My Journey into Korean Beauty, An Education

Recently I’ve been swept into the K-Beauty trend or Korean Beauty trend. “Is this were you use a gajillion products in your routine?”/ “Isn’t that the same trend that’s pushing snail slime?” You ask? To which I say – yes, all true. The Korean Beauty trend has gained a lot of attention from the now ubiquitous serial-killer looking sheet masks seen all over Instagram to the focus on a disciplined, multiple product regimen.

I decided to explore this trend more in depth because I wanted to see for myself where the truth stood between hype and results. Would using such uncommon ingredients be more beneficial? Is the multiple product approach better than one that is streamlined?

It was a little daunting at first when hearing about 10-step routines and just the categories (cleansers, toners, essences, serums, pressed serums, oils, ampules, moisturizers, sheet masks, rubber masks, splash masks – OH MY!) alone are enough to intimidate any beginner or novice. I enlisted the help of natural K-beauty purveyor Glow Recipe which provides handy , informative guides and insights on latest trends as well as Sokoglam‘s Charlotte Cho who is a wonderful source for all things K-Beauty.

It was through watching their videos, reaching out on Instagram and a couple of e-mails back and forth that I was able to form my insights which is that like any beauty regimen, the Korean Beauty regimen is all about what works for you. For the most part, the reason for so many steps is because the K-Beauty philosophy is comprehensive rather than tedious and purposefully overwhelming. After researching the products and categories, I believe it’s really important to think about everything holistically in terms of how products will interact with each other and what they bring to the table independently.

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One of the first things I noticed was that despite those uniquely out-there ingredients, most of the ingredients list tend to be fairly common and not that different from what one might easily find in a Sephora store. Take for example the snail goo sleeping mask from Missha (Cell Renew Snail Sleeping Mask) shown above. Sounds pretty cool right? The actual product is really just a rich creamy lotion, no hint of goo but an abundance of synthetic fragrance. In my experience, there wasn’t anything that distinguished it from other moisturizers despite being called a sleeping mask. I suppose in this regard overnight moisturizers might as well all be called sleeping masks and day time moisturizers, activity masks?

What I did gravitate toward was Glow Recipe, a site where products are really celebrated from being uniquely different. While the brand curates “natural” offerings, the green beauties out there may notice some iffy ingredients such as PEG’s but in general I didn’t see too many bad ingredients. Think of this purveyor as carrying brands akin to Origins, REN, Grown Alchemist, where they’re not entirely ‘green’ but a daliance isn’t going to be ideology shattering either. I love how enthusiastic the ladies at Glow Recipe are with sharing their latest finds in which each product is given a chance to shine – their latest discovery is the Aqua Peel which is an acid treatment applied through a soaked over sized Q-Tip, pretty cool right?

With Glow Recipe, I found that the Whamisa line really spoke to me and I purchased their Organic Flowers Toner [Deep Rich] which is described as a bouncy essence like hydrating step and Organic Flowers Facial Oil which I purchased purely to see how Korean oils may differ from ones we purchase here. The Organic Flowers Facial Oil reminded me of the Acure Oil in terms of packaging and was noticeably light and quick absorbing. As a fan of face oils and being spoiled by brands like Odacite and Yuli that just can’t be beat when it comes to freshness, nothing about the Whamisa Oil stood out to me per se although it proved competent as a night time oil (it contains citrus oils which automatically classes it as an evening only product for me).

Still, the toner immediately found its way into my routine, nestled between cleansing and a fine botanical mist. I found the emollient texture to add a certain bit of moisture cushion which is much welcomed during the winter. I also like that it relies on Aloe Vera, botanical extracts and natural fermentation which is something we see in green beauty as well.

In fact, I recognized that a lot of things that worked for me with Korean Beauty also worked in line with green beauty from the reliance of high quality ingredients, plant based actives and designing a comprehensive system focused upon individual skin conditions. I was able to take the teachings of K-Beauty and apply it to my fairly green top shelf:

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My evening K-Beauty inspired Green routine starts with double cleansing. In Korea and Japan, women believe that to take off the layers of the day requires a multi-step process starting with the make-up, sunscreen and water-proof products. This is usually an oil based cleanser and in my case on light days, I use an oil-based cream cleanser like In Fiore’s Treate. After the surface is cleared, it’s time to really cleanse and freshen the skin and Korean beauty usually incorporates a light foaming, pH balanced cleanser that is usually SLS and alcohol free. Of course, for this step I use my beloved Yuli Halcyon Cleanser, which I find to use much higher quality and advanced ingredients – I really do consider it to be THE gift to us green beauty fans.

Now that skin is bare and fresh, I acid tone with First Aid Beauty’s Radiance Pads to give a gentle resurfacing which only helps skin absorb more moisture to follow. This is the most gentle acid toner I’ve used and it was recommended by a reader (thank you!). Next I use 3 drop-fuls of Whamisa’s Organic Flowers Toner and press into my skin in upward circular motions. This gives my skin a good moisture base to build from. Then I follow with Tatcha’s Luminous Deep Hydration Serum to really amp up the hydration factor with hyaluronic acid and Okinawa red algae which is very deeply moisturizing as the name suggests and gives skin some bounce. Next, with my skin loaded up from the water, glycerin, hydrating actives and hyaluronic acid, I mist it with MUN’s No.11 Rejuvenating Rose toner which is based on water and rose water (which the aforementioned actives will bind to skin) and also contains hyaluronic acid. In Korean Beauty, this is the pressed oil/ampoule stage so I press 1.5 to 2 pumps of Yuli’s Liquid Courage antioxidant serum to my skin as it is the most concentrated product and I want to give time for my skin to absorb all of the good stuff. Liquid Courage itself contains a unique ingredient in the form of a bio-ferment of black garlic which kicks up the antioxidant capacity, and don’t worry I can confirm that there is no unpleasant garlic odor, only a soft neroli fragrance. With serums, I allow one to two minutes for it to absorb before continuing.

During this time I diligently apply my Kahina Giving Beauty Eye Serum which is one of my favorite as it contains peptides, antioxidants and hyaluronic acid as well. I do a dot on each ring finger and dab across my under eye. This Eye Serum relieves that bit of tightness that I sometimes feel and sinks in quickly. I press any leftover product to my smile lines and around my lips.

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As the final step I use Tatcha’s Soothing Triple Recovery Cream which locks in all that hydration and itself is formulated with the highest concentration of colloidal oatmeal which is a very powerful anti-inflammatory. This anti-aging moisturizer also contains Indigo extract and is based on water and olive based squalane. The Soothing Triple Recovery Cream also does not contain essential oils and coupled with the colloidal oatmeal has won the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Acceptance.

So while I know this might look like a lot immediately, once each step is broken down everything starts making sense in their place. So what began as an exploration of a new trend really just showed me that it was a different take on the tried and true: do what works for you! I’ll likely continue to incorporate some things from Korean beauty because they’re quite playful and out of the box with product ideas and a lot of things actually work very well, however I’ve come away with a deeper appreciation for high quality ingredients that us green beauty fans have treasured all along.

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MUN No.1 Aknari Nighttime Dream Youth Serum Review

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It’s fascinating to me how the deceivingly simple face oil can be so intricate and complex. On paper its just a mix of plant oils blended together yet to experience a well made blend in person is something else entirely. Each blend maintains its own character, personality, and tells their own story. Case in point, the cult beauty product from make-up artist Munemi Imai, MUN No.1 Aknari Nighttime Dream Youth Serum. This luxe oil earns my respect for the risks it took. At $95 for a mere 0.5 oz (15ml) of oil, founder Munemi Imai’s confidence lies in the blend of 3 seemingly simple yet powerful 100% organic oils: Argan, Bulgarian Rose, and Prickly Pear Seed. These are oils that have been seen in other products but never in such a stripped down way that really calls to focus the individual power of the three oils.

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Argan is already an established super star in the beauty world, launching lines from Josie Maran to Kahina Giving Beauty. It’s many uses have been heralded by Moroccan women for centuries, yet have only been appreciated by the Western luxury beauty shopper recently. There really isn’t anything Argan doesn’t do, it’s the most pure all in one skin care ingredient that moisturizes and heals and softens (thanks to high Vitamin E).

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Bulgarian Rose is one of my favorite fragrances. It’s just so luxurious and the aromatherapy benefits are plentiful. In this blend, Bulgarian Rose takes the front seat in the scent department. I read in an interview that in creating this oil, Munemi needed an oil to balance the scent of the Prickly Pear which wasn’t the most palatable, and after lots of trial, this rose was chosen. It’s obvious that she did her research well because this fragrance is fantastic. It reminds me of those fresh rose soaps made locally when I was a child. It first appears strong, almost spicy then levels off. Between the precious bottle, orange hue, and this fragrance, the entire experience feels very special.

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Prickly Pear Seed is one of the rarest, most expensive oils, and it is said to heal and brighten skin, essentially making skin appear healthy and glowing. It is packed full of every good thing skin could want or need and is what I consider to be the most special part of this serum and one of the best ingredients for skincare in general.

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This serum is an anti-aging product that targets wrinkles and fine lines while toning complexion. I believe the argan helps to smooth and soften lines/wrinkles along with prickly pear seed which also makes the complexion better. Although the serum is prescribed as night time product, one can use it during the day as well. I personally keep it for night as I think the smell is wonderful for bedtime and I want to save what precious drops I have of this oil.

Now onto my personal experience..

munI found this oil to be so thoughtfully made. The confident blend of 3 oils works well in creating a minimal yet worthy product that is well rounded and versatile. The fruity scent of rose is a little on the spicy side but calms down to remind me of very fresh rose soaps, so it smells clean and fresh. The texture is actually thicker than I expected, more so than May Lindstrom’s Youth Dew which itself is good for dry skin. Although it is thicker than expected, I did not have any breakouts and the serum worked very well with my skin. It kept my skin very hydrated, even allowing me to forego moisturizer during the oddly cold winter/spring transition in New York.

I follow the instructions to a tee, applying a toner like Yuli Cocoon Elixir to get skin damp and conditioned before applying just 1 pump of the Youth Serum. This minimal routine really gave my skin a break. After 3 weeks of use, I have to say, it is a joy to use this serum each night. Being welcomed first by the fragrance then by the three organic oils as they sink into skin, it truly feels like a luxurious experience. I also discovered this serum to be great around the under-eye area as Prickly Pear Seed Oil is known to reduce dark circles.

Now onto the price. For those of you who love a well made luxury product, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in this serum. I know there are also people who will only shell out this kind of money ($95 for 0.5 oz) for something that can deliver miracles. If you’re in this camp, I’m just going to be honest that you may find yourself feeling a little uneasy. There are times when I use this that I think $95 for three oils is a bit much but I value that extra bit of polish and attention that separates this brand from a simple DIY. Results wise, this serum is very good and each of the wonderful superstar ingredients is given adequate opportunity to shine  but where it really excels in my opinion is with reactive, sensitive skin. As this serum only contains 3 (very high quality and beneficial) ingredients, the chances of something setting off a reaction is VERY VERY LOW. It’s also good for those who like to hop from product to product because the pared down ingredients list really helps give skin a break, almost like a juice cleanse for skin. I don’t imagine anyone will find this serum to cause breakouts or adverse reactions unless you happen to be sensitive to Argan, Rose, or Prickly Pear – in which case, it’s best to just skip this and similar serums all together.

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I wish the bottle could be 1 oz instead of 0.5 oz but that’s neither here nor there, and a bottle of this serum can last a good 2.5 months. As someone who enjoys splurging on luxury beauty products, I found MUN’s Dream Youth Serum to be a wonderful addition to my growing collection of oils. It has a special place as an effective minimalist product on days where I want to give my skin a break without depriving it.

Have you given this very special serum a try? What is your take?

The Winter Rose: Favorite Face Serums with Rose

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This was going to be a huge transition to cold-weather post but as I started thinking of products, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share something that I think everyone should indulge in for winter, a face serum/oil, specifically one that is gorgeously dressed with notes of rose. I love face oils, they’re so concentrated nature means that each blend carries a distinct scent. I can almost instantly recall each oil I smell in a blind test. Each time I encounter a rose scented blend, my heart skips a beat. The Queen of Flowers carries a regal air and there is just something luxurious and decadent about the rose that communicates indulgence for the skin. Not only that, but rose oil is very beneficial for skin. Here are a few of its uses:

  • Great at soothing irritated or sensitive skin
  • Anti-inflammatory benefits that reduce redness and inflammation that can cause harm to skin
  • Delivers intense moisturizing properties as the small molecules can penetrate deeper into skin
  • Eliminates harmful bacteria and impurities
  • Antioxidant rich to protect skin and provide anti-aging benefits
  • Stimulate regeneration and healing of aged and damaged tissue
  • Energizes on a cellular level
  • Has the highest vibration energy frequency of any essential oil
  • The aromatherapy has been shown to treat depression and boost a feeling of happiness

What better treat for skin and what better indulgence for the winter? The following are a few of my favorites.

MUN No.1 Aknari Nighttime Dream Youth Serum

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Prickly Pear Seed Oil, Argan Oil, & Moroccan Rose Oil. This Moroccon sourced blend might have 3 ingredients, but they each deliver confident results and a subtle, refined fragrance. Prickly Pear and Argan are both very faint oils, Argan can smell a little nutty but it does not have a dominant profile, Prickly Pear only has a slightly richer scent almost like an eraser, which allows the Moroccon Rose to shine. A pure and fragrant essential oil that defines the scent profile of this trio. The scent is luxurious, calming, and sophisticated, lingering for just the right amount of time before dispersing.

Ila Face Oil For Glowing Skin (Click here for a  full review)

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There are products for people who like rose, and then there are products for the rose obsessed- this will delight the latter for sure. I described the scent in my previous review as “a hundred roses and their leaves and branches, other times its cloying overpowering nature just knocks me out“. Which should either excite you or illicit fear depending on how you feel about using fragrant products on your face. This isn’t for the conservative or shy, but rather for those looking for a bold and glorious rose statement. A hint: if all your candles are rose and your perfumes are rose, you will probably want to add this to your collection.

May Lindstrom The Youth Dew (Full review coming soon)

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May Lindstrom’s The Youth Dew has a less straight forward but still powerful rose scent with dominant notes from the Rose Absolute, Rose Geranium, and Bulgarian Rose essential oils. Unlike the aforementioned serums, this beautiful scent is more complex and evolving. I would describe the fragrance almost like a mix between rose and fruit roll-up (I mean that in the best way). Not that fruit roll-ups are known for their fragrance but there is a distinct sweet fruity scent (anyone else want to back me up on this?) about this oil that brings me back to the joys of unwrapping the candied treats in elementary school. What is really interesting about the scent is that each time I think I can pinpoint it, I discover something new and it is never like how I remembered it. This is what I find so fascinating and addictive.

YULI Modern Alchemist

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YULI’s Modern Alchemist captures an evocative and intricate blend with a distinct top note of Bulgarian Rose. Its expansive, aqueous Rose floral note gives a faint glimpse of nectar-like sweetness, which is then undercut by hints of fresh, light green notes including Green Tea to form a delicate, balancing act that is both luxurious and decadent without being cloying or overbearing. A testament to their fresh sourcing and production philosophy, somehow utilizing just one rose ingredient, the ode to rose is astounding in detail, encapsulating the entirety of the fresh rose: petals, nectar, stem, and all. This captivating fragrance profile is much like the brand: unique and subtle but endlessly intriguing and demanding of attention.

The best part of this list is that all the products use a natural rose essence which is very expensive and rare. This stuff is leagues better than the synthetics in many perfumes as it contains the full bodied aromatic profile of the rose and nutritional benefits.

Have you tried any of the aforementioned serums? What are your favorite scents?