10 Korean Skincare Ingredients You Need to Know
Active, natural ingredients are the cornerstones of Korean skincare. The most popular K-Beauty brands are those who strive for innovation when it comes to what they put into their products. And as a beauty reseller – especially one investing in K-Beauty – you should know what’s in the products you’re selling too.
On top of this, you’ll need to understand the main benefits of these ingredients, and help consumers to make the best purchasing decisions based on their skin concerns.
That’s why we’ve put together a guide to some of the most popular K-Beauty ingredients used in skincare products. From snail mucin to salicylic acid, here are some of the key Korean skincare ingredients that every beauty entrepreneur should know about.
1: Vitamin C
Primarily known for its skin-brightening properties, vitamin C is a principal ingredient in many K-Beauty serums – and for good reason.
It’s a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect skin cells against damage caused by free radicals, such as UV rays or pollution. When vitamin C is ingested, either in our food or as a supplement, it helps to repair and protect cells in the body. Similarly, when vitamin C is applied topically as a serum or cream, it aids cell renewal in the skin.
In fact, vitamin C is often used in skincare to tackle the signs of ageing, because it promotes collagen production – which helps to keep skin plump and firm – and improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
It’s also used to fade acne scarring and hyperpigmentation. Some experts claim that the prolonged use of vitamin C in skincare even helps to prevent hyperpigmentation altogether. So, if there’s one ingredient to learn a bit more about, it’s vitamin C!
In Korean skincare, vitamin C serums and gel creams are extremely popular products amongst consumers. The Vitamin C Brightening Gel Cream from COMMONLABS is one of the best-selling K-Beauty products out there. Formulated with pure vitamin C, it brightens and hydrates skin, and is lightweight enough to wear every day.
K-Beauty fans also love Purito’s Pure Vitamin C Serum. This powerful serum contains a blend of vitamin C, hyaluronic acid and niacinamide (both of which we’ll talk about in more detail a little later) to brighten the skin. It also uses red ginseng extract, which is known to rejuvenate tired-looking skin.
2: Centella Asiatica
Centella asiatica (or ‘cica’) is a perennial plant that’s been used in Chinese medicine for centuries due to its healing properties. It also goes by the names ‘tiger grass,’ ‘Asiatic pennywort’ or ‘gotu kola,’ though tends to be referred to by its scientific name ‘centella asiatica’ in skincare.
Today, centella asiatica is widely used in Korean skincare as a natural ingredient to soothe, hydrate and heal the skin.
One of the key active compounds in centella asiatica is madecassoside; a rich antioxidant that aids skin cell repair and helps to reverse the signs of ageing. Madecassoside also helps to naturally tackle blemishes by supressing acne inflammation, without the need for astringent ingredients that can further irritate the skin.
Centella asiatica is rich in amino acids that moisturise the skin too, and – because it’s both healing and hydrating – cica can even be used to treat more extreme skin conditions, including eczema and psoriasis.
If you’re wondering which cica products consumers are going crazy for, read on.
COSRX’s Centella Blemish Ampoule contains 85% centella asiatica leaf water to calm irritated skin. The Centella Blemish Cream is a soothing, non-oily moisturiser that’s suitable for everyday use – even on sensitive skin. Both products achieve rave reviews from consumers, who love the fact that these targeted skincare products are effective, but don’t break the bank.
Purito’s Centella Line includes some of the brand’s most beloved products, including the best-selling Centella Green Level Unscented Sun SPF.
3: Snail Mucin
Snail mucin, or snail secretion filtrate (SSF), is probably one of the most well-known Korean skincare ingredients, and using ‘snail slime’ in skincare is no longer a novel idea. In fact, it’s so widely used nowadays that you’ll find it in everything from serums and essences, to moisturisers and sheet masks.
Snail secretion filtrate is the mucous that snails produce when they move. When it’s harvested as a skincare ingredient, snails aren’t killed or harmed in the process, so many products containing snail mucin are still considered to be cruelty-free.
In K-Beauty, snail mucin is a trusted ingredient that’s well-regarded by skincare experts and consumers alike. It moisturises skin and promotes collagen production; it also promotes skin healing and cell regeneration. Snail mucin is full of skin-loving nutrients too, including zinc (an anti-inflammatory) and vitamins A and E, which are antioxidants.
‘Snail creams’ are some of the most popular K-Beauty products, because they’re designed to strengthen the skin’s barrier, lock in moisture and soothe dry or irritated skin. Missha’s Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Cream contains 70% snail extract, and can be used as a daily moisturiser. It’s got a gel-like texture that consumers love, because it doesn’t feel too heavy on the skin.
The Timeless Ferment Snail Cream by Tonymoly is cherished by beauty fans thanks to its skin-perfecting prowess. Formulated with 70% gold fermented snail mucus, this anti-ageing gel cream works to restore and rejuvenate the skin. And if you’re stocking up on sheet masks, Tonymoly’s Age Defying Snail Hydro-Gel Face Mask Sheet is a safe bet. This gel-type mask is designed to soften, rehydrate and repair the skin for an all-round healthier-looking complexion.
Niacinamide – which is a form of vitamin B – is one of the main Korean skincare ingredients used to brighten dull skin and reduce hyperpigmentation. In K-Beauty, niacinamide is found in a variety of products, from sheet masks to eye creams, though targeted serums and essences are the more popular product types containing this ingredient.
Think of niacinamide as a ‘wonder’ ingredient with multiple skin benefits. It doesn’t just brighten the skin: it minimises the size of pores, evens out skin tone, improves the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, strengthens the skin’s barrier and regulates sebum production. Customers looking to achieve a poreless-looking, blemish-free complexion – or the ‘glass skin’ look popularised by K-Beauty – should use serums containing niacinamide.
Purito’s Galacto Niacin 97 Power Essence is a lightweight essence containing 5% niacinamide. By comparison, most other niacinamide-containing skincare products are formulated with just 2% of this key ingredient; Purito’s version is powerful by name and by nature.
The Galactomyces 95 Tone Balancing Essence from COSRX is another consumer favourite. Again, this is a lightweight, highly-concentrated essence; it’s designed to improve overall skin texture, and is moisturising without being too heavy. K-Beauty fans love this one, as it helps to fade acne scarring and brighten dull complexions too.
5: Hyaluronic Acid
Though it might sound like something you’d only find in a chemistry lab, hyaluronic acid actually occurs naturally in our bodies, with some of the largest amounts found in our skin.
It’s a humectant that can hold 1000 times its weight in water and, in the skin cells, it binds moisture to the epidermis (the outer layer of skin). But age and environmental aggressors cause the body to produce less hyaluronic acid, which can lead to dry skin and wrinkles.
This is why many K-Beauty brands use hyaluronic acid in their skincare products. When it’s applied topically, by way of a moisturiser, serum or mask, hyaluronic acid helps to hydrate and maintain moisture levels in the skin.
Consumers love the Hyaluronic Acid Intensive Cream from COSRX. This rich face cream alleviates dry and irritated skin, locking in moisture for lasting hydration.
Innisfree’s Derma Formula Toning Serum is another popular Korean skincare product containing hyaluronic acid. Formulated with hyaluronic acid sourced from green beans, found in the Jeju Island, it naturally hydrates and revitalises skin.
6: Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid is a key ingredient for tackling blemishes and controlling breakouts, so it’s widely used in Korean skincare products designed for oily or acne-prone skin. It belongs to a group of chemicals called salicylates, and is naturally derived from willow bark.
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA); one of two types of acids commonly found in skincare (the other being alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs). Whilst both of these do exfoliate the skin, BHAs are more effective at penetrating deep into the pores, because they’re oil-soluble (unlike AHAs, which are water-soluble). This is why salicylic acid makes such an effective spot treatment.
Because it’s deeply exfoliating, anyone using salicylic acid-containing products will achieve clearer skin, and see a reduction in blackheads and whiteheads too.
COSRX uses salicylic acid in a number of their products. The Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser is a firm favourite amongst K-Beauty fans. It cleanses the skin without stripping it, making it suitable for everyday use. The brand’s BHA Blackhead Power Liquid – which contains betaine salicylate, a derivative of salicylic acid – controls sebum production and exfoliates the skin, decongesting pores to reduce blackheads.
7: Green Tea
Many K-Beauty brands have proved that green tea isn’t just for drinking. This nutrient-rich, natural ingredient is widely used in Korean skincare due to its antioxidant properties.
Sure, green tea comes with a whole heap of health benefits when ingested; it’s known to reduce stress, boost immunity and improve blood circulation, for example. But when applied topically, it’s great for the skin too.
Green tea contains natural antioxidants called polyphenols, which protect the skin against free radicals. Green tea also has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, so it soothes irritated skin, reduces redness and can be used to treat blemishes; the caffeine content in green tea reduces puffiness around the eyes too.
Tonymoly’s Chok Chok Green Tea products are enriched with fermented green tea to maximise the benefits of this key ingredient. The Chok Chok Green Tea Watery Eye Cream de-puffs and revitalises the delicate eye area, while the Chok Chok Green Tea Watery Cream reinforces the skin’s natural barrier to help maintain a healthier complexion.
The Green Tea Seed Cream by Innisfree is a highly-regarded and top-selling product containing Jeju Island green tea. Innisfree have been organically cultivating what they call ‘beauty green tea’ for a number of years. This tea has been specially developed to contain a high count of amino acids that moisturise and replenish the skin.
Neogen are also celebrated for their Green Tea range. The Green Tea Real Foam Fresh Cleanser is a must-have for those with oily or combination skin; it effectively and gently removes dirt and excess oil, whilst calming and hydrating the skin.
8: Bamboo Extract
Bamboo has been used in traditional medicine for years due to its healing properties. Today, you’ll find skincare products formulated with bamboo extract – especially in K-Beauty.
Bamboo contains silica, a natural nutrient that’s one of the main components of collagen. In skincare, bamboo is anti-ageing for this reason; essentially, it helps to replenish collagen stores that deplete as we age.
Additionally, bamboo is known to strengthen and repair the skin, so it’s a popular ingredient for targeted acne products. And because it strengthens the skin’s barrier, bamboo extract helps to lock in moisture too.
Sheet masks are one of the most popular product types in Korean skincare, and The Real Nature Mask with Bamboo Extract from The Face Shop is a top choice amongst consumers. It’s formulated with naturally-derived ingredients, including bamboo extract and moisturising shea butter, to deeply hydrate and soothe the skin.
Noni is a fruit that’s currently taking the K-Beauty industry by storm. In line with an emerging Korean beauty trend that puts food-based ingredients in the spotlight, noni has become something of a standout ingredient.
Noni fruit is primarily found in Polynesia, and native Polynesians are known to have used the fruit in traditional medicine. The fruit is yellow-green and lumpy, and is characterised by its pungent smell and bitter taste. Luckily though, you don’t need to eat it to enjoy the benefits!
Noni is an antioxidant with healing properties. It’s also rich in vitamins, including vitamins A and C, which help to revive and repair the skin.
Celimax’s The Real Noni Energy Ampoule is one of the most notable noni-containing Korean skincare products. With over 71% noni fruit extracts, it’s potent enough to work on dry, dull or ageing skin, and remains a best-seller for the brand.
Propolis is a resinous, gummy mixture produced by bees, that’s used to sterilize and protect their hives. It’s also a multi-tasking natural ingredient adopted for use in Korean skincare.
Propolis has numerous benefits, thanks to its anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s used to heal and treat acne, and soothe irritated, blemish-prone skin. It also hydrates and softens the skin, and can increase collagen production to keep complexions smooth and supple. And, because it’s a powerful antioxidant, propolis helps to deter skin damage caused by free radicals.
COSRX’s Propolis Light Cream and Full Fit Propolis Light Ampoule are both infused with this skin-perfecting ingredient. The former is a lightweight, gel-like cream that plumps and hydrates the skin; the latter is infused with a high concentration (over 80%) of black bee propolis extract to soothe stressed-out skin.
In an ever-evolving industry like beauty, ingredients lists are continually developing. That’s why, if you sell beauty products, it pays to have an industry partner like UMMA. By providing our members with exclusive trend and industry insights, we help businesses to keep tabs on the latest innovations in skincare.
After all, in Korean skincare, ingredients are one of the most important factors for manufacturers and consumers alike. As such, they should play a key role in your beauty business too. Fortunately, you’ll find the products mentioned above (and more!) on our platform. Register today and get 50 UMMA Points towards your first purchase. You can use these like cash in our wholesale e-commerce store.