Kelly Driscoll

Skincare going more than skin deep…

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Essential Oil Free K-Beauty Routine

I think one of the biggest questions/controversies in K-beauty these days is the trend of putting essential oils in everything.

I consider myself a K-beauty OG (original gangsta). I’ve been rolling strong with my Korean skincare routines for about 7 years and I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go – donkey milk, snail everything, cica (okay many of these have stuck around but the height of the hype has long faded).

But no trend in K-beauty has been as polarizing as the rise of essential oils in Korean skincare. I’ve heard a lot of people say that K-beauty is infamous for its use of essential oils. I’ve heard this and in my head I’m like, “oh really, infamous?”

It got me to thinking, is K-beauty really infamous for essential oil use, or is it just following trends?

I found this old Instagram routine post from 2016:

Of all these products, only 1 contains essential oil (the Cosrx cleanser). And it contains tea tree, one of the few essential oils used mainly for its anti-acne properties and generally regarded as less sensitizing than other fragrancing essential oils.

It used to be pretty uncommon to find essential oils in K-beauty just 3 years ago! Now it seems to be in every new product and even OG’s like Cosrx have jumped on the bandwagon.

Why is this frustrating? Because essential oils have been shown to cause sensitivity and irritation on skin! This is a deep and complicated subject that I’m frankly not quite prepared to get into. I’m still learning about the essential oil issue because, being a K-beauty OG, I didn’t have to worry about it in the past. But now, it seems I do!

Recently, my skin was irritated by a mishap with an alcohol-laden sheet mask and I felt my skin’s barrier needed a lot of soothing and fortifying. Which is kind of my thing, taking care of my moisture barrier.

But for some reason, even after ditching exfoliation and acids for two weeks, focusing on ceramides and barrier loving ingredients, my skin still wasn’t improving, in fact, it seemed to be getting worse.

So I decided to ditch the essential oils.

As I stated before, I’m not ready to declare essential oils evil, or boycott all products with them. But where I stand right now is that essential oils can and do cause sensitivity on some people’s skin. And at what point do companies realize the perfuming benefits of essential oils do not outweigh the potential to sensitize or irritate the consumer’s skin?

So for now, I’m going essential oil free and already I’m seeing some positive results. So let’s save the debate for another day and dive into some wonderful essential oil free Korean skincare (and 2 western picks):



I’ve been leaning on my Krave Beauty Matcha Hemp Cleanser (Krave Beauty) so much recently because it’s free of any essential oils, is low pH and cleanses effectively without stripping an ounce of moisture off my face!

I’ve also been going towards my trusty Face Shop Rice Bright Cleansing Oil* (Amazon | YesStyle) This is an old faithful for me, cheap, effective, light as a feather on the face and washes away cleanly. Oh, and this breaks up makeup like nobody’s business.


I have a few toners on rotation that are fragrance, alcohol and essential oil free:

Keep Cool Soothe Bamboo Toner* (Amazon | YesStyle) is made with 85% bamboo water which is jam packed full of minerals and amino acids to keep skin calm and hydrated.

Tia’m Vita B5 Toner* (Amazon | YesStyle) is made with 10,000ppm of panthenol, an amazing skin healer, hydrator and soother plus betatine and 3 different peptides!

Olivarrier Dual Moist Toning Lotion* (Amazon | YesStyle) is a super nourishing toner that features micro hyaluronic acid and squalane to deliver both hydration and moisture to your skin. I often combine this with either the Tia’m or Keep Cool toners to really go strong with my oil/water balancing game.


For my essence step, I’ve been alternating between two choices:

Purito Fermented Complex 94 Boosting Essence* (Amazon | YesStyle) is my choice for some gentle brightening plus the barrier fortifying ingredient niacinamide is found here in 3%!

Olivarrier Dual Moist Hyaluron Essence* (Amazon | YesStyle) is my choice when my skin is feeling more dehydrated or unbalanced. Like the toner, this features micro hyaluronic acid and squalane but also adds in vitamin E and centella.

Serum has been Keep Cool and Soothe Serum* (Amazon | YesStyle) which features 66% bamboo extract which, like the toner, delivers tons of nutrients to the skin. Plus this features a highly concentrated 4.6% of centella extract!


Facial Oils and Creams:

For oil, I really like to stick with straight oil, and most facial oil blends like to sneak essential oils into the mix. Squalane is a favorite for its moisture barrier fortifying abilities. Olivarrier has a great 100% squalane Fluid Oil.* (Amazon | YesStyle) A new discovery that’s super affordable comes from western beauty, and that’s The Inkey List 100% Squalane (Sephora).

Barrier-fortifying creams are a must for me, and two favorites are Krave Great Barrier Relief (Krave Beauty  – Check out my review here) and Stratia Liquid Gold (StratiaRead my review here). Both contain barrier-strengthening and healing ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids!

For moisturizers, I have two I’ve been going between:

Cerave Moisturizing Cream* (Amazon) is an old-time favorite for its use of simple ceramides, cholesterol, fatty acids and occlusives to serve as a healing and protective final skincare step.

Olivarrier Emollient Extra Comfort Cream* (Amazon | YesStyle) combines squalane with 5% of soothing panthenol in a beautifully, well, emollient and comforting cream!

*indicates use of affiliate links which pay a small commission that helps to run this blog.

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