YMMV for Me: Su:m37 (Yes, All of It) and the Centella Dilemma
If there’s one thing about skincare that you need to know by now, it’s that everything is YMMV — your mileage may vary. Here, Jude Chao talks about why a widely beloved beauty brand and hot new ingredient are not for her.
If you’ve been reading skincare blogs and reviews, you may have come across the concept of YMMV by now. YMMV stands for Your Mileage May Vary, and it is one of the most important principles to understand in skincare. Everyone’s skin is different, and the same product or ingredient may affect your skin differently than it affects another person’s. In fact, that’s why I prefer to write reviews in a descriptive, not prescriptive, style: explaining how a product works on me, rather than telling you how it will work on you.
Everyone’s skin has some individual quirks. Things it hates that others love, things others can’t live without that my skin definitely can. Here are two of mine.
Su:m37. All of it.
On paper, the higher-end hanbang brand Su:m37 sounds like it would be perfect for me. The brand blends fanciness with tradition, using fermentation to maximize the effects of its signature witch’s brew of about a million herbal extracts and packaging them in sleekly beautiful bottles and jars. The products I’ve tried have had lovely textures and enchanting fragrances.
Unfortunately, my face hates every Su:m37 product with a violent passion.
I’ve never seen anything like it, actually. Years back, I tried the Su:m37 White Award Bubble-De Mask. It left my skin rough, covered in tiny bumps, and sloughing off flakes of skin with every touch. This reaction persisted for days, until eventually my skin puked up whole handfuls of gritty little clogs and and finally returned to normal.
At the time, I blamed my user error for the reaction. I must have used too much of the product, I reasoned, or not rinsed it off thoroughly enough.
So when I came into possession of a Su:m37 gift set a year or so later, I figured, time to give this gorgeous brand another chance! On my face went the most innocuous-seeming product in the set, a hydrating toner in the Water-full line.
Aaaaaand it happened again. Same thing. Rough, bumpy rash, with dramatic flake shedding making even makeup application impossible, persisting for several days after I discontinued use of the product and finally ending in an alarming purge of gritty little clogs.
Because I am a truly stubborn bastard, after that reaction subsided and my skin healed up, I tried AGAIN, this time with a moisturizing cream from that set. I feel like I don’t need to explain what happened. You can just read the paragraph immediately before this one to get the picture.
My skin cannot stand Su:m37. I finally admit this.
In most cases, if several products all caused the same reaction on my skin, I’d take some time to compare the ingredients lists and isolate any that could be the cause by looking at ingredients that are not found in other products I do like. Unfortunately, Su:m37 ingredients lists have the approximate word count of a 19th century serial novel. So to save my time, my sanity, and my skin, I’ve just sworn off the brand altogether.
Centella asiatica: Miracle soother for others, just OK for me
Centella asiatica is one of the trendier K-beauty ingredients of the last few years, along with its derivatives madecassoside and asiaticoside. Known for its “nourishing, anti-aging, anti-inflammatory” powers, it’s beloved by people like my fellow blogger and Beautytap editor Sheryll Donerson, who wrote about the ingredient and her favorite centella products for this site.
One of my ongoing skin goals is redness reduction. Mine isn’t particularly severe — just some mild red patches around my nose and mouth, generally from toothpaste — but the better I can keep it under control, the happier I am to go without foundation, and going without foundation is my favorite makeup step, because it saves both time and money. (My One True Shade Match is an Armani foundation, which isn’t the best thing for my wallet.)
In search of the most potent redness-reducing products around, I’ve tried my fair share of centella products. I’ve tried well-reviewed centella and madecassoside toners, essences, serums, masks, and creams. Some have been OK (I like Purito’s centella toner and serum more than most). But most have done next to nothing for my redness, and even the ones that worked all right haven’t worked as well as other ingredients for my skin.
For redness, my skin prefers ginseng. Several ginseng products I’ve tried, including my holy grail Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Emulsion, have evened out my skin tone so much that I wake up looking like I already have foundation on. I find propolis and snail more calming for acute irritation. And snail works better for me for maintaining skin resilience so that my face doesn’t get irritated or red as easily in the first place.
The lessons of YMMV
Will Su:m37 products make your face explode the way they explode mine? Probably not — plenty of people use and love their products without issues. Similarly, will Centella asiatica disappoint you as it has disappointed me? Probably not. Lots of people adore centella, including many other bloggers whose opinions I trust and respect.
Product reviews can only go so far. Ultimately, the lesson of YMMV is that you cannot know for sure what a product will (or won’t) do for your skin until you test it yourself. That’s part of the fun of skincare, at least for me: figuring out my skin’s quirks and preferences so that as time goes on, I get better and better at choosing products most likely to work for me.
The secondary lesson of YMMV is that patch testing is a really smart thing to do. When starting an unfamiliar product, especially if you’re just beginning to explore skincare, test it for at least a few days/nights on a small and inconspicuous patch of skin. That way, any reaction you have is limited in scope. That’ll put you in a better position than I was every time I did “full face patch testing” with Su:m37 products.