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NOW READING Is the Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Water Just Hype or Hanbangin’?
April 27, 2018

Is the Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Water Just Hype or Hanbangin’?

Cat Cactus, better known as the influential beauty blogger Snow White & the Asian Pear, dishes on her one-month tryst with the Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Water. Would the hot new bad boy in town sweep her off her feet, or will the nice guy Sulwhasoo Balancing Water win out in the end?


You know those products that appear out of nowhere and give you an instant, dizzying skincare boner that makes you unable to see straight?


Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Water


That’s what I felt when I saw the newly released Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Water, and I immediately blew up Fiddy Snails’ DMs about it. Does it hanbang hard? Would it like to live a life of luxury in my herbal harem? Is it seeing anyone?


I also wondered how it compared to the Sulwhasoo Essential Balancing Water, which I had just purchased. I’m seriously into hanbang, and between “Steamed Ginseng Water Concentrate,” a new Sulwhasoo release, and that sexy rose-gold bottle, I needed this immediately.


In this post:

  • How it compares to the Sulwhasoo Essential Balancing Water
  • Changing my method changed my mind
  • Ingredients & why I’m hot for ginseng
  • Pros, cons, & bottom line


Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Water
Staking its claim in the prettiest packaging pageant of 2018. Photo by the author.


When it finally arrived, I was almost swooning with pent-up anticipation. I carefully freed it from its (gorgeous) embossed packaging, and gingerly set it down on the mix of slate and moss-covered wood I had spent too long arranging for a worthy backdrop.


I even hired the little girl next door to come entertain my dog, so I wouldn’t have the precious bottle endangered by an inquisitive puppy nose. I studiously ignored the frequent side-eye said little girl sent my way as I contorted around trying to take photos that did justice to its beauty. (This was ultimately unsuccessful, by the way.) I crooned to it the song of my hanbang-loving people.


I’ve rarely been so excited to wash my face, and as soon as the sun went down, off I went to test it alongside the OG Balancing Water.


How it compares to the Sulwhasoo Essential Balancing Water


To my surprise, at first it was frankly a disappointment. It seemed so promising: The heavy glass bottle was indeed gorgeous, the scent was hanbangin’ and heavenly, and it had a beautiful slippery texture midway between a gel and an emulsion. Once applied though, that telltale ginseng “increased circulation” effect just felt slightly irritating on my exfoliant-tenderized face. It took too long to sink in and felt sticky afterwards.


After two weeks of applying it to one side of my face, and the Sulwhasoo Essential Balancing Water to the other, I felt like the Balancing Water was the clear winner. While the Balancing Water was missing the traditional hanbang scent I was hoping for (read: ginseng, herbs, more ginseng) it outshone the Ginseng Water on my skin.


The Balancing Water is a lighter, more fluid texture, sinks in almost immediately, and left my skin feeling softened and smoothed. It’s also considerably cheaper than the Ginseng Water, so it was leading as a clear winner.


Still, I prefer to use products for four weeks to hit the 28-day skin cell turnover cycle, and once the initial isolation testing is done, I like to experiment with how I use it. I’m glad I did, because it turns out I was just using it wrong.


Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Water


Changing my method changed my mind


Dutifully and with minimal expectations, I switched to using it as a second layer after I applied the Balancing Water, and holy hanbang, what a difference. I started treating it as a serum rather than a “watery” product, following the ol’ trusty “watery to oily, thinnest to thickest” method.


Ginseng “Water” isn’t a very accurate name (although K-beauty naming conventions are pretty unreliable) because it’s much more like a serum bordering on a gel emulsion. Once I started using it as such, layering a first essence, then the Balancing Water, and then the Ginseng Water as a serum, it spread beautifully, absorbed better, and left my skin nicely plumped.


Since the weather has turned warmer and very, very wet, I no longer need the intensity of a day moisturizer as my sunscreen is quite moisturizing already. This product has slid into that step, giving me hydration and a slight richness without giving my sunscreen an excuse to flee right off my face at the first sign of exertion.


Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Water
I had plenty of time to whip out my camera as it sloooowly meandered across my palm. Photo by the author.


Putting it in the essence/serum/emulsion step also solved the stickiness issue; products often sink in better if your skin is damp. Plus, who has the time to let each step in a multi-step routine completely dry? Patted until it’s mostly absorbed is good enough for me, and then I move on. After huffing my cupped hands like a ginseng junkie, of course.


Layering it as a serum also gave it some chill with the stimulating effect; it’s now pleasant even on my freshly exfoliated skin.


Ingredients & why I’m hot for ginseng


Mmm, ginseng. As soon as you open the bottle, the scent of ginseng and herbs wafts up like a fragrant genie, without being the sort of “save me, I hanbanged too hard and now I have a herbal hangover” level of hanbang that crimps your nose hairs at the first whiff. The ingredients list is hallmark Sulwhasoo, packed with herbal extracts.


Water, glycerin, butylene glycol, glycereth-26, alcohol, betaine, panax ginseng root water, glyceryl polymethacrylate, Bis-PEG-18 methyl ether dimethyl silane, propanediol, hydroxyethyl acrylate/sodium acryloyldimethyl taurate copolymer, PEG-60 hydrogenated castor oil, caprylic/capric triglyceride, behenyl alcohol, polyglyceryl-10 pentastearate, glyceryl caprylate, fragrance, cetearyl alcohol, acrylates/C10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, tromethamine, methoxy PEG-114/poly epsilon caprolactone, disodium EDTA, xanthan gum, ethylhexylglycerin, 1,2-hexanediol, adenosine, sodium stearoyl lactylate, honey, cetearyl glucoside, beta-glucan, lilium candidum bulb extract, rehmannia glutinosa root extract, paeonia albiflora root extract, nelumbo nucifera flower extract, polygonatum officinale rhizome/root extract, sorbitan isostearate, polysorbate 60, hydrolyzed ginseng saponins, hydrogenated lecithin, phenoxyethanol, caprylyl glycol, dextrin, theobroma cacao (cocoa) extract, potassium hydroxide, acetic acid, BHT, tocopherol


Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Water
Raw ginseng, in all its naked glory.


Why do I get post-shirtless-Kylo-Ren-scene levels of thirsty over ginseng as a primary skincare ingredient? Namely: science.


There has been some really interesting research done in the last few years on the skin benefits of ginseng, as summarized in Fiddy’s The Lord of the Herbs: the Fellowship of the Root deep-dive into the science behind this very traditional medicinal herb. Possible increase in collagen and fading of hyperpigmentation? Heck yes.


Pros, cons, & bottom line


I’ve covered a fair number of the pros already (effect on my skin, the ginseng-y goodness, the scent, the fancy packaging), but it definitely has its downsides. For one, this product is way too thick for a toner-style opening, requiring you to slam your precious glass bottle of fancy expensive skincare into your palm like a ketchup bottle effigy of your most hated ex.


Another big downside is the price ($80). Sulwhasoo is luxury skincare, and it’s priced accordingly. On the other hand, since it’s pretty much a serum and only needs a few drops to grace my entire face with ginseng, 125ml of serum is a lot of serum.


It’s not something I can’t live without, but it definitely gives me something to look forward to when my skincare libido is low and I’m tempted to slither away into bed without washing my face. Any moisturizer can do the thing, the question is whether it gives you the motivation to get up and do it.


Have you tried the Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Water? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!





I was really eager for this to be my first Sulwhasoo product but I think based on your review the balancing water might be better for me.

The packaging is so gorgeous on these! I've been looking more into this brand but it can be so confusing when you don't know what the difference between all the products in the line are. I don't know enough about Korean Beauty to know the difference between what a water or lotion or something is right away (it seems it varies brand by brand) so thank you for the info!

LOL hahaha "For one, this product is way too thick for a toner-style opening, requiring you to slam your precious glass bottle of fancy expensive skincare into your palm like a ketchup bottle effigy of your most hated ex." I can totally imagine it. Thanks for the in-depth review! I was considering between the balancing water and the renewing water. I think I will try the balancing water first since it seems the easier one to ease into my routine.

Super review. I too love ginseng if not too strong an odor in the product. Like how you gave it a second chance.

Thanks! I like to be thorough when I test products, and sometimes that means taking a step back and re-thinking how I'm using it. :)

You're much better about it than I am, but I do give any given product about a 2 week trial or so finding different ways to use it if my first impression isn't so great.

Lovely review, Cat. I've been avoiding this one despite my own fascination with ginseng for fear that the smell might be too strong. Would you say it's on par with the Sulwhasoo Capsulized Fortifying Ginseng serum or their ginseng eye cream? How long did it linger for you?

I actually juuuust got the serum, and I'd say it's more of a true ginseng scent than the serum. It's strong, but it's not overwhelming. If people hated the scent of ginseng, I'd say to skip it, but if you like ginseng, it's a very pleasant amount of scent.

Thanks, Cat! I figured it was nowhere near the legendary (and not in a good way) Sulwhasoo soap scent, and I generally do well with ginseng. Oddly enough, though, the Sooryehan First Ginseng Essence does not agree with me in the morning. I save most of my ginseng products for my p.m. routine, so I\'ll watch for this one to come back around on special again. Now that Jude Chao is here, I can officially use the hashtag #FiddyGetsAllMyMoney.

The bottle is so much prettier in person, too — so weighty and shiny! I can't wait to try it.

Have you given it a good sniff, at least? It's the perfect amount of ginseng scent.

The packaging definitely elevates the experience with Sulwhasoo products for sure. I feel like you could use any of their bottles or jars to take someone down if needed lol

That... Was... Funny!! I wonder if you'd need a concealed weapon permit if you carried a Shulwasoo product around in your purse for self-defense??? 😉

Too true! Never sneak up on someone who’s holding a Sulwhasoo bottle!

The packaging is to die for! I love gold anything. I would love to try this one out for sure!

I find the ingredient list to be fascinating! Why is it so great when the first 5 ingredients are pretty much just cheap sheet mask essence? And yet, it seems to be so much more than the sum of its parts. When I look at ingredient lists of Amore Pacific, Sulwhasoo, Illi, and Hanyul products they really look less awesome than Benton or Purito. However, the results don't lie. I think skincare formulation must be an alchemy that transcends ingredients.

This is so, so true. I figure it's like baking; flour, water, butter, eggs, and sugar can produce wildly different results based on proportions, mixing, additional ingredients, preparation, cooking time ... an angel food cake and a cookie share the same base ingredients, but couldn't be more different in the final result ... ?

What a great analogy! Except now I wanna bake a cake...

I totally agree. As much as we all pour over these ingredient lists and scrutinizing all these choices, portions, PHs etc... at the end of they day, if it works, it works.