So, Korean skincare. It’s all the rage now, isn’t it?
Everyone’s talking about it. Have the Koreans discovered the fountain of youth, or is it all marketing hype? That’s what we all want to know. Being the sceptical, non-trusting sort that I am, I initially wrote it off as the latest eccentricity in the beauty world.
But then, last year, I took on a job that requires me to test A LOT of Korean skincare products. And I discovered two things:
1. A lot of it is just hype. Korean brands use the same ingredients everyone else uses (plus a few weird ones), and, like any brands, they make both good, bad, and amazing products.
2. Some Korean products, techniques, and principles are truly amazing, and we Western could only benefit from using them.
So, what are they? Here are the 4 things I learned from Korean skincare that make my skin really happy:
1. It’s all about hydration
Most skincare products contain water. It’s the base. But the Koreans are obsessed with it. Pretty much every brand, from Cremorlab to Appriya, touts the “magic” of its thermal-rich water. But the winner is Laneige. Its entire story revolves around water. Apparently, after researching the science of water for 20 years, its laboratories have “unleashed scientifically-engineered, skin-perfecting mineral water clinically proven to hydrate, protect, and revitalise individual skin types.”
That’s the hype. The truth, which the Koreans know all too well, is that water is essential to skin health. When skin is hydrated, it’s soft to the touch and plumps up, so that fine lines and wrinkles look much smaller. It looks good and it feels good.
That’s something I always took for granted. My skin had always been naturally well-hydrated, so I always looked for that something extra – antioxidants, glyolic acid, niacinamide, etc – in my skincare products.
Well, now, for the first time in my life, my skin is as dry as the desert. It flakes. It stings. It annoys the hell out of me. So, in addition to antioxidants-rich serums and glycolic acid based exfoliants, it also needs a super hydrating cream that delivers a potent burst of moisture.
Not necessarily from thermal water. Again, that’s hype. But, a lot of Korean creams, lotions, and toners are packed with hydrator-boosters, such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid, which can attract and bind water to the skin, replenishing the moisture it lost. The downside is that most of these products are fairly basic, so they won’t do much apart from hydrating skin.
But hey, sometimes, all your skin needs is that extra dose of moisture. Without it, it’ll just suffer.
2. Snail slime is awesome
I wrote a post last year about how gross snail slime is and that, with the abundance of hydrating ingredients out there, I saw absolutely no reason to choose this one. Especially because, to make them produce slime in large quantities, snails are constantly kept under stress. Poor thingies. 🙁
But then, last year, I had to try several mask sheets with snail slime. The first time, it didn’t go so well. My skin was still combination back then, so the mask was too rich for me. But, these drier days, my skin laps it up. After I use a product with snail slime (a favorite is It’s Skin Prestige Masque D’Escargot), it’s much softer, plumper, and brighter. For me, snail slime is now up there with shea butter, hyaluronic acid, and mineral oil. The four musketeers of hydration and moisturization.
That doesn’t mean, however, that snail slime is the miraculous ingredient Korean brands swear it is. They claim it can do everything from hydrating skin to fighting wrinkles to busting acne. Science doesn’t support all these claims yet, and I can only vouch for one (hydration).
I also still feel a bit guilty when I think how the snail slime is produced and collected. If you only buy cruelty-free, this isn’t something you want to use. But, now, I understand what all the fuss is about.
3. Sheet masks boost your skincare routine
I also wrote a post where I said that sheet masks – the product that put Korean beauty on the map – weren’t a necessary part of your skincare routine. I stand by that. They aren’t necessary. But they help. A LOT.
Last year, I was handed a big bunch of sheet masks (they included Tony Moly Intense Care Snail Hydro-gel Mask, Innisfree Skin Solution Mask Hydrating, and Etude House Collagen Moistfull, to name a few) to review within a month. That meant trying at least one every day for 30 days.
Well, my skin has never looked as good as it did last September. It was soft as a baby’s, looked smoother, and pimples were nowhere in sight. Mask sheets were the only change in my routine (diet and lifestyle habits included).
Don’t get me wrong. Mask sheets are not miracle workers. And they don’t contain any special ingredients. In fact, most of them are fairly basic, containing only emollients, hydrators, and the odd antioxidant. Sheet masks are all about hydration, which the Koreans do oh-so-well.
Hydrated skin, as mentioned above, is healthy skin. So, while I don’t think sheet masks are a necessity, they are a quick and cheap way to give your skin that extra dose of moisture and a little boost. Before a special occasion, they’ve become a must for me.
4. Korean skincare is fun
When we think about skincare fun, we think of a day at a spa or having a facial done at a fancy salon. The rest of the time, skincare is only “serious business”. We want products that work. No gimmicks. Well, Korean skincare is full of gimmicks that work.
Take Elizavecca Carbonated Clay Mask, for example. It’s a clay mask that, when it comes in contact with air, forms lots of tiny bubbles on your skin, turning your face into a cloud. Skinfood Black Pomegranate Touch Mask is a mask with a brush attached. You literally paint the mask on, which makes you feel so artistic. Laneige Firming Sleeping Pack has a cool memory-foam texture. Doesn’t matter how big a dent you make in it, within seconds the surface becomes smooth again.
All unnecessary gimmicks. But really cool ones. Is it worth buying the products just for them? Of course not. But, the products are amazing, and the gimmicks bring that extra fun to the game. So, why not?
The Bottom Line
Korean skincare isn’t the miracle worker it’s touted to be. But, it’s very creative. It sticks to the basics (like hydration), but constantly innovates on them, coming up with new textures, ingredients, and technologies that benefit skin and are a fun to use.
The pace of innovation is so fast, most of them can’t be groundbreaking. But if you love to try something new all the time without compromising on results, Korean skincare is for you (just read the ingredient lists well to avoid the duds, though!)
What do you think of Korean skincare? Have you learned anything from it?