Samsung – Hyundai – LG Electronics – BTS – “Gangnam Style.” There are many well-known brands and elements of Korean culture that have successfully seeped into the Western consumer world. However, more recently, the Far Eastern country’s cultural offerings have been more cosmetic in nature. Believe it or not, but Korea has seen its output of beauty products become one of its biggest exports of late. With often very strange ingredients, these ten K-skincare products may seem bizarre, but nevertheless are widely believed to be surprisingly effective.
1. Get off your face with fermentation
Fermentation is a chemical process whereby organic substances are broken down variously by bacteria, yeasts, or micro-organisms. Whatever – it sounds pretty brutal and is probably far from the sort of thing anyone would want happening anywhere near their precious face. Korean skincare technology, however, has found a way to extract the most luscious essences of Mother Nature’s purest ingredients which utilize this process to help rejuvenate facial skin.
An essence is the half-way house between a toner – used to remove dirt and impurities – and a serum – a kind of intense moisturizer. The product’s primary function is to add moisture to facial skin and, like in other parts of the human body, skin functions better when it is fully hydrated. Korean women swear by using an essence on a daily basis, in order to keep the skin on the face supple and enable it to retain elasticity.
2. Gut feeling for an offbeat diet
As any good doctor will tell you, “You are what you eat.” And one of the things nutritional experts believe contributes to the glowing, youthful complexions of Korean women is their diet. Researchers in Korea saw study subjects’ acne reduce in appearance by up to almost 30 percent when they followed an eating plan containing low-glycemic foods. This was quite handy, as such ingredients are commonplace in Korean kitchens.
Top of the menu for retaining a baby-like face should be kimchi. A side dish wildly popular in Korea, the spicy treat consists of fermented cabbage with garlic, sugar, salt, and chili for flavor. And if that does not pack enough of a punch, oysters or anchovies can be added for extra intensity. Kimchi can be left outdoors for months to develop its rich flavors, providing a tasty addition to meals. Best of all, it boasts bacteria to keep the gut in good shape. And apparently, a healthy gut is connected to a healthy complexion.
3. BBQ staple inflames curious skincare craze
Anyone with an internet connection will have noticed that charcoal has become a big craze in the health and beauty market of late. From teeth whitening to toxin removal, the substance’s benefits are multiple, and charcoal has been used to treat skin ailments from acne and rashes to bites and stings. And now charcoal skincare treatments are widely available from drug stores and beauty emporiums.
In a mask or strip form, charcoal is an excellent treatment for blackheads. The charcoal paste application is applied to the skin and as the residue dries it traps any impurities. When the mask is peeled off, it takes a lot of ghastly grime away with it. Although the purchase of charcoal face masks comes with a warning about repeated use, Korean brands seem to be among the most respected and boast the most advanced products.
4. An ampoule may be mighty weird, but it gets the job done wonderfully
It may be small, but an ampoule can be mighty! Having proven a massive hit in Korea for years, this novelty skin restorative delivery system is catching on across the rest of the world. Ampoules contain highly concentrated treatments which are filled to the brim with powerful nutrients and other ingredients to remedy a multitude of skin complaints. Alternatively, the contents of these small containers can be used to add an extra boost as and when needed.
The word “ampoule” sounds like something associated with cranking a guitar up to the max. But it should be thought of as being the repository of a max-strength serum. A main benefit is that different ingredients in an ampoule can target specific skin issues, such as acne or hyper-pigmentation. However, an ampoule’s contents can be so intense that it is best to go easy and reserve it just for occasional use. For example, break one out to treat specific skin complaints or to source a quick dermatological boost before a special event.
5. Facing up to an eccentric exercise regime
It is a well known fact that – as well as keeping properly hydrated – exercise is very good for an individual. Well, for a long time now, Koreans have practiced work-out routines devised specifically for the face. More recently, however, these facial regimes have been designed to perform particular functions and target certain areas, such as sculpting a “V-Line” – a youthful narrowing of the jawline – or lifting droopy eyelids.
Exercises range from the sublime – scrunching up the face as small as can be before enlarging the features as wide as possible – to the ridiculous – raising the head, then grinning and gulping to tone the neck. If all that sounds too oddball, then perhaps a basic facial massage would suit? After all, working the visage in an upward motion pulls at the muscles like a mini facelift.
6. Full-steam ahead for health and wellbeing
Practiced by Korean women for centuries, made famous in the West by eccentric new-age advocate Gwyneth Paltrow, the “V-steam” is a warm vaporous bath for the vagina. Based on the traditional Korean “chai-yok,” women straddle an open-seated chair carefully positioned over a pot of steaming herbal water. Korea’s females are most commonly treated to this practice after their time of the month.
Although they may sound like characters in a Harry Potter book, mugwort and wormwood are two of the key ingredients in a V-steam, as well as an array of other herbs. It is believed that the traditional treatment aids ailments such as vaginal and bladder infections, infertility, fibroids and hemorrhoids. In addition, it is claimed that the cosy vapors can help heal scars from invasive operations such as C-sections and hysterectomies. Indeed, the practice could be called beauty treatment sorcery.
7. Go for gold to enrich your skin
Ed Gein – Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Michael Myers in Halloween – Slipknot. For many years, masks have been associated with serial killers, horror movies and other nightmarish phenomena. And, at first glance, this beauty treatment appears no different, despite containing actual gold. Fans of Korean skincare products may have already tried sheet masks, where paper or cloth are suffused with goodies. But the current trend emerging from East Asia ups the ante in the form of rubber masks.
Rubber masks start off as a goo which is slathered over the face and left for up to 30 minutes until the sloppy stuff has transformed into a more rubbery consistency. This texture enables the product’s beneficial contents to absorb into the face more effectively than with a sheet mask. The gold premium mask is intended to give an intense boost of hydration to the skin and its blend of ingredients form a defense to the aggressive signs of aging.
8. Something fishy going on
If pasting the face with actual gold is not decadent enough, why not up the luxury factor and opt for a caviar treatment? More typically served as sushi, Koreans have found that marine-derived ingredients are not only super-healthy in the kitchen, but using them in the beauty room brings noticeable benefits too. And salt-cured fish roe, in particular, has gained in popularity in recent years.
Caviar has a reputation for being a potent moisturizing ingredient, making the skin softer and more supple when applied by way of a face cream or sheet mask. Feeling extra self-indulgent? Opt for a cream with caviar and gold treatment for an extra dose of total luxury. The combined effects of both opulent ingredients are believed to offer a terrific hydration boost as well as tightening and toning the skin.
9. Nature’s Botox has a sting in the slimy trail
Don’t ask how, but someone in Korea has figured out that snail mucin – yes, the slime the mollusk makes in its trail – and bee venom are actually really good for the skin. Before it was ever used in beauty products, snail mucin – or rather its key component, chondroiton sulfate – was believed to have properties which addressed arthritis and exhaustion, as well as diseases of the liver and kidneys. The super substance is absolutely packed with antibiotics that promote healing and cell regeneration.
As for bee venom, when applied as a beauty product, the skin believes it has suffered a sting, causing the dermis to produce more collagen and increase blood to the area as a healing mechanism. The venom also contains enzymes which work to thin the skin barrier temporarily, aiding the absorption of other ingredients. So, used in tandem with the snail mucin, it is thought to provide a double whammy of skin nourishment to nurture youthful-looking skin.
10. Horse oil is not snake oil
Yes, that’s correct – horse oil. It may present an insurmountable hurdle for vegans – being essentially made from horse fat – but this product has nonetheless been used in Korea for centuries. Indeed, the K-population reaches for it to treat painful skin ailments such as cuts, burns and eczema. The key property in horse oil – linolenic acid – is thought to be active in repairing skin damage, retaining moisture and protecting from all manner of nasties.
If the idea of horse farming purely for vain endeavors turns the stomach, then don’t fret too much. Horses are generally a low-fat animal, which would make mass production of their oil insanely expensive. Horse meat is not something normally found in U.S. grocery stores, but nevertheless it is a food which is widely consumed elsewhere in the world – particularly in Asia. Most animal lovers can rest easy knowing that horse oil is a byproduct that would go to waste otherwise. They should not let the ethical dilemma nag away at them.