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