30 best K-beauty products: Korean skin care to try now | CNN Underscored (2024)

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Beauty / Skin Care

By Noelle Ike, CNN Underscored

Updated 1:01 PM EST, Fri November 17, 2023

What’s in this guide

  • Best K-beauty cleansers
  • Best K-beauty serums, essences and treatments
  • Best K-beauty moisturizers
  • Best K-Beauty sunscreens
  • Best K-beauty masks
30 best K-beauty products: Korean skin care to try now | CNN Underscored (1)

The popularity and prevalence of Korean skin care products has been mainstream in the United States. for years, and it isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Whether it’s a buzzy, viral ingredient like snail mucin or a lightweight sunscreen that boasts tons of UV protection, it can feel like a challenge just to keep up with what’s trending and what actually works.

“Koreans are very trend-centric and constantly want newness, which forces brands to be creative,” shares Dr. David Kim, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Lightsaver. And in addition to this constant innovation and the seemingly endless product launches, Korean skin care is typically more affordable when compared to what’s popular in the US, making it more accessible for people to test out, experiment and try new products.

So, what actually sets K-beauty and skin care apart? “In Korea, there’s much more emphasis on the idea of prevention and taking time to take care of your skin,” shares Kim. This includes a focus on hydration, protection through sunscreen and formulation. “The goal of the 10- to 12-step Korean skin care routine is to maximize hydration to keep your skin moisturized at all times,” Kim explains. This also results in products that are rarely harsh and typically have a gentle, more supple texture that “a lot of people tend to prefer,” he shares.

This, of course, differs from the US approach to skin care, where “there’s a lot of emphasis on active ingredients and using the highest or maximum percentages of active ingredients,” explains Kim. Whether through retinol, lactic and glycolic acid, niacinamide or vitamin C, just to name a few popular ones, the focus is on “treatment” of specific skin issues like hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, acne or eczema. While effective for some, this search for a quick fix or immediate results can come at the detriment of your overall complexion and skin health.

“When it comes to your skin, you really have to spend time and nurture it,” shares Kim. “Finding products that are compatible with your skin takes time, and in Korea, people are invested in developing their rituals, whether it’s two steps or 12.”

Since getting started can often be the toughest part, we’ve consulted various experts on their must-have K-beauty products — perfect for adding to your own cart or picking up for someone special this holiday season. Because who doesn’t love some expert-recommended skin care goodies?

Best K-beauty cleansers

“In my nightly skin care routine, I consistently opt for a double cleanse,” shares Erica Choi, creative director, licensed esthetician and founder of skin care brand Superegg. This is her go-to choice for the initial oil-cleansing step. “The indulgent texture removes all my makeup — even stubborn waterproof mascara — and leaves my skin feeling soft and thoroughly cleansed,” she explains.

“This may be my favorite skin care product of all time,” shares Rowena Tsai, “Beauty Within” founder and co-host. “This unassuming jelly oil cleanser smells divine and does the absolute most to gently melt off the day’s impurities,” she explains, “including sunscreen and waterproof makeup, without blinding you or turning you into a panda.”

“This is the first cleansing balm I ever used and fell in love with,” shares Ava Lee, founder of byAVA and a beauty influencer credited with coining the “jello skin” trend. She describes it as the perfect starter cleaning balm and a great pick that’s much more affordable than competitor options on the market. Plus, it’ll last you a long time.

This innovative exfoliating cleanser comes highly recommended by Felicia Lee, “Beauty Within” founder and co-host. “It contains just the right amount of both chemical (BHA) and physical exfoliation (rice powder) to keep my oily-combination skin bright and unclogged everyday,” she explains. “The packaging is travel friendly and designed with a smart dosage-dispersing mechanism that releases the perfect amount for every cleanse.”

Best K-beauty serums, essences and treatments

“For anyone who wants to get ahead of fine lines and wrinkles, I’ve been using this for years, and it’s one of my top serums,” shares K-beauty expert and content creator Sarah Oh. “It’s the best serum to nourish and firm skin.”

Whether you’re looking to treat yourself or a mother figure in your life, Tsai recommends this luxe, antioxidant-packed essence — a favorite of both hers and her mom’s. “The fermented green tea extract beautifully hydrates to help give us a clear, glowing and radiant complexion,” she shares.

“Retinol usually doesn’t agree with my skin, but I’ve discovered that this gentle retinol treatment is the best option,” shares Choi. “I’ve noticed gradual improvements in skin texture over time, and the silky feel of the product makes it suitable for anyone with sensitive skin.”

When it comes to affordable and effective retinol products, Ava Lee recommends this eye serum. “Nothing at Sephora can compare to this price,” she raves, adding that it works without any skin irritation. “That’s the power of Korean skin care.”

If your skin is feeling dehydrated — whether due to lack of sleep, stress or hormonal changes — Felicia Lee recommends this serum, which she describes as “the perfect oil-water blend that my skin instantly drinks up to rebalance itself.” In addition to micro-capsules of oil that work to nourish and brighten the skin and lessen hyperpigmentation, the proprietary Yolk Duplex is perfect for building your skin barrier back up.

“Another great serum for skin elasticity that’s nourishing and hydrating,” this option works as you sleep, explains Oh. “Even after a long, tired night, this makes my skin refreshed the next morning.”

Tsai calls this hyperpigmentation-targeting serum her favorite skin care discovery of the year. “This lightweight, pure ascorbic acid serum works to fade the most stubborn dark spots and brighten overall complexion,” she shares. And best of all, it’s under $25.

“This Korean essence is an iconic product renowned for its ability to brighten and refine the skin,” explains Choi, crediting its elevated concentration of saccharomyces ferment filtrate — a popular skin care ingredient that works to improve overall skin health and appearance — for its popularity and efficacy. “Its patented Bio-Redox formula helps to promote natural cellular turnover, resulting in a brighter complexion and improved skin texture after consistent use for four weeks,” she shares.

“Ginseng is one of my favorite ingredients, and Sulwhasoo offers the highest quality ginseng infused with remarkable research and technology to enhance firmness, minimize fine lines and reduce wrinkles,” shares Choi. “Whenever I use this serum, I can’t help but notice a subtle radiance in my skin.”

“This is a pricey pick but one I’ve had in my vanity for over five years nonstop,” shares Ava Lee. “I have yet to come across a liquid serum with this kind of texture that’s this versatile,” she explains, adding that you can “use it on its own, morning or night,” or blend it with a BB cream or foundation for “a more dewy, wet look.”

“Some days, a simple skin barrier-building moisturizer is all you need,” shares Tsai. “This gorgeous cream became an instant favorite as soon as it touched my face,” she raves. “It’s a bestseller in South Korea, and for good reason.” It’s also a favorite of Kim, who uses this cream in his own routine and recommends it for those with dry or eczema-prone skin. “It’s super hydrating without feeling heavy, greasy or oily,” the dermatologist explains.

“Perfect for new and seasoned retinol users alike,” shares Tsai, “this small but mighty bottle of skin-plumping goodness will help you achieve the jello skin of your dreams.”

Best K-beauty moisturizers

Recommended by cosmetic chemist Ginger King, this nourishing cream features the buzzy K-beauty ingredient snail mucin, which we have an entire guide on. She describes it as “interestingly emollient” and a great option for the wintertime or for those with chronically dry skin.

What is snail mucin? Experts explain the buzzy K-beauty ingredient for softer skin this fall

For those who prefer a lightweight moisturizer, Kim recommends this option from Laneige. The two-in-one formulation works to prep and soften your skin as a toner would while ensuring it receives all the moisture and hydration benefits of a cream.

“I face hormonal skin issues quite frequently, so my skin is always in a state of rebalancing itself,” shares Felicia Lee. “This gives my skin the perfect dose of hydration and nourishment it needs to look elastic, plump and alive again.” Formulated with the healing and nourishing qualities of propolis and royal jelly, “the consistency is lightweight,” she shares, “but when applied to the skin, feels like a comforting veil that instantly softens skin and gives back that glow like I magically got eight hours of sleep.”

“This versatile moisturizer gives the skin a radiant, bouncy glow,” shares Choi. It’s enriched with potent ingredients and essential ingredients for optimal skin protection and brightening, also working to smooth, hydrate and soothe for long-lasting comfort. “It melts into the skin,” she explains, “making it perfect for layering under SPF or creating a flawless canvas for makeup.”

“This is great for dry, sensitive skin that needs barrier support during the cold winter months and seasonal transitions,” shares Oh. “My skin drinks it up,” she raves.

If you’re on the hunt for a calming and noncomedogenic everyday cream, Kim recommends this option from the brand Dr.G. “It’s light, gentle and soothing,” he shares, “and it’s very popular in Korea.”

Don’t forget to defend your hands from dryness too. Choi describes this luxuriously light, cloudlike cream as the ideal self-care companion. “Enriched with the fragrant notes of herbaceous natural oils,” she explains, “it envelops the skin in rejuvenating moisture.”

Best K-Beauty sunscreens

Editor Favorite

“I adore Korean sunscreens for their texture, the lightweight sensation they provide and their consistent SPF rating of 50+ PA++++,” explains Choi. This gentle option from Round Lab is her and her husband’s go-to choice for everyday wear. “It strikes the perfect balance between a semi-matte finish and ample hydration, leaving the skin with a lovely, silky texture,” she raves.

Ava Lee recommends this sunscreen for those who hate wearing sunscreen. “This is a dream to apply and feels like a hydrating moisturizer,” she explains, adding that it breaks all the assumptions people have about sunscreen — sticky, difficult to blend and leaving that undesirable white cast. “It’s best for everyone because everyone needs their daily dose of SPF,” she says.

The 18 best K-beauty sunscreens, according to experts (and the internet)

“The best type of sunscreen is one you’ll actually reach for and put on daily,” explains Tsai. “This one is weightless, moisturizing and has the most elegantly dewy finish without being sticky, oily or greasy.”

“For those who hate wearing sunscreen,” explains Oh, this protective product won’t feel heavy or sticky on your skin. “It’s like a watery serum,” she explains. “I love the pump it comes in, and it feels weightless on your skin.”

Best K-beauty masks

“For those days [when] you’re staring at your pores in the mirror and whispering a prayer to have them disappear,” Tsai recommends having this sheet mask on hand. “It gently but effectively helps to minimize the look of pores,” she explains, “and it’s also incredibly soothing and hydrating.

“Red beans contain unique saponins that can help to subtly control sebum secretion and work perfectly for my oily-combination skin,” explains Felicia Lee. This pore mask is great for when your skin is feeling dull or congested, and it’s made from a base of kaolin clay, a soft clay that won’t completely dry out your skin. “My skin always feels softer, brighter and clarified each time I use this,” she shares. “It’s an essential in my weekly routine.”

While K-beauty is known for its skin care formulas, Korean hair care is worth checking out too. “I have fine hair, and any thick hair treatment tends to make my hair feel matted and heavy. However, this hair mask is highly nourishing and leaves my hair feeling light and soft,” Choi says, recommending it for all hair types. “I often use it as a replacement for conditioner, and it conditions my hair exceptionally well.”

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parsely The 10 best sunscreens for acne-prone skin, according to dermatologists
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Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed price at the time of publication.

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30 best K-beauty products: Korean skin care to try now | CNN Underscored (2024)
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