K-beauty is a never-ending source of skin care innovation. Sure, there's A-beauty (Australian beauty), G-beauty (German beauty) and etc — but we still always have an eye on South Korea to see what skin care ingredients they're using to help us achieve the bounciest, creamiest skin.
"Korean beauty has always led the way in innovation and skin care technology, so we love when some of our favorite trends make their way over to the US," says Glow Recipe co-founder and co-CEO Christine Chang. "In 2020, we've seen a slew of new ingredients and products that we foresee as becoming hugely popular."
We were curious about what the next ingredient heavy hitters are, so we asked experts to weigh in. Prepare to see them in countless Korean skin care products!
Image via Imaxtree
Chang and Sarah Lee, co-founders and co-CEOs of Glow Recipe, consider natural enzymes to be an innovative ingredient on the rise. Enzymes are naturally derived alternatives to chemical exfoliants that they predict we'll see in all kinds of formats.
"We have already seen an increase in products that incorporate natural AHAs over chemical ones, and enzymes will be the next trendy ingredient that helps with gentle smoothing over time," says Chang. Natural enzymes in skin care can include papaya, apple and pineapple.
In Korea, enzyme baths are really popular at bathhouses for tenderly smoothing skin. That concept has started to be translated into leave-on masks and especially cleansers.
"Our new Papaya Sorbet Enzyme Cleansing Balm, $32, harnesses the power of papaya and its natural enzymes to gently slough away the top layer of skin compared to the more common acids," says Chang. "Enzymes are really important during the cleansing step because it provides a fresh, smooth base for your skin care routine to follow."
Papaya enzymes are beneficial because they're an extremely gentle exfoliating ingredient, making them great for all skin types, particularly sensitive skin.
Another option is the Mizon Apple Smoothie Peeling Gel, $11.89, which contains apple and papaya extracts to smooth skin. The AmorePacific Treatment Enzyme Exfoliating Powder Cleanser, $60, also has plant-derived enzymes, like papaya and green tea.
"When used in skin care, red algae is incredibly soothing and protective thanks to its antioxidant properties," says Missha's marketing lead, Anna Kim. "This ingredient is relatively new to the K-beauty scene, so it isn't widely available across the leading brands." Kim reports that previously marine plants extracts were exclusively found in luxury Western brands. The good news is they've started to become more widely available and accessible.
Here's the K-beauty twist: Kim says that the algae will typically go through a fermentation process that's widely known throughout Korean beauty as the best way to extract actives without compromising benefits. Look for red algae in Missha's Red Algae range, which has an essence, serum, lotion and cream. It's also in the Then I Met You The Giving Essence, $50, and Neogen Pore Tight Peeling Mousse, $26.
Artemisia — or its less sexy name, mugwort — is another up-and-coming hero of Korean skin care. "Where to begin with how incredible artemisia is?!" says Kim. "[It] is widely known for being calming, soothing and reparative." Mugwort is rich in vitamin A and C and can do everything from brighten skin, tame breakouts and reverse damage caused by environmental aggressors."
Because of its versatility, artemisia is found in an array of products, including moisturizers, essences, serums and even sheet masks.
Missha launched a range of artemisia products last year, including the best-selling Time Revolution Artemisia Treatment Essence, $55. Artemisia is the star ingredient in the Round Lab Mugwort Calming Toner, $27. You can also find it in the Hanyul Pure Artemisia Purifying Mask, $19.05, Moksha Dear Mugwort Mask Sheet Essence Type, $2.50, and the I'm From Mugwort Spot Gel, $19.
"Cactus water" sounds like something the wellness crowd is touting as the next It drink (and, actually, they already are). That said, it's also an ingredient to look out for in K-beauty. Cactus water is linked with the rise of hybrid toners (aka concentrated treatments that provide multiple skin care benefits in one).
"In the past, we saw toners packed with alcohol and other astringent ingredients and were used primarily to remove residue after cleansing," says Lee. "Modern toners are seen as the first liquid treatment that really sets the tone for the rest of your routine to follow."
The Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow PHA + BHA Pore-Tight Toner, $34, features a cactus water base with watermelon extract (duh) and hyaluronic acid. Lee says that it utilizes a 360 inside-out pore-refining approach that was inspired by the Korean aqua peel facial.
"When we would travel to and from Korea for work, the aqua peel facial is the most popular treatment at derm clinics for its ability to refine pores and hydrate at the same time," says Lee. "The Pore-Tight Toner provides an equal balance of effective pore-refining PHA and BHA and hyaluronic acid with an innovative 'stretchy' texture due to the cactus water base."