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Today we're talking K-beauty and five amazing ingredients I discovered through Korean skincare products (most of what I'm going to discuss is available from UK-based websites, so be sure to check out the retailers I've linked). To be honest, there are so many more I could talk about, so let me know if you'd like a part two featuring those. When I think of K-beauty, I think of gentle ingredients and lots of hydration, and a lot of the extracts we're going to discuss have been picked up on by Western brands, so you can definitely look out for them on other INCI lists too. Let's dive into my five for today...
Beta-glucan is a typically oat-derived polysaccharide. It's an antioxidant (protecting the skin from free radical damage and delivering a well-ageing benefit) with moisturising properties that's great for soothing the skin and calming redness. It's a great all-rounder and an ingredient that always feels like a tick in the box when I see it on an INCI list. I hope to see more brands use this ingredient within their formulas because it works really nicely as a counterbalance for stronger actives, to soothe and calm the skin.
In terms of a standalone product, if you just want to try this ingredient and figure out if it's for you, I recommend the Iunik Beta-Glucan Power Moisture Serum* | £20. This is Beta-glucan, water, sodium PCA and not much else. It's great for calming down angry or irritated skin, or just as an extra moisturising layer or a buffer if you've just used something like an exfoliating acid. You're also obviously getting those well-ageing benefits too, so it's great to use this in both the morning and the evening.
For a bit more of a complex formula, try the Acwell Betaglution Ultra Moisture Milk Oil* | £20.99. This is essentially a moisturising serum for me so I'd put it as the last step in my routine before a moisturiser. This contains added extracts like soothing oat and rice, extra moisturising oils (hence the name, though do note that some are fragrant, so might not be for you if you're sensitive to that), antioxidant-rich extracts, fatty alcohol and also snow mushroom, which acts as a humectant. This is definitely the richer, more moisturising formula and the one I recommend for dry skin or if you just want a one-and-done product with more added benefits than just the Beta-glucan.
Next let's talk about one of the most famous K-beauty ingredients probably ever: centella asiatica (AKA cica, AKA tiger grass). This is a soothing extract that helps to strengthen the skin barrier, has antioxidant properties and also hydrates the skin, making it a great multi-benefit ingredient. You may also see madecassoside on the INCI lists of western skincare products, and this is just the active element of centella asiatica as opposed to the entire extract.
I have two options here that are both ampoules (I personally use these products like a serum, immediately after any toner, mist or essence I'm using): one is more expensive by ml but offers a more complex formula and ships from the UK whereas one of them ships from South Korea, but it's a website I've ordered from before and had good experiences with and it's half the price. The first product of this type I tried was the Beplain Cicaful Ampoule* | £19.50. This is mostly your centella extract, but it does also contain humectants in a hyaluronic acid derivative and glycerin so should be applied to damp skin and locked in with a moisturiser pretty quickly to get those hydrating benefits. The chamomile extract provides an added soothing benefit and the fermented ingredients offer boosted antioxidant benefits and are rich in amino acids and vitamins that will contribute towards overall skin health.
For just the extract (plus water and preservatives, of course), I recently discovered the Skin 1004 Madagascar Centella Ampoule | £15.56. This is a little bit lighter and you're getting a massive bottle of product, so you could actually use this as a one-step wonder between your cleanser and your moisturiser (or an active serum). Although it's just the extract, it's a brilliant extract that can soothe, hydrate, repair and protect the skin. If you're wanting to see what all the fuss is about: give this a go!
Next, we have another big name: snail mucin! This is a filtered form of snail secretion that primarily has a hydrating benefit for the skin but can also strengthen its natural barrier, making it a great all-rounder, especially for skin that's dry, dehydrated, delicate or any combination of the three.
Probably the most famous product in the UK and US featuring this ingredient is the CosRX Advanced Snail Mucin Power Essence Gel | £23.99. I've linked Boots for this one, but you can get it cheaper from South Korea through websites like Yesstyle if you're doing a bigger order and don't mind waiting a little longer, it's really down to personal preference. This, for me, would be a one-step product to replace a toner, essence and hydrating serum so I'd cleanse, use this and then moisturise if I was keeping things simple, or cleanse, use this, apply an active serum and moisturise. It's definitely a thicker gel so won't be to everyone's preference but I use just the tiniest pump and for the hydrating and soothing benefits I experience, it's well worth it.
If you really don't think you can hack the texture or you don't want an extra step in your routine: try the Iunik Black Snail Restore Cream* | £15. This kind of melting, softening cream is formulated with snail mucin, centella asiatica, moisturising oils like jojoba and rosehip, licorice extract (this can help treat dark spots) and some of those wonderful fermented ingredients that offer a wide range of skin benefits.
Green tea is pretty commonly used across the board these days but I feel as though Korean brands are where the spotlighting of this ingredient really originated. Of course, if you drink the stuff as much as I do, you'll know that green tea offers a whole host of antioxidant benefits for your insides and it does the same for your skin. It can have a skin-calming effect but also can improve the skin's ability to retain water and actually also help with oil control.
The Isntree Green Tea Fresh Toner | £18 | is a product I recommend for just about any skin type. It has a slightly heavier toner texture and I recommend applying it with your hands rather than with a cotton pad. It's formulated with 80% jeju green tea, plus centella asiatica, a form of hyaluronic acid and just a little bit of willow bark (kind of a precursor to salicylic acid, the pore-penetrating chemical exfoliant). This provides a soothing, hydrating way of supporting your skin's overall clarity.
If you'd prefer to get it through a soothing, hydrating serum: try the Beauty of Joseon Calming Serum with Green Tea and Panthenol | £14. This is primarily green tea leaf water but we have added centella asiatica and also panthenol, glycerin and a hyaluronic acid derivative. This means it calms the skin, boosts up its hydration levels and provides those antioxidant benefits. If you're more sensitive and dehydrated: I'd go for this, if you're more looking to keep breakouts at bay in a hydrating and skin-friendly manner: I'd go for the Isntree toner.
Lastly, we have mugwort (AKA artemesia), a medicinal plant extract. It's actually rich in Vitamin E so provides antioxidant goodness, can have a moisturising benefit and will also support the skin barrier. It has a very gentle, soothing, anti-inflammatory quality too, which is why it can be beneficial if you're suffering from acne or rosacea.
I only have one product to discuss here because ultimately: I have dry skin with occasional hormonal breakouts, so this isn't an 'everyday essential' ingredient for me personally, it's more of an 'as and when needed' play (spot-applied where I'm having issues). For general soothing, I do tend to gravitate towards centella asiatica in my leave-on products. Therefore my pick is the Axis-Y Mugwort Pore Clarifying Wash-Off Pack* | £22.50. This is a clay-based mask that's still non-drying and contains other soothing and moisturising ingredients like Beta-glucan, a form of hyaluronic acid and oat extract. I love this for gently clarifying my skin, taking down that angriness and pulling back areas of excess oil production.
Have you tried any of these ingredients?