Skin & Tonics : Skincare Guides & Product Reviews

Skincare guides & product reviews for hydration lovers & the moisture barrier obsessed

5 Fascinating Trends in Korean Skincare

Recently, while researching background information about Missha, the company that makes the BB Cream I reviewed last week, I stumbled across a great introductory article on Hope in a Blog (my new favorite blog) about the Korean skincare routine. Koreans take skincare VERY seriously. Their morning and evening routines each involve the layering of an average of 9 skincare products (for an average of 18 per day) in a carefully executed ritual that targets specific skin needs.  At first I was intimidated, but now I’m obsessed with trying Korean skincare products, and beginning a layering ritual of my own.

I’ve been doing tons of research on a variety of lines, many of which are not readily available here in the US. I sent some links to a friend of mine to show her what I was looking at and her immediate response was, “What IS all this stuff? Holy shit, we are so behind!”  She’s right. We are behind. Back in 2011, Marie Claire reported that when it comes to skincare, South Korea is about 12 years ahead of the US in terms of technology. More recently, Nicki Zevola, founder of FutureDerm, said South Korea has a 5-10 year lead on us, largely due to there being less red tape when it comes to introducing new skincare ingredients.

I haven’t purchased anything yet, but I found some really interesting ingredient trends. Here are the five biggest surprises I found (in no particular order):

Bird’s Nest

I must admit – I was confused when I first saw this. Aren’t birds nests made out of twigs and candy wrappers? What good would those things do in a face cream? It turns out these aren’t just any bird’s nests – they are the nests of swallows, also known as swifts, and they are made out of a nutrient-rich, solidified saliva produced by the males of the species.

Historically, the nests have been used in Chinese cooking since the 17th century, most often as a soup. Consuming the nests is believed to provide all kinds of health benefits, such as strengthening the immune system, alleviating asthma, raising sex drive, and even improving mental focus. As a skincare ingredient, its high concentrations of antioxidants, water-soluble glycoprotein, Epidermal Growth Factors, and amino acids are said to fight signs of aging by promoting cell growth and tissue repair.

Prestige Bird's Nest Cream by It's Skin Korean Skincare Ingredients

Prestige Bird’s Nest Cream by It’s Skin. Image from


There was a time when the harvesting of these birds nests from their natural caves was ecologically devastating, but the days of cave harvesting are over. Instead, there are now swallow farms throughout Asia with large structures full of carefully spaced rafters ideal for nest building.  Special attention is paid to temperature, humidity, and sound in order to create an ideal environment for the swifts to live and build nests.

I was able to find research backing the skincare benefit claims of some of the individual components of a bird’s nest, but could find no research in English that studied the bird’s nest as a whole in terms of skincare benefits.

The idea of putting bird saliva on my face sounded a little bit skeevy at first, but I think I’ve warmed up to it. Will I try it? Yes.


Snail Slime

Snail slime. On your face. This skincare trend has already been huge for years in South Korea, and it shows no sign of slowing down. Nearly every  Korean skincare brand has a snail line of products, which contain high percentages of snail mucin. Although they are often marketed as anti-acne products, they also claim to have scar lightening, anti-inflammatory, wound healing, skin-regenerating, and anti-wrinkle benefits.  Surprisingly, I was able to find a fair amount of scientific data backing to these claims.

Baviphat Snail Ampoule Korean Skincare Ingredients

Baviphat Anti-wrinkle Snail Ampoule. Image from


According to dermatologist Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, M.D., “ Snail mucin extract is a complex blend of proteins, glycolic acids and elastin.”  This healing slime is the reason snails are able to move across sharp rocks and twigs without having sliced up little snail bellies – the mucin naturally and quickly heals cuts that occur on a snail’s body. Additionally, there was a snail mucin study back in January of 2008 in the journal, “Skin Pharmacology and Physiology.”  The study was conducted by a group of scientists in the US and Spain, and concluded that, “Skin care products that include the soluble serum [snail mucin] help to orchestrate the correct assembly of the extracellular matrix, and avoid excess or abnormal scars, including acne scarring.”

Still, the idea of putting snail slime products on my face is one I’m having a hard time warming up to. But if the skincare benefits are as real as they seem, I certainly don’t want to miss out. Will I try it? Totally.


Bee Venom

I have to admit, my first thought when I stumbled across bee venom based skincare was, “Whoa, badass!” I don’t enjoy bee stings, or even venom as a whole, but it was such an interesting idea that I immediately needed to know more.

Bee venom has been used for years to treat arthritis, back pain, and rheumatism, but as a skincare ingredient, it’s still a newcomer. The idea is that the skin benefits from it because of a compound contained in the venom called “melitten.”  Melitten contains anti-inflammatory properties that are said to be stronger than hydrocortisone. When venom is applied to the skin, it begins to break down cell membranes, causing the body to react as if it’s under attack, which results in increased circulation and triggering collagen proteins to become more active. Additionally, this series of events causes a temporary relaxing effect in the facial muscles, which reduces the appearance of wrinkles.  Its fans often refer it to as “natural Botox.”

Bee Venom Spot Treatment by Nature Republic Korean Skin care ingredients

Bee Venom Spot Treatment by Nature Republic. Image from en.koreadepart,com


I was unable to find a completed study specifically regarding the effects of bee venom in skincare. However, I found plenty of anecdotal information from people who have used it and rave about it. In fact, it’s already wildly popular in the UK, thanks to the royal family.  In 2010, it was revealed that Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall ,had been receiving “organic facelifts” from a skincare expert that specializes in bee venom treatments. She is looking pretty good these days, I must say.  Last year, it was reported by multiple sources that Kate Middleton received a bee venom facial before her royal wedding. Michelle Pfeiffer and Gwyneth Paltrow are also reportedly bee venom fans.

Will I try it? Hell yes.



Just kidding, guys. This ingredient isn’t people. I did that for drama.  This skincare ingredient is actually stem cell media. No doubt you’ve seen American products advertising stem cell technology, but the difference is that the stem cells in American products are plant derived.  The stem cells in Korean lines are derived from human sources – namely cord blood or adult bone marrow.

When I first read about it, I actually envisioned a gorgeous, evil villain harvesting babies for her own fountain of youth, and I bugged out a little bit. Fortunately, this is not at all the case. These products are developed by cosmetic companies through partnerships with biotech companies that specialize in cell replacement therapy.  The biotech companies have a plentiful supply of umbilical cord blood and adult marrow samples so they can develop treatments for neurological diseases, diabetes, and other disorders. The cosmetic companies are using the same supply for their stem cell cultures.

Danahan RGII EX Cream Korean Stem Cell Skincare

RGII EX Cream by Danahan. Image from


The skincare benefits of using these stem cells, sometimes called called RG2, is increased cell regeneration and sun damage reversal. They provide anti-wrinkle benefits as well as scar lightening properties. There have been many studies done on the efficacy of stem cell technology in skincare, and it looks as though the claims are true.

Stem cell based skincare is huge in Korea, with many experts arguing that it’s the greatest innovation in skincare to date.  It has the potential to be huge here, but there is a lot of controversy over stem cell research and usage in this country. I’m not sure how receptive this market would be.

Will I try it? Absolutely.



We’ve already covered bee venom, but what about snake venom? What about deadly Temple Viper venom? No? Okay, good, because it’s not real snake venom. Syn-ake is a synthetic compound that mimics the effects of a peptide called Waglerin1, which is found in the venom of the Temple Viper. What this product does is relax the facial muscles to smooth out wrinkles. Most products featuring Syn-ake are serums, although there are some skincare lines that feature moisturizing creams and emulsions containing the compound.


Like bee venom, Syn-ake is touted as a Botox alternative, but what sets it apart is that there have actually been studies done on its safety and efficacy. Studies have shown there to be no harmful side effects of usage, and in one study, forehead wrinkles were shown to have improved by 52% over the course of 28 days.

Syn-ake Korean Skincare Ingredient

Syn-ake Agetox Cream by It’s Skin. Image from


This product is also enjoying some popularity in the UK, as fans of Syn-ake include Victoria Beckham, Kate Moss, and Cheryl Cole.

Will I try it? Of course I will.

What I’ve learned from all this is that I apparently have no boundaries when it comes to skincare. What about you? Which of these skincare ingredients would you try? Do you currently use any products containing these ingredients?


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9 comments on5 Fascinating Trends in Korean Skincare

  1. Girl! I was cracking up reading this! Initially I thought the bee venom seemed like a cool idea. Mostly because the last time my husband got stung his hand swelled up to resemble a catchers mitt, so I assume he’d keep his paws off my product if he were allergic to it. But the snail one! At first I was all “Hell no! Have you seen the banana slugs in WA state!”. But then I thought of the cute snails in NC growing up. Amazing how a little shell can change your perception.  And the rational behind it makes complete sense! That’s how those lil delicate loogies don’t get ripped to shreds. Crazy.  I’ll be trying the snail product first. Let me know when/if you get it and how it goes. Love this blog topic!

    • Kerry

      You know, even though snails are cuter than slugs, I think their slime is just as gross. That’s not going to stop me from rubbing it all over my face, though. I just ordered the snail line from Missha today, so I’ll be able to report back in a few weeks. (BTW, Missha is having a 40% off sale on their website today through Feb.8. )

  2. This is awesome! I’ve done research on a few but it takes a ton of time and you’ve saved me from the legwork on the others! 🙂

    I would really love to read any information you have on trends that are really just hype.

    Glad I found your blog! I’ve loved all the entries I’ve read so far.

  3. Interesting about the birds nest – I had heard of birds nest soup and that it’s a good tonic. I guess the same applies in skin care.

  4. […] 5 Fascinating Trends in Korean Skin Care – Skin & Tonics – 5 Fascinating Trends in Korean Skincare. … Back in 2011, Marie Claire reported that when it comes to skincare, South Korea is about 12 years ahead of the US in … […]

  5. […] 5 Fascinating Trends in Korean Skin Care – Skin & Tonics – South Korea is about 12 years ahead of the US in terms of technology. More recently, Nicki Zevola, founder of FutureDerm, said South Korea has a 5-10 year lead on us … […]