Every time you watch K-Dramas or look at your K-Pop idols, we’re sure that even once, you have wondered to yourself:
“How is it possible that Koreans always seem to be glowing?“
Well apparently, organic Korean skincare products seem to be the ones doing the magic behind their faces.
In Korean beauty trends, they are the ones that sell the most among all other types of beauty brands.
In this article, we are going to dive into its benefits and reasons why are they widely known even outside Korea.
We’ve listed some popular Korean brands for you as well.
What Does “Organic” Mean in Beauty Products?
Simply put, an organic product means it has undergone a production where there are no chemical or artificial agents involved in the process.
Take note that it does not really mean it did not use any chemicals.
All products use chemical-mixed formulations. It is just that the deal with organic products is, they are primarily composed of ingredients that are less harmful to the skin compared to synthetic ones that contain drastically dangerous preservatives.
How Do I Know If a Beauty Product is Organic?
It actually depends on the country as some have a set of standards of when they can call a product organic.
In the US, they have what is called a USDA certification for every organic product they have.
To meet the qualifications of USDA, a product must contain authentic agricultural ingredients and it should be able to meet National Organic Program (NOP) production, handling, processing, and labeling standards.
In South Korea, they do not have their own set of standards nor they make their own certifications for their local organic products.
However, some Korean brands have the ability to carry foreign organic seals such as Whamisa with German BDIH and American EWG seals, and this popular brand, Innisfree being USDA-certified organic.
But, this is only possible if such brands are exported to countries that require a procedure for testing out the authenticity and safety of an organic ingredient infused within a certain product, just like the laws in the US and Germany.
- If you buy an organic skincare beauty product directly from South Korea, there will not be any way to know if it is organic-certified or anything.
- As a buyer, all you can do to ensure that the skincare products are organic is to check the labels.
- You are safe if you can see the origin of the ingredients on the labels. Although, you can not really blame the manufacturers who do not comply with this process because they do not really violate any law.
- It is not required by the Korean government after all so it is up to them what they want to do with the labels.
What Do I Do If I Want to Buy Directly from South Korea?
There are ways to see if organic products are authentic and safe.
You can use some mobile applications to check their legitimacy by either uploading a photo of the product’s seal, scanning their QR code, or entering their unique serial number, if available, for verification.
- HiddenTag (CK&B)
- PapaReceipe Q (iCRAFT Co., Ltd)
- Hwahae (BirdView) – available only in Hangul
Note: Hwahae is for checking potentially harmful ingredients instilled within products.
But if your concern is more of just getting a specific item, then you can just go to any of the most popular Korean beauty and skincare websites, then buy from there.
What to Look and Not to Look for in Organic K-Beauty Products
You must always check the ingredients list when looking for organic skin care products because there are some preservatives that may be harmful to skin, especially if yours is sensitive.
And if possible, try to look for ingredients that you think you will benefit from the most so you will be able to get the best out of it, making your products more worth it.
Harmful Ingredients to Avoid
This is a type of preservative you will usually find in cosmetics and personal hygiene products. You can even find them in foods as a preserving agent for preventing early food spoilage.
It honestly works the same in skincare products. Generally, its main purpose is to prevent microbial growth such as fungi, bacteria, and yeast that cause products to decay faster.
BUT, take note that skin quickly absorb parabens once in contact.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there has been a scary number of paraben presence detected in nearly 100 urine samples tested. That indicates widespread exposure among Americans.
It can trigger allergic reactions to sensitive and damaged skin in no time, especially those who have psoriasis, eczema, or dermatitis conditions.
Fragrance is can be commonly found in cosmetics.
Its main purpose is to give products a distinct scent so they can be more recognizable to everyone.
It also serves as a cologne or perfume to cover up the smell of other ingredients.
One study suggests that fragrance ingredient can cause some headaches, asthma attacks, and mucosal symptoms to some people, especially those who have sensitive olfactory senses.
People with sensitive skin will also be huge victims of this ingredient. This is since you can develop contact dermatitis if you are heavily exposed to fragrance.
Sulfate foaming agents can be seen in the ingredients list of personal care beauty products. They are responsible for removing all dirt, oil, and other buildup residues from skin.
It is also responsible for making soaps and shampoos lather when applied to skin or hair.
But, as much as this sounds great, it can actually clog your pores and cause acne on your skin. Those who have eczema or sensitive skin are the ones who are most prone to these problems.
- It can also irritate your eyes and lungs the longer you let it stay all over your body and eyes.
- Sulfate can strip natural oils from your scalp and hair as well, making your hair dry and brittle.
- And if you have sensitive skin, you are more likely going to experience redness, flakiness, and itchiness on the scalp.
Take note that some can still use beauty products with sulfate ingredients in them though. It should work just fine.
Just do not overuse it to prevent unwanted skin problems.
Recommended Ingredients to Look For
1. Vitamin C
This is one of the most beneficial anti-aging beauty ingredients you can find.
- For starters, it produces hydrating effects on your skin by decreasing transepidermal water loss and allowing your skin to retain moisture.
- It also brightens your skin as it helps decrease pigmentation.
- And according to another study, it treats inflammatory skin conditions, reducing redness on your skin.
- It also boosts collagen production.
- This vitamin is also rich in anti-oxidants.
- And if ever you have gotten yourself wounded, you will be happy to know that this vitamin can help speed up the healing time, as stated in another study.
- Plus, it works excellent for every skin type.
If you have really hypersensitive skin though, then you might experience a little bit of irritation. Just to be sure, you should consult your doctor if you think you may not be safe with this.
Usually, we recommend that people with very sensitive skin stay away from strong Vitamin C serum formulas since these can cause stinging.
2. Aloe Vera
This gives you many skin benefits as well. In short, it is:
- an antioxidant
- a humectant
- capable of anti-itching qualities
Overall, Aloe Vera has a healing effect on your skin because of its nutrient-packed elements.
It is also generally safe for every skin type, but those who have sensitive, irritated, and oily skin types will benefit from it the most.
3. Green Tea
Green tea is popular for treating acne as it is rich in compounds that fight bacterial growth on your skin.
- It has been proven that green tea is VERY effective when it comes to removing acne as it contains polyphenols which are responsible for reducing sebum secretion.
- And also, it improves the lesions and redness on your irritated skin, which also leads to acne if left unattended.
- Green tea also fights premature aging, as one study has claimed. Since it is rich in antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), it can repair and restore your dying cells.
If you have acne-prone skin, green tea is definitely one of your go-to organic ingredients.
A Quick Glance at the History of Korean Cosmetics
Ancient Chosun Era
Everything started in the Ancient Chosun Era.
During this period, when Manchu was still reining over Korea, people used to apply lard directly over their bodies so they can avoid developing frostbite caused by extremely cold weather conditions.
Lard us pig fat that makes skin become softer and smoother.
Even in ancient times, Koreans have always been advanced when it comes to taking care of their skin.
People only started getting REALLY obsessed with skincare when Goguryeo Era began. They couldn’t care less about each other’s social status.
Every single person was just completely absorbed into the idea of making themselves prettier than anybody. Many Koreans even started using traditional Korean makeup and skin products.
Baekje to Silla Era
It has also been said that the Chinese and Japanese learned their beauty techniques from the Korean Baekje and Silla people.
Once, a Buddhist monk won an award in Japan for making a lead powder that became a pretty significant discovery in the ancient world of cosmetics.
When that major breakthrough happened in Japan, folks from the Silla kingdom had already developed the said powder. This implies that they were already WAY AHEAD of other countries when it came to discovering beauty ingredients.
Fast forward to the present time, Korea is one of the most beauty-obsessed countries. They’re part of the top 10 global beauty markets, having an earnings estimation of over US$13 billion in 2017.we
This shows that everything that the ancient Koreans did before has been passed down to today’s Koreans. But that does not necessarily mean that they still use the same ingredients though. Some significant improvements were surely made over time.
We mean, who would seriously still use beauty brands with a lead ingredient in them, right?
Lead is considered as one of the most dangerous beauty ingredients during ancient times. Continuous usage of this ingredient will LEAD individuals to suffer from gray hair and dryness on skins over a period of time.
After discovering its horrible effects, Korea has become more careful in choosing the right ingredients for taking care of their own skins. Little by little, they switched to more healthy, natural, and organic ingredients — which is the main topic of this article.
Advantages of Organic Korean Skincare Products
1. They Contain Natural Ingredients
There is no denying that they mostly use unusual ingredients we do not typically see in normal products.
Snail mucin? Volcanic ash? Bee venom? Yeah, in Korean beauty trends, those are pretty normal.
But as much as they sound weird, they are still WAY better than synthetic ingredients as these are natural. They use green tea, seaweed, orchid, and other more organic components. that do not cause much harm to the skin.
They might cause you to develop irritation, depending on your conditions or allergies though. But that’s not always likely anyway.
You will surely harm yourself way worse if you use products that are mainly infused with synthetic ingredients. Natural still is the way to go.
2. They are Really Effective
Well, NATURALLY, they provide effective results because of ingredients like green tea and other plant and flower-based components.
It can also bring you that Korean “glass skin” effect if you invest a lot of time in your Korean skincare routine.
And at the same time, little by little, it can heal your skin conditions.
3. Korean Beauty Brands Always Release New Products
A lot of brands are very competitive with each other because they are all striving to be at the top — be the #1 in Korean beauty trends.
As a result, they constantly produce Korean products that are also the most effective among all competitors.
This is a BIG advantage for you because as a consumer, you get to try every merchandise they produce.
4. They are Affordable
Another great advantage of using Korean products is that they are pretty affordable. They are worth buying because they’re of high quality but they can still be cheap at the same time.
The reason for this is the crazy high demand from Korean brands. As mentioned, there is an intense competition between a lot of brands in South Korea.
So as a result, they try to compensate for the price so more consumers will come to buy from them.
Just another important note: not all products in Korea are cheaper than in other countries. Some have similar prices.
It also varies especially if these Korean products are sold online.
Though what is certain is: Prices in Korea are WAY cheaper compared to prices in other Asian countries (like Singapore, Japan, China, etc.).
Disadvantages of Organic Korean Skincare Products
1. Korean Brands Have No Organic Certification
As discussed earlier, South Korea does not have any strict laws when it comes to certifying Korean products that contain organic components.
It can be a bit of a disadvantage to those who prefer buying directly from South Korea because they do not know whether a product should be trusted or not.
You will need to download some applications just to check their legitimacy. And also, there might be some circumstances where you will not be able to find the brands in those apps because they are not registered there at all.
So, just buy from popular and trusted Korean brands if you want to get instant results from apps.
2. Some Products Do Not Have English Translations on Their Labels
Another issue you will get from using Korean brands — you do not have any idea about what is written on the label if you don’t know Korean.
The least you can do is go to their website and check the label directly from there. It is pretty bothersome because sometimes, you just want to directly check the label on the spot, especially when you’re canvassing products in physical stores.
3. There are Many Steps in a Korean Skincare Routine
This is the biggest disadvantage you will need to get used to in using Korean brands.
It has been known that Korean skincare routine usually consists of 10 steps. Yes, 10 STEPS!
- It usually starts with double cleansing, and then sheet masks, essences, lotions, serum, moisturizers, and sunscreens go after.
- Oh, but at night, these sunscreens are replaced with sleep cream for firming up sagginess and wiping out sunspots.
Imagine doing the entire steps until the end… honestly, it is already pretty tiring just by hearing all these. To be honest, it really is very TIME-CONSUMING and a big disadvantage for those who are always busy with work.
But if you really want to get that Korean glowing skin, you have no choice but to go through these efforts. It can be a bit overwhelming at first and you would really need to invest a lot of time (and money) in order to get that desired skin of yours.
But after everything, we assure you that it is definitely worth it.
Popular Organic Skincare Brands in South Korea
From your K-Pop idols to many foreign and local common citizens, this Korean beauty brand Innisfree is pretty popular, even outside South Korea.
The natural and organic Korean Innisfree brand is known for using green tea from Jeju island as one of the key ingredients in their skincare products.
Some of Their Best Selling Products
Innisfree Super Volcanic Pore Clay Mask 2X
This mask is mainly formulated with volcanic clusters from Jeju island. It is also largely mixed with lactic acid.
It exfoliates, cleanses, and treats acne. It also addresses oiliness, dullness, and uneven texture concerns.
The Innisfree Super Volcanic Pore Clay Mask does not contain parabens and fragrances so it is pretty safe for sensitive skin.
Innisfree My Real Squeeze Mask
The Innisfree My Real Squeeze Mask is made from 100% eucalyptus fibers and green tea.
This mask deeply hydrates and nourishes the skin. It also comes in packs so you can bring it anywhere.
COSRX products are known for effectively treating skin conditions while being plant-based, eco-friendly, and cruelty-free.
The brand is popular even outside South Korea as well since they have greatly contributed to Korean beauty trends.
Over the years, they have won awards such as:
- Amazon Best-Seller in Facial Cleansing Gels
- Amazon’s Choice
- Get It Beauty 2020 View Label
- 29 BEAUTY AWARD 2020
- #1 in the Skincare category on Youtube
Some of Their Best Selling Products
COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence
This essence is 96.3% formulated with snail secretion filtrate which is responsible for protecting skin from unhealthy moisture.
Women really love the COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence because it gives a smooth and moisturizing texture that can last long. It’s also very lightweight on the skin.
Plus, this can even soothe redness and dullness on very sensitive skin.
It’s free from dangerous chemicals too — and it is dermatologist-tested.
COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser
The COSRX cleanser is known for having a mildly acidic pH level. It’s primarily made of Betaine Salicylate (BHA) which removes all buildup and impurities from the skin.
This cleanser works excellent at removing make-up and other pollutants from your face. It can also treat acne problems.
This natural Korean cleanser is said to be 100% vegan as it does not have any harmful chemicals its formula.
Whamisa is the first-ever organic-certified brand from South Korea.
They mainly use Bacillus strains as their key ingredient in their skin care products. Their ingredients go through a fermentation method where they heighten their potency on the skin.
And it is not just that. They also go through many careful processes to ensure that they bring the healthiest benefits with their skin care products.
Some of Their Best Selling Products
Whamisa Organic Flowers Hydrogel Face Masks
Whamisa’s face masks are 96% made from organic ingredients which mostly consist of barbadensis leaf extract that has anti-inflammatory effects.
The masks also contain fermented flower filtrates such as chrysanthemum, lotus, and dandelion. These ingredients help effectively hydrate, refresh, and nourish all kinds of skin.
Whamisa Organic Flowers Lotion Double Rich Moisturizer
This moisturizing vegan lotion is 95% made from organic ingredients and it uses barbadensis leaf extract too. It has botanical oils like jojoba oil, olive oil, and avocado oil.
Their organic flower lotion keeps skins moisturized, nourished, soothed, and hydrated.
It also feels lightweight and refreshing — and it even smells flowery!
Is Korean Skincare Really Better Than Western Skincare?
Western skincare likes to focus on makeup and application techniques for covering up flaws. On the other hand, Korean skincare would rather focus on skincare to fix those same flaws.
That’s the main difference between Korean and American makeup and beauty techniques.
So in short, yes, Koreans are better when it comes to skincare.
In the West...
Compared to Westerners, Koreans try their best to put every nutrient back into their skins. This is a more gentle approach as they do not have to scrub their faces hard with this process.
In Western countries, they are more into exfoliation (which refers to removing dead cells from skin). This process forces you to use a harsh chemical on your skin which may eventually cause damage.
Also, Westerners usually only have 4 steps in their routine:
Compared to Koreans, these are pretty few steps. Regarding these steps, they have a pretty big difference when it comes to cleansing.
Westerners prefer single-purpose products. They clean their faces with specially-made cleansers, for example, for oily skin. Whereas Koreans’ first cleansing step is to remove oily residue and the second is to nourish skin.
Koreans attend to the areas that need treatment. This is for example, puffiness on the cheeks.
A lot of Koreans prefer taking care of their own skin rather than cover up their complexions. For this reason, a lot of businesses have started investing in producing skin treatment products.
Skin treatment thing is highly valued in their culture. Just as we have seen in their history, having healthy skin is a very important aspect of their lives.
Oftentimes, parents would educate their children about how to take care of their skin at a very early age.
And also, even if they use makeup, the ones that they are going to use would still likely have qualities of organic or skincare products.
To sum everything up, one of the best Korean skincare secrets includes using natural products to keep skin healthy since they don’t contain harmful elements.
But as much as there’s a lot of advantages you can get from using Korean brands, disadvantages come along too.
The best thing you can do is to just do your research. Figure out your preferences and what works for your skin.
Whether you choose to go organic or not, the important thing is that you made a conscious decision to improve your skin. So go on and begin your routine now!
September 3, 2021 – Updated article formatting and content
July 16, 2021 – Reviewed and updated article links