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NOW READING These 5 Fave K-Beauty Ingredients Make Korean Skincare So Good
November 14, 2017

These 5 Fave K-Beauty Ingredients Make Korean Skincare So Good

From bird spit to bee venom, nothing is off limits when it comes to potential ingredients in Korean skincare. But truth be told, some of these spotlit sensations are more about glittery marketing than serious skincare. Here, 5 fave K-beauty ingredients that have stood the test of time and our sixth-sense gimmick detector.


K-beauty products are kind of like K-pop stars. They debut at a fast and furious pace, then drop out of the race over roadblocks like scathing reviews by skincare-savvy netizens, subpar sales, or the next big thing.


With a market so overcrowded, it can be hard to stay on track, so brands and companies like to push new products touting ingredients with shock value and grand promises. As consumers, it takes trial and error (our poor skin), time, and the above-mentioned sixth-sense gimmick detector to sift through the one-hit wonders versus the real deal.


But who has time for that? Well, it just so happens we do, so we did the homework for you and came up with a hall of fame list of K-beauty ingredients that offer more than just their star appeal.


k-beauty ingredients


Red ginseng


The reigning root of all hanbang ingredients is the gnarly-looking, miracle-working ginseng. Korean red ginseng, to be specific, is considered the original and most powerful type of Panax ginseng, thanks to its anti-aging, anti-acne, and stress-relieving capabilities.


There are 11 species of ginseng under the genus Panax, which means “all heal.” True to its name, Panax ginseng has been hailed for its medicinal powers in ancient Asian cultures for centuries. Today, it’s still reigning strong as one of the time-tested, classic K-beauty ingredients to prevent premature aging and to re-energizing skin, amongst other uses.


k-beauty ingredients


These claims are backed by studies like the one conducted by AmorePacific, which showed ginseng also has hydrating and anti-inflammatory effects. This means less puffiness, brighter under eyes, and fewer wrinkles, for starters. More research shows ginseng’s antioxidant properties can help damaged and weakened skin recover its health and resilience, too. Oh, and did we mention its blood flow-stimulating powers lead to a covetable glow?


Red ginseng-infused skincare can get pricey due to the high demand and rarity of the root, but for these science-backed benefits, we think it’s worth the investment.



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When your skin’s craving a luxurious boost, Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Essential Oil is a fast and fancy fix. Red ginseng seed oil, a precious extract from a rare ginseng harvested only once a year, soothes dry skin and counters free radical damage. An elixir of camellia and sesame seed oils also creates a moisturizing veil over skin for that elusive glow.


A parallel pick would be the Swanicoco Stem Cell Radiance Serum. Rich in wild Panax ginseng, this serum intensely moisturizes and revitalizes dry and aging skin. The brand claims its wild ginseng stem cells hold higher healing properties than red ginseng, and we’re all game.




In a Korean household, rice is as much of a dietary staple as it is a skincare essential. For centuries, Asian women have been bathing and cleansing their face with rice water to brighten their skin.


fave k-beauty ingredients


More than just a genius way to to utilize the enzyme-, vitamin-, and protein-rich water we usually throw out after rinsing and soaking the rice in, using rice water in lieu of regular water proves to benefit skin in many ways. The Health Science Journal reported that rice water has antioxidant properties that moisturize skin, improve circulation, and clarify the complexion. It also contains bioactive compounds that target hyperpigmentation and help fade and prevent dark spots due to aging.


To reap the anti-aging and brightening benefits of rice, DIY by soaking rice in water for 30 minutes. We recommend discarding the initial batch of water from the first rinse to minimize impurities like dust. Then refrigerate the rice water separately in a container until you’re ready to wash, mask, or tone with it. You can also boil the water with the rice in it, as some believe this method extracts more nutrients than a simple soak.


fave k-beauty ingredients


Or you can opt for Skinfood Rice Mask Wash Off, a rinse-off mask that uses rice extract blended with jojoba oil to brighten, soften, and stimulate skin and ward off wrinkles and dullness.


If you prefer your rice water to go, try Missha’s Pure Source Pocket Pack Rice Mild Peeling Gel. Formulated with 200mg of rice extract, this peeling gel removes dead skin cells without irritation, leaving skin moisturized and radiant post-peel. One portable squeeze pack is good for two to three uses.




Galacto-wha? If you saw this ingredient on the label of your K-beauty product and wondered if it had anything to do with Guardians of the Galaxy, you’re not alone. It’s a long, geeky name for a type of fermented yeast packed with vitamins, amino acids, and enzymes. The fermentation process breaks down its components so they penetrate into skin more effectively, making for a stronger shield against free radical and UV damage, a major cause of premature aging.


It’s no wonder brands with cult status followings have been all about galactomyces. The Asian Journal of Beauty & Cosmetology reported that the use of galactomyces ferment filtrate helps reduce sebum, tighten enlarged pores, brighten the complexion, and reduce acne. Another study also showed that this power player protects against damage caused by dryness and environmental stress.


fave k-beauty ingredients


For the most bang for your buck, you want to try COSRX’s Galactomyces 95 Tone Balancing Essence. Boasting a wow-worthy 95% concentration of galactomyces, this essence brightens (not whitens) the complexion by hydrating skin and feeding it all the goodness of the fermented yeast. Some of your stubborn dark spots, acne scars, and hyperpigmentation may very well become a fading memory with continued use of this powerful essence.


Known as a more affordable version of SKII’s Facial Treatment Essence, Missha’s The First Treatment Essence stars 90% fermented yeast extract and has been credited by K-beauty afficionados everywhere for bouncing their skin back to glowing health without breaking the bank. The proof is in the tests — this raved-about essence was clinically proven to boost collagen, decrease dead skin cells, and increase hydration by 142%.




When snail mucin first entered the scene as an anti-aging hero, it had ick (and to some, gimmick) written all over it. Fast forward a few years later, and it’s now a holy grail ingredient in many Korean skincare products. While the simple fact that people are still willingly slathering snail slime on their face is enough to make us believe it works, studies back up the gooey creatures’ claims to improve sun damage, which leads to premature aging. It turns out the right dosage of snail mucin, also an antimicrobial, can target fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and dark spots and even speed up skin cell regeneration to prevent blemishes and acne scarring.


k-beauty ingredients


COSRX Advanced Snail 92 All in One Cream is one of the bestselling snail skincare products probably ever. It’s packed with a whopping concentration of 92% snail secretion filtrate and is loved for its hydrating, anti-aging powers.


Volcanic clay


We lava us some volcanic clay! An umbrella term for elements extracted from erupted volcanic ash and sediment, this age-old ingredient effectively exfoliates, detoxes, and absorbs excess sebum and buildup from clogged pores. (Hello, tighter pores!) Hence, its popular use in a bevy of skincare products like cleansing scrubs and masks. Rich in sulphur, volcanic clay also helps defend against bacteria, which is great for acne-prone or troubled skin.


K-beauty brands harvest volcanic elements from Korea’s very own volcanic island, the ever popular Jeju Island. Its dormant volcano last erupted more than 5,000 years ago, but much to our benefit, the island is still a rich source of volcanic soil (and 18,000 different types of plant and algae also used by K-beauty brands).


fave k-beauty ingredients


Innisfree’s bestselling and award-winning Jeju Volcanic Color Clay Mask is bursting with 6,020mg of volcanic clay from Jeju. The wash-off mask powerfully draws out impurities, tightens pores, and exfoliates without irritating or stripping skin dry.


Are any of these fave K-beauty ingredients a must-have in your skincare routine? Which do you love and which are just so-so for you? Let us know below!






Verified experts are beauty professionals who receive free products for independent reviews without receiving payment.

This article is so helpful and informative explaining some specific k-beauty ingredients. I am an ingredient geek and thrive on learning more and more. Excellent place to start!


Verified experts are beauty professionals who receive free products for independent reviews without receiving payment.

This article is so helpful! when you’re just starting out on k beauty it can get confusing and overwhelming and its great to have this aticle to look back on when I wanna know more about the ingredients you are putting on your face!


I read something before about the rice water and how it brightens the skin. I started saving it and washing my face with it. I saw the improvement in the clarity and brightness right away. I am looking forward to trying that mask since it will have the same effect.


I stopped using volcanic clay for some odd reason... I started using it again and I can't remember why I stopped. I especially love Innisfree's Volcanic Clay Masks. They're gentle and effective! Love iiiiit!


Extremely helpful article! I somehow gravitated towards ginseng, volcanic clay, snail mucin and rice water, but I need to hop onto galactomyces. I'm a little worried because I keep finding my next 'must have' products. At this rate some of my products will expire before I use them up. At least it good 'clean' fun (couldn't help myself :). Cheers


What a great article! Thanks for such a well thought out and informative piece.


It's fun to see all these beneficial ingredients and test them out to see what works best! Customization of your routine at it's best tbh


Extremely helpful article! I somehow gravitated towards ginseng, volcanic clay, snail mucin and rice water, but I need to hop onto galactomyces. At this point I pretty much a k-beauty product addict. I'm thrilled to have found this site, but a little worried that I keep finding my next 'must have' products. At this rate some of my products will expire before I use them up. At least it good 'clean' fun (couldn't help myself from writing this really bad pun :).


I recently started incorporating the snail essence by Cosrx in my routine and I love it ♥ It hasn't changed the way my skin looks (yet?), but it's great as an extra protective layer, because my skin seems to stay hydrated for much longer throughout the day. Just what I need in winter!

In the last few years I've been struggling much more with dryness than before, so I don't use volcanic clay that often except for the occasional clay mask.

Haven't tried any rice, red ginseng (aside from sheet masks, but nothing long term) or galactomyces products yet. Recently ordered a... Read more

Angela Son

I agree about the Cosrx snail essence. Love how it hydrates my skin without feeling too sticky. I used a couple bottles of the Galactomyces toner from Cosrx too and I actually liked how gentle it was on my skin. Lmk how you like your Manyo Factory essence!


I've been a long time fan of galactomyces! I started off with the OG SK II FTE which is still one of my favourites. I loved the original Missha FTE as well and was devastated when they changed the formula. :( I've recently started trying Cosrx's Galactomyces Whitening Power Essence in the hopes that it could work as a cheaper alternative to SK II but the texture is a bit tackier and harder to pat in. I also feel like doesn't leave my skin feeling as moisturised as the SK II does but I will stick it out until I... Read more


Have you tried Graymelin's 100% Galactomyces Essence @sephiria? It's quite runny like SK II and Missha, but in an ampoule dropper bottle.


I've been using it for about a month or so and if you like galactomyces, you might like this.


Ooh, no I haven't heard of it before. Thanks for the suggestion! Will add to the list :)


I've been using the COSRX's Galactomyces for a while and absolutely love it! It did indeed brighten my skin. I've been wanting to try the Swanicoco Plant Stem Pure Ampoule for the ginseng extract - I think I'll get it on my next order. I've yet to try the clay masks and I'm interested in the ones featured here. I like the snail mucin also, but haven't incorporated it regularly into my routine - just need to figure how to get it in there along with all the other good stuff. Great article on products!


The Innisfree clay masks are not at all drying — you don't get that tightening sensation (great for my oily T-zone, horrible for my thin, dry cheeks). I like to apply the COSRX snail mucin after all my essences and right before my moisturizer. Its gooey texture helps to soothe my skin when it's feeling sensitive or troubled. I'm gonna try the Swanicoco Plant Stem Ampoule soon too!


Thanks for the info!

Angela Son

I love moisturizers or creams with snail mucin bc I feel like it's extra hydrating and protective. I currently use the Mizon All in One Cream as a daytime moisturizer and even a quick pick-me-up throughout the day if my skin feels less than hydrated. It's non-sticky so I feel like it works well for those purposes. Missha's Snail Sleep Mask has also been an awesome way to incorporate snail into my skincare!