People attribute the recent rise in popularity of Korean skincare to many things, including globalization, the K-Wave, and influencers, but regardless of the reason, one thing is for sure: Korean skincare is here to stay.
Korean skincare focuses on less is more, addressing skin weaknesses and using only what’s needed. One of the most important parts of the routine is the serum.
All About Face Serums
Serums don’t have to sound so alien — they are basically the secret ingredient to a dewy face. Serums target specific skin concerns such as wrinkles, redness, and dryness. A serum straddles the line between being a moisturizer, an essence, and even a face oil but is characterized by its high concentration of active ingredients.
Serums are usually applied to the face by lightly rubbing or tapping the formula into your skin.
No matter what skin concerns you might have because of previous neglect, or using too-harsh cleansers, thankfully serums are potent enough to turn back the clock on your skin and to prevent further damage.
A serum tends to look like a clear, gooey substance in a fancy dropper bottle and is usually pricier than other skincare items. That said, the money’s worth it, so long as it’s quality.
Different serum formulas have different strengths and, if you follow some beauty influencers, most use serums in their routines. Some Youtube beauty gurus known for reviewing skincare products are Skincare With Hyram, James Welsh, and Susan Yara. They weed out the bad from the good while sticking to a routine that keeps skin happy, with the effects clear in their babyface skins. They also teach you that it's never too late to start!
Knowing Your (Skin) Type
No two people are the same — this indisputable truth also applies to the skin. Everyone wants a babyface (smooth, unaging, and perpetually clear) but, to get it, everyone’s path is different based on their skin types.
You belong to one of five skin types: normal, dry, oily, combination, or sensitive. Technically, sensitive skin can also be a concern but, since it has different traits, let’s treat it as a type.
Skincare With Hyram has a helpful Youtube video that identifies skin types through the shine test, which is just gently cleansing your face and checking the shine after one hour.
Normal Skin Type
The normal skin type is one we all wish we had but only a few actually do. Based on the shine test, after an hour of letting your skin rest with no products after cleansing, normal skin types will show slightly matte skin without the feeling of any tightness.
This skin type has good oil and sebum production, which is a natural barrier that protects and moisturizes your skin. This also means your pores are not visible. Though this is considered healthy skin, it still needs maintenance and, of course, could always be worked on for a more radiant and dewy face.
Dry Skin Type
Those with dry skin types usually feel a tightness or roughness in their skin after an hour. They have the least amount of shine, which exaggerates any lines, wrinkles, or flakiness in your skin.
Their skin produces less sebum, leading to a lack of a barrier for moisture control and protection against pollutants. This could cause itchiness and, visually, could lead to a dull, uneven texture that looks patchy, especially under thick makeup.
These are some things that could cause dry skin types:
Weather and dry humidity
Excess UV exposure
Harsh cleansers and scrubs
Your genes, hormones, or age
Oily Skin Type
Oily skin types will notice a strong shine all over the face after the test. Everyone gets a little oily, especially in the summer, but this skin type oils up regardless of weather and activity.
It takes the dewy face to the next level and, although it's not photo-friendly, it's not the worst type to have.
Oily skin produces excess sebum, which clogs and enlarges pores and could make you prone to frequent acne breakouts. Luckily, it's not all bad since the excess moisture helps prevent premature wrinkles. Some causes are:
Puberty and hormonal imbalances
Combination Skin Type
One common thing with people who have combination skin types — they all wish they didn’t.
Skincare With Hyram, who has combo skin himself, said this is the most difficult type to work with and many beauty influencers agree.
A combination of the skin simultaneously has two or more skin types in different areas of the face. This usually takes shape in an oily T-zone and dry cheeks, causing visible pores, breakouts, and flaky dry spots.
It's slightly more challenging to deal with, especially since it’s harder to pinpoint a single cause but the combination of two skin types is typically an inherited trait.
Sensitive Skin Condition
This skin type takes dryness to an extreme degree. Sensitive skin usually feels very itchy and tight but can be differentiated from dry skin because of how it reacts to different climates. It dries in the winter, oils up in the summer, and develops redness both when it's too cold or too warm.
As the name implies, it’s highly reactive to the environment and products it’s exposed to. In extreme cases, when sensitive skin is irritated or improperly cared for, it can even lead to a burning sensation. Sensitive skin type could be caused by genetics and using harsh products.
The Right Ingredients For You
Knowing your skin type is only the first step in your Korean skincare journey. Now, it's time to learn about ingredients.
The first thing to know? Always read the ingredients!
Not all serums are made equal and, with Korean skincare products, the packaging is always attractive but what matters most is the active ingredients. You'll know exactly what you're getting into when you get to know the ingredients.
Compare active ingredients in the serum you're considering with those in the products you already have. If you can, always do a discrete patch test on your skin before fully applying it. This is important for all skin types but especially for those with sensitive skin.
Here's a quick rundown of some common active ingredients in serums and how they get you a dewy face:
Hyaluronic Acid replenishes and locks in moisture, good for dry skin.
Vitamin A (Retinol) speeds up cell turnover to reverse aging and achieve babyface skin.
Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide) helps reduce inflammation and redness to even out skin tone.
Vitamin C (L-Ascorbic Acid) is an antioxidant that helps stimulate collagen production, minimize lines, and revitalizes skin complexion.
Vitamin E moisturizes skin and gives a youthful, glowy look.
Beta-glucan is a humectant, which draws moisture to the topmost layer of the skin to help keep it hydrated and fresh.
Tea Tree is a natural substance that’s best used for treating spots and blemishes.
Centella Asiatica is an anti-aging and anti-inflammatory ingredient.
Best Korean Serums
So what are the best K-beauty serums? We've compiled a list of serums for all skin types (with a bonus for aging skin) that are loved by Korean skincare experts, enthusiasts, and Youtube influencers alike.
For Normal Skin
Image from Wishtrend
Best feature: Rejuvenating and hydrating
This beloved serum harnesses the magical power of… snail slime?
It’s odd but snail mucin is a powerhouse ingredient that eliminates fine lines, repairs sun damage, and reduces inflammation. Butylene-glycol and sodium hyaluronate are also in this formula, which locks in moisture for a supple look.
There are only 12 ingredients in total, making it a good option even for sensitive skin types. Additionally, none of these are fungal acne feeding ingredients, so the serum would also work well for dealing with fungal acne, which appears as tiny and itchy pimples.
Although great for all skin types, this serum is recommended for normal skin because it's one of those special products that can transform normal skin into glass skin.
Image from Wishtrend
Best feature: Lightweight anti-aging serum
It's never too early to start on anti-aging products! The active ingredients in this serum are SH-Oligopeptide-1 and SH-Polypeptide-1. These are peptides called Growth Factors that help skin cells regrow and heal. SH-Oligopeptide-1 specifically accelerates the growth of epidermal cells and, in skincare, is a common anti-wrinkle agent. The SH-Polypeptide-1 likewise stimulates cell regrowth and aids in collagen production and also plays a part in skin elasticity. Together, these stimulate cell growth and help heal abrasions and skin damage. These peptides are naturally produced by your skin but lessen in your twenties, hence the need for this serum.
It's lightweight, non-clogging, and it locks in moisture using humectants. It's a simple yet effective formula that's great for normal skin because it both prevents aging and moisturizes your skin at the same time. With this, staying babyfaced and youthful-looking is much easier.
For Dry Skin
Image from Yesstyle
Best feature: Balances oil production for hyper-moisturization
This serum only uses two ingredients, beta-glucan, and sodium PCA, both high in concentration.
When you look for something moisturizing, these ingredients will take you one step further. These two ingredients help balance your skin’s oil production, moisturize, and penetrate deeply to hydrate the skin.
The serum has a formidable moisturizing power and helps soothe dry, flakey skin. Beta-glucan also acts as a nourishing agent that can make your dry skin glow.
Image from desertcart
Best feature: Revitalizes rough skin
This serum has a non-irritating formula full of powerhouse skin food such as Vitamins B3, C, and E. It also includes Sciadopitys verticillata root extract, honey extract, and apple water, all of which strengthen the skin barrier.
This is extremely hydrating and is great for repairing and smoothing dry, rough skin. This serum was formulated to brighten and rejuvenate dull skin and help it achieve a smoother, healthier finish.
For Oily Skin
Image from Iunik
Best feature: Relieves and heals breakouts and blemishes
The high concentration of tea tree extract and Centella Asiatica leaf water work hand in hand towards a clearer complexion since this was specifically formulated for oily skin prone to breakouts.
Rather than further aggravating spots, this calms irritation and moisturizes without overloading sebum production. It also speeds up healing for blemishes to disappear without a trace.
As a bonus, its moisturizing properties help preserve the skin to delay early aging.
Image from Wishtrend
Best feature: Watery consistency and potent vitamin C for anti-aging
True to its name, this serum’s active ingredient is vitamin C, the longest researched anti-aging ingredient. Its biggest strength is that it supports cell regeneration. This formula speeds up collagen production, minimizes lines, removes blemishes, brightens complexion, soothes inflammation, and improves texture.
Vitamin C’s kryptonite is that it oxidizes without a good stabilizer, which is why ferulic acid is included.
Most Vitamin C serums have an oily texture that’s hard for oily skin types to enjoy. Thankfully, this has a watery consistency and quick absorption.
All these benefits make it a must for oily skin types.
For Combo Skin
Image from Wishtrend
Best feature: Powerful antioxidant that moisturizes and soothes inflammation
Propolis is known to be moisturizing and anti-inflammatory, with amazing antioxidants in its polyphenols. This is great for dryness, redness, blemishes, and acne scars. This particular formula also has 59% houttuynia cordata extract, which tightens skin, controls oil production, and helps with anti-aging.
Using this would be great for combo skin since it has a lightweight consistency that doesn’t compromise on the necessary moisture. This is an impressive formula that would help your skin look healthier and more even.
For Sensitive Skin
Image from Krave Beauty
Best feature: A best friend to damaged skin
Krave Beauty believes in minimalism, which is why this serum features Tamanu, safflower, and rosehip oil. It’s less common in skincare but no less amazing. This clears breakouts, smoothes texture, soothes irritation, and quickly heals damaged and dehydrated skin.
This formula creates a nourishing serum for irritated and damaged skin, regardless of skin type. That said, this is a godsend for sensitive skin, especially considering the powerful skin repair characteristics in this formulation.
Image from Wishtrend
Best feature: Soothing and cooling
This serum is reminiscent of a lightweight moisturizer. It uses sodium hyaluronate and Centella Asiatica extract, both of which work together to soothe sensitive skin and cool it down to remove redness.
The serum gently rejuvenates your skin and introduces hydration back very quickly. The speedy absorption of this serum is another plus for sensitive skin since you’ll barely be able to feel it sit.
This formula specifically targets skin sensitivity and refreshes it, bringing your skin back to life.
For Aging Skin
Image from Wishtrend
Best feature: Strong anti-aging formula
In our twenties, we tend to ignore anything anti-aging. However, skin ages quicker with dryness, sun damage, and poor maintenance, regardless of actual age. Don’t wait to get wrinkles before starting on anti-aging products — prevention is key and Korean skincare lives by it.
This serum combats the signs of aging using Korean ginseng. It dives deep into the skin to nourish, hydrate, and stimulate blood circulation to give skin a healthy glow. With long-term usage, this formula could improve elasticity and prevent the early onset of wrinkles.
Image from Pinterest
Best feature: Fully utilizes Centella Asiatica’s anti-aging properties
Centella Asiatica is a coveted skincare ingredient that, unfortunately, doesn’t come cheap. This ingredient doesn’t usually come in high concentrations but the fact that it does with this serum is amazing.
Centella Asiatica leaf water and extract as ingredients are huge in the anti-aging game because of the plant’s soothing and antioxidant properties. This rejuvenates delicate skin and repairs sensitive spots.
The serum also has other ingredients that play a key role in addressing redness and dryness both of which are signs of aging.
Whether you’ve been trying your hand at it for years or you’re completely new to it, Korean skincare can be daunting.
It’s hard to sort through the overwhelming number of products to choose from. The trick is to simply look at the ingredients. Don’t fall for marketing strategies and packaging, just listen to the story the ingredient list tells. Babyface dewy skin is hard to achieve but it isn’t impossible if you research, test, observe, and commit to a routine.