You’ve heard the hype on Korean skin care, but there are so many serums and masks and essences to try that it’s hard to know where to look when you want to dabble in something new. So we turned to some of the people who would know best about K-beauty, the beauty bloggers and vloggers who have made it their mission to catalogue new products in hauls and reviews over the years. Here, they point us to some of the products that are essential to their routine, many that are delightfully obscure (so you might be the first to evangelize about them to your friends).
“One of my favorite discoveries last year has been the brand SanDaWha. I especially love their Revitalizing Liposome Lotion. It’s everything that I used to wish Clinique’s Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion was. It’s a light emulsion that I like to layer with a heavier cream for my dry skin. It sinks in quickly and it’s got an amazing ingredient lineup of 40 nature-derived extracts and oils. It also comes in a generous 130 ml size and a sturdy glass bottle, so the affordable $30 price point is a great bonus. My last bottle lasted around four to five months with daily use.” —Coco Park, the Beauty Wolf
“At about $4 each, Papa Recipe’s Bombee Rose Gold Honey Masks are proof that you don’t have to pay much to get an amazing sheet mask. I bust these out after cleansing when my skin is feeling dry and irritated—or when I just want to relax. The sheet material is super flexible (and sandwiched between two backings that you should remove before use). The hydrating, fairly thin essence smells like honey and slowly sinks in to plump up fine lines, takes care of dry flakes, and gives a glow. I have normal-to-oily skin that doesn’t require much masking, and I hate the feeling of a lot of masks, but I can leave Papa Recipe sheet masks on for 45 minutes and even fall asleep while wearing them because they’re so cozy.” —Tracy E. Robey, Fanserviced-b
“Propolis is a resin created by bees for hive upkeep, and it’s also magnificent on skin as an antibiotic, antifungal, and moisturizer. CNP mixes propolis with some humectants to create a golden skin syrup that’s so effective, I usually only use a drop or two at a time (the bottle is 15 ml, so don’t expect to slather). On defiantly dry skin, I pat a drop on straight from the dropper to soften my scales overnight. When I want wildly glowy, K-drama-actress skin, I mix a drop into my facial cream. CNP has somehow flown under the radar in the U.S., but it’s one of the top brands in Korea that does science-y skin care.” —Robey
“Mizon Snail Recovery Gel Cream was one of my first K-beauty loves, and has remained a staple in my skin-care stash ever since. It’s a simple product that soothes my skin and speeds healing of my breakouts. It’s lightweight enough to use in the heat of summer, and works wonders on accidental sunburns. If my skin is irritated and won’t tolerate anything else, this is the product I reach for.” —Cat, Snow White and the Asian Pear
“Make P:rem UV Defense Me Capsule Sun Gel is the only chemical-filter SPF 50+ PA+++ full-spectrum sunscreen that I can use without my sensitive skin erupting in revolt. This sunscreen is absolutely amazing; it has zero white cast, applies evenly, adds moisture, and doesn’t cause texture issues under makeup. Sunscreen is normally a drag to use, but this one makes full sun protection painless.” —Cat
“My other long-term Sulwhasoo love (besides the First Care Activating Serum) and the best ginseng product I’ve ever tried, this serum does something amazing to my skin’s overall resilience. Sleeping on my side and having big facial expressions don’t leave creases on my face while I’m using this regularly; my skin gets a noticeable boost in firmness and density. I use this at least once daily all over my face, neck, and upper chest.” —Jude Chao, Fifty Shades of Snail
“As someone who suffers from acne, I’m always on the lookout for products that will help keep the dreaded spots at bay. This is a well-known fan favorite, and for good reason: It contains tea-tree extract and centella asiatica, two amazing ingredients for those looking for help with acne and blemishes. It comes in a bottle with a pipette application, and I usually use this after a toner. For my face, I like to use two pipettes’ worth, to ensure my whole face gets some product.
It won’t help with hydration, but it does help lessen the appearance of redness, and I get less acne when I’m using it.” —Sophie, MapleTreeBlog
“This little pot of black gold may come with a high price tag, but it is completely worth it. It’s packed full of ginseng, one of Korean skin care’s beloved ingredients for its brightening and anti-aging effects. I like to use this mask after cleansing: I gently massage a thin layer over my entire face and wash off after 20 minutes. It honestly makes my skin glow and also adds a nice, soft plumpness to my skin. It’s perfect for winter, when my skin gets dull. This wash-off mask works well for all skin types I believe.” —Sophie
“This toner contains salicylic acid, which is used to combat pimples or acne, and it does not dry out the skin. I use the toner together with a cotton puff, after cleansing to remove any remaining dirt that might have been left, while I’m cleansing my face. The toner is really hydrating and doesn’t cause my skin to react badly to it because a lot of toners used to have a stinging sensation that I dislike, and I don’t find any problem with this.” —Mizu Chan, Marvelika Life
“A lot of sunblocks have been breaking me out recently, but it’s still a necessity in my life because I want to prevent all the harms that UV rays can cause to your skin, like premature aging, sunspots, blackheads, et cetera. This sunblock from Missha is a pretty popular product in Korea as well, and I can see why! It isn’t sticky like typical sunblocks and doesn’t feel greasy, either (and so far hasn’t broken me out). It’s perfect as the first step to prep your skin before foundation application, as it’s moisturizing as well.” —Lily Hong, HAUTED0LL
“One of the secrets to healthy skin is definitely using a darn good exfoliator. This is an AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) product, but it has a larger molecular size than our AHA products out in the market, so it’s super mild, so all skin types, including sensitive skin types like me, can use it! It helps to exfoliate skin mildly while not stripping away the moisture from skin! I use it two to three times a week after my toner step!” —Eunice Cho, EuniUnni
“I love to bring this with me while traveling. If you have sensitive or acne-prone skin, you will love this! This is an all-in-one cleanser that is oil-free. I don’t need to double-cleanse when using this; it removes all my waterproof makeup and dirt in one go, while leaving my skin hydrated. It contains aloe-vera juice, portulaca extracts, and papaya extracts to keep the skin calm, nonirritant, and moisturized.” —Elisa Lee, Soko Beauty
“Essences are essential to my skin-care routine, and this one in particular is one of my all-time favorites [editor’s note: This is one of Rio Viera-Newton’s favorites, too]. This is a skin-care product I always keep stocked, and it pretty much always has a role in my skin-care routine. It’s a watery type of product that goes on after you cleanse and tone your skin. It contains fermented ingredients that help smooth and brighten the skin tone, as well as hydrate the skin. The fermented ingredients in this also help with anti-aging and repairing the skin!” —Morgan Stewart, the Beauty Breakdown
“I love using the cleansing balm to not only remove my makeup but also to clean out my pores. [Editor’s note: Cut beauty director Kathleen Hou included this on her list of all-star K-beauty cult-favorites, too.] I tend to produce a lot of sebum around my nose, and I can see some darkening from it being oxidized. The balm does a great job of melting down all the oil and dirt stuck in the pores and keeps my pores clean.” —Michelle Choi, vlogger
“Another dry-skin must-have is Swanicoco Extra Hydrating Swan Cream. This cream’s first ingredient is saccharomyces ferment filtrate, so you know you’re in for a treat. Ferments have been a favorite in K-beauty for years now. This is a thicker cream that’s probably better suited to nighttime, unless you’re the driest of the dry skins. But even though it’s protective, it’s not sticky or tacky. It has a beautiful texture and performs much more like a high-end luxury cream than the $30 cream that it actually is.” —Park
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