Want to make your skin glow? Korean serums are mild, lightweight, and contain a high concentration of active ingredients that can help all skin types. Some common skin-nourishing ingredients are ginseng, green tea, and aloe vera. Korean skincare also utilizes more unique ingredients, like snail mucin, placenta, and propolis!
Check out our buying guide, which we prepared with the help of aesthetician Devan Jesmer, where you'll find all the necessary information regarding Korean serums, and our top 10 highly recommended products. Innisfree's Green Tea Seed Serum is our top-ranking product because it absorbs quickly, soothes irritated skin, and prevents signs of aging. If you want to know more, don't forget to check out the rest products on our list!
Here, we'll be introducing the following three important points to check when you choose a Korean serum. We also compiled specific advice from Devan that should be helpful when picking your next serum!
Serums are the workhorse in your routine, meaning that they are designed to target specific areas of concern with your skin. They typically contain a high concentration of active ingredients, that you often will not find in a cleanser or moisturizer. They are fast-absorbing and are typically applied after cleansing and before moisturizing.
Different skin types need different skin care products. Thus, it's important to know your skin concerns to find a perfect skin solution.
Snail mucin is one of the most popular ingredients in Korean skin care. It contains glycolic acid, glycoproteins, and hyaluronic acids, all off which can prevent dryness, improve collagen production, and promote dewy skin.
Although snail mucin can't penetrate deeply into the skin because of its large molecule size, it helps to improve overall skin texture and quality. Additionally, it helps to treat eczema by soothing itchy and inflamed skin, too!
Hyaluronic acid can draw and lock moisture into your skin, which results in firmer and healthy-looking skin. It also protects the skin from environmental damage, like sunlight, pollution, and harsh chemicals. Some studies have found that combing hyaluronic and vitamin C can create more effective results in skin elasticity.
Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 and is another ingredient that suits dry, flaky, or irritated skin. It helps to boost hydration, reduce redness, soothe inflammation, and improve skin texture or pigmentation.
People with dry skin should look for moisturizing and hydrating ingredients in a serum. Humectants are fantastic at holding water in the skin, to give a plump, bouncy appearance.
Hydrating ingredients to look for include hyaluronic acid, sodium hyaluronate, glycerin, beta-glucan, aloe, propolis, snail mucin, and centella asiatica. Moisturizing ingredients such as ceramides, urea, shea butter, and other plant oils also help to lock in the water.
Aloe vera is a popular ingredient for Korean skincare because of its numerous benefits, including moisture-retention. Some studies have shown that aloe vera can improve skin elasticity and collagen production. It also helps to treat sunburn and prevent peeling skin.
Glycolic acid is an effective anti-aging agent as well! It helps to reduce dark spots, wrinkles, and scars, and it can even out your complexion while gently exfoliating skin. As a result, it leads to smoother, firmer, and younger-looking skin.
Peptides are a broken down form of collagen, and their small molecules can penetrate the skin. They help to reduce fine lines, wrinkles, and dryness. Moreover, they help to increase collagen production. Other anti-aging ingredients that you may look for in Korean serums are neuropeptide, matrixyl, and argireline.
Collagen provides structural support in our skin by creating a matrix-like string of fibers, that over time weakens, causing skin laxity. There are plenty of ingredients that help your skin to rebuild collagen. Retinoids (Vitamin A), is the most well-known and most studied when it comes to anti-aging and boosting collagen production.
Vitamin C and Vitamin E are also fantastic antioxidants, known for helping to preserve fibers by preventing damage from free radicals generated by oxidative stress. Peptides are also known for their collagen-boosting abilities, through signaling to the skin to build new collagen and elastin.
Honey and propolis have anti-bacterial, anti-inflammation, and anti-fungal agents. Some studies have found that they can cure pimples, treat acne vulgaris, reduce inflammation, and improve collagen production. Although these ingredients can’t prevent hormonal acne, they help to speed up healing time.
Tea tree oil is a fantastic ingredient for oily and acne-prone skin because it helps to control oil, calm redness, reduce acne, and prevent breakouts.
Cica is a plant that has been used in many Korean skincare products, as it’s high in antioxidants that are great for acne-prone skin. It helps to treat acne as well as soothe irritated and inflamed skin.
Acne-causing bacteria is best kept at bay with anti-bacterial and anti-septic ingredients, such as AHAs and BHAs, snail mucin, and tea tree oil.
However, honey and propolis are two of my favorite anti-bacterial ingredients for the skin. In addition to killing acne-causing bacteria, they are also anti-inflammatory and hydrating, helping to speed up the healing process.
Green tea is rich in antioxidants, which can slow down the aging process, heal blemishes, and reduce scars while also improving skin complexion and texture. As a result, your skin becomes brighter, cleaner, and more radiant!
Vitamin E helps to regenerate new skin cells and reduce dark spots. It's also effective at hydrating and strengthening skin. Vitamin C is also idea for brightening skin, as it helps to restore collagen, repair damaged skin from sunlight and pollution, and improve skin tone.
There are so many well-studied ingredients when it comes to brightening dull skin and reducing hyperpigmentation. Beyond Vitamin A and Vitamin C, which also help brighten and even the skin tone, you want to look for a serum that contains kojic acid, licorice root extract, mandelic acid, azelaic acid, niacinamide, or arbutin.
These ingredients often work better when a few are combined together versus working alone.
Luckily, many Korean skincare products contain natural ingredients and can be used by most skin types. But allergic reactions can be very different from person to person, and you may not know which ingredients can irritate your skin. Thus, we recommend doing a patch test before using new products.
Another way to prevent skin trouble is to avoid common irritating ingredients, like alcohol, parabens, sulfates, essential oils, and fragrances, unless you know that your skin can handle these ingredients.
If you are someone who commonly reacts when trying a new product, make sure that you are doing a patch test on a small area of the face that can be easily covered - such as the underside of your jaw near your ear. Apply to clean skin, with no other products to properly test whether you have a reaction.
Ginseng is known as a Korean superfood, thus, it’s used in many high-end beauty brands such as Sulwhasoo and The History of Whoo.
It’s rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that help to protect skin cells from damage while regenerating healthy new skin. Additionally, it helps to balance oil, reduce fine lines, brighten skin, eliminate puffiness and redness, as well as calm acne.
Sake is made from fermented rice and is rich in amino acids, fatty acids, and vitamins E and B. It also contains ferulic acid, which is known as a powerful anti-aging ingredient.
In addition to that, it helps to moisturize, tighten, and brighten skin. It can also minimize enlarged-pores and acne, control sebum production, and soothe inflammation, as well as reduce eczema symptoms.
It may sound gross to use a placenta serum, but it’s very common and has been used widely in Korea! The extract comes from an organ that is used to protect and nurture babies during pregnancy. The extract can come from sheep, pig, or horse placenta.
Placenta extract provides all-in-one benefits, like tightening and brightening skin, increasing collagen production, treating acne, and reducing the signs of aging. Since placenta extract is natural, it’s safe and can be used for all skin types.
I also love snail mucin for its hydrating, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making it an ingredient that can benefit all skin types. Green tea is another antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory favorite, containing antioxidants called polyphenols to soothe irritated skin, reduce redness, and they can be used to treat blemishes.
Propolis is antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and an antioxidant, making it a fabulous ingredient to heal acne, soothe the skin, hydrate, and increase collagen production. Centella asiatica is similar to propolis in its ability to soothe and hydrate the skin, making it great for acne-prone and sensitive skin.
Most Korean serums usually come in glass dropper bottles, but you may also find some products that come in plastic bottles, too!
Glass bottles can provide better protection for natural ingredients, which can increase the shelf life compared to plastic bottles. On the other hand, plastic bottles are lightweight, making them more convenient to carry.
In general, darker bottles are better than transparent bottles. They can provide better protection from light and heat. Heat and light can harm the effectiveness and potency of vitamins, so dark bottles are highly recommended for vitamin C and vitamin E serums.
When it comes to packaging for serums, I tend to prefer those that come in dark, airtight, pump packaging.
This is especially important for Vitamin C serums or other antioxidant serums that tend to be unstable and can oxidize when exposed to sunlight and air. But as long as they're kept out of the sunlight, the packaging isn't the most important thing to consider.
Here are the best Korean serums that you can buy online. They have different ingredients, textures, and packaging. Make sure you choose one that will address your skin concerns!
※These rankings were decided based on user reviews and popular rank lists from Amazon gathered on June 7th. Please note that these products were not picked by Devan Jesmer, but chosen through extensive research and by combing through customer reviews by our staff at mybest.
Green Tea Seed Serum
First Care Activating Serum
Day Glow Serum
Our Top Choice - The Best-Selling Organic Green Tea Serum
Best Nutrient-Dense Serum to Improve Overall Skin Health
Best for Affordable Vitamin C Care Packed With Active Ingredients
|Formulated with||Green tea, cocoa extract, citric acid||Ophiopogon japonicus root extract, honey, castor oil||Vitamin C, witch hazel, orange stem cells|
|Highlights||Free from parabens, mineral oils||Free from parabens, sulfates, phthalates||Cruelty-free; free from parabens, sulfates, alcohol, phthalates|
|Amount||2.7 oz.||2.02 oz.||1 oz.|
|Formulated with||Green tea, cocoa extract, citric acid|
|Highlights||Free from parabens, mineral oils|
|Formulated with||Ophiopogon japonicus root extract, honey, castor oil|
|Highlights||Free from parabens, sulfates, phthalates|
|Formulated with||Vitamin C, witch hazel, orange stem cells|
|Highlights||Cruelty-free; free from parabens, sulfates, alcohol, phthalates|
While our top three picks are great all around, these seven other choices are good picks for more specific skincare concerns. Take a look if you want to treat acne, look for anti-aging serums, or find something invigorating!
|Formulated with||Cica extract, fig extract, aloe water|
|Highlights||Cruelty-free; free from parabens, sulfates, phthalates|
|Formulated with||Cica extract, licorice root extract, grapefruit extract|
|Highlights||Cruelty-free; free from parabens, alcohol, fragrance|
|Formulated with||White truffle, niacinamide, hyaluronic Acid|
|Highlights||Free from parabens, sulfates, alcohol|
|Formulated with||Glycolic acid, lemon peel oil, papaya|
|Highlights||Free from sulfates, silicones|
|Formulated with||Snail secretion filtrate, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide|
|Highlights||Cruelty-free; free from parabens, alcohol, fragrance, sulfates|
|Formulated with||Red ginseng extract, green tea leaf extract, licorice root extract|
|Highlights||Free from parabens, alcohol, mineral oils|
|Formulated||Rice ferment filtrate, peach extract, butylene glycol|
|Highlights||Free from sulfates|
Although some people tend to think more is best, you actually don't need to use a ton of serum every day to reap the benefits! Make sure to wash your face first, dry off, then apply a small drop of serum to your cheeks, forehead, nose, and chin. Use gentle motions to incorporate the serum into your skin.
You want to apply about three to five drops of serum, or about a pea sized amount onto clean hands and gently pat into damp skin, to maximise absorption. Never touch a dropper to your face!
Are you wondering more specifically about how Korean skincare products can benefit you or how the Korean skincare routine works? We asked Devan to give us her insights about the famous routine and to answer a few commonly asked questions about it.
Devan explained that the 10 steps are as follows:
"You should try to always layer products from thinnest to thickest, but in the end, it won't have a major impact on your skin if you decide to switch a few steps. The steps that should never be skipped are a cleanse, moisturizer, and sun protection, and sun protection should always be the last step in your routine in the morning, before makeup," she says.
Devan says, "The Korean skincare routine is really focused around light layers of hydration. While it isn't necessary to use only Korean products if following the steps of the Korean skincare routine, Korean brands often have some of the most advanced skincare formulas, and many at an affordable price, making them a fantastic option."
"Skincare has no gender! Anyone can do the Korean skincare routine," Devan points out. "I believe that everyone deserves to have hydrated, smooth, happy, and healthy skin. At a minimum, both men and women need to properly cleanse the skin, moisturize the skin, and wear sun protection. The sun's UV rays and the damage they cause do not discriminate."
Devan told us, "Typically, Korean skincare focuses on hydrating, moisturizing, and brightening the skin, whereas US skincare focuses more on clarifying, exfoliating, and balancing the skin. Also, Korean formulations tend to be quite gentle on the skin, compared to many US formulations.
Korean formulations also tend to be ahead of the curve; coming out with many of the newest innovations in skincare before they reach the rest of the world. Most of the world really looks to Korea to see what is next in skincare."
With summer approaching, you may want to switch to lightweight skin care products. Besides serums, there are other types of skin care products that suit hot and humid climates. Check out our other suggestions for lightweight moisturizers, face mists, and sunscreens!
This expert reviewed the contents of the buying guide for accuracy and provided factual corrections when necessary, as well as extra tips and advice. They did not participate in the product selection process, nor are they affiliated with any of our choices unless explicitly stated so.
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