The differences: Korean VS western skincare

by Sophy Geno about a month ago in skincare

A few important points from personal experience and research

The differences: Korean VS western skincare

As many people can relate to, I have had quite the journey with my skin. Whether you are still on that journey or not, my skincare outlook may help a thing or two.

Acne started to form on my face when I was about 14 years old. At first the acne was only slight and not near as severe as I perceived it to be. At that time my problems routed from new hormones and absolutely no skincare routine at all. I started studying Korean around the time I was 15, and this exposed me to a lot of their culture. Including their slight obsession with skincare.

Which pad is the best?

This above image is one of many Korean you-tubers examining skin care products.

My skin journey starts

The first Korean beauty product I ever purchased was a toner from a brand called Etude House. This "Wonder pore" toner helped all of my skin concerns for a short time (I'll get back to this). This product, being around $10 max on some sites, also fit within my teenage budget. My small pimples and oily skin soon was a thing of the past. This is because the key ingredients that helped were the lemon extract and Hyaluronic Acid. But in the end my malassezia was irritated from the castor oil, and I over used the product eventually damaging my acid mantle. However, I would not keep it this simple, leading to many problems for me to come.

Wonder pore!

I soon discovered a face oil cleanser, and foaming face wash with the English name "Rice water bright". I later researched and found that this product is not the best overall, but has some qualities which lead me to continue using Korean beauty. The main ingredient of rice extract refines pores and gives skin a glow. Because of that I was enticed to wash my face twice a day. This was too much for my sensitive skin, and along with the oil cleanser my malassezia grew worse. Now, currently I would not recommend these products unless you have good skin already. These products do not treat sensitive skin, acne, fungal acne malassezia. I have personally suffered these skin concerns and I will list helpful resources that changed my skin's life at the end of this article.

The main differences: K vs W

After using these products everyday, I noticed my skin was softer, yet I had more acne forming and sensitiveness. Upset that my new found love was causing me problems, I did some more research. While the main differences between Korean and western skin care may not be obvious at first, they transcend many levels of importance.

level one: Cosmetic laws

One major difference is the actual ingredients used in cosmetics. There are around 10 majorly hazardous ingredients that are still allowed in USA skin care. Trust me I am not against all of western skincare, but there are many problems. Here are a few to name.

  • Formaldehyde...
  • Found in: hair straightening treatments, nail polish, and eyelash glue.
  • Triphenyl Phosphate (TPHP)
  • Petroleum.
  • Propyl Paraben.
  • Fragrance.
  • Hydroquinone.
  • Phthalates.
  • P-Phenylenediamine.

These laws naturally make Korean cosmetics 10 times safer than USA cosmetics and makeup in particular. That is also due to the fact that Europe has also banned many of these chemicals from entering their personal care products.

level two: Cultural importance/differences

In the USA especially it is usually more attractive to have a tan. This means sun exposure, UV rays, and chemicals (self tanning liquid), are more likely to interfere with western skin health. It is known that exposure to UV rays causes skin damage and the degradation of collagen. This also causes skin to age faster, have dark spots, and discoloration. In return this makes westerners have a hypocritical skin care routine that consists of products to tan their skin, yet try and reduce the damage by increasing collagen etc.

South Korea has a starkly different view on tanning and sun exposure. I've been exposed to the great lengths many of them go though to keep their skin pale and plump. It is even popular to buy gloves so when you drive the sun through the windows doesn't touch your skin. Not to say this is a better in my opinion, I just observe this from both sides of the spectrum. Overall, both cultures are going through extremes for what they believe is better for the skin. However, in the end what is truly better?

This may not seem like it relates to skin care, but it does.

These small cultural differences add up. Almost every Korean skin care products usually contain at least one ingredient to help protect skin from sun, increase collagen, and lighten any spots. A subtle difference I have also noticed is that while western products do contain vitamin C (which helps produce collagen and lightens spots), it is usually in a form that our skin cannot absorb. and back to the sun exposure, "Exposure to UV light reduces the availability of Vit. C in the skin.". This can make skin care very confusing. Honestly if you are confused, the best solution is to learn the science behind it all. Ultimately I see while the western world is starting to care more about their ingredients in skin products, Korea has been ahead of the game for years (which is yours to judge).

Click here for a study on Vitamin C in dermatology.

Note: Many Korean skin care products are not vegan. However, there are still many options with synthetic animal ingredients! Click below^^

Level three: Price and availability

In my personal experience when I went to Korea the skin care and cosmetics were amazingly cheap (compared to the price and USA currency exchange). To put this in perspective, I even saw some face masks for 1,ooo Korean Won, which is about 88 Cents in US currency. You may know the pretty cool Farmacy honey potion mask retailed at $38-$50~.


There is a similar honey mask by Korean brand Holika Holika that costs $7.50 (This price is what I paid for it in South Korea).

This product comes in three different versions.

Not only that, the availability of these products is insane. While I was in Seoul you can find a store called Olive Young (Korean Sephora pretty much), on almost every third or four block. If it's not Olive Young, there is a store called DAISO which has many cheap essentials. I even saw pop-up skin care product sellers in the subway, at 11 pm. This makes these products exceptionally accessible to everyone. I connected some dots and figured this is why so many people have good skin in this city.

Some final thoughts

Through my skin journey I have spent money on expensive and cheap skincare products alike, and I personally think although there are some rules to follow, you must find what works best for your unique skin. I have tried Curology, pills, and laser treatments to help my skin. In the end, what worked best is taking a deep breath, loving my skin, and keeping it simple. (And spending hours looking up skin care information TT)

Ultimately I tried to take the best parts from both world of skincare to make my own routine. I continue this journey today, but I must share what I have learned so far. Korean skin care is different from western skin care in some critical ways. Recognizing these differences has improved my skin's health drastically and I feel more happy in my own skin every day. While my western skincare family is catching up, I think some innovation is needed. If we all combine our ideas the skincare industry could really flourish. It's time for us to put skin care at a more prime place in our minds, while considering the pollution we create and suffer in the name of skin.

Here are some links to magical places that will help you love your skin!

Skincarisma: A place for seeing the qualities of many beauty products.

SimpleSkinCareScience: A magical place to learn the science behind skin!

Here is a you-tuber who I have learned a lot from as well!

I am always learning more about health ans skincare, so bare with me on my journey for skin nirvana. Thank you for reading, although there is much more to be said.

Good luck on your skin journey!

Sophy Geno
Sophy Geno
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Sophy Geno

I am Sophy. I love to travel and write poems. Sometimes I say wise things and I try to post them here.

See all posts by Sophy Geno