In 2015, Charlotte Cho, the founder of Soko Glam, told our colleagues at the Cut that Korea’s beauty products were emerging as one of the country’s top exports. Since then, K-beauty has only grown in popularity, becoming a major movement not only Stateside but also in the global skin-care industry. Many Korean-made products focus on treating (and preventing) concerns such as dullness, dryness, or acne, Cho says, while incorporating gentle ingredients like healing snail mucin and moisturizing ginseng. Complexion-first practices such as double-cleansing and “glass skin” — which refers to a luminous, poreless finish, says Peach & Lily’s founder, Alicia Yoon — also originate from Korea, as do many Strategist-favorite brands, including CosRx, Laneige, and more.
Since the start of the K-beauty boom, we’ve written about many staples, from the best vegan ones to vlogger and blogger favorites to spa mitts for baby-soft skin. Below, we’ve compiled a list of the best Korean-beauty products that have appeared on the Strategist, as recommended by dermatologists, drag queens, and makeup artists plus our own writers and editors. And because K-beauty runs the gamut from serums to sheet masks, this list covers a range of skin-care (and hair-care) categories.
Best Korean-beauty cleansing balm
Both Strategist beauty writer Rio Viera-Newton and drag queen Kim Chi use this cleansing balm and say it can melt away products on the skin easily. It’s the first step of Viera-Newton’s evening beauty routine whenever she’s treating acne because it contains anti-inflammatory grape-seed oil and antioxidant-rich vitamin E, an ingredient that can treat post-acne spots, says Dr. Caroline Robinson, the founder of Tone Dermatology. It feels so luxurious that Chi has persuaded other drag queens (Plastique Tiara and Naomi Smalls) to use it, too.
Best (less expensive) Korean-beauty cleansing balm
Vlogger Michelle Choi, the Cut’s former beauty director Kathleen Hou, and Viera-Newton all call this less expensive balm one of the best K-beauty cleansers. Hou first heard about its gentle (and nonsticky) cleansing abilities from Korean model Soo Joo Park, who says it’s strong enough to remove heavy-duty eye makeup. It’s also hypoallergenic, so Choi says it does a “great job of melting down all the oil and dirt stuck in the pores and keeps them clean,” while Viera-Newton says the formula calms her combination skin.
Best Korean-beauty cleanser for sensitive skin
Elisa Lee, a K-beauty blogger and founder of cruelty-free K-beauty store Dot Dot Skin, recommends this cleanser for sensitive skin because it contains aloe-vera juice, portulaca extracts, and papaya extracts, which are all calming, nonirritating, and moisturizing, she says. And because it’s an oil-and-water-based formula, Lee says she doesn’t need to double-cleanse when using this: “It removes all my waterproof makeup and dirt in one go while leaving my skin hydrated.”
Best Korean-beauty cleanser for oily skin
Celebrity aesthetician Sofie Pavitt recommends this gel cleanser from CosRx as the first step in a skin-care routine for oily skin because it works to deep-clean without harsh stripping. She says she likes that it helps ward off breakouts thanks to “BHA [beta hydroxy acid], an active ingredient that really cleans inside the pores,” but that it’s still gentle on the skin. It also contains tea-tree oil, which has antibacterial properties to keep pores clear, and primrose oil to soften, hydrate, and nourish.
Best Korean-beauty toner
Viera-Newton is a fan of this toner, which she uses in place of a cleanser in the morning. It contains 72 percent propolis (a gluelike substance made by honeybees), which has antibacterial and inflammatory benefits, plus honey extract, a natural humectant that has antimicrobial properties, high levels of antioxidants, and even wound-healing capabilities, Viera-Newton says. Together, these ingredients deeply moisturize the skin and calm irritation, “whether that be breakouts or just cold-weather flaky bits,” she says.
Best Korean-beauty serum
Former Strategist writer Lori Keong raved about Peach & Lily’s Glass Skin serum when it first came out in 2018, and since then it’s become a moisturizing staple that is endorsed by beauty editors and redditors alike. “This stuff is, no hyperbole, the best hydrating serum I’ve ever tried,” Keong says, adding that it makes her skin “impossibly dewy, plump, and less red all at once.” It contains niacinamide, which creates a visibly brighter appearance and targets dark spots; hyaluronic acid, which draws moisture to the skin; and a blend of peptides to boost collagen production. “I see a noticeable difference in my skin minutes after applying it, and with weeks of consistent use, my skin is definitely smoother and brighter,” says Strategist writer Arielle Avila, who purchased it after reading Keong’s review.
Best Korean-beauty essence
We’ve been writing about this do-it-all essence for several years now because it can combat practically any skin issue, including dullness, dryness, and acne. The superstar substance is snail mucin — a slime by-product — which can improve hydration, stimulate collagen production, and aid skin regeneration. Dr. James Y. Wang, a dermatologist and the founder of Metropolis Dermatology, likes that it’s less comedogenic than other essences, meaning this product won’t clog pores, which is crucial for those prone to breakouts. It contains a blend of hyaluronic acid and panthenol, two ingredients known for deep hydration and their reparative properties, Viera-Newton says. She also says it’s “one of the best healing, brightening, and moisturizing essences on the market.” It’s been called an excellent dupe for SK-II’s Facial Treatment Essence.
Best Korean-beauty essence for dry skin
Strategist senior editor Crystal Martin says this essence gives her skin a “new radiant top coat” that is plump and dewy but not oily or wet. Glycerin is the primary ingredient, which Dr. Michelle Henry, the founder of Skin & Aesthetic Surgery, says is a strong humectant that helps increase hydration. Beyond blocking moisture loss, it also contains avocado extract to strengthen the skin barrier and licorice-root extract to ease inflammation. As a result, Martin says that during colder months, “in what would usually be a flaky, peeling skin season, my face is smooth, vibrant.”
Best Korean-beauty essence for mature skin
Cho says her top priority as she ages is hydration, so she switched to this Neogen essence for her mature skin. Because the formula is thicker in consistency, Cho uses it during winter months to lock in moisture instead of applying a heavy cream, which she says can clog your pores. Strategist contributor Katheryn Erickson says this product also contains a blend of fermented ingredients, all of which work to plump, nourish, and heal the skin. “It’s lightweight, so I add a few layers, and my skin slurps it up like a sponge, immediately feeling more hydrated, soft, and bright,” she says.
Best Korean-beauty toner-and-essence set
This toner-and-essence duo can be found on Viera-Newton’s list of the best pre-wedding skin-care products because the combination is so intensely plumping and hydrating — in other words, it’s “wedding skin in a bottle.” While the toner is mildly exfoliating, Viera-Newton says it’s still gentle enough to use before a big day, while the essence is comparable, if not better, than the above SK-II treatment for moisturizing and brightening the complexion but at a quarter of the price. “It’s helped me so much when it comes to combating stubborn dark marks without irritating my skin, and my mom swears it’s helped with her fine lines and wrinkles as well,” she says.
Best Korean-beauty exfoliator
Beauty blogger Eunice Cho says she likes this alpha-hydroxy-acid exfoliator because it has a large molecular size that penetrates the skin slower and in turn causes very little irritation without stripping away moisture. There is also panthenol and beta-glucan, which boosts your skin’s immunity and speeds up wound-healing, says Natalie Aguilar, a celebrity aesthetician and dermatological nurse.
Best Korean-beauty tinted moisturizer
Made with centella asiatica (which calms the skin and builds collagen), this CC cream is a favorite of Strategist contributor Garrett Munce. He says it’s lightweight but has excellent coverage, and of the dozens of tinted moisturizers he has tried, it blends the most effortlessly and quickly into the skin. Available in three shades — fair to deep — the color is encapsulated, meaning it comes out of the tube white and blends in to match your skin tone “like magic,” Munce says.
Best Korean-beauty sunscreen
YouTuber Lily Hong (more popularly known as Hautedoll) recommends this Missha sunblock because it goes on smoothly and is nongreasy. It contains titanium dioxide — a common ingredient in mineral sunscreens — which acts as a physical barrier between your skin and UV rays. It also has cooling eucalyptus extract along with soothing aloe leaf to nourish skin without leaving it with a tight or dry feeling, Viera-Newton says. And because it’s so moisturizing, Hong says it’s the perfect first step to prep your skin for makeup. If you’d rather use a chemical SPF, Keong prefers Missha’s sunscreen-essence hybrid because it “blends into skin well without making you look pasty or oily.”
Best Korean-beauty primer
When we spoke to Korean makeup artist Seong Hee Park about the products she uses on editorial fashion shoots to prep models’ skin for their close-ups, she told us about this glowy-but-not-greasy primer. Park says it contains fine pearl powder, which creates a silky texture on the surface of the skin. It also has titanium dioxide and a blend of lemon, orange, pomegranate, and grape extracts to nourish and refine the look of pores. “If I want more shine texture on the face, I add it on the highlight zone with my fingers,” Park says.
Best Korean-beauty pimple patch
“CosRx pimple patches are the holy grail. Drop everything and buy them,” Viera-Newton says. She recommended these in her original skin-care Google doc and named them the top choice for standard whiteheads in her list of the best pimple patches. Each patch is 100 percent hydrocolloid, a fluid-absorbing gel that has “been used for decades on the skin for chronic ulcers, trauma wounds, and even burns,” says Dr. Jaimie Glick, a dermatologist at New York Dermatology Group. Viera-Newton says the ingredient works the same for zits: It draws out any excess gunk while simultaneously covering the area to protect the inflamed skin. And when you remove the patch, “the area will be much flatter and less noticeable,” she says.
Best Korean-beauty spot cream
While Viera-Newton is a self-proclaimed pimple-patch girl, she says this spot cream is “one of the most slept-on hits of CosRx.” Unlike other spot treatments that are high in benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid (which can further aggravate breakout skin when used too frequently), this treatment is formulated with calming and soothing ingredients such as aloe vera, centella, and calamine to reduce redness and inflammation. “It’s totally nonirritating or abrasive, and you will notice the size and swelling of a zit go down straight away,” she says.
Best Korean-beauty sheet mask for dry skin
K-beauty blogger Tracy E. Robey of Fanserviced-b recommends these masks from Papa Recipe that she uses when her skin is feeling dry and irritated. While she says she dislikes the feeling of a lot of other masks, she leaves these Papa Recipe ones on for 45 minutes and will “even fall asleep while wearing them because they’re so cozy.” They’re formulated with two natural hydration ingredients — honey extract and propolis extract — to restore and protect your skin’s vital moisture balance. “The hydrating, fairly thin essence smells like honey and slowly sinks in to plump up fine lines, take care of dry flakes, and give a great glow,” she says.
Best Korean-beauty sheet mask for acne-prone skin
This is the mask to reach for if you’re battling serious cystic acne or deep, under-the-surface pimples. It contains tea-tree oil (an antibacterial and antifungal), willow bark (an exfoliator), plus chamomile and asiatica pennywort (both of which reduce redness). It’s beloved by Viera-Newton to calm her breakouts and R.O. Kwon, author of The Incendiaries, who describes it as having skin-nourishing magic. “It calms down my skin when nothing else will help,” Kwon says.
Best vegan Korean-beauty sheet mask for acne-prone skin
Viera-Newton says this is similar to the mask above “but [is] even more hydrating and even better at taming inflamed pimples.” Plus it’s made with vegan ingredients. Each one is infused with hyaluronic acid to boost the skin’s moisture levels and centella asiatica to soothe any kind of painful blemish, Viera-Newton says. It’s also free of potential irritants such as parabens and fragrances.
Best Korean-beauty lip mask
Our best mask for very dry lips, this K-beauty treatment comes highly touted by actresses, stylists, Strategist writer Tembe Denton-Hurst, and even our readers (it’s a best-selling product on this site). The first celebrity to recommend it to us was Keke Palmer in 2019, but since then, numerous famous people have counted it as one of the things they can’t live without (Yuna Zara’ai, Ty Hunter, Ashley Benson, Storm Reid, and Beverly Nguyen). It contains vitamin C to brighten and a blend of coconut oil, shea butter, and murumuru butter for a thick, melty texture. There’s also hyaluronic acid, which is deeply hydrating and works exceptionally well when it comes to “fighting the drying effects of heating and air-conditioning,” says dermatologist Cybele Fishman, who likes it for Accutane users. Although it’s meant to be used as a reparative nighttime treatment, it’s so moisturizing that many wear it all day long, Denton-Hurst says.
Best Korean-beauty hair oil
Charlotte Cho recommends this (reader-approved) oil because it’s ultrahydrating and smoothing plus it preps hair for styling, especially before or after using a curling iron. A blend of annatto oil, pumpkin-seed oil, and argan oil, which is rich in vitamin E, imparts moisture and leaves hair silky without a heavy or greasy feeling, Cho says. She also likes that it’s nice-smelling, thanks to green-tea and aloe extracts, which also work to protect strands against heat damage.
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