Breaking Down K-Beauty: Every Ingredient You Need To Know

K-Beauty is taking over TikTok, and we’re obsessed.

When K-Beauty burst onto the scene back in the 2010s, it felt like an unexplored entity of its own. Here were ingredients that may have once been deemed unconventional by Western beauty standards (things like snail mucin spring to mind), now held on a pedestal.

However, despite the initial buzz about the efficacy and ingenuity of K-Beauty, it has taken a while for it to filter down to shelfies en masse.

We have TikTok to thank for that widespread popularisation.

Sowoong Choi, senior researcher at Sulwhasoo Heritage and Science Centre, says that the younger MZ (millennial-Gen-Z) generation has been driving the beauty market.

“Their interests have shifted from heavy makeup to using skincare products for healthy, dewy looking skin,” Choi explains.

“In the West, many skincare brands use active yet intense ingredients like retinol or glycolic acid to focus on directly ‘removing symptoms of skin concerns. However, in addition to Sulwhasoo, Korean skincare brands tend to create comprehensive solutions to prevent the fundamental causes of our skin problems.”

(Credit: Image: Instagram/skincareby_ems)

For Sadaf Razi, Adore Beauty’s Senior Beauty Editor, it’s clear to see the impact this novel approach to skincare is having.

“’Korean skincare Australia’ generates about 1900 monthly Google searches,” she tells marie Claire Australia. “According to a survey in 2021, 27.6 per cent of respondents state that “The effectiveness and good quality, as well as the low price of Korean products are the main positive aspects for consumers’ impression of Korean beauty products.”

Naturally, tastemakers the likes of Hailey Bieber and trends such as #donutskin have had their impact, with Korean beauty finally front and centre in a new wellness-driven skincare revolution.

K-Beauty Has Distinguished Itself In An Overcrowded Skincare Market

The Sulwhasoo concession in Galleries Lafayette in Paris. (Credit: Image: Getty)

The skincare aisle has never been so crowded, with every product under the sun purporting to include buzzy actives like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to transform skin immediately.

With its more novel approach to ingredients and a sense of purpose to plump, hydrate and soothe over time, K-Beauty manages to stand out from the pack; just ask the millions of influencers spruiking the products online.

“The strength of K-Beauty lies in the fact that customer feedback from the market is quickly reflected in the products,” explains Choi. “In addition, the gentle and rapid efficacy of K-Beauty’s fundamental skincare perspective is also important.”

There is also the depth of research that goes into these products. Choi says his brand Sulwhasoo utilises the “latest dermatological research” to obtain a “deep understanding of women’s skin physiology”.

One can also not gloss over the price, with Korean skincare offering a more affordable price point to be accessed even by the newest skincare aficionados.

Razi adds that the unique many-step approach to skincare in Korean beauty is specifically built to deliver hydration and support the skin barrier.

“Essences are a hero product in K-Beauty routines and something that the Australian beauty landscape is starting to adopt,” she explains. “They’re great to press into the skin after cleansing to boost hydration and also help your follow up serums to penetrate better into the skin.”

Sheet masks, face rollers and gua sha tools to assist with hydration and lymphatic drainage respectively, are also all inventions from the K-Beauty universe.

The Ultimate K-Beauty Skincare Routine

It’s all about finding a new routine. (Credit: Image: Getty)

The key to a great K-Beauty inspired skincare routine is to opt for nourishing and gentle ingredients that offer efficacy over time. This will prevent overly stripping the skin or denting the skin’s natural barrier.


“The K-Beauty routine begins with regular and thorough cleansing. If various pollutants and secretions on the face are not properly removed, they can cause skin irritation and aging. In addition, if makeup or sunscreen is not properly washed off, the remaining residue can cause irritation and lead to skin aging,” suggests Choi.

Amend pH

Cleansing the skin can impact its natural pH levels, so we need to restore them again. “If left untreated, this can also lead to skin aging, so it is important to restore the pH.”

A moisture-giving skin lotion or toner might be a good option here.


“Afterwards, use an essence (serum) containing various active ingredients to help activate the skin’s physiology,” Choi explains.


Finish the whole routine with a moisturising and nourishing cream. You may also choose an eye cream depending on the condition of your skin.

“This is an explanation of the ‘S(kin)-Lo(tion)-E(ssence)-C(ream)’ routine, a typical K-Beauty routine,” says Choi. “In addition, when the skin is exposed to more severe stress environments in the short term, mask sheets or packs can be used to quickly calm the skin and change it to a healthy environment. Finally, when going out, apply sun protection thoroughly to protect the skin from UV, the biggest cause of skin aging.”

Korean Beauty Ingredients You Need To Know

Ingredients like ginseng are very popular. (Credit: Image: Getty)

A quick scan of the Korean beauty products you may have on your shelves, and you’ll notice that a lot of the ingredients may not be familiar to you.

Choi warns against reading the ingredients label willy nilly. “Ingredient scanning platforms have empowered customers to become more educated…but it oversimplified the complex world and the art of chemistry, the art of formulation and how ingredients react when they are mixed. It made us demonise certain ingredients.

“For example, our patented GinsenomicsTM technology is not just ginseng extract, it’s the process of harvesting the ginseng, extraction, transformation and so much more.”

Yet, if you are keen to get a little bit of background behind the key ingredients powering the K-Beauty revolution, we’ve broken them down here for you.

Snail Mucin

A snail secretion that has a very high water content and is packed with lots of nutrients that deliver brightening, anti-ageing and soothing properties


Also known as “bee-glue”, it is a sticky substance collected from bees and delivers a host of antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory benefits.


A root found in Asia and parts of North America that can lighten and brighten skin, promote collagen and elastin production, calm inflammation and assist with signs of ageing.

Rice Water

It works as a skin brightening ingredient thanks to its antioxidant benefits. It also helps reduce fine lines, wrinkles, and inflammation.

Centella Asiatica

A herb used in Chinese and Indian medicine for centuries due to its wound healing properties. It also helps to hydrate and repair the skins barrier, improve elasticity, and soothe the skin.

Birch Juice

Extracted from Birch trees, this ingredient is loaded with skin-loving nutrients that help to brighten and even out skin tone, increase cell turnover, and improve skin texture.


Natural lipids found in the skin to help it retain moisture, protect against irritants, and promote skin repair.


This Japanese grapefruit delivers powerful antioxidants and three times more Vitamin C to brighten, hydrate and protect collagen from environmental aggressors.

Tremella Mushroom

Also known as snow mushroom, or silver ear, this ingredient is super hydrating for the skin as it draws and holds moisture through the skin’s layers. It also helps prevent signs of ageing thanks to its antioxidant properties.

Licorice Root

This ingredient is a natural emulsifier that improves the consistency of products and allows our skincare to deliver benefits to our skin more effectively. It can brighten dark spots and prevent sun damage, calm inflammation, and heal acne scars.


An extract from the flower which is used to help the skin retain moisture while also keeping irritants out, helping to boost nourishment over time.


A well-known herb in Traditional Chinese medicine that helps in recovery from stress. It’s cooling on the skin and will soothe inflammation.

Solomon’s Seal

An anti-inflammatory herb with anti-bacterial properties, making it a brilliant addition to the skincare routine of those with acne.


Yams contain a lot of vitamins that are crucial for skin health and to reduce signs of ageing, including vitamin B1, B3 and C.

Hawthorn Berry

High in powerful antioxidant polyphenols, the berries are used to fight ageing and free radicals that attack the skin.


Also known as a ‘red date’, this fruit is known to relieve itchiness and discomfort in the skin, while also treating acne and scarring.

Most Popular K-Beauty Products

(Credit: Image: Instagram/skincarewithelena)

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