We are no strangers to the K-beauty wave. After all, it has taken over so much of our beauty routine that we can hardly remember how life was like before we began patting away with our cushion foundations.
As Western brands continue to play catch-up to Korean beauty products for their innovative formulas and convenient formats, K-beauty remains one of the fastest growing categories in Asia, as well as worldwide.
And as more and more K-beauty products fill our vanities and bathroom shelves, there are still a lot of things we might not know about K-beauty. Here, six of the lesser-known ingredients that are found in Korean products that you should know about and should start using:
A common herb that is widely used for food flavouring all over the world, mugwort is also regarded with great therapeutic benefits in traditional Chinese and Korean healing rituals.
According to TCM practices, it is often burnt over acupressure points to reduce “coldness” and “dampness” from the body.
On the other hand, mugwort is regarded as a healing herb in Korea for its antibacterial properties and mugwort tea is often used in the past to help treat common cold, fever and inflammation. When used in skincare products, it is believed to keep bacteria at bay while strengthening skin against external damage.
Try Belif’s Creamy Cleansing Foam Moist, $33 for 160ml. Suitable for those with combination and dry skin types, this gentle cleanser is enriched with mugwort and vitamin C to cleanse thoroughly without stripping skin of its natural moisture.
#2: Snail Slime
Ick-factor aside, snail slime or snail mucin extract, is another widely-used ingredient in K-beauty skincare products.
Though its cosmetic use was first discovered by a Spanish oncologist, Korean skincare brands were amongst the first in the world to popularise its use in skincare and makeup products.
Found to contain hyaluronic acid, glycoproteins and glycolic acid, snail mucin extract is often used to improve the texture of skin as it plumps skin and speeds up cellular repair.
We like COSRX Advanced Snail 92 All-In-One Cream, $32.90 for 100ml, which contains 92 per cent pure snail secretion filtrate.
This is also complemented with betaine, sodium hyaluronate, allantoin, panthenol and adenosine, which work in synergy to reduce redness, energise skin cells and lock in moisture for softer, smoother skin.
#3: Birch Tree Sap
Also known as birch juice extract, this skin-conditioning sap can be obtained by drilling a hole in the trunk of a birch tree trunk and leading the liquid into a collecting bottle.
The best time to collect this is in early spring, before green leaves start to sprout as the sap starts to taste bitter from then onwards.
It is also a traditional drink in Russia, Northern Japan, Northern China and Northern Europe and has a slightly silky texture and tastes slightly sweet. More importantly, birch tree sap is found to be rich in amino acids, vitamins, minerals and proteins, which soothe, brighten, renew and protect the skin against environmental factors.
Try Neogen Real Ferment Micro Essence, about $51 for 150ml, a blend of yeast ferments, birch tree sap and rice extracts to promote glowing, supple skin.
While we are more than familiar with honey or beeswax when it comes to skincare ingredients, there’s another bee by-product called propolis that’s lesser known.
Yet, it is packed with beneficial compounds and has outstanding antimicrobial properties. The ancient Greeks and Assyrians used it to treat abscesses and help wounds heal faster.
In today’s context, propolis is also often used to treat minor cuts and wounds like oral ulcers. Also rich in flavonoids, a group of antioxidant that’s green tea, red wine as well as fresh fruits and vegetables, propolis also packs multiple benefits when applied topically.
Thanks to its rich antioxidant properties, CNP Laboratory Propolis Deep Moisture Pack, $48.90 for 80ml, infuses skin with antioxidants and hydration for an intensive overnight treatment so you wake up to a brighter, more supple complexion.
#5: Milkvetch Root
Also known as Astragalus root, it’s most commonly used in TCM remedies to improve the body’s immunity and boost vitality.
When ingested as a tonic, milkvetch root improves your body’s ability to produce white blood cells, which are crucial in fighting off viral or bacterial infection.
This explains why it’s often added in herbal soups for added benefits in fighting common colds and fever.
Thanks to its immunity-boosting properties, milkvetch root also brings about similar effects to skin cells when topically applied.
Formulated with high levels of milkvetch root, Pyunkang Yul Essence Toner, $14 for 100ml, is rich in antioxidants to fight off potentially damaging free radicals to keep skin in tip top condition for healthier, more youthful-looking skin.
An abbreviation for Centella Asiatica, Cica isn’t actually a newfound ingredient but has only risen in popularity in the K-beauty scene in recent months
. Also known as gotu kola, it is native to tropical regions of Asia and is commonly used in food and beverages in Indonesia, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Thailand. In addition, it is also called “tiger grass” because it’s the plant that tigers rub their body against when they have wounds. No wonder it’s also found in skincare products aimed at speeding up skin’s healing process.
Of the lot we’ve tested, our favourite is Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Cream, $68 for 50ml. While it’s slightly on the thick side, it eventually absorbs into skin without any sticky or greasy residue.
More importantly, it is infused with a host of botanicals that work hand in hand with Centella Asiatica to soothe redness-prone and irritated skin. Plus, it also contains minerals which help replenish and lock in moisture, easing any discomfort, tightness and flaking.