We are all familiar with the saying “you are what you eat”. The same idea applies to skincare and keeping your skin in tip-top condition.

In traditional Korean medicine, it is believed that ageing speeds up when the body’s yin and yang energies go out of sync. This imbalance results in the weakening of major organs, a slowing of the metabolic rate, and eventual illness. That’s why Koreans place so much emphasis on maintaining the delicate yin-yang balance. They believe the body is receptive to nourishment only when it is in optimal condition. And to ensure that the body absorbs all the benefits of traditional Korean herbal concoctions, these are consumed on an empty stomach.

Inspired by these principles, researchers at luxury K-beauty brand Sulwhasoo looked for ways to develop a skincare product meant to be applied right after cleansing. The primary focus: Restore balance to the skin and improve its overall health and vitality. According to the ancient Korean medical text, Dongui Bogam, the female body undergoes internal and external changes every seven years. In the fifth cycle, at the age of 35, our yin and yang energies get disrupted, manifesting in signs like dry skin and a loss of radiance.

In the sixth cycle, at 42 years, skin starts to lose its elasticity, which results in the deepening of fine lines and wrinkles. Sulwhasoo researchers tested this theory in a long-term study involving more than 1,300 Asian women of different ages and with different lifestyles. Using cutting-edge dermatological science and technology, the researchers confirmed that a woman’s skin truly does undergo changes in seven-year cycles.


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Armed with this knowledge, the brand created its now-iconic First Care Activating Serum EX. The rest, as they say, is history. For more than 20 years, this signature Sulwhasoo product has enjoyed cult status, winning over legions of fans worldwide who swear by its skin-boosting properties.

Yet, to simply call it a boosting serum doesn’t do it justice. To arrive at the highly efficacious formula we are familiar with today, Sulwhasoo researchers partnered with the prestigious Kyung Hee University’s College of Korean Medicine to learn from ancient medical texts, including Dongui Bogam and Bencao Gangmu. They conducted extensive efficacy evaluation and safety screen tests on more than 3,000 medicinal herbs before selecting just five: peony, lotus, Solomon’s seal, white lily and rehmannia, which have a synergistic effect with one another.


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Sulwhasoo researchers found that these ingredients were the only ones that would fit the traditional Korean medicine theory of “jaum”, which refers to the ability to restore balance. That’s why the carefully calibrated herbal blend is called Jaum Balancing Complex.

This complex is used in the First Care Activating Serum EX, whose multiple benefits include supporting healthy skin cell turnover, fortifying the skin barrier, inhibiting melanin, and speeding up the skin’s innate ability to repair itself. Recent research also shows that the serum acts as the skin’s first line of defence, thanks to its powerful antioxidant properties.

How do you use First Care Activating Serum EX? On clean and dry skin, as the first step of your skincare routine. Its lightweight gel texture penetrates instantly and doesn’t feel sticky. Massage it in liberally to boost skin regeneration, vitality, nourishment, clarity and resilience. It also preps your skin for other products that you use after it.

Here are some other ways that you can use the Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum, so you make the most of all that extensive, intensive research: 

1. As an aromatherapy aid
Dispense two to three pumps onto your palms, rub your hands together, and take a deep breath. The natural scent soothes and calms the senses, and quiets the mind.

2. As a circulation booster
According to the brand, it is proven to increase blood flow in skin, so the Jaum Balancing Complex in the serum is your perfect partner in a pressure-point massage – focus on your cheeks, forehead and eye contours.

3. As a moisture booster
To prevent makeup from looking cakey, mix the serum into your foundation before applying it on your skin to nourish dry patches. It can also make your foundation look more sheer, giving you an added glow.

This story first appeared in the July issue of Her World magazine.