Korean beauty’s “skin first” philosophy encourages people to get to the root of their skin concerns and focus on creating a healthy, glowing complexion rather than covering it up with makeup. And with the current trend of turning your skincare routine into more of a self-care ritual, it’s the right time to jump on the Korean beauty philosophy. “Skincare routines are now being used as a moment of daily meditation and comfort which is synonymous with K-beauty’s ‘skin first’ philosophy,” says Charlotte Cho, co-founder of K-Beauty retailer Soko Glam and skincare line Then I Met You.
K-beauty’s popularity can also be attributed to its accessibility in terms of pricing, and innovations when it comes to product packaging, ingredients, and formulations. Alicia Yoon, CEO and Founder of Korean skincare line Peach & Lily, tells Women’s Health, “Korean skincare is known for powerhouse natural ingredients like snail mucin, centella asiatica, and fermented ingredients, to name a few, that offer differentiated and effective solutions to many different skin-care issues.” Multi-step skincare routines reinforce the notion that our skin, the largest organ of the body, should be treated with as much care and respect as our internal organs. Instead of searching for quick fixes, skincare provides the skin with a comprehensive set of elements needed to thrive, “and that element of empowered self-care resonates with people,” says Yoon.
Some Korean skincare products, such as Laneige’s Lip Sleeping Mask and Banila Co’s Clean It Zero Cleansing Balm, have gained so much popularity that they have an almost cult-like following. With increasing demand for Korean skincare products in the states, Korean beauty importers and marketplaces such as Soko Glam and Peach & Lily are introducing consumers to the best of the best of K-beauty, while also making sure what’s in your cart is 100 percent authentic.
These are 25 of the best Korean skin-care products that you should have on your radar:
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Best Gentle Cleanser
Good (Skin) Days A New Leaf Cream Cleanser
This low pH cream facial cleanser is rich in antioxidants and infused with greens such as green tea, spinach, and broccoli to seriously nourish and protect the skin. The addition of mugwort, which happens to be “one of the buzziest beauty ingredients in Korea,” according to Cho, also helps to gently exfoliate the skin. “During the past few years, we’ve heard from our dedicated Soko Glam community that mugwort is one of their absolute favorite acne-fighting ingredients because of its gentle anti-inflammatory properties. It targets redness, sensitivity and dryness and is also known to be a healing herb because of its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties,” says Cho.
Best Hydrating Serum
Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum
Achieve that poreless, dewy, glass skin look with this lightweight, refreshing gel serum suitable for all skin types. A cocktail of ingredients such as: peach extract, niacinamide, mountain yam, and hyaluronic acid help to hydrate and firm skin to achieve a luminous complexion. The results driven serum has resulted in “a 25,000 person waitlist and over 1,500 stellar reviews,” says Yoon.
Best Hydrating Toner
Then I Met You The Giving Essence
This cruelty-free and vegan essence contains 80 percent naturally fermented ingredients (a staple in K-beauty), niacinamide, and antioxidant-rich red algae and berries. In addition, powerhouse galactomyces—a derivative of sake—help moisturize and brighten the skin, while calming down inflammation. This holy grail essence is perfect for all skin types.
Best Moisturizer For Acne
Mizon All-in-One Snail Repair Cream
This moisturizer has sold millions across Asia for its highly effective ingredients. The hydrating formula is made up of 92 percent snail extract (yes, I said snails). In addition to hydrating the skin, the All-in-One Snail Repair Cream also helps improve the appearance of fine lines and acne scars. This cream is ideal for oily, combination, and acne-prone skin.
Best Eye Cream
Acwell Licorice pH Balancing Intensive Eye Cream
Licorice water and extract help brighten dark circles and hyperpigmentation, while ingredients such as green tea and blueberry extract provide anti-aging benefits. Another star ingredient, caffeine, tightens and reduces inflammation and puffiness. This eye cream is suitable for all skin types; it’s also a winner of our 2020 Best of Skincare Awards.
Best Sheet Mask
Good Skin Day Drench + Nourish Sheet Mask
What would Korean skincare be without sheet masks? This one delivers deep hydration, vital vitamins and minerals, and a blast of antioxidants and brightening elements for radiant, glowy skin. “The interesting thing is that this mask doesn’t need to be kept in the refrigerator to have a cooling effect as the mask naturally has a cooling impact from some of the natural ingredients in [it],” says Yoon.
Best Acne Treatment
Peach & Lily Acne Spot Dots
These sticker-like patches act as a protective cover to keep you from picking, while reducing inflammation so spots become visibly smaller after just one use. They come in a variety of sizes to cover anything from a pesky whitehead to those big red, hormonal bumps you get right before your period. And because these spot dots are translucent, you can wear them under makeup.
Best SPF Moisturizer
Sun Project Water Sun Cream
This multitasker is a moisturizer and sunscreen in one! It’s formulated with SPF 50 to defend against those harmful UV rays and target signs of aging, without leaving behind a white cast. African walnut oil and bamboo extracts keep the skin hydrated, while aloe leaf extract and hollyhock root soothe and protect your skin’s natural moisture barrier. The Sun Project Water Sun Cream is one of Cho’s favorite sunscreens, and she has especially been using it throughout her pregnancy to keep herself protected. “Because I’m in my second trimester, I have taken extra precautions to protect myself from melasma during pregnancy, so you can bet I’m slathering this all over––including on my belly!”
Best Cleansing Balm
Then I Met You Living Cleansing Balm
The cruelty-free and vegan oil-based balm is rich in antioxidants and vitamin E to nourish the skin while you cleanse. Its bright, orange-sorbet hue is due to the seaberry oil which is rich in fatty acids, but don’t worry it won’t appear orange on your skin. Hints of rosemary, persimmon, and grapefruit create a sweet aroma that also leaves skin feeling super soft.
Best Exfoliating Toner
Peach & Lily The Good Acids Pore Toner
“I’m obsessed with The Good Acids Pore Toner because it combines the best of actives in a super gentle dosage with a Korean focus on hydration,” says Yoon. This pH-adjusting toner helps slough away dead skin cells to reveal smooth skin, while leaving pores clean. Alpha Hydroxy Acids loosen dead skin cells, while a blend of nourishing botanical extracts help calm inflammation. It’s gentle enough to be used daily and is especially ideal for oily and combination skin.
Best Brightening Serum
Good (Skin) Days C’s The Day Serum
This concentrated vitamin C serum is formulated with 10 percent pure vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, and licorice root extract for brighter skin. Niacinamide and vitamin B3 also help diminish dullness while improving the overall appearance of pores and fine lines. With antioxidant-rich camu camu—a fruit that contains 40 times more vitamin C than oranges—this serum really packs a punch. It’s ideal for reversing sun damage or creating a more even skin tone.
Best Eye Patches
Shangpree Marine Energy Eye Mask
This pack of single-use eye masks is great for brightening and hydrating under the eyes. Antioxidant-rich algae, spirulina, and chondrus crispus help reduce signs of aging while soothing herbal extracts and sodium hyaluronate (a form of moisturizing hyaluronic acid) ensure plump and conditioned skin. Pro tip: Place these in the fridge overnight for a nice pick-me-up in the morning.
Best Day Cream
Peach & Lily Matcha Pudding Antioxidant Cream
“To stay protected from free radical damage from the sun and other stressors, double down on antioxidants,” says Yoon. The Matcha Pudding Antioxidant Cream is a lightweight, velvety cream rich in antioxidants to help fight off free radical damage from pollution, excess sun exposure, and lack of sleep. It’s spiked with matcha, cape lilac extract, niacinamide, and adenosine for brighter, firmer skin.
Best Lip Treatment
LANEIGE Lip Sleeping Mask Lip Treatment
This leave-on mask is incredibly hydrating to help with any flakiness or dryness. Enriched with hyaluronic acid and minerals, Laneige’s Lip Sleeping Mask forms a protective film over the lips to lock in moisture and active ingredients. A blend of berries also makes this mask rich in vitamin C and antioxidants. Get ready to pucker up!
Best Foam Cleanser
Eco Your Skin Oil To Foam Cleanser
This oil-to-foam cleanser does the work of both an oil-based and water-based cleanser. The oil helps dissolve makeup, while the foam helps to remove impurities and refresh the skin. Instead of utilizing sulfates, the Eco Your Skin Oil To Foam Cleanser relies on coconut fruit extract as a natural cleansing agent that is gentle on the skin so it’s left balanced and clean rather than tight and stripped.
Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Lemon
These gentle exfoliating pads from Neogen allow you to reap the benefits of both physical and chemical exfoliation. A powerful cocktail of chemical exfoliants—lactic acid, glycolic acid, and lemon, orange, and papaya extracts—help clear clogged pores and fade away acne scars. The three-layer pad technology helps to physically slough away dead skin so the fresh new skin underneath can shine.
Rootree Mobitherapy UV Sun Shield
This water-based, lightweight broad-spectrum sunscreen offers SPF 50+ protection against all those harmful UV rays. It sinks into the skin without leaving behind a white cast but also isn’t cakey so you can use it as a canvas for makeup, too. Rootree Mobitherapy UV Sun Shield includes Korean Dendropanax, a flowering plant and hero ingredient that leaves the skin supple and calm. This sunscreen is perfect for all skin tones and types; according to Yoon, “[It’s] a Korean beauty gem.”
Best Face Mask
Klairs Youthful Glow Sugar Mask
This cruelty-free, paraben-free, vegan, multi-tasking mask nourishes, while buffing away dead skin cells without any abrasiveness. Key ingredients such as shea butter, jojoba seed oil, grapefruit extract, and raspberry seed oil are hydrating, anti-inflammatory, and high in antioxidants. Adding to this all-star line-up, is detoxifying kaolin clay and soothing calamine. Sensitive, combo skin? This one’s for you.
Best Hydrating Toner
May Coop Raw Sauce
May Coop Raw Sauce is a cult-favorite among Korean beauty lovers. It’s a gentle toner/emulsion/essence in one that deeply hydrates and nourishes the skin. Raw sauce is made with 93 percent maple tree sap that helps you achieve a dewy, healthy glow. The maple sap in combination with Asian herbal and fruit extracts make this lightweight emulsion feel and smell oh-so heavenly. Use it before moisturizer for an extra dose fo moisture.
Best Makeup Remover
Banila Co Clean It Zero Cleansing Balm Original
This cleansing balm melts away makeup in seconds without stripping your skin of its natural oils. The vitamin C-rich acerola extract helps to brighten and naturally exfoliate, while the vitamin E acetate helps nourish and protect the skin from free radicals. Bonus points for the millennial pink packaging which will look perfect in your shelfie.
Peach & Lily Lazy Day All-In-One Moisture Pads
These pads are a toner, essence, and lightweight moisturizer all-in-one! “Innovations in Korean beauty technology has allowed for some very effective multitasking products that allow you to combine some steps into one product for those busy or lazy days,” says Yoon. With just one swipe, you get a blast of hydration, antioxidants, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. Packed with spinach, broccoli, carrot, and pomegranate, these hydrating pads are like, “a green juice for your face.” They’re perfect for after a mid-day workout or for a refresh after a day out in the sun.
Best Moisturizer For Sensitive Skin
SKINRx Lab MadeCera Cream
This best-selling multitasking moisturizer helps protect your skin barrier and fight aging. The formula includes madecassoside—an inflammation-fighting compound that reduces redness due to acne. Niacinamide brightens skin, while adenosine provides anti-aging benefits. Ceramides wrap the skin in moisture, so you’re always hydrated even during cold winter months. This paraben-free cream is light enough for daytime use or can be layered on to use as a night cream.
Best Overnight Mask
Eco Your Skin Lavender Bedside Mask
This lightweight mask is fast-absorbing and matte, so it’s easy to forget about while you catch on up some Z’s. The soothing scent of lavender helps your drift to sleep, while milk proteins and salicylic acid gently exfoliate the skin to reveal a clear, fresh glow in the morning. Use this as the last step of your PM routine. For dry skin, use the Lavender Bedside Mask over your usual moisturizer, while all other skin types can use this mask in replacement of their moisturizer.
Best Pore-Refining Toner
Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow PHA +BHA Pore-Tight Toner
This gentle Poly Hydroxy Acid- and Beta Hydroxy Acid-infused watermelon toner from Glow Recipe hydrates skin and helps minimize the appearance of pores. The PHA provides a gentle exfoliation to reveal smoother skin, while watermelon extract hydrates and delivers essential vitamins and amino acids. The addition of cactus water prevents moisture loss while also delivering electrolytes and antioxidants. Plus, it smells so much like watermelon you might just think you cracked one open.
Best Gel Cleanser
COSRX Low-pH Good Morning Cleanser
Listen, this cleanser might be sold out when you read this, but it’s worth the wait for a reason. COSRX’s cult-favorite Low-pH Good Morning Cleanser is the perfect lightweight, gel cleanser to incorporate into your morning skincare routine. The low pH formula is gentle on the skin and doesn’t strip away natural oils and mild acids help exfoliate and brighten. This fragrance-free cleanser is great for those with sensitive and dry skin, but also does the job for my oily, combination skin folks.
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