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December 18, 2019

My Very YMMV Skincare Hits & Misses of 2019

From cult faves to entire categories of products, one editor muses about his year in beauty — the skincare hits, the total fails, and how YMMV is all too real.


YMMV. Your Mileage May Vary. I feel like those four words are always floating around in the back of my mind every time I find a new product that piques my interest. Yes, the ingredients sound great. Sure, the brand philosophy sounds great. And yes, I know the marketing is working and luring me in. Everything is telling me that this specific product or category of product in general could be awesome. But for one reason or another, it could just not work for me. Maybe the packaging has a weird aspect to it I didn’t know about, the smell is too much for me, or I use it for over a month and it’s not doing whatever it’s supposed to be doing.


Granted it’s skincare, not brain surgery, so if something doesn’t go according to plan, it isn’t the worst thing. But it still is a total bummer when you’re excited to use something that really doesn’t live up to all the hype online or experiences of your peers. I got my hands on a lot of new stuff this year as well as rediscovered some old favorites, and in my own little version of the Emmys, I have my top three skincare hits that were awesome as well as my top three total fails for 2019.


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Let’s get the painful stuff out of the way.



The Top 3 Misses of 2019


1. Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum


@JUDE, I’M SORRY. I wanted to like this so much. Sulwhasoo is a brand that I have a very deep love for, despite not having really tried much of their line, just because of the philosophy and tradition of the brand. Plus, the smell of this serum, which is what I imagine most of their ginseng products smell like, is straight out of my childhood: The parents of one of my closest friends ran an Eastern medicine clinic, and this serum smells so much like their practice.




The packaging is gorgeous. I thought it would be lightweight plastic from all the pictures I had seen, but it’s made of glass and the pump is very smooth, the cap clicks on nicely. I know it’s a pricey item, but the bottle makes it feel like it costs twice what it does. The application is great, the smell is wonderful as I mentioned, and after using it for a month … it did literally nothing. No rosy glow, no increased hydration or suppleness to the skin, nothing. Jude had quite the opposite experience with this product, as have many, many others, and I’m just sad it was a total dud for me.


2. Vitamin C serums


Yep, I’m taking down a whole category. Granted, I may find a vitamin C product that works for me in the future, but I’m pretty over trying to test them at this point in time. I tried a variety of forms of vitamin C, including L-ascorbic acid, in a handful of different formats, from silicone-based serums to water-based serums to emulsion/cream textures, and I honestly did not see any benefits whatsoever. The potential for collagen stimulation is obviously something that needs to be tested over a period of time longer than a month, but the brightening aspects that I was hoping for really didn’t happen at all. Niacinamide works much better for brightening up my skin, so I’ll be sticking to that rather than placing my hopes in vitamin C any time soon.




3. High percentage acid exfoliants


I am not proud to admit it, but I compromised my skin barrier this year more than I ever have in the past. I got a little too overzealous and hopped on one too many exfoliation trains because I thought “I knew what I was doing” and really did a number on my skin a few times. I talked about how I use multiple forms of exfoliation in an article earlier this year, and I really do still believe that I, and many people I’ve talked to, benefit from multiple different types of exfoliation with some other solid active ingredients sprinkled throughout, but please be mindful of not doubling (or tripling up) on things just because you want faster results. This is a long-term game, and throwing on an acid toner the same night you do an exfoliating mask (yep, I did that) is not the way to go about it.


I’ve been a fan of chemical exfoliants with much lower percentages used more often rather than high percentages used sparingly, and my skin has been much better for it.




The Top 3 Hits of 2019


Whew. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s roll out the red carpet for some of my superstars.


1. Purito Green Level Unscented Sun + Krave Beauty Beet The Sun/The Beet Shield


I’ve always loved Korean and Japanese sunscreens for their more advanced sunscreen filters that the U.S. won’t approve yet (that’s the reason why Krave Beauty has to sell their sunscreen as “The Beet Shield” in the U.S.), and these two sunscreens are everything that I could ever want. I did a review of the Purito Unscented Sun where I go into more detail, but I love the creamy texture that glides easily over the skin and the more matte finish along with all the benefits of the centella that’s included in this formula.


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The Beet Shield on the other hand is a much more milky, liquid-y texture that also applies to the skin with ease and provides me with a slightly glowy finish that really makes my skin look healthy without sending my oils into overdrive. The antioxidants in the formula along with one of my favorite UVA filters, Tinosorb S, gives me absolute confidence that I’m protected through my summers in the desert where the UV index is sky high. Yes, I play favorites with sunscreen filters. I’m not kidding about my sunscreen love y’all.




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Both formulas wear well under makeup, don’t irritate my skin or clog my pores, and feel very light on the skin. I could spend the rest of my life using one or both, and I’d never need another sunscreen again.


2. Non-foaming/low lather cleansers


In a world of pH-balanced cleansers, I never really thought that there would be a huge difference between them, but I found out this year that even within these more gentle cleansers, some work better than others for me. Regardless of the fact that they’re low pH, a lot of the cult favorite cleaners out there don’t cause any issues with my skin with initial use, but after prolonged use my skin tends to not love them as much. It doesn’t feel stripped necessarily, but it also doesn’t feel like it’s not stripped, if that makes any sense. It’s almost like my skin is putting up a fight against slowly being irritated over time, and it’s definitely winning, but I’m not here to make it do any more work than it needs to.


skincare hits
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I don’t think anything that’s a full-on cleansing milk or cleansing cream will really be my jam due to my oily tendencies, but these low foaming gels or completely non-foaming gel cleansers have kept my skin very happy and still very clean. My shower is currently home to the Jordan Samuel Matinee Gel Cleanser, which falls in the complete non-foaming category, and the Krave Beauty Matcha Hemp Hydrating Cleanser, which lightly foams and goes slightly milky when cleansing. I’m not saying that everyone should switch to using a different type of cleanser or a certain type is bad for your skin, but I think going beyond just “this is low pH it’s fine” when selecting a cleanser could benefit all of us.


3. Hydrating serums


I know. This seems pretty basic, but honestly, I wasn’t really using a ton of hydrating serums before this year. I had rotated one in before here and there, but once I finished it, it wasn’t something that I went out of my way to replace. I should have known better. My thought process was that I was already layering a hydrating toner and essence, so using a serum purely for hydration seemed redundant, but since I’ve incorporated one, I’ve truly come to love and appreciate the difference they can make in a routine.




The best way I’ve found to apply them is straight on my face after my last layer of watery product, whether that’s toner or essence or mist, while my face is still damp. This helps your serum spread more easily, and I genuinely feel like it makes it absorb better into my skin. I don’t really get that classic, sticky feeling to the skin after using humectant heavy products this way, which I find more comfortable in the long run. The COSRX Triple Hyaluronic Moisture Ampoule was a champion for me in my need for hydration, and I’ve also really enjoyed using the Jordan Samuel Hydrate Serum and the COSRX Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence that worked really well to hydrate and plump my skin as well.


I’m sure I’ll manage to try a few more new things before the year is over, but I’ve had quite a 2019 with my skincare. My routine and philosophy look very different than it did this time last year, and I’m sure it’ll keep changing as time goes on. But half the fun of all this for me is continually tweaking and playing around with my routine to keep my skin in good health.


Let me know what skincare hits and misses from 2019 have stood out for y’all, and what you’re looking forward to in the new year, which is just around the corner!



Born in Korea and raised in Washington, Leo is another 20-something member of the K-Beauty Squad that is as committed to his love of skincare as he is to wine and cheese covered snack foods. After working as an educator and trainer in the beauty industry, he joined the team at Beautytap to continue sharing his knowledge and passion for skincare and all things chok-chok. During his free time, he’s been spotted in the wild bingeing Netflix shows, blasting K-pop while playing video games, or (much more rarely) leaving his hovel to venture forth in search of cocktails and Korean BBQ.




OK, I have to agree and disagree with your finds (which, of course, is the point of YMMV). I agree with the Sulwhasoo FCAS — it's ... meh. (I'm sorry too Jude!!!) But I SWEAR by vitamin C — like pure 15-20% ascorbic acid, properly refrigerated. I've been using it religiously for a few years now, with the appropriate wait times, and my genetic (and 20s sun-worshipping) hyperpigmentation that I thought I'd be stuck with for life has improved so much that I've actually gone down a cushion shade (from 25 to 23.5). Yes, I also always have niacinamide in... Read more