Cult Classics: The Best Korean Skincare Brands of All Time

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best korean skincare brands
Photo: Courtesy of Natascha Lindemann

The global beauty market is a sprawling organism, worth roughly $500 billion in sales annually with newcomers popping up on the daily. From every corner of the world, brands have emerged as the “next best thing” in beauty, and some of them have even amassed some pretty fanatical followings. In Savoir Flair’s new Cult Classics series, we’ll take a closer look at K-Beauty, J-Beauty, and celebrity beauty lines, as well as beauty markets emerging from Brazil, the Arab world, and more.

In our first installment, Korean Beauty, or K-Beauty, is the subject du jour. Strange ingredients like egg whites and snail mucus, adorable packaging, affordable prices, and compelling results are the four factors that have fated K-Beauty for global fame. A decade ago, K-Beauty was a best-kept secret, but now it is a self-sustained industry with a huge reach (thanks to Amazon, Sephora, and dedicated Korean beauty sites like SoKo Glam and Peach & Lilly) and an influential sway.


Aimee Song Korean beauty
Photo: Courtesy of Aimee Song


Broken down into five skincare categories – cleansing, exfoliating, repairing, moisturizing, and firming – K-Beauty has plenty of cult favorites to offer, and most of them are incredibly inexpensive.

Erborian ‘Cleansing Micellar Water’
With over 1,000 reviews on Amazon and a combined average of 4.5 stars between Amazon and Sephora, this gentle cleanser is a cult favorite for a reason: it does wonders on dull skin that’s been ravaged by dry air. As a super gentle, 3-in-1 product, Erborian ‘Cleansing Micellar Water’ contains seven herbs that moisturize and repair, and it’s gentle enough for those with sensitive skin.

Son & Park ‘Beauty Water’
With a huge fan following, this product usually sells out quickly, so we recommend buying multiples. It works as both a cleanser and a toner, and can be used either way. Formulated with lavender water, rosewater, and orange fruit extract to hydrate and willow bark and papaya extract to exfoliate, this product easily smooths, retexturizes, and brightens the skin.

The Face Shop ‘Rice Water Bright Cleansing Oil’
When applied in a soft, circular motion to dry skin, this brightening and cleansing oil delivers immediate results. Right after rinsing off The Face Shop ‘Rice Water Bright Cleansing Oil’, you’ll notice skin that is instantly softer, more fragrant, and more evenly toned.


Neogen ‘Bio-Peel Lemon Pads’
Even gentle chemical peels can leave skin irritated, but not these highly-saturated Neogen ‘Bio-Peel Lemon Pads’. Not only are they safe for every skin type and larger than the average peel pads, but they also leave skin bright, refreshed, and vibrant without stripping the dermis of natural oils. No wonder it has such a big cult following. The future of at-home chemical peels is here, and it’s scented with lemon.

Dr. Jart+ Dermaclear ‘Micro Milk Peel’
This five-star product has earned rave reviews because it exfoliates the skin while nourishing it, which leaves it softer and healthier looking. Plus, one of its star ingredients, allantoin, forms a protective moisture barrier, which means your skin feels softer and smoother even longer.

Skinfood ‘Black Sugar Mask Wash Off Exfoliator’
The brand’s top-selling product gained a cult following over the past ten years due to its use of real minerals and vitamins. With black sugar that is enriched with phosphorus, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium, you are all but guaranteed a potent scrub that eliminates blackheads, smooths the skin, and clears deep-down dirt and oil from the pores, causing them to look smaller. Use it as a ten-minute mask for extra penetrating results, and then scrub off gently to exfoliate.


Mizon ‘All-in-One Snail Repair’ Cream
People don’t just love this odd-sounding product, they rave about it to the tune of thousands of five-star ratings. Yes, it contains 92 percent snail extract and, yes, that does sound gross, but they’re not using garden variety snail slime. Instead, this product is made using high-quality, lab-cultivated stuff. Snail serum is a potent ingredient that can diminish the appearance of scars and blemishes. It also plumps up the skin with an extra-high dose of hydration and decreases the appearance of fine lines. Use as a spot treatment for scars and blemishes or all over for full-face moisturization and repair. Don’t worry, this product is unscented.

MISSHA ‘Time Revolution Night Repair New Science Activator’ Ampoule
In K-Beauty, ampoules are super-concentrated products, or what we would typically call a serum. The main ingredient packed into this wildly popular MISSHA ampoule is known as Bifida Ferment Lysate, or a fermented yeast, which is also the main ingredient in Estée Lauder’s ‘Advanced Night Repair’ serum (but this version is more affordable). The yeasty goodness has a powerful effect on signs of aging, and it works by improving the bounce and elasticity of skin while giving it a protective layer of hydration. People love this product because it is visibly effective after only a few uses.

Sulwhasoo ‘Capsulized Ginseng Fortifying’ Serum
Sulwhasoo is one of the more expensive brands on the list and is stocked at upscale retail establishments like Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus – but that’s because its all-star products actually work. The brand has dedicated over 50 years to studying and implementing ginseng root, which has many positive benefits for the skin. In this unique serum, you’ll find a high dose of the proprietary ingredient,  Ginsenisphere™, which penetrates quickly and works to make skin look younger, firmer, and smoother. In a clinical trial with Sulwhasoo ‘Capsulized Ginseng Fortifying’ serum, 96 percent of subjects reported more elastic and firmer skin, 99 percent experienced smoother skin the next morning, and 96 percent found their skin felt more moisturized the next day.


TonyMoly ‘Panda’s Dream So Cool’ Eye Stick
Beyond its adorable packaging (be careful; friends will want to steal this from you), this cooling stick has a host of beneficial ingredients that will help perk up tired eyes and hydrate dull skin.

Natural Republic ‘Aloe Vera’ Gel
When several thousand users log on to leave endless compliments and five-star reviews about a product, we take note. Natural Republic’s ‘Aloe Vera’ gel is the affordable moisturizer your skincare routine has been missing. Not only is it extremely lightweight and not greasy, but it penetrates deeply, providing around-the-clock moisture for thirsty skin while helping to diminish hyper-pigmentation and redness. Irritated skin loves the calming effect of the aloe vera, so keep this on hand for sunburns as well.

Skin & Lab ‘Red Cream’
This is the only cream on the market that boasts one million Damask Rose stem cells as its main ingredient. Not only that, but it’s also packed with hyaluronic acid, which revitalizes, brightens, and moisturizes the outer layers of the skin. Fans of this product rave about its fragrance, how easily it absorbs, and how hydrating it is.


Elizavecca ‘Milky Piggy Carbonated Bubble Clay Mask’
You have no doubt stumbled across this funny little product on Instagram, mostly because of how Instagrammable the fizzing bubble mask is. As the carbonated clay expands, it makes your face look like a puffy cloud, and while you snap a picture or two for the ‘gram, it vacuums out your pores, firms and tones your skin, and clears up blemishes.

Sulwhasoo ‘Overnight Vitalizing Mask’
This mask earned a cult following because it allows you to wake up with more radiant skin every time. Apply a thin layer of this product, which is packed with medicinal herbs with antioxidant properties like white mulberry and pomegranate, and wake up to firmer, brighter, and more hydrated skin.

Skinfood ‘Egg White Pore Foam’
With egg-white extract that sucks up dirt, debris, and oil from the pores, this foam could technically be a cleanser, but its intense firming properties have landed it in this category instead. Users report instantly tighter, firmer-looking skin, but instead of drying out your dermis, this product is balanced with moisturizing ingredients like niacin, which plumps the skin and encourages cell turnover. Users report firmer skin that feels like “velvet”, and they love that a little goes a long, long way.

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