンジング||Type||Oil-Based|
7. Fleuri Clear Gel Cleanse
Worth Checking out: Works Better than Your Average Gel Cleanser
This felt like a typical gel: a bit dense but cool and smooth. It performed better than average on all our tests, though hydration was where it shined the most.
While no fragrances were included in the formula, it did have a smell. It was a bit planty and likely originated from the botanical extracts used as moisturizers.
8. PEARLDAYs Pearl Moist Cleansing Gel
Worth Checking out: Works Decently Well; Plus, the Texture and Scent are Divine
This was a thinner gel–felt a little similar to oil, actually. It was smooth and gloopy and very spreadable. The floral scent was refined, not too sweet.
After cleansing, skin was soft and smooth but not sticky. As an extra plus, the pump was easy to use.
|Japanese||パールデイズパールモイスト クレンジング||Type||Water-Based w/ Oil|
9. Dr.Ci:Labo Super Cleansing EX
Worth Checking out: Effective Gel that Melts into Oil
As you massage the gel into skin, it slowly heats up then melts into oil. However, it was a bit tacky.
The formula worked on waterproof items; all either faded significantly or disappeared completely. Now, there are some ingredients that may prove irritating on sensitive skin. However, the cleanser isn’t drying and it certainly isn’t harmful.
10. Nursery Yuzu Makeup Cleansing Gel
Worth Checking out: Yuzu-Based Cleanser with an Ideal Texture
This featured a Goldilocks texture; dense enough to cling to skin, loose enough to spread. Otherwise, it was an average cleanser, neither failing nor excelling at anything.
If we had to nitpick, we’d say the dispenser was too stiff and the smell was too strong. It was very citrusy, to the point it smelled almost artificial.
|Japanese||ナーセリー Wクレンジングジェル ゆず||Type||Water-Based w/ Oil|
11. Santa Marché Green Tea Deep Cleansing
Worth Checking out: Solidly Average Cleanser, but Fragrant with the Scent of Tea
This was also about as dense and slick as you’d expect gel to be. It spread readily but took time to rinse off.
This earned average scores on all our tests. Still, we appreciated the scent of green tea. We also felt light and refreshed after cleansing.
12. ORBIS Cleansing Gel (Oil Cut)
Worth Checking out: Only Gel Cleanser We Tested that Earned a Full Score for Ingredients
This gel felt a bit heavy and thick, but it spread easily. It seemed to melt into makeup, gently lifting it off skin.
This was the only product we tested that earned a 5.0 for its ingredients, meaning the formula is highly unlikely to irritate even sensitive skin. Just make sure that, after cleansing, you moisturize well.
Products That Didn’t Make the Cut
And why they didn’t quite make it.
Provides a Good Amount of Moisture but Only Below Average Cleansing, Even for a Gel
Skinvill’s Hot Cleansing Gel (13) earned a full score for moisture but 2.0s on all other counts. Likewise, BCL Cleansing Research’s AHA Gel Cleansing (18) received a high score of 4.0 for moisture but 2.0s otherwise.
PLuS’s Amino Moisture Cleansing Gel (14) and Duplair’s W Cleansing Gel (15) earned 4.0s for hydration too, but packed below average cleansing, even for a cleansing gel. These latter two did get a 3.0 for ingredients, though.
Performs Only Decently Well, and Ingredients May be Unsuitable for Certain Skin Types
Botanical Marche’s Deep Cleansing Gel (16) earned average scores for cleansing and hydration but was rated a 2.0 for its ingredients.
Contains Relatively Mild Ingredients, but Lacks in Either Hydration or Cleansing Power
On the other hand, MUJI’s Gel Cleansing (17) featured mild ingredients that earned it a score of 4.0 but its sub-par cleansing landed it with a rating of 2.0. Moisture was graded at a 3.0.
Similarly, Aile’s Shinsei Cleansing Gel (19) had ingredients that received a 4.0, but it was deemed to be drying. Cleansing was average.
Formula May Prove a Bit Harsh; Doesn’t Offer a Deep Cleanse to Make up for It
ÍPSA’s Cleansing Gel EX (20) and Re dermalab’s Moist Gel Cleansing (21) earned 2.0s for hydration and ingredients; yet, they offered only average cleansing power for a gel.
Doesn’t Cleanse Well and Isn’t Particularly Hydrating Either
Mocchi Skin’s Gel Cleansing (22) and CLAYGE’s Clear Cleansing (23) offered sub-par cleansing but were only decently hydrating. Mocchi Skin’s product, however, did earn a slightly higher score for its ingredients–3.0, versus CLAYGE’s 2.0.
Doesn’t Offer Decent Moisturization or Cleansing
Finally, Kikumasamune’s Skin Care Cleansing Gel (24) and Chifure’s Cleansing Gel (25) could only get 2.0s for both cleansing and hydration; ingredients were rated as average.
How We Tested Our Products
Cleansing gels tend to be weaker, but we still hoped to find some products that would work on waterproof products and oil. At the same time, we wanted them to be non-drying and feature mild ingredients.
This is how we tested for those factors.
Test ①: Cleansing Power
We applied makeup to the backs of our hands, then used the cleansers on them. We looked at how much product came off and graded each cleansing gel on a five step scale.
To test the limits of each cleanser, we tried them out on the following long-wearing items.
- Waterproof Mascara
- Waterproof Eyeliner
- Lip Tint
- Liquid Foundation
We learned that even oil-based cleansing gels weren’t a match for waterproof products (usually). If you wear them, you’ll likely have to invest in a dedicated eye makeup remover.
Test ②: Hydration
We used a moisture analyzer called the Corneometer to measure water levels in our skin before cleansing, right after cleansing, and five minutes after cleansing.
We found that denser gels were less drying and tugged less at skin.
Test ③: Ingredients
We asked a researcher who used to work in cosmetic R&D to look at the ingredients lists. She graded each product based on how compatible it was with sensitive skin.
※Keep in mind that a low score doesn’t equate to a dangerous product. It simply means that it was judged to be possibly irritating for folks with sensitive skin.
We learned that products that contain high amounts of or many types of botanical extracts/essential oils could prove too much for sensitive skin. While all skincare products have to undergo vigorous testing before being released onto the market, there is a possibility that your skin will sensitize if it is constantly exposed to high concentrations of essential oil.
Tips on How to Choose Japanese Cleansing Gel – Buying Guide
Here are four big things to look out for.
① What is the Gel Based off of? Determines Things like Texture and Cleansing Power
There are three main types of gel cleansers: water-based, water-based but contains oil, and oil-based.
Water-Based Gels: Safe for Eyelash Extensions but Offer Little Cleansing Power
Water-based gels※1 contain no oil. Now, if you have eyelash extensions, you likely know that the glue used to attach the extensions is weak to oils. Most cleansers–including oil and milk cleansers–do contain oil. While there are oil cleansers formulated for extensions, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and just go oil-free.
There’s a few ways to identify a water-based cleanser. They’re usually marketed as oil-free※2. You can also look at the ingredients list. If the cleanser is water-based, then water-based ingredients and surfactants should be among the first things that appear. However, keep in mind that oil-free cleansers very rarely work on waterproof products.
Ingredients Featured in Water-Based Cleansing Gels
- 水: Water
- BG: Butylene Glycol
- DPG: Dipropylene Gycol
- PEG-#: Polyethylene Gycol #
- ○○グリセル: -Glyceryl
- ○○ソルビタン: -Sorbate
※1 水性ジェル: water-based gel
※2 「オイルフリー」「100%オイルカット」: oil-free
Water-Based Gels that Contain Some Oil: Light but Effective Enough for Most Everyday Use
Some water-based cleansers will contain small amounts of oil, along with surfactants. Most cleansing gels fall under this category. Thanks to the oil, the formula blends more readily with makeup. It also spreads more easily over skin. However, it’ll still feel lighter than pure oil-based gel and likely be less effective on long-lasting products.
Water-based cleansers that contain oil still feature the same surfactants and water-based ingredients as their oil-free cousins. The oils※3 usually start appearing near the middle ot bottom of the list.
Oil-Based Gels: Offer the Most Thorough Cleanse
Oil-based cleansing gels※4 include ingredients like cetyl ethylhexanoate and mineral oils–the same stuff you’d find in cleansing oil. They’re widely effective, even on waterproof items and liquid foundation. However, some formulas can be drying.
Identification is easy. If you see any oils topping the ingredients list, then you know you’re dealing with an oil-based cleanser.
※4 油性ジェル: oil-based gel
② Consider Cleansers that Don’t Need to be Used with a Separate Face Wash
Many cleansers need to be followed up with a face wash. This is known as double-cleansing (sometimes written as W-cleansing).
However, you will often run into gel cleansers that state they can be used alone※5. There’s a couple of benefits to these. They save you time and money. Your skin is also less likely to dry out, since you aren’t exposing it to as many cleaning agents.
You’re more likely to find a water-based gel cleanser than can be used alone than an oil-based gel cleanser.
※5 W洗顔不要：can be used alone (lit. double-cleansing unnecessary)
③ Never Forget to Inspect the Ingredients List
A word to the wise: if you know you’re sensitive, never settle for a cleanser that simply claims to be “additive-free※6.” If a formula is free of any one of a number of specified additives (fragrances and dyes and so on), then it can label itself as additive free. What you need to do is identify exactly what it’s free of–and what it isn’t free of.
Below are the Japanese translations of common additives.
Ingredients that More Commonly Cause Irritation
- アルコール (エタノール): Alcohol (Ethanol)
- 合成香料: Synthetic Fragrances
- 合成着色料: Synthetic Dyes
- 防腐剤 (安息香酸、パラベン類): Preservatives (Benzoic Acid, Parabens※7)
Ingredients that Can be Drying
- 鉱物油 (ミネラルオイル): Mineral Oils
※6 無添加: additive-free
※7 パラベン: parabens (note: not all parabens are irritating. Many brands are dedicated to the safety of their products and conduct vigorous tests to ensure that their formulas are gentle. However, items that contain a large amount of parabens or parabens that are highly antibacterial can sometimes act as triggers when applied to sensitive skin.)
④ If You Want to Clear out Your Pores, Consider Hot Cleansing Gel
If you’re plagued by blackheads or enlarged pores, consider investing in hot cleansing gel. The heat opens up your pores and gives the cleanser more space to work and clean. It also helps with blood circulation, which in itself comes with all kinds of skincare benefits.
However, many of these hot cleansers contain ingredients that could prove rough on sensitive skin.
How to Use Cleansing Gel
The best thing you could do is to follow the instructions listed on the packaging. But if you can’t read Japanese or what some extra information, here are a few tips and tricks.
Apply with Dry Hands onto a Dry Face
If your hands or face are wet during application, the cleanser will have to fight past all that water before it gets to your skin and the makeup you’re wearing. It won’t be as effective, and the moisture keeps hot cleansing gels from really heating up.
Even if the cleanser claims it can be used wet※8, we recommend applying it dry to maximize cleansing power.
※8 濡れた手でもOK: can be applied with wet hands
If the Gel Contains Oil, Warm It up in Your Hands Before Application
If you use an oil-based gel or a water-based gel that contains oil, warm it up in your hands before applying. That’ll help it blend better with makeup.
When you first dispense an oil-based gel, all the oil is actually surrounded by water. However, by warming up the formula, you allow the oil to shift to the surface of the gel, and that oil is what lifts makeup and other gunk off of your face. You can use the same trick with cleansing cream and milk as well.
The heat from your face will also eventually have the same effect on oil formulas. However, this shift takes a while. By cupping the cleanser in your hands before applying, you’re helping along the change and saving yourself time.
Make Sure You Let the Formula Emulsify before Rinsing off
Again, this only applies to formulas that contain oil, but wait for the formula to emulsify before rinsing off. All you have to is collect warm water into the palm of your hands and massage it into your face, bit by bit. Eventually, the water will mix with the oil and the cleanser will turn a milky white.
As you know, oil repels water. However, you can get the two to mix if you add in the water bit by bit; the resulting oil-water solution is called an emulsion. By emulsifying your cleanser, you’re taking away its ability to repel water and you’re making it easier to rinse off.
Want to Try a Stronger Cleanser?
Let’s say you wear a lot of waterproof products and you aren’t completely satisfied with what you saw here. Consider checking out cleansing oils, which are said to be the most powerful cleansers.
We rounded up members from our editing department, purchased the 25 most popular Japanese cleansing gels, and tested them all.
Every gel offers its own unique combination of ingredients and balance between hydration and cleansing. You can also choose between oil-free gels, oil-based gels, hot gels, or cool, slick gels. There is no one best product, but there will be a few products that are best suited to you.
Original by Rio Sasaki; Translation by Jasmine Li
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