Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream Review
Do you ever look at those spreads of handbags in fashion magazines and try to pick your favorite ones without looking at the price? And then after you’ve selected your favorites you look at how much they cost and, of course, they’re the most expensive ones on the page? I play this game with myself all the time and have such mixed feelings about the outcome – on the one hand, maybe it just means I have good taste, but on the other hand – I would never spend $3,000 on a handbag. To a lesser extent, this is how I felt about Sulwhasoo, an Oriental medicine-based, luxury Korean skincare line that also happens to be very expensive. Sulwhasoo has been on my radar for a couple of years, and there was a time when I seriously balked at the price, just as I do the price of those $3,000 handbags. But my curiosity and a couple of samples finally got the best of me, so as a Christmas gift to myself, I finally indulged my high-end skincare dreams and bought myself a slew of Sulwhasoo: Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Eye Cream, Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Essence Oil, the Overnight Vitalizing Mask, and the focus of today’s review, the Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream.
What is it?
The Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream ($220-$264 USD) is one of the brand’s best selling moisturizers. It touts itself as a corrective treatment for all skin types, and claims to revitalize and restore skin, even out skin tone for an “ageless complexion,” as well as moisturize.
Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Water, Glycerin, Squalane, Cyclopentasiloxane, Butylene Glycol, Beta-Glucan, Trehalose, Limnanthes Alba Seed Oil, Sodium Hyaluronate, Glyceryl Stearate, Perilla Ocymoides Seed Extract, Phytosteryl Isostearyl Dimer Dilinoleate, Octyldodecyl Myristate, PEG-40 Stearate, Stearic Acid, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Ophiopogon Japonicus Seed Extract, Licorice, Hydrolyzed Ginseng Saponins, Panax Ginseng Berry Extract, Glutinosa Root Extract, Chrysanthemum Morifolium Flower Extract, Paeonia Suffruticosa Root Extract, Citrus Unshiu Peel Extract, Adenophora Stricta Root Extract, Lycium Chinense Root Extract, Coix Lacryma-Jobi Ma-yuen Seed Extract, Angelica Tenuissima Root Extract, Honey, Morus Alba Root Extract, Astragalus Membranaceus Root Extract, Angelica Acutiloba Root Extract, Cnidium Officinale Root Extract, Vitis Vinifera, Gardenia Florida Fruit Extract, Nelumbo Nucifera Leaf Extract, Scutellaria Baicalensis Root Extract, Terminalia Chebula Fruit Extract, Paeonia Lactiflora Root Extract, Acetyl Glucosamine, Mangifera Indica, Helianthus Annuus Seed Oil, Phytosteryl/Behenyl/Octyldodecyl Lauroyl Glutamate, Persea Gratissima, Jojoba Esters, PEG-100 Stearate, Polyacrylate-13, Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone, PEG-30 Dipolyhydroxystearate, Glyceryl Linoleate, Pantethine, Retinol, Cetearyl Alcohol, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Dimethicone, Propylene Glycol, Cyclodextrin, Tocopherol, Dimethiconol, Polyisobutene, Salicylic Acid, Polyquaternium-51, Tocopheryl Linoleate, Copernicia Cerifera Wax, Caffeic Acid, Polycaprolactone, Glyceryl Linolenate, Lauryl PEG/PPG 18/18 Methicone, Glyceryl Arachidonate, Dextrin, Polysorbate 20, Methoxy PEG-114/Polyepsilon Caprolactone, Phytosphingosine, Disodium EDTA, Benzophenone-5, Methylparaben, Ethylparaben, Phenoxyethanol, Fragrance
Even though I’d peeked at the ingredient list prior to purchasing the Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream, I was still taken aback by how long it was. As someone with sensitive skin who is also acne prone, I am spooked by long ingredient lists such as this one. More ingredients often mean more potential to react to something in the formula. However, there were several aspects of this list that piqued my interest and ultimately convinced me to give in and order this stuff already.
Like many Asian skincare formulas, especially the Oriental medicine based lines, the Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream contains wide variety of plant extracts. All of them contain antioxidant properties, many of which are anti-inflammatory. A handful of them also possessed anti-microbial or lightening abilities. Here are some of the highlights:
Panax Ginseng Root Extract – The Panax Ginseng is obviously the star of the show in this formula. This extract is not only the first ingredient listed, it’s also just one of three Ginseng ingredients in the cream. Ginseng is a fairly well documented ingredient – there are even some studies that suggest it may have some anticancer properties due to its l antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It’s also been shown in at least one in-vitro human study to stimulate collagen production, and has had numerous animal studies showing it to accelerate wound healing, and even reduce wrinkles caused by UV damage.
A small sampling of available ginseng studies:
• Panax ginseng induces human Type I collagen synthesis through activation of Smad signaling
• Korean red ginseng extract ameliorates skin lesions in NC/Nga mice: An atopic dermatitis model
• Effects of red ginseng extract on UVB irradiation-induced skin aging in hairless mice
Beta-Glucan – This is a natural compound that can be extracted from yeast, fungi, seaweed, oats, barley, rye, or wheat. There have been numerous studies conducted on its wound healing effects in animals, as well as a few studies on its efficacy on human skin. This particular study showed it to be effective as an anti-oxidant, wound healing, moisturizing, and anti-wrinkle:
An excellent review of the benefits of Beta-Glucan:
Skin Health Promotion Effects of Natural Beta-Glucan Derived from Cereals and Microorganisms
Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract – Better known as green tea extract, this ingredient has a multitude of studies showing its benefit in the skincare world. Green tea’s active, skin-friendly component is polyphenols, which possess powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
This study from June of 2013 showed green tea extract to have a prolonged moisturizing effect, reduce skin roughness, and improve skin microrelief (wrinkles):
The use of green tea extract in cosmetic formulations: not only an antioxidant active ingredient
Licorice – One of my favorite skincare actives – licorice root is anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and has skin brightening properties, making it a wonderful ingredient for acne prone skin and hyperpigmentation.
Morus Alba Root Extract – The Morus Alba is better known as Mulberry. Mulberry root contains active compound called Arbutin, a melanin-inhibitor that has been proven in multiple studies to effectively treat hyperpigmentation.
A great abstract on the lightening properties of Morus Alba:
A comparative study of the safety and efficacy of 75% mulberry (Morus alba) extract oil versus placebo as a topical treatment for melasma: a randomized, single-blind, placebo-controlled trial.
Salicylic Acid – Salicylic Acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that is often used as an acne treatment. It is a naturally occurring ingredient, usually derived from willow bark, but also occurs in other sources, such as aloe. It’s antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and an exfoliant. Salicylic Acid has been shown in multiple studies to improve barrier function and collagen production.
According to COSDNA, there are some potential irritants and acne triggers in this formula. The Glycine Soja oil and hydrogenated vegetable oil both score a 3 out of 5 as a potential acne trigger. Avocado oil, stearic acid, and palmitic acid all score a 2 out of 5 as potential acne triggers. Alcohol scored a 3 out of 5 and Tocopherol a 2 out of 5 as potential irritants, while Cetearyl Alcohol, as always, scores a 4 and a 3 as a potential acne trigger and irritant, respectively. These cautionary listings did give me pause before I purchased this product. The fact that they all appear in the bottom half of the ingredient list, and were far outnumbered by ingredients I was excited about alleviated my worries enough for me to go ahead and purchase this cream, but I was hoping the ingredient list would be a little more elegant.
As one might expect from a product at this price point, the packaging for Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream is positively opulent. It’s packaged in a beautiful, gold box that opens to reveal the jar perched on a pedestal, which is exactly where a jar that looks like this belongs. The jar itself is nearly the size of an apple. It feels extremely solid in the hand, and the metallic orange finish makes the whole package appear robust and refined. When the jar is lifted, a spatula for dispensing the product is revealed.
The jar is very well sealed – I had to remove a light plastic ring before lifting the heavier plastic seal. Inside, the cream is a very light tangerine color, and appears smooth and buttery.
Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream has a very herbal smell to it. It’s very hard to describe- the fragrance has a nearly wood-like quality about it. I find the smell comforting. It disappears a few minutes after application.
I apply Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream as the last or second to last step in my skincare routine. In the morning, I apply my sunscreen before my moisturizer if I’m using a chemical sunscreen. If I’m using a physical sunscreen, I apply it after this moisturizer. In the evening, I apply my Tretinoin about 45 minutes after this moisturizer. I use a chickpea sized amount of the cream to cover my face and neck. The texture of the cream is soft, yet structured when it comes out of the jar, but as soon as it makes contact with my face, it practically liquefies in the most satisfying way . The cream literally melts into my skin.
Most of it is absorbed immediately, but it leaves behind a thin, glossy sheen that is smooth but not sticky. The glossy sheen does not feel heavy, nor does it feel like it’s sitting on top of my face – it just feels hydrating. It’s not unlike the way my skin feels after I’ve applied a few drops of Maracuja or Argan Oil and allowed it absorb for 20 minutes. My skin type is dry, so I really enjoy the glossy, hydrating sensation, but I imagine oilier skin types might not find it as appealing. People with dry skin and combination dry skin might find the experience as luxurious as I do.
Surprisingly, I don’t find it difficult to apply makeup after the Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream, even in the absence of a primer, which I often skip.
I’ve been using the Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream for almost 6 weeks. Any doubts I had about the Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream disappeared within the first few days of using it. My skin looked particularly glowy after using it for a single night, a glow that has continued throughout my usage of this moisturizer. I was worried that some of the ingredients might trigger a breakout or irritate my sensitive skin, but my experience was quite the opposite.
When I first started using the Ginseng Renewing Cream, I still had some active acne, and I found the cream reduced the inflammation and the redness significantly within a couple of days. A week later, I started using the Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Exfoliating Liquid, at which point any acne I had completely disappeared. I have been completely acne free for going on three weeks, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. It’s the longest stretch I’ve been this clear of acne in years – since my late 20s. I do think the BHA (in conjunction with my Tretinoin) did most of the heavy lifting in terms of eradicating my acne, but the anti-inflammatory and anti-redness effects I experienced from the Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream was visible before I began using the BHA.
My skin feels soft and well moisturized, but more impressively, I find it a little less sensitive than usual. For example, a couple of nights ago, I accidentally overdid it with an AHA gel. In the past, this sin would have likely compromised my skin’s moisture barrier, and left me with angry, red, overly sensitive dry patches on my upper cheeks. But no. Not this time. I got a little peelier than usual, but none of the signs of a damaged moisture barrier ever showed.
I have experienced a very subtle brightening effect throughout my usage of this cream – though, my skin has been brighter than ever for almost a year, so it’s difficult to tell whether or not a specific product is dramatically brightening these days. In terms of hyperpigmentation, I didn’t see any dramatic lightening results from this cream. It definitely decreases redness for me though – including both general redness, which I sometimes experience in my cheeks, as well as the redness that was associated with the active acne I had when I first started using the cream.
I am a little surprised by how much I love the Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream. At best, I hoped I would like it and that it would satisfy my curiosity about the Sulwhasoo brand, but it has far exceeded my expectations. It’s actually sort of an issue, since it’s too expensive to be sustainable for me. What’s worse is that Alice (W2Beauty) included a sample set of Sulwhasoo First Care Serum, Balancing Water, and Balancing Emulsion with my order, and for the week and a half I was able to use all the products together, I was in heaven. Alas, this splurge will have to remain a special, occasional treat.
I’m generally of the belief that expensive does not equal “better” when it comes to skincare; there are plenty of amazing skincare products I love available at $50, $30, even $10 price points. But I’m going to go ahead and say this right now – if I win the lottery, the first thing I’m buying is a walk-in closet full of Sulwhasoo.
Who would benefit from this product:
People with dry/very dry skin, combination skin, and mature skin, as well as some sensitive and acne prone types.
• Very moisturizing
• Reduces general redness
• Reduces redness and inflammation from acne
• Did not break me out – seemed to alleviate active breakouts
• Reduced skin sensitivity
• Luxurious texture
• Beautiful packaging
• Pleasant Smell
• Ingredient list does contain several potential irritants and acne triggers according to COSDNA
• Jar packaging can be unhygienic (though it does come with a spatula)
Skin & Tonics Rating:
Performance:5/5 – Far exceeded expectations in terms of moisture, anti-redness, and anti-inflammatory effects, imparts a pretty glow
Ingredients: 3/5 – This formula contains a lot of excellent ingredients, but it also contains several potential irritants and acne triggers according to COSDNA
Packaging: 4/5 – The packaging is gorgeous and solid, but the jar packaging has the potential to be unhygienic
Is it worth the money?
If you’re looking for an indulgent delight that delivers some beautiful results, this is absolutely worth the price. I feel my money was well spent. I personally find the price point to be too prohibitive to use this product on a sustainable basis, but will certainly purchase this cream again in the future as a limited, occasional extravagance.
Where to Buy
I bought my Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream at W2Beauty, where it retails for $210. First time customers can get a $5 W2Beauty voucher by entering my sponsor code at sign-up: 025605.
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