Could there be any more mystic around Korean skincare? I mean Geez… it has some very positive vibes rumouring about skincare town. The question of, ‘What’s so great about Korean skincare and Why is Korean skincare different to anything else?’ is on the top of my most frequently asked skincare questions list.
I thought to do this justice, you couldn’t just have my opinion, so I’ve asked the same question to 2 Beauty bloggers and 3 ‘science of skincare’ bloggers. Here’s what they had to say…
Korean Skincare – The Beauty Bloggers POV…
First up, Vicky Lee from Sorabelle, a Korean beauty & Lifestyle blogger who’s learnt the art of Korean skincare the traditional way… by growing up in Korea (I mean we can’t all do it *winks* so it’s a good job we have Vicky who’s done it for us!).
Here’s Vicky’s take on the basics of Korean skincare…
“The Korean skincare approach is all about prevention. Rather than treating the signs of aging after they’ve appeared on the skin and hiding imperfections with makeup, Korean women start taking care of their skin at an early age to keep their complexion looking healthy and younger.
There is more awareness of the damage UV inflicts on the skin everyday, which is why sunscreen is so popular in Korea – no woman would ever leave the house without.
Doesn’t matter how tired they are, Korean women never go to bed without removing every last trace of dirt and makeup from their faces. First, they massage an oil-based cleanser all over their skin to remove oil-based impurities, such as sunscreen and excess sebum. Then, they follow up with a foam cleanser to get rid of dirt and grime. The result? Squeaky clean and soft skin ready to absorb the active ingredients in the skincare products they apply next.
Ampoules are one of Korea’s best-kept beauty secrets. Serums on steroids, they have a higher concentration of active ingredients, so they are able to fight skin issues such as dehydration, wrinkles, and dark spots, better and faster than other skincare products.”
The secrets of Korean skincare in short: Prevention is key, sunscreen is a must, a double cleanse for gentle but effective cleansing action and a high concentration of active ingredients.
So you’re probably beginning to build up a picture of what Korean skincare stands for, let’s give that picture a second coat of paint *winks* with Jerlene from ‘Of Faces & Fingers’. Jerlene grew up in Singapore using up the best of Western and Asian skincare (I have to say her blog is pretty epic, so if you are after analytical and insanely thorough beauty and skincare reviews Jerlene is your gal!)
Jerlene, will you spill the beans? what is so darn unique about Korean skincare?
“Oh wow, this is a question that has multiple facets to it. From the business perspective, the much faster product launch cycles and paces of new launches is definitely a trend popularized by the Kbeauty brands. From the marketing perspective, a lot of the brands have very unique, novel marketing – that sometimes borders on cute or gimmicky – that really helps their products stand out in a cluttered market. And from the products perspective, the use of lightweight, novel textures, and the use of new packaging, as in the case of BB cushions, is also definitely something new.
I know a lot of Kbeauty enthusiasts in the West tend to believe that somehow Kbeauty skincare is just unquestioningly “better” (perhaps the marketing and novelty may have something to do with this!), but like any other brand, or like any other selection of skincare from a particular geographical region, I’ve found there to be hits and misses. Some products are fantastic, while others don’t impress me as much.”
…Korean skincare HAS to be the MOST talked about ‘sub section’ of skincare, I mean you never hear about ‘UK or ‘US’ skincare *winks*, not quite the same ‘ring to it’ ‘eh. Why is there so much BUZZ about Korean skincare?
“I think the single largest factor is the rise of kpop and Korean culture in general. The popularity of Korean movies, TV dramas and kpop in the west have really helped to make all things Korean “cool”. And there is a halo effect when it comes to skincare, too, especially when there is a lot of product placement in Korean TV dramas, or when high-profile celebrities endorse Korean brands. That said, I think the Korean beauty industry has also gotten much better at marketing themselves and appealing to customers, with the fast product launch cycles and novel textures and packaging.
Kbeauty has been around forever in Asia, and even when I was growing up, has always enjoyed some level of popularity within the region. But Kbeauty as a whole only seems to be getting “discovered” in the west now, as Korean culture gets more popular there, and so it seems like it is something new to everyone. And this is exciting for me too – I’m always happy whenever anything Asian gets the spotlight!”
This question is a bit like, ‘what’s your all time favourite film?’ *winks*. We are all dying to know, what are your favourite Korean beauty and skincare products?
“I really like cushion products – BB cushions, CC cushions – because they’re really fast and convenient when I’m in a hurry. It’s really a case of the packaging being new rather than the product inside being different, but it’s amazing how much a packaging change really enhances the product!
In fact, I’ve now taken to applying even my regular non-Kbeauty foundations with a cushion puff applicator, because I really like how the puff dispenses product thinly but evenly over the face. I also really love my lotions, essences, serums, ampoules, what-have-you. In Southeast Asia the weather is pretty hot and humid, so I really enjoy the lighter, more watery textures that a lot of these products have – they feel less thick and sticky on skin than a cream would.
I also really like hydrogel masks in general. They’re a bit more expensive than a sheet mask, but I really love how the hydrogel gets absorbed into skin over time, and really helps to plump up and hydrate the skin, even if the effect doesn’t last beyond one or two days – it’s the perfect quick-fix for skin.
In my experience, most hydrogel masks direct you to apply the masks for 15-20 minutes or so, but usually there is still plenty of hydrogel left after that time! So my personal cheat when using hydrogels is that I just ignore the directions on the package and just let the entire mask sit on my skin until it sinks in fully, and all that’s left behind is the plastic backing and whatever residual hydrogel there is. It takes longer, but I feel like I’m getting more out of my mask!”
The secrets of Korean skincare in short: Quicker to launch new skincare innovations (…& shout about it!), quirky and unique packaging, focused on light weight hydration (great for hot ‘n humid weather).
Korean Skincare – The ‘Science of Skincare’ Bloggers POV…
Isn’t it strange to think that a chef can taste a meal before they’ve even made it? I once worked closely with a large fragrance house, these guys are serious about what they do. When they first start work, they spend about a year just smelling different individual scents again and again. Locking them all into their memory. This is the kind of job where you need your nose insured – no jokes.
I remember asking the ‘nose’ *winks* that I was working with, if she could work when she has a cold? I mean you’ve gotta know these things ‘eh, I have a curious mind!
The answer… yes, so long as there was a computer to formulate at, all those scents where memories locked in her head and she could ‘mentally sniff’ a blend from all those years of sniff training – crazy ‘eh.
Well this is kinda like being a skincare formulator, you can look at ingredients and get a pretty good impression of what it’s going to do and the idea the company had in mind when they set out to make their new product.
That my friend is what these 3 ‘science of skincare’ bloggers can do when they look at new Korean skincare launches, oh and they’ve tested a product or 12 too *winks*…
First up, we have a ‘girl crush’ of mine, Nicki from FutureDerm. A medical student turned successful skincare entrepreneur. Nicki has lived and breathed the science of skincare for us at Futurederm since 2007 (this site has heritage!)…
This is what Nicki had to say to help ‘pull up the lace curtain’ that’s been mystifying Korean skincare…
“Korean skin care tends to be about a decade ahead of western skin care for a myriad of reasons, including less stringent regulation, more willingness to try new ingredients and technologies, and cultural perception of skin care as more of a necessity rather than an indulgence, which leads to about twice as much purchasing of skin care products per capita.
I am particularly a fan of the fact that the Korean skin care market is not afraid to give their consumers the choice of purchasing very concentrated products over-the-counter — for instance, the Korean Amarte Eyeconic Eye Cream contains 3.8% retinol, nearly twice as much retinol available in the most concentrated retinol product wildly distributed in the U.S. If you want to get rid of wrinkles fast, and don’t mind a little redness, peeling, or irritation, go with a concentrated retinol, which has been shown to penetrate the skin even deeper than prescription formulas! (And remember, the deeper layers of the skin is where the magic happens!)
I am also a fan of the fact that Korean skin care does not shy away from experimentation. There are a lot of early adopters of skin care in Korea, so you end up with a lot of novel ingredients (like snail slime!) and innovative products, like essence, BB cream, sheet masks, and facial oils.
However, these ingredients and products are not for everyone.
In general, Koreans tend to have smaller pores, drier skin/ less facial oil, and more issues with hyperpigmentation than women of western heritage, so a lot of the Korean skin care products will not be suitable for very oily, acne-prone skin with enlarged pores. That is changing as Koreans are adopting more of a western diet and their skin concerns are changing, but for now, keep in mind that Koreans will always produce more ‘bleaching,’ ‘whitening’ and ‘lightening’ products than ‘pore-tightening’, ‘wrinkle fighting’ or ‘firming’, because that is simply not where their skin concerns or cultural perceptions are.’
The secrets of Korean skincare in short: less strict regulations means more innovation on ingredients, powerfully concentrated formulas (available over the counter) and new, sometimes wacky sounding ingredients (oh yes, like the well talked about snail slime!).
What’s that picture of Korean skincare looking like in your mind now? Is the mystifying silk drape almost lifted?
To tease away even more of the smokescreen that shades the secrets of Korean skincare I asked Gio from BeautifulWithBrains, Why does Korean skincare work? Gio writes about this stuff for a living, so she really knows her shizzle… interesting fact, she once tried 30 sheet-masks in 30 days, now that is some product testing commitment *winks*…
Here’s Gio’s take on why Korean skincare works…
“Korean skincare focuses on hydration, which is the key to flawless skin. Hydration plumps up your skin, making fine lines and wrinkles look temporarily smaller. It also gives skin that radiant, healthy glow, and makes your complexion looks clearer and younger-looking.
Hydrated skin is also more permeable, and better able to absorb the active ingredients in skincare products. The key products in the skincare routine – toner, essence, serum, sheet mask, moisturizer, and sleeping mask – are all very hydrating and designed to be applied in thin layers, one after the other. Each layer infuses skin with more moisture, helping the following one better penetrate the skin, boosting the performance of every product you apply.”
The secrets of Korean skincare in short: Hydration mania! It’s all about pumping skin full of water to guard against dull ‘n dry skin, which is the comfy couch to wrinkles and fine lines.
…and lastly, if you were going to invest in some Korean skincare what sorts of products are really the most unique?
This gal is a little brain box, so of course I just had to get you her opinion on Korean skincare…
“K-skincare is different because a lot more money goes into skincare in Korea since they’re more interested in it over there and are more willing to pay for products. They also tend to have a lot more product categories – I’m not sure all 11 steps are necessary, but there’s enough demand for companies to sell them, and they do let you customise your skincare to a greater extent than with most Western products (except for specialist lines like Paula’s Choice or Deciem). Plus it’s usually cheaper!
Korean brands are particularly good for gentle cleansers, cleansing oils, cleansing balms, sheet masks and peeling gels, which are hard to find in Western stores. Products with niacinamide, snail slime and arbutin are also much more common in Korean skincare ranges.”
The secrets of Korean skincare in short: Choice, choice, choice! Maybe a mind boggling amount to start with. It’s that choice that can tailor a Korean skincare routine to your exact skin type.
What Korean skincare products do you use? Have you tried any? Was this the picture of Korean skincare you had in your head? Let’s get chatting below…
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.