In our journey to discover the most effective beauty products, we’re eager to learn as much as we can about cosmetics. Right now, we’re delving into the best Korean skin-care products.
Why Korean beauty?
Charlotte Cho, cofounder of marketplace Soko Glam, explains that Korean traditions are at the heart of the K-beauty philosophy and good skin care is embedded into Korean culture. “At a young age, Korean children are taught the importance of moisturizing, exfoliating, cleansing the skin thoroughly, and protecting their skin with SPF,” she says. And these beauty traditions, she explains, are passed down through generations.
“For example, a common bathhouse tradition is to splash spoiled milk onto faces after cleansing as milk contains lactic acid, which helps smooth and brighten skin,” says Glow Recipe cofounder Christine Chang. “This tradition is an example of the Korean consumers’ approach to gentle exfoliation over harsh, physical exfoliation.”
These traditions are coupled with innovative technologies to create products that are beneficial to treating an array of concerns. The result? The entrance of new ingredients like snail mucin or categories like essences. Cho notes that many of the ingredients we’ve come to associate with K-beauty come from hanbang, or traditional Korean medicine, like ginseng, green tea, and lotus.
Beyond the ingredients, Glow Recipe’s other cofounder, Sarah Lee, explains how K-beauty also preaches tackling your specific skin-care concerns day by day. “Skin is different every day, and instead of boxing yourself into a set skin type, it’s so important to listen to our skin and treat that day’s concerns with the right products,” she says. “Your skin will tell you how it feels each day and is influenced by many factors—how much sleep you had the night before, the climate, stress, and environmental aggressors can all affect your skin in a different way each day.”
This versatile, customized approach to treating skin can certainly aid anyone’s regimen. With that, read on to discover the best Korean skin-care products to add to your routine.
- Key Ingredients: A lightweight sunscreen infused with SPF 50 and 20 plant extracts, like aloe, tea-tree oil, and avocado.
- Skin Benefits: Not only does this offer UV protection without greasy residue or white cast, but it is also formulated to nourish and calm skin too.
- Key Ingredients: A sorbet-textured balm infused with vitamin E, olive oil, persimmon extract, and sea-buckthorn oil, which is rich in fatty acids and antioxidants.
- Skin Benefits: “Cleansing with an oil-based cleanser and following up with a water-based cleanser is called a double cleanse and is a foundational part of an effective multistep skin-care routine,” says Cho, who prefers cleansing balms to remove makeup and oil-based impurities. This is crafted to cleanse and condition simultaneously, leaving skin soft and nourished.
- Key Ingredients: A lightweight serum powered by a blend of peach extract, niacinamide, East Asian mountain yam, madecassoside, peptides, and hyaluronic acid.
- Skin Benefits: “[This] become a cult favorite for how visibly hydrating, firming, smoothing, clarifying, and brightening this universal treatment is in one easy bottle,” says Alicia Yoon, founder of Peach & Lily. Suitable for sensitive skin, the serum is known to combat dark spots and loss of elasticity to promote even-toned, supple skin.
- Key Ingredients: A lightweight moisturizer powered by 73.55% mugwort extract, an ingredient that Cho explains has long been used in Korean medicinal and wellness practices. “It’s also highly regarded for its healing properties, as well as its anti-inflammatory and soothing benefits,” she says.
- Skin Benefits: With its healing properties in mind, this cream is meant to nourish and soothe stressed, sensitive skin while protecting against environmental stressors and stimulating collagen production.
- Key Ingredients: A concentrated essence powered by 100% artemisia extract (mugwort).
- Skin Benefits: “An essence is super helpful at kick-starting hydration in the skin,” notes Yoon. Through the featured mugwort, expect the essence to quell sensitivity and redness.
- Key Ingredients: “Benton’s latest, the Let’s Carrot Oil Toner, combines a layered water—with carrot-water extract—and oil formulation—with beta carotene and carrot-seed oil—to prepare your skin and control excess sebum production,” Cho explains.
- Skin Benefits: “Toning is an easily misunderstood step! Basically toners serve as both a treatment and a way to prep your skin for further products in your multistep skin-care routine,” she says. A solution for even oily skin types, this is formulated to help balance oil production, calm irritation, and plump skin.
- Key Ingredients: A lightweight essence powered by 96.3% snail mucin—the buzzy K-beauty ingredient made popular for its resurfacing and hydrating properties.
- Skin Benefits: Applied post-cleanser and -toner, this works to fade dark spots, improve hydration, and smooth skin texture—leaving skin soft and dewy.
- Key Ingredients: A lightweight jelly highlighting serum infused with niacinamide, watermelon, hyaluronic acid, and moringa-seed oil.
- Skin Benefits: A viral TikTok pick, Glow Recipe’s Dew Drops can be applied as a serum, primer, or highlighter under or over makeup. Beyond its multipurpose uses, it’s formulated to brighten skin over time—revealing a glowy, glossy finish.
- Key Ingredients: A hypoallergenic foam featuring a blend of surfactants made of botanical extracts, hyaluronic acid, ceramide, and bitter-orange extract.
- Skin Benefits: This nonirritating formula offers a deep cleanse while balancing skin’s pH, moisturizing, and protecting skin from external stressors.
- Key Ingredients: Innisfree’s lineup is powered by ingredients sourced from Korea’s Jeju Island. This creamy clay mask is infused with volcanic clusters from the island and lactic acid.
- Skin Benefits: Utilize this clarifying mask to slough away dead skin cells, reduce the look of pores, and absorb excess oils in a 20-minute application.
- Key Ingredients: A silky, lightweight eye cream infused with squalane, ceramides, and centella asiatica–leaf extract.
- Skin Benefits: As the name suggests, intensive hydration is the targeted benefit of this eye cream meant to plump fine lines with 26 hours of moisture for a supple undereye.
- Key Ingredients: A facial serum powered by vitamin C, green tea, and white-peony extract.
- Skin Benefits: This serum can be applied morning and night to brighten, soothe, and reduce the look of wrinkles for a youthful-looking appearance.
- Key Ingredients: A lightweight oil formulated with apricot-kernel oil and tangerine-peel extract.
- Skin Benefits: This oil is an ideal first step in a double cleanse, as it emulsifies to wipe away impurities and makeup without stripping skin of its natural oils.
- Key Ingredients: A serum created with acne-prone skin in mind, powered by propolis extract and niacinamide.
- Skin Benefits: Ideal to heal stressed skin, add this into your routine to not only calm and soothe but also brighten your complexion and protect against free-radical damage.
- Key Ingredients: A gel-textured overnight mask infused with squalane and hyaluronic acid.
- Skin Benefits: This is crafted to give your skin a hydration boost while you sleep to reveal soft, bright, supple skin.
- Key Ingredients: A hydrating essence infused with an advanced form of hyaluronic acid, glycerin, hydrolyzed collagen, and zostera marina extract.
- Skin Benefits: Hanskin’s essence boasts five benefits in one: moisturizing, glowing, boosting, balancing, and softening to quench thirsty skin for a youthful complexion.
- Key Ingredients: A creamy moisturizer packed with guaiazulene (an agent derived from chamomile oil), centella asiatic extract, and candelilla cera.
- Skin Benefits: This cream looks to relieve irritation and redness, especially for sensitive and acne-prone skin types.
- Key Ingredients: Licorice water, peony-flower extract, and green tea are at the heart of this toner.
- Skin Benefits: Apply Acwell’s toner to balance skin’s pH, reduce pigmentation, and promote a bright, radiant complexion.
- Key Ingredients: Along with 76.52% mushroom extract, this ampoule serum is also formulated with panthenol, macadamia-seed oil, aloe, and centella asiatica extract.
- Skin Benefits: Use this ampoule morning and night (on its own or mixed with your moisturizer of choice) to promote hydrated, firm skin.
- Key Ingredients: A creamy treatment featuring a blend of tiger grass (centella asiatica) and broad-spectrum SPF 30.
- Skin Benefits: Dr. Jart’s color-correcting treatment became popular for its green-to-beige transformation that seamlessly neutralizes redness and evens skin tone. Thus skin is left soothed, moisturized, and protected from UV rays.
- Key Ingredients: A lightweight gel infused with lavender water, centella asiatica extract, and green-tea extract.
- Skin Benefits: This quick-absorbing gel is gentle on sensitive skin and is rich in antioxidants to treat dark circles and fine lines.