It's no surprise that Korean skincare products have been steadily rising in popularity through the years because we all want to achieve our favorite K-pop idols and K-drama stars' flawless complexion. This can be attributed to the natural and gentle ingredients used in Korean skincare to nourish and maintain your skin from within.
With the many Korean skincare products available, it can be a bit daunting to start a routine, especially since it's known to have many steps. This is where we come in to help you with our top 10 list and a buying guide with comments from a board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Maria Elinor Grace "Meg" Sison! Read through as we give you the lowdown and how to choose the best Korean skincare products.
Dr. Sison is a board-certified dermatologist who practices in the Philippines and sees both medical and cosmetic dermatological cases on skin, hair, and nails.
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Experts featured in this article only reviewed the content of our buying guide. They had no part in the selection or ranking of products or services listed.
The products and services listed are ranked independently by the editorial team based on the points mentioned in our thoroughly researched buying guide (as of 01-16-2023).
For more detailed information, read through our buying guide below.
Natural active ingredients are one the most important things that make Korean skincare products effective in giving you radiant, glowing skin. Here are some of the most popular ingredients that Korean brands use that make their products a hit.
Snail mucin is one of the most well-known ingredients in Korean skincare. It is used from moisturizers to sheet masks. It is mucus that snails produce when they move, so when harvested, no snails are harmed in the process. It’s great for moisturizing and promoting collagen production.
This is because it has hyaluronic acid that supports the skin barrier to lock in moisture. This ingredient also promotes skin healing and cell regeneration, having zinc as an anti-inflammatory and vitamins A and E as antioxidants.
Snail mucin is also referred to as snail slime or snail secretion filtrate. It comes from the excretion of the African giant land snail and Cornu aspersum (common brown garden snail). It contains glycoproteins, hyaluronic acid, glycolic acid, mucopolysaccharides, growth factors, allantoin, collagen, elastin, and glycerin which all have benefits in the skin.
Furthermore, it has anti-inflammatory and moisturizing properties, plus benefits in wound healing, collagen production, and acne, but further studies are still needed to back up their claims.
Centella Asiatica is an ancient herb that grows here in Asia and is traditionally used in Chinese medicine. It’s incorporated in many skincare products to soothe and hydrate the skin. It has antioxidants and is rich in amino acids that help repair the skin’s protective barrier.
This makes it a good ingredient to help heal your skin from the sun’s rays and is very useful in anti-aging. This is thanks to having madecassoside as one of its active key compounds that reduce free radicals, inhibit inflammation, and hydrate the skin to reverse different signs of aging.
Centella asiatica or cica is known for its anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties. The main components responsible for its benefits are the triterpenes which are asiaticoside, asiatic acid, madecassoside, and madecassic acid. It was shown to have benefits in acne in in vitro studies but more human clinical trials are still needed.
Since it is a natural and nutrient-rich ingredient, green tea is included in a lot of Korean skincare products. It contains polyphenols, which protect the skin from free radicals, and has numerous anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. This means that it reduces redness and can help treat blemishes.
It’s great for acne-prone and oily skin since it’s effective in reducing sebum excretions. It’s a gentle ingredient that calms and hydrates the skin while effectively removing excess dirt and oil from your skin. If you want acne control, you can also look at tea tree oil as an alternative but equally good ingredient.
Green tea extract is derived from the leaves and buds of Camellia sinensis. The main active ingredients are polyphenols or catechins. Epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) is the largest catechin and most active antioxidant. It has anti-inflammatory and photoprotective properties as well. Green tea extract was shown to have benefits in sebum control because it contains tannins that function as an astringent.
Propolis is a multifunctional ingredient in Korean skincare, and it has antibacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s a gummy mixture produced by bees to protect their hives, and when used in skincare, it protects your skin, too.
It is known to heal acne and is used to keep the skin clear against powerful bacteria. Aside from this, it also softens your skin since it hydrates it and helps increase collagen production. This ensures that your skin stays soft and smooth, giving you the flawless complexion of your dreams.
Propolis is the resinous substance accumulated by bees from different types of plants. This is also known as "bee glue." The most biologically active compounds in propolis are benzoic acid, cinnamic acid, and flavonoids. Propolis also contains vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, and it is used to treat bacterial and fungal skin infections, burns, cold sores, bedsores, and acne. It also has anti-aging benefits.
In order to get the best results, make sure that the formulas of the products you choose match your skin type. If not, it may do more harm than good in the long run.
Oily skin is characterized by shiny and greasy skin caused by the excess production of sebum. In order to address it properly without drying your skin out, you should get products with light, water-based formulas.
Look for oil-free and non-comedogenic options as well since these products will not clog your pores. Ingredients that are great for oily skin include hyaluronic acid, which is hydrating but non-comedogenic, and salicylic acid, which effectively treats blackheads and whiteheads.
For those with oily skin, look for gel-based cleansers that are gentle and non-drying. Salicylic acid of 2% or less concentration can help unclog pores and keep oiliness at bay. Look for lightweight moisturizers and sunscreens with more humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin.
If you have dry and dull skin, products with hydrating formulas are essential. This is because you need moisture to keep your skin soft and supple, which you can get by opting for “heavier” products such as creams or lotions.
Some ingredients that will be beneficial for your skin type include glycerin, a humectant that locks in moisture in your skin, and aloe vera, which has moisturizing and healing properties. Other natural oils will also help your skin stay hydrated.
Dry skin types will benefit from cleansers formulated as cream or milk type with non-ionic surfactants such as lauryl glucoside. Look also for moisturizers and sunscreens with occlusives like petrolatum to seal in the skin's moisture.
For those whose skin is easily irritated or inflamed, that is a big sign that you have sensitive skin. This means that you have to be extra careful when incorporating new products into your skincare routine since there may be ingredients that may cause you to act up.
This is why we recommend that you choose products that have mild formulas or that are specially formulated for sensitive skin. You should also avoid products that contain harsh alcohols and synthetic fragrances since they might cause irritation.
Those with sensitive skin tend to experience more breakouts, dryness, burning, or stinging sensationーthat's why they have to look for products that are fragrance-free with short ingredients list to minimize irritation. Avoid ingredients like formaldehyde, propylene glycol, alcohol, palmitic, oleic acid, methylisothiazolinone, peppermint, and carmine that can cause irritation or allergic reactions.
If your skin is neither too dry nor oily, then that means you have normal skin. Having normal skin means you can use any type of skincare product that you want, but we suggest that you get one with a balanced formula.
A balanced formula is one that contains ingredients to protect your skin from acne and other blemishes while having elements that can help moisturize and nourish your face to maintain your skin’s clearness and softness.
For those with normal skin, you can use any type of cleanser, moisturizer or sunscreen formulation but it's best to look for gentle skincare products that have no harsh ingredients in order not the strip your skin barrier.
If you’re just starting out with a skincare routine, stick to the basics first and figure out what you like along the way. Here are the products that you will need to build an effective skincare regimen.
A facial cleanser is the foundation of a good skincare routine since it’s responsible for stripping away dirt and dead skin cells that have accumulated on your face throughout the day or overnight. It will provide a clean and clear base for your other skincare products.
Make sure to get one that is strong enough to effectively cleanse your face but is mild enough to not strip away the natural oils and moisture on the skin. There are many different types of facial cleansers available with different formulas, so rest assured that you will be able to find one made for your skin type.
Cleansing is the first step in our skincare routine and it aims to remove excess sebum, sweat, dirt, and skincare products at the end of the day. Cleansers can either be in bar or liquid form and they are formulated according to the type and rinsability of surfactants. Choose cleansers that are formulated as close to the skin's slightly acidic pH in order not to disrupt the skin's acid mantle.
After you wash your face, the next step is to apply toner. It’s a water-like substance usually applied with your fingers or a cotton ball, and some are meant to be sprayed on the face. It has different active ingredients because, depending on the product, it serves different purposes.
Even though the main job of a toner is to prep your skin so that products get absorbed by the skin better, it can also help in hydrating or firming up your skin. Some also have different functions, such as treating acne or soothing the skin, so when choosing one, take note of the ingredients and benefits that it provides.
Toners were originally intended to remove cleanser residue left behind on the face from the use of alkaline soaps and hard water. They used to have fragranced or isopropyl alcohol or propylene glycol to remove oil-soluble residue.
Nowadays, they are formulated with gentler ingredients and are used for hydrating, exfoliating, or brightening the skin. They are optional in one's skincare routine, and it's best to consult a board-certified dermatologist for guidance in choosing the right skincare product for you.
No matter what your skin type is, it is important to ensure that it stays moisturized. This is why you should always include a moisturizer in your skincare routine. It will keep your skin healthy and resistant to inflammation and signs of aging.
Because of its benefits, even those with oily skin should use moisturizers. There are different types available such as oil-free, non-comedogenic, and water-based, so there's bound to be a formula that will be good for your skin.
Moisturizers contain occlusives, emollients, and humectants that prevent moisture from evaporating from our skin. It's important to moisturize whether you have oily, dry, combination, or sensitive skin in order to preserve the skin barrier. It's a matter of finding the right formulation suited for your skin type with the guidance of a board-certified dermatologist.
Since it’s very hot in the Philippines, using sunscreen is important to protect you from the harmful UV rays of the sun. UV rays can burn your skin and can cause wrinkles and other signs of premature aging.
To combat this, you should purchase sunscreen with at least SPF 30 or check if your skincare products have SPF or UV protection. This will allow you to hit two birds with one stone and will let you get the best protection possible. Don’t forget to apply a generous amount for it to be effective!
Sunscreen is a definite must-have in our skincare routine. It contains UV filters that form a protective film on our skin to protect us from the harmful effects of UVA and UVB rays. Choose broad-spectrum sunscreen to ensure protection against UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of at least 30. Sunscreens should also be applied liberally on all exposed skin for adequate photoprotection.
Masks are a good way to complement your skincare routine since they have different purposes. They can moisturize, protect, treat, and even exfoliate your skin on top of the skincare products that you use. They’re meant to be used twice or thrice a week for optimal results.
They come in different forms, such as clay, gel, cream, and sheet masks, so no matter what formulation you prefer, there’s bound to be an option for you. In Korean skincare, sheet masks are very popular because they act as mini facials, giving you many benefits such as intense hydration and brightening effects in half an hour or less.
Masks in Korean skincare can be sheet masks, wash-off masks, or sleeping masks. Sheet masks are made of cotton, hydrogel, foil, or biocellulose soaked in serum. They contain humectants, emollients, and soothing ingredients like cica, panthenol, or niacinamide. They are usually left on for 15 to 20 minutes on the face, but the plumping effects are usually temporary.
Wash-off masks can be clay masks that contain bentonite or kaolin clay to absorb excess sebum. Be careful not to leave them on for a prolonged period because they can dry out your skin. Wash-off masks can also be gel masks with aloe vera or honey or exfoliating masks with AHAs or BHAs. Sleeping masks are formulated as gels or creams with occlusives, emollients, and humectants. They are moisturizers that have a thicker texture, so they are best used at night.
Facial serums contain a concentrated amount of active ingredients, making them a good product to use when you want to address specific skin concerns such as discoloration or dullness. This is because larger amounts of active molecules can penetrate the surface of your skin for increased effectiveness.
Examples for serums and the best ingredients to target them are:
Serums are more concentrated compared to other skincare products and you only need a few drops for your face. It can have various ingredients like antioxidants, niacinamide, AHAs, peptides, and plant extracts like Centella asiatica. It's best to look for ingredients that target your skin concerns before buying a serum and consult a board-certified dermatologist for guidance.
Click to purchase
AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner
Exfoliating Toner That Will Keep Your Skin Clear
Miss Flower & Mr. Honey Propolis Rejuvenating Essence Toner
Nourishing Toner to Give You a Glowing Look
Rich Moist Foaming Cleanser
Crowd-Favorite Cleanser for All Skin Types
Aloe Soothing Sun Cream
Hydrating and Soothing Sunscreen for Dry Skin
Black Snail All in One Cream
An All-In-One Moisturizer for Different Skin Concerns
Midnight Blue Calming Cream
Calming Moisturizer to Help Repair Your Skin
Pure Vitamin C 21.5 Advanced Serum
Brightening Serum to Give Life to Your Skin
Soothing Serum That Provides Protection to Your Skin
AC-Dressing Skin Clinic Mask
Well-Loved Mask to Control Oil and Acne
Water Sleeping Mask
Overnight Mask for Radiant Skin the Morning After
Containing a full arsenal of exfoliating ingredients, including AHA and BHA, this toner will melt away dead skin build-up to revitalize your skin and give it a soft glowing look. It also contains willow bark water and glycolic acid to help even out your skin tone and texture while gently exfoliating it.
Having said that, even though it exfoliates your skin, it's still a mild product. It comes in spray bottle packaging, making it very convenient to use since you don't need to apply it with a cotton ball or pad, unlike other toners. Many users have rated it highly, saying that it was effective in controlling acne and keeping skin clear.
This product is an essence-type toner, which makes the formula unique. This means that it will melt right into your skin and provide the nourishment and moisture that your skin needs to give it a youthful glow. It will also help prep your face for your other skincare products.
Moreover, it contains chock full of great ingredients, such as propolis, royal jelly, and honey. As mentioned in the buying guide, propolis protects your skin against bacteria, while royal jelly boosts collagen production. Honey also has a lot of benefits, such as healing scars and evening out skin tone.
This hydrating facial cleanser is beneficial for all skin types. It gently sloughs away dirt and dead skin cells effectively. Containing fatty acids such as glycerin, tea tree oil, and other purifying ingredients, this product will deeply cleanse your skin without stripping away its natural oils.
It lathers into a silky, moisturizing foam that many users love, and they say that it's enjoyable to use. Even those with sensitive skin will benefit from this since it has a low pH formula, specially designed with their skin type in mind. This is one of the reasons why it's a crowd favorite, with many saying that this is their holy grail.
If you're worried about your sunscreen drying out your skin, this product has got you covered. It contains aloe, specifically Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Water, which hydrates and soothes the skin. This means that it will not only protect your skin from the harsh UV rays of the sun but it will also make sure you get enough moisture.
Many customers are fond of it since it does the job well. They can vouch that it also works for oily skin and does not leave a white cast, unlike other sunscreens. Instead, it will leave your face with a "glass skin" effect, looking glowy and moisturized, ready to take on the day.
Snail mucin is continuously raved about in Korean skincare for good reason. If you want to get into it, this all-in-one cream is a great way to start. It contains 90% snail mucin supplemented by 20 different kinds of black plant extract. It treats acne, heals blemishes, tightens pores, lightens dull areas, and offers all-day moisturization.
Those with sensitive skin can also use this since it's free of fragrances, parabens, and artificial coloring. Many users rave about this product because it's hydrating and softening without being too sticky nor too runny. To use this product, gently massage or pat it on your skin until it's fully absorbed.
This cream is a gentle moisturizer that soothes acne-prone and sensitive skin types. The moisture that it provides comes from shea butter, and with it working with the other ingredients it has, you can ensure that your skin gets hydrated on a deeper level. The Centella Asiatica in the formulation also helps restore the skin's smoothness.
Additionally, you can experience powerful healing antioxidants that reduce redness and fight skin damage with camomile extract. It has garnered many good reviews because of the benefits that it gives and the non-sticky finish that it leaves on users' skin. Many have even dubbed it a skin saver!
This serum is formulated to address dull skin suffering from scars and hyperpigmentation. It has 21.5% vitamin C and 70% nourishing sea buckthorn extract that will ensure that the serum will keep your skin moisturized while it works its magic. If you want healthy, radiant skin, this serum will help you achieve that!
Many users can vouch for this, with many of them repurchasing this product again and again. They got great results, such as faded dark spots and brighter skin. However, something to keep in mind is that it's quite a strong product, so those with sensitive skin should be careful when using this.
This product is an ampoule, a supercharged serum that is popular in Korean skincare. It contains a higher amount of active ingredients and is meant to be used as a booster for your skin. This one by A'pieu contains 99.99% Centella Asiatica to protect your skin from smoke and pollution.
It's also meant to soothe irritated skin from dryness and has a nice watery formula that is quick-absorbent and easily penetrates the skin. It also has 0.1% madecassoside, an active ingredient from Centella Asiatica that amplifies its healing properties.
This face mask is well-loved by many users since it controls excessive sebum production, meaning it helps regulate oily skin. It also purifies, lightens, and calms sensitive skin so you don't have to worry about this mask causing any irritation. It tightens pores and is able to diminish the appearance of minor acne scars too.
Since it's made of fermented coconut juice, this mask locks in moisture, delivering key ingredients deep into the skin. This product has received many good reviews, with customers saying that it calms their skin and ensures that it stays radiant and smooth. If you want a refreshed glowing look, this mask is a good one to get.
If you have dry skin or want an extra boost of moisture from time to time, look no further than this ultra-hydrating overnight mask. It will rejuvenate, brighten, and purify your skin with apricot and chestnut extracts. Since it's infused with orange flower, rose, and sandalwood, this mask has a relaxing scent.
It has a gel texture, too, which will be absorbed by your skin quickly with no trace of greasiness. This will allow you to leave it on overnight so that you can wake up to your skin feeling soft, plump, and refreshed. Users say that this is great to use on nights before events or special occasions.
You are now a step closer to achieving that dewy, clear, smooth, and healthy skin! Below Dr. Meg Sison gives more tips and information on how you can give your skin more TLC!
You do not need to have several steps in your skincare routine. Using too many products at the same time can lead to irritations and increased breakouts. Every product should have a specific purpose on why you include it in your skincare routine.
Be careful not to mix or layer AHAs, BHAs, vitamin C, and retinol in a single skincare routine because these can lead to irritation.
Start first with the essentialsーcleanser, sunscreen, and moisturizer. Incorporate one product at a time every 2 weeks so that you will know whether this will work or not for your skin. Do not attempt to try several new products at once especially if you're using them for the first time.
Always consult a board-certified dermatologist for an individualized approach in your skincare routine because everyone has different skin concerns and responses to skincare products.
Because of its numerous benefits, Korean skincare can be addicting. If you want to find other skincare holy grails to help you get flawless glowing skin, check out our other articles for more Korean skincare essentials that we've found.
Our buying guide was carefully researched and crafted by the mybest team of writers and editors, in collaboration with the expert featured in this article. We used the buying guide as a basis for choosing and ranking the product recommendations, and we looked at reviews and ratings from different E-commerce sites like Lazada, Shopee, and more.
No. 1：COSRX｜AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner
No. 2：Banila Co.｜Miss Flower & Mr. Honey Propolis Rejuvenating Essence Toner
No. 3：Dear Klairs｜Rich Moist Foaming Cleanser
No. 4：COSRX｜Aloe Soothing Sun Cream｜SPF 50 PA+++
No. 5：Mizon｜Black Snail All in One Cream
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When you purchase products mentioned in the article, part of the sales may be returned to mybest.
The descriptions of each product is referenced from the content available from the manufacturer, e-commerce sites etc.
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