I’ve been testing Korean skincare products I’ve seen recommended again and again by influencers. I couldn’t fit them all in one post, so here’s part 2.
The video is here, keep scrolling for the text version…
Korean skincare products are super popular, but there are so many options it can be overwhelming. How do you work out which products to buy?
Ingredient lists are helpful. But any cosmetic chemist will tell you – you can’t judge how well a product will work just from those. Every chocolate cake has pretty much the same ingredients, but some taste like broken dreams and disappointment.
The ingredient list can give you an idea of what to expect (if you know what you’re looking for), but it doesn’t replace testing it on actual skin.
So I always check reviews – on forums, but also from influencers I trust, especially if they have similar skin to me (oily-normal, prone to clogged pores, dehydration, pigmentation, some redness). Today I’ll be adding my thoughts on these products, and hopefully give you some useful ingredient insights as well.
Remember: my skin is not your skin. Different people’s skin will respond differently to the same product. You might also have different product preferences and needs too, so keep those in mind.
Skinfood Royal Honey Propolis Enrich Essence
I was initially a bit iffy about an active product from Skinfood. I’ve loved their Pineapple Peeling Gel for a long time, but a lot of Skinfood products seem kind of gimmicky, with a food and natural theme. As someone who got into skincare in the Pinterest age, I have a bit of a gut reaction to that.
This is the first active product I’ve tried from Skinfood. It’s a pretty multifunctional product that’s made for hydrating and supporting the skin barrier, but it’s also meant to help with breakouts, and plump and firm skin (targeting “mature” skin).
The key ingredient is black bee propolis extract.
Propolis is “bee glue”, used to seal up holes in hives. It’s made from plant sap, and has some interesting properties (it’s been investigated for use on wounds). In skincare it seems to be good for soothing, helping with breakouts and as a source of antioxidants (specifically, it contains polyphenols and flavonoids). Skinfood’s propolis is double fermented to make it more concentrated.
There are also two other bee ingredients in this: royal jelly (which has skin smoothing properties) and fermented aged honey.
All of these are natural ingredients, so the specific substances in them and their concentrations depend on lots of factors like the species of bee, what they eat, the season, how it’s extracted and processed. So it’s best to look at reviews of specific products, and ignore things like “dupes” and percentages.
I found this incredibly hydrating, which is exactly what I expected – as well as the bee extracts which are all hydrating, there’s also beta-glucan which is a long-chain sugary molecule that’s good at holding onto water, similar to hyaluronic acid. There’s also hyaluronic acid and glycerin, both of which are humectants that hold water to the skin.
It also has purslane (Portulaca oleracea) extract. It’s a herb used in traditional Korean medicine to help with irritated skin. There are also some ferments (Lactobacillus ferment, Saccharomyces ferment) which can have hydrating, soothing and exfoliating effects. (These ferments were added with the newer “Enrich” version, along with more propolis.)
Excitingly for people who can’t handle niacinamide – this doesn’t have niacinamide! It’s a bit of an older product that was released before the niacinamide boom. It’s also fragrance free and has a slightly sweet smell. People with sensitive skin generally seem to be fine with this product.
It has a silky hydrating texture, kind of like “thick water” – not as thin as a toner, but not as thick as a serum. It sinks into my skin quickly, and isn’t as tacky as I expected for such a hydrating product.
The most impressive effect is that it’s been really good at smoothing out my skin texture and giving me a glow overnight. It’s almost like a chemical exfoliant sort of effect, but without any irritation or stinging. It was also really good at calming down red breakouts I had. It layers nicely under other products.
The glass dropper bottle with the gradient effect is really nice. It’s heavy enough that I haven’t knocked it over yet, and there’s a button on top of the lid that you press to fill the dropper.
It’s summer here and I’ve been using it as a moisturiser and serum on its own at night, including when the air con is on and it’s been great at keeping my skin hydrated. I’m sure I’ll have to add a moisturiser as well when it gets colder and dryer.
Overall: love it, it’s going to be in my rotation.
SKIN1004 Madagascar Centella Light Cleansing Oil
SKIN1004 Madagascar Centella Light Cleansing Oil is one of SKIN1004’s most popular products. Soo Beauty and Euniunni both raved about this.
Cleansing balms and oils are really popular in Korean skincare. You don’t need to use an oil-based cleanser to remove water resistant makeup and sunscreen, but I prefer using them because it feels so relaxing to massage them into your skin. It’s also really satisfying watching the makeup smear and come off.
A lot of cleansing oils and balms leave a bit of residue on your skin and might not get all of your makeup off, so you need to follow up with a second cleanser (“double cleansing”). SKIN1004’s cleansing oil is designed to work as a standalone cleanser, and when I tested it on some water resistant products I didn’t need to use a second cleanser.
It has centella in it, which has skin soothing effects, and people who’ve tried this on irritated skin have said it’s quite calming. It also worked well for removing my waterproof eyeliner – it didn’t sting my eyes or leave them blurry, which can sometimes happen with cleansing oils, and the blurriness is almost always an issue for me with cleansing balms.
It comes in a handy pump bottle, and the pump dispenses the right amount of product easily (I’ve been trying a few products that don’t dispense well out of their pumps, so I’m really appreciating this aspect!).
The downsides are really just personal preference things for me:
- I don’t really like the scent of this – it’s bergamot, rose and rose geranium. To me it smells a bit lemony.
- Like other cleansing oils it’s a bit annoying to get onto my face compared to a cleansing balm – it’s a bit drippier, and I hate drips.
If you’re looking for a cleansing oil, especially one that you can use for removing eye makeup as well, this is a great option.
Jumiso All Day Vitamin Brightening & Balancing Serum
I’ve seen Jumiso All Day Vitamin Brightening & Balancing Serum recommended by lots of people (Cassandra Bankson, Tina Tanaka Harris, Euniunni, Meejmuse).
This is a serum based around sea buckthorn fruit extract, which they use as the water source. They call it “vitamin tree” because it contains lots of vitamins (mainly C, also E and K). It also has a lot of antioxidant and humectant compounds.
This serum also has some extra humectants (glycerin, hyaluronic acid), 2% niacinamide, some other beneficial plant extracts (centella, licorice, chamomile, green tea), panthenol and additional ascorbic acid.
I found that this was hydrating and lightweight. It sinks in quickly and layers nicely under sunscreen and makeup. It didn’t irritate my skin at all, and it has a nice light citrus scent, with none of the metallic kind of smell you usually get with ascorbic acid products. But I didn’t notice any of the beneficial effects I usually get with vitamin C, like faster brightening of acne marks.
I think here’s where I went wrong – I didn’t check the brand’s own recommendations. This is their beginner vitamin C serum. They have two stronger options that probably would’ve been more suitable for me, as someone whose skin tolerates vitamin C well.
A lot of people have issues with vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid – they can be irritating and cause breakouts, especially if they have a low pH (which isn’t always necessary for ascorbic acid to get into skin and work, there are other ways even in water-based products!). So this serum would be useful if your skin is super sensitive to vitamin C, and you want something budget-friendly, and you’re OK if it is mostly just hydrating with any vitamin C action as an added bonus.
But if your budget stretches a bit more and you’re specifically looking for a vitamin C serum, I’d recommend a product with more ascorbic acid that’s formulated to be gentle.
Pyunkang Yul Calming Moisture Repair Balm
I love it. Sorry for the spoiler – I can’t hold back, this is just awesome.
I talked about Pyunkang Yul last time. They’re a brand that uses a lot of traditional Korean medicinal ingredients. They’re one of Gothamista’s favourite brands, and the essence toner was nice, but it didn’t really fit into my routine that well.
I don’t see many people talking about this balm, except Soo Beauty and Tina Tanaka Harris. Maybe it gets lost amongst all of PKY’s other moisturisers – they also have a cream in a jar that looks pretty much the same with a very similar name (Calming Moisture Barrier Cream) that costs less for more product, so maybe people tend to skip over this.
It was sheer luck that I tried this, and I’m so glad I did.
My usual go-to product for when my skin’s irritated is La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume B5. When I went to Europe, I knew I’d be buying the new B5+, so I popped this into my hand luggage instead, to help with dry skin on the plane – mostly because it’s small. I didn’t really expect much from it, it was just meant to tide me over.
This is brilliant.
As you’d expect, it has a lot of the standard soothing, barrier support actives, like panthenol (vitamin B5), centella, honeysuckle and tea tree extracts (but no niacinamide). It works really well for calming down my skin and protecting it when it’s irritated and chafed. It also softened the stiff, dry flakes I tend to get when I’ve blown my nose too much.
The magic here is the texture.
The big issue with Cicaplast Baume is that the texture is not great. It’s thick and paste-like, and that’s fine at night. But if you try to wear it during the day, especially with sunscreen or makeup, it’s a bit of a greasy, slidey mess.
The Calming Moisture Repair Balm has a thick-ish texture, and I expected it to be gooey and sticky like a lip balm. But it glides on so smoothly, and sinks into skin really quickly. A little goes a long way with this and you can apply a really thin, even layer without any tugging. I’ve also used a thicker layer overnight when it felt like my whole face just needed extra nurturing.
It’s heavier than most Korean moisturisers which tend to be super lightweight, but compared to even a Western moisturiser for oily skin, it’s so weightless and refreshing. But it still feels like you have a protective layer on your skin (or like it’s merged with the top layers of your skin). It’s not greasy or oily or slidey, and actually has a matte finish if you don’t apply too much. It feels almost like a silicone-based moisturiser, but it actually doesn’t have silicones in it.
It has a lot of lightweight emollients like squalane and sunflower oil, there’s also shea butter. There are also lots of humectants that keep water on your skin like glycerin, betaine, trehalose, and a bunch of different sizes of hyaluronic acid, which I’ve found more effective for longer-lasting hydration on my skin.
There’s also acetyl hexapeptide-8 (agireline) and palmitoyl tripeptide-5. Both of these can smooth and firm skin, but I didn’t really see that when I was using it (I was too busy focusing on my skin not falling off my face).
I haven’t tested this in cold, dry weather yet, so it’ll be interesting to see whether my skin needs another moisturiser layered with it, but this has been an absolute dream product so far.
The products here were provided by StyleKorean for a sponsored video, although this post isn’t sponsored. This post contains affiliate links – if you decide to click through and support Lab Muffin financially (at no extra cost to you), thank you! For more information, see Disclosure Policy.