OK, yes, Korean beauty products are nothing new to you at this point, provided you haven’t been living in a dark cave for the last year. But do you really know why they’ve become so popular in the states? We promise it’s not just the super-cute packaging. It’s because K-beauty products can do ridiculously cool things that your usual American-made products simply can’t.
From serums infused with snail mucus (hey, don’t knock it until you try it) to cutting-edge sunscreen formulas, K-beauty products work to protect skin from sun damage, cancer, aging, and, yes, even the most basic of blemishes. So to make the most of your beauty loot, we broke down the five coolest things you can only do with K-beauty products.
1. Fade Acne Scars Without Melting Your Face Off
There’s a reason why people (namely every single beauty editor in existence) continually talk about the crazy unique ingredients, like snail mucin and pig collagen, found in K-beauty products: They really, really work. And they’re cool. But mainly the “it really works!” part.
Sure, drenching your face in mollusk slime doesn’t sound ideal, but “snail secretions are naturally antibacterial and very lightweight,” says Alicia Yoon, licensed esthetician and founder of Peach and Lily. Plus, there’s strong anecdotal evidence that the hyaluronic acid and peptides in snail mucin can help fade acne scars and plump fine lines. To boost up your acne and aging defenses, try the Mizon All-in-One Snail Repair Cream, which helps even out zit-prone complexions.
And then, of course, there’s your classic pig collagen. Yeah, it seems like something out of a Kitchen Nightmares episode, but products with pig collagen, like Scinic Pig Collagen Jelly Cream, help temporarily firm up your skin, while adding in a rich layer of moisture. “Facial creams with pig collagen tend to be especially moisturizing and filled with antioxidants,” says cosmetic chemist Robert Verdicchio. “Collagen is also a good filler for aging skin, which loses elasticity as it ages.”
2. Buy Literally Everything You’ve Ever Wanted (On the Cheap)
If you’ve ever purchased a $90 volcanic mud mask only to find that it’s a pile of gunk in a bottle, you know how crappy it feels to have wasted yet another rent check on gimmicky beauty buys. Luckily, K-beauty products are super cheap, thanks to an ultra-competitive Korean market, making most items 300-percent cheaper than those at your local Walgreens.
Sure, you could spend $170 on an SK-II brightening mask (which, mind you, is a fantastic product, if you’re cool with the cost), or you could score the same brightening effects with a Korean-favorite sheet mask, like a Manefit brightening mask for only $6. And while you could definitely spend $163 on the cult-classic Skinceuticals Vitamin C Serum, which uses vitamin C to protect against free radicals and wrinkles, the K-beauty KLAIRS Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Serum is only $23, but equally effective, using a lower percentage of vitamin C to fade dark spots and acne scars.
3. Gently Brighten The Hell Out of Your Skin
If you go bonkers over a bubbly glass of Kombucha, you’ll be pleased to know that fermentation isn’t just great for your stomach–it’s also fantastic for your skin. “Fermentation causes larger molecules to break down into smaller molecules,” says dermatologist Joel Schlessinger. When used in skin-care products, “fermentation allows ingredients to be more easily absorbed into the skin, without the added irritation,” he adds.
What does that mean for your face? Fermented products are packed with good-for-you ingredients, like “enzymes and amino acids that work to speed up cell turnover, sugar and fruit acids that help moisturize skin, and antioxidants that protect the complexion,” says Schlessinger. All of which can lead to ridiculously perfect-looking skin.
If you’re not sure where to start, try a few of the K-beauty royalties, like the Shangpree Bitgoa Hue Essence Toner, which uses fermented extracts, like pomegranate and pumpkin, to deeply hydrate and sooth your skin. Or, try the Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence, which is formulated with fermented yeast and vitamin B to brighten dull complexions.
4. Wake Up Looking Like You Slept for Two Weeks
If you’ve ever slathered on a thick, rich night cream, only to wake up with a zillion clogged pores, we feel your pain. And so did K-beauty brands, apparently, because enter: sleeping masks–super-hydrating, yet surprisingly lightweight face masks that you wear while you sleep.
“Sleeping masks look and feel like night creams, but they’re formulated differently and tend to be more intensive than night creams,” says Yoon. “So they help boost your skin’s natural moisture while you sleep, without leaving you with a greasy feel.” And unlike other skin treatments that can take months to have an effect, the gel-like masks give you immediate satisfaction, leaving you with noticeably softer and calmer skin by morning.
If you are looking for an insanely awesome overnight routine, try layering Shiseido’s Ibuki Beauty Sleeping Mask, which is formulated with vitamin C and E capsules, or the glycerin-infused Lioele V-Line Sleeping Pack over your nighttime moisturizer right before bed, to wake up with shockingly brighter skin.
5. Withstand a Zombie Apocalypse (While Looking Awesome)
Nothing is more frustrating than meticulously applying lipstick and penciling in your brows, only to find that they’ve both faded by noon. But in K-beauty world, there is, of course, a solution for that: makeup tattoos, namely peel-off eyebrows and lip stains. Yup.
And no, these tattoos are nothing like the tacky vending machine tattoos of your childhood. The Oops My Lip Tint Pack Set, for example, include six lipgloss tubes of peel-off jelly that you apply to your lips for 15 to 20 minutes, before slowing peeling off the film. The end result: a deep, bold lip tint that won’t budge until the end of the day (really).
And because they love us, Korean brands applied the same type of beauty wizardry to eyebrows, too. For the Etude House Tint My Brows Gel, just spread a thick layer of tinted gel over your brows for two hours, then peel off the gel (don’t worry–your hairs will be safe) for subtly darker, yet still surprisingly natural, brows. And the best part: is that they won’t smudge or fade for at least a day.
Of course, any time you apply something to your skin for the sole purpose of, you know, dyeing the hell out of it, make sure to do a patch test first to check for potential allergic reactions. Dab a bit of the product behind your ear (sounds weird, but it’s actually an excellent spot for testing allergens), then monitor the area for 48 hours to see how your skin responds.