Anyone who spends any length of time with me knows of my love for South Korean skincare products. I can’t stop raving about them. The 10-step routine has transformed my skin from a dry and flaky mess, giving it a glow that often garners compliments. My love for all things K-beauty has only grown since I came back from Seoul in October with a suitcase full of the stuff.
I brought a large haul of skincare and makeup products with me to Barbados, selecting the ones most suitable for the hot weather. That meant leaving behind my Belif True Cream moisturiser — one of the best creams I’ve ever tried — because I’m using something lighter here. Pretty much all my other favourite products are with me. So here’s a rundown of my top picks, that are keeping my pores happy and unclogged in the tropical sunshine:
Banila Clean It Zero Cleansing Balm
I picked up the original pink version of this cleansing balm in Hong Kong last year and it has quickly become one of my all-time favourite cleansers. I’ve since repurchased it online, and when I went to Seoul decided to try the nourishing version.
I love the smooth solid-to-oil texture, the way it quickly removes makeup without leaving skin feeling stripped, even the pleasant strawberry yoghurt-like scent.
I think the original gets the edge over the nourishing version, because it has a slightly gritty texture for gentle exfoliation. Either way, it’s one of my go-to cleansers. I use it in the morning for a refreshing cleanse, especially if I’ve done a sleeping mask the night before that has loosened dead skin. In the evening I use it as a first cleanse to remove makeup. The name isn’t kidding — Clean it Zero is great at dissolving makeup, including waterproof eyeliner and mascara.
For me it this has replaced the old Eve Lom cleansing balm, which has since been reformulated. I’ve yet to try the new version, but the old one had a stickiness and petroleum scent that I don’t miss.
Clean it Zero comes in four formulations: Original, Nourishing for dry skin, Purifying for oily skin, and Revitalizing with antioxidants for environmental protection. Check out which one is best for your skin.
Skinfood Black Sugar Perfect Cleansing Cream
A friend gifted me this lovely creamy cleanser, which I’m grateful for because I probably wouldn’t have picked it up myself. It feels like a luxurious treat, changing from a rich cream to an oil for removing makeup.
Although I say it’s a rich texture, it isn’t thick and unctuous, but refreshing and smooth. Think single cream rather than double, ha. It contains black sugar crystals that exfoliate without stripping.
I wouldn’t use it for a morning cleanse, but it’s a great start to a pampering evening skincare routine. I reach for this when I feel like using something lighter than the Banila cleanser.
This cleanser now comes in four formulations: the original tub of Cleansing cream, a Bubble Foam spray bottle, a Cleansing Oil pump bottle, and a Scrub Foam tube.
The Face Shop Rice Water Bright Rich Cleansing Oil
I first discovered The Face Shop cleansing oil years ago when I lived in Toronto, long before I became obsessed with skincare. I didn’t even know it was a Korean product at first!
This cleanser shouldn’t be one of my favourites because on the face of it (har, har), it isn’t really anything special. It’s just a thin, watery, slightly scented, slightly oily cleanser.
But the thing is I keep going back to it. I always miss it when it isn’t in my bathroom. It’s just a nice product to use in the evening for removing makeup and preparing my skin for the rest of my routine. A little goes a long way and a bottle will last a few months. I always prefer a pump bottle to a jar for a skincare product, so it gets bonus points for that.
There is a light version as well but my skin tends to be quite dry, and the rich version leaves it feeling softened and not stripped.
Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask
I’m kind of obsessed with the Laneige lip masks. And I’m not someone who usually cares about lip balm. I put on a tinted Burt’s Bees balm so my lipstick will go on smoothly but that’s about it.
But the Laneige lip masks are lush, with a silky-smooth texture that is thick and indulgent. Laneige is smart, because given the size of the tub these should last you months without having to buy another one, but they keep coming out with lovely new scents.
I started off buying the berry version in Sephora, then picked up the grapefruit — my favourite — in Hong Kong, and couldn’t resist getting the newer apple lime one when I went to Seoul. I kind of wish I’d got it in vanilla too. There’s also a mint choc limited edition.
I’ve seen some beauty vloggers/bloggers say they love it so much they use it throughout the day, but I don’t know how because it’s quite thick and sticky. It comes with a little scoop to apply it. I apply it as the last step in my evening skincare and leave it to soften my lips overnight. I tend to keep one by my bed in case I’m feeling lazy.
CosRx Galactomyces 95 Tone Balancing Essence
This was another one of my purchases in Seoul. CosRx is a brand I’d heard a lot about because it’s a mainstay of the K-beauty scene, but I’d never tried any of the products, so I took the opportunity to pick up this and the snail mucin essence, mostly out of curiousity. As expected, the snail version is slightly sticky, while this one is light and fresh.
Essences and serums are the workhorses of a skincare routine that treat specific skin concerns from dryness to fine lines, breakouts to hyperpigmentation.
CosRx says that the galactomyces ferment in this essence brightens skin while delivering hydration and antioxidants. Hyaluronic acid, one of my favourite skincare ingredients, adds further hydration. Niacinamide reduces redness and regulates oil prodcution.
I’m trying out a few different essences to substitute for the expensive SKII Facial Treatment Essence (spoiler: for me there isn’t a comparable substitute). This one feels nourishing and is pleasant to use.
Buy CosRx Galactomyces 95 Tone Balancing Essence on Amazon US
Laneige Water Bank Essence
As someone with dry and dehydrated skin when it’s left to its own devices I’m a big fan of the Laneige Water Bank line.
One of the reasons the 10-step routine works for me is because it involves layering up products with a thin, watery texture that sink into the skin. When my skin is particularly dry it drinks them up fast.
So this isn’t the first time I’ve bought the Water Bank Essence. The texture is slightly thick for an essence, more like a serum, so I sometimes layer it up over another, thinner essence.
I like light, fresh products in the middle steps of my routine and this fits the bill. It has a milky texture that goes clear when you massage it into the skin and absorbs quickly.
I pick this up whenever I’m travelling in Asia or raid Sephora in North America. I’ve got the older version from Sephora — it’s been reformulated into two versions: Hydro Essence for oily skin and Moisture Essence for dry skin.
Laneige Water Sleeping Mask
I think it’s safe to say Laneige is one of my favourite skincare brands. The Water Sleeping Mask is a cult skincare product, with Laneige claiming one is sold every 12 seconds. I can see how that would be true. It certainly seemed to be the most commonly-purchased product in the jam-packed Laneige store I visited in Seoul, where I repurchased one myself.
The idea with a sleeping mask is that instead of washing it off after 10-20 minutes, you leave it on overnight to nourish your skin while you sleep. The Laneige version has a gel-like texture that feels cool and refreshing on application.
I layer it on at night and wake up with smooth, plumped skin in the morning. It sinks into the skin nicely, so I don’t have to worry about messing up my pillows.
The active ingredients include hydro-ion mineral water, evening primrose root extract, and Hunza apricot extracts. The mask breaks down old skin cells and I find them sitting on my skin in the morning, so I tend to use the Banila cleanser to wash and refresh my face.
Laniege has brought out a new lavender version, but I really dislike the scent of lavender, so I’ll likely stick to the original version.
Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Probio Ampoule
This one of the first Korean products I got my hands (or face) on. Before Sephora got on the K-beauty train and I started travelling frequently to Asia, I found an unassuming little Korean shop in Toronto that sells a selection of skincare products. I’d seen the reviews of the Night Repair Ampoule online and knew I wanted to try it. The sales assistant was impressed and amused that I knew anything about K-beauty and confirmed that it’s a great product.
First off, you may be asking, what’s an ampoule? It’s effectively a serum supercharged with a higher concentration of active ingredients to treat skin concerns. Missha says its ampoule contains 10 kinds of probiotics that go through a double fermentation process that makes it easier for the skin to absorb the product. Ampoules also help the products layered on after to absorb better.
This Missha ampoule is moisturising and nourishing, and makes a noticeable difference to how my skin feels. It was recently reformulated, which often makes me wary because sometimes new versions of old favourites are not as nice (I’m looking at you, Etude House Collagen Cream), but thankfully it’s as good as ever.
Apparently Missha Night Repair is supposed to be a dupe for the highly-regarded Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair serum. I hope that’s true, because I hate the smell of the Lauder serum. Scent shouldn’t really make a difference when a product works, but I hated using it every night and was relieved when I’d finished it. By contrast the Missha version is light in scent and texture and a joy to use.
The Missha store in Seoul had it on sale for 3-for-2 so I’m well stocked, which is just as well, because I’m about to finish another bottle.
What are some of your favourite K-beauty products?
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