[REVIEW] Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum EX

My Skin is Addictedimage

It’s true, I’m addicted. I use too much. I justify it. I love it. This is one of Sulwhasoo’s finest.

I hate really dislike my new job. It has perks over my old one but I’ve been trying to get out of there almost since I started. I was moping around about having to work Saturday night (Not part of my regular schedule but I was doing it the entire month) After grocery shopping at HMart my partner and I went into AMOREPACIFIC because I actually wanted to get myself something. My partner was tired of it and asked what I was eyeing last time and that was Sulwhasoo’s First Care Activating Serum. I told him it was expensive and I don’t really need it, it’s ‘just another step’. He snatched a bottle up and put it on the counter before I could say anything else.

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Also included from the day’s shopping: Ryo Ginsengbo Conditioner for Normal/Dry Hair , Laneige Water Bank Soothing Gel Mask (5pc), Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask, Happy Bath Peach & Orange Blossom Foaming Hand Soap (2) [gift w/ purchase!] , Sulwhasoo Basic Care Set 6pc [also gift!])

So to say the least, he did cheer me up. A L O T.

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Sulwhasoo products are really special to me. Once I moved away from such an intensive repairing regime I found myself bored and tired of my skincare routine. While results kept showing, my drive faded. Sulwhasoo brought a fresh take to my idea of skincare. Holistic skincare. Indulging all senses and not just applying product for results. Make your routine relaxing and beneficial inside and out. Textures irresistible to touch, scents that evoke emotion, and most importantly quality and well processed ingredients.

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What is First Care Activating Serum? It was the first product of it’s kind. First launched in 1997 it’s been a best seller in Korea, and now even the US. It’s described as a ‘booster’ or ‘activator’. You can find other products like it, though rare, from other brands such as Naruko 60 Actives Youth Activating Enhancer and Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Science Activator Ampoule are some examples. What is a booster? Well, it’s a serum you apply before any treatment step, first essence (and sometimes toner) included. They all vary slightly on effects but the common theme is enhancing product absorption. First Care Serum promises to do this and more, such as provide a boost in firmness and hydration.

I started experimenting with where I wanted to use this product in my routine because in my routine, I apply actives before essences and above. I let them sit for 20 minutes before applying anything else. At night I use my Curology prescription. In the morning I use Dr. Dennis Gross’ C +Collagen serum. So i’ve applied this before actives and after my actives. I found over a month of testing this is how I like to apply it best:

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The last method with actives requires a bit of time, but it’s the only way I’m truly happy with how my products layer when I’m doing a full routine. Why I say a toner w/ denatured alcohol is because these make much better ‘prep’ toners. For you it may not be a toner with alcohol, Actually, the toner I use with alcohol is designed to increase treatment efficacy and product penetration! I feel like my regular alcohol free toners do not leave my skin feel freshly cleaned and First Care has a slower absorption rate. I use it before and after my actives, then use a refreshing treatment toner as my ‘toner’ step before First Treatment Essence. This is totally unnecessary and I skip it at times, but if you want the whole shebang.. there you go.

Now my favorite part, ingredients. Based with 5 ingredients that were hand picked out through a tedious process. First 3,000 Korean traditional medicinal herbs were studied, from this list 163 were selected. These 163 herbs went through intensive research and an even smaller list of 30 was created. Rigorous tests discover 5 ingredients poised to work harmoniously. These 5 ingredients makeup what is called the ‘JAUM’ balancing complex.

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Peony — Antioxidant powerhouse, anti-inflammatory, skin tone corrector

Sacred Lotus — Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory

Solomon’s Seal —Anti-inflammatory, UV damage repair/protection

White Lily — powerful anti-inflammatory

Rehmannia —Anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, rich in repairing amino acids

Essentially, these 5 work together to soothe, balance, and protect. Sulwhasoo couldn’t just stop at hours of research to find the 5 perfect herbs. They then tested traditional brewing methods. The poje honey method is used to marry these ingredients with honey in earthen jars. To ensure maximum efficacy the ingredients were checked every 10 minutes when researching. They found no more, and no less than 18 hours was the perfect brewing time. With that the JAUM complex was born.

To read more about these complexes you can find out more from AMOREPACIFIC’s R&D: Here, here, and here

The JAUM Complex is the star of First Care but there’s a few other ingredients I like to see. Licorice Root is the second ingredient, my favorite anti-inflammatory. Betaine, Hyaluronic acid, and Natto Gum are great humectants to include.

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(not an exact comparison due to lighting differences but still noticeable!)

First few applications of the product I didn’t notice any substantial differences. But over time I started to crave the cooling/soothing feeling it left. I would notice days that I had to skip it in my routine; my skin would extremely lackluster compared to what I was getting used to. Once I added it back, immediately that glow was back. I can say with confidence this product has improved my skin’s circulation with its gang of anti-inflammatories.

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First Care Activating Serum throws a huge wrench in the ‘thinnest to thickest’ method of application extensive routines have. Instead of being the thinnest product first it’s actually this guy. Not essence. Not even toner. Like straight after washing your face you take 2-3 pumps of the serum and apply onto dry skin. I was super weirded out by this, especially for my cleansers that have a pH that requires a toner afterwards. I like to keep the brands whole product line in the back of my head when analyzing products. Sulwhasoo doesn’t make pH unbalanced cleansers. Their ‘Waters’ or toners are a cross between toner and essence so a very watery pH balancing toner isn’t a step in a Sulwhasoo only routine.

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First Care’s scent is so lovely. It carries a similar scent the rest of the ‘Essential’ line has, but isn’t excessive and fades quickly. Citrusy with prominent woodsy-hanbang notes, Sulwhasoo scents are part of what make their products unique and a holistic experience.

Overall, I found a new staple. I look forward to it the most in my routine, I can even spend a solid 5 minutes just rubbing this product in. From it’s soothing sensation to the long term circulation benefits I’ve noticed, it’s a keeper.

[First Impressions] BRTC Jasmine Waterful Sleeping Pack

Can you own too many sleeping masks? If you said yes, YOU’RE WRONG. I have I think 5 currently, and one disposable… When Cupidrop announced this product to review I was stoked! How did they know I needed another hydrating sleeping mask?

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They didn’t. I got lucky.

BRTC is a clinical oriented KBeauty brand that stands for Bio Remedies Therapeutic Cosmetics. Their goal is to provide effective formulas based in nature. (Like a lot of brands!) They do however have two of their own patented ingredient complexes in this single product: Purple Vigor, and Blue Phyto Complex.

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http://www.cosdna.com/eng/cosmetic_c655293254.html

(I made a CosDNA account finally to track things that I input, not search!)

Humectants: Glycerin, Hyaluronic Acid, Betaine, Xylitol

Notable Ingredients: Cyclopentasiloxane*, Niacinamide, Adenosine, Allantoin, Chamomile, Jasmine Water

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The Jasmine Waterful sleeping mask is described as dual function to assist with not only whitening (reducing dark spots), but anti-wrinkle as well. It has an extremely light Jasmine scent that I honestly, can’t really pick up unless my products have no scent whatsoever. Some people are more sensitive to it than others, but I really have to strain to pick up any jasmine scent. I do wish it was in a tube or a pump to prevent ingredient degradation and maintain sanitation.

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The texture is great. It’s described as ‘bursts with moist when rubbed in’ and it…. well… really does! Just like if you’ve tried Dr. Jart Water Drop moisturizer or similar, this will form lil’ water beads when you start to rub it in! Pretty novel, but it shows the formula is literally ‘bursting’ with hydration. Pretty cool stuff! It absorbs well and makes a fine last step at night (or even as a lightweight hydrating/priming moisturizer in the morning!)

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[REVIEW] SWANICOCO Beer Bubble Pack

ANOTHER ONE.

Another Swanicoco product coming at ya. The Beer Bubble Pack. This oxygenating mask is designed to help restore circulation and help maintain pores.

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When I first read about this product, I honestly wasn’t super stoked. It doesn’t really sound like a fit for me. While it helps restore circulation, it’s main focus is pores. Circulation improvement comes from the oxygenating effect of the mask, but the key ingredients such as Fennel and Hops are antibacterial and more suited for pore problems. I got big ones, but you can’t change your genetics!

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Other ‘key’ ingredients include betaine, arginine, and allantoin. All 3 will help the skin maintain moisture.

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Application is… well… fun! You take a few pumps of the fragrance-free gel and smooth it over your face evenly. I was hoping for some sort of earthy/spicy scent, but all SWANICOCO products I’ve tried are free of any fragrance.

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In about 5-7 minutes of enduring tickling cheeks, you’re left with a mountain of foam ready to be washed off.

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Washing this mask off is tedious, as with any bubble pack. They’ll just keep bubbling, and bubbling… until finally, 3 days later it’s off.

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You’re then left with soft, circulated skin. I love doing this as a morning mask, either before a shower (for easy rinse off) or if I have a spare hour when I wake up. I’m always glowing and not stripped.

My only complaint about this mask is, the lack of benefit for it’s price. Just a dollar short from $20, I could load myself up with a few beneficial, more versatile sheet masks for the same price.

Overall I give this mask a 5/10.

Bubbles: super well!

Removability: poor

Scent: None

Benefit: soft, temporarily well circulated, glowing skin.

As a bubble mask I give it an 8/10.

[Review] Sulwhasoo Snowise EX Brightening Fluid: Emulsion Elegance

As spring arrives and I’m daydreaming about summer, we often look to switch up parts of our routine needing less moisture, and/or more hydration. Emulsions have to face the tightrope of consistency. If they’re too thick, what’s the point of another moisturizer? If they’re too thin, what’s the point of your essence? Emulsions provide us a silky smooth transition from your treatment or hydration steps (I dunno your routine or how you want to categorize, boss.) into your moisturizing step(s). Necessary? No. Beneficial? Ya. How? Let’s find out!

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Sulwhasoo is like a 3 Michelin Star restaurant, a complete sensorial experience. Maybe in different ways, you’re not rubbing foie gras on your face. (I think foie gras would be too blasè for a 3 star restaurant tbh) But there’s a lot more to a product than good ingredients. First is the scent, with a sultry pine/ginseng hanbang-y smell it’s true Sulwhasoo. Second is texture. Sulwhasoo hits it on the head as far as consistency goes. Third is how they process their naturals using the Poje Method. There are 5 different treatments that can be done to the ingredients. Honey treatment (I am so excited to write more about this in another Sulwhasoo post 😉 ) Alcohol Treatment, Germinating Treatment, Steam Treatment, and Salt Treatment. Some of these treatments (like the Honey Treatment) are specific to certain key ingredients in other lines. In this emulsion we see the Salt Treatment used.

“The Salt Treatment involves baking ingredients in salt. Sulwhasoo Snowise line uses Salt Treatment. First, salt is dissolved in water. Then, logs of mulberry tree which is known as a strong whitening agent, is completely soaked in that water and baked. Salt not only clarifies the body and purifies the blood, but it also fortifies the Yin energy and detoxifies inflammation to clarify and brighten skin.

The Salt Treatment enhanced the skin detoxification efficacy of the mulberry tree and improved the power of the active ingredients.“

-eng.amorepacific.co.kr 

Snowise utilizes White Ginseng instead of Red Ginseng. Which isn’t a different root, it refers to the untreated ginseng root which is pale in color compared to the vibrant red steamed ginseng roots. Because of this Sulwhasoo saves time and money on NOT using their precious red ginseng extract that undergoes the Poje style Steam Treatment. But have no fear, you’re still getting the same top notch ginseng. It just may not have gone through the michelin star experience yet. It needs about another $100 tacked onto the price (see: Sulwhasoo Capsulized Ginseng Fortifying Serum) if we were looking for that type of concentration in a product.

Wandering the ingredient list, I was stoked to see it wasn’t based with any silicones or cleansing agents. Even more stoked to see Squalane as the third ingredient. Squalane is a lovely skin replenishing ingredient that mimics our own lipid content. It sounds dramatic, but the proof in how much I love this brand is in the holes Sulwhasoo has made in my wallet. I purchase Sulwhasoo products over other maybe potentially more ‘active’ for the whole experience. The way this emulsion absorbs is like no other, but also when I put it on in, take a deep breath in and get a whiff.. It’s like a shot of relaxation. That to me is worth every cent of the price difference.

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Under the hood the Snowise Fluid has a killer brightening complex. I can’t describe it better than the people who made it:  “Snowise Tri-White Complex includes White Ginseng Saponin, which prevents melanin generation; White Cloud Grass™, a potent defense against light and heat; and White Ginseng Polysaccharides, which minimize sallowness in the skin—all of which help strengthen and protect the skin.”

Okay maybe I can describe it better in some ways than they did.. Starting with the White Ginseng Saponin, this is a component of ginseng. L O A D E D with antioxidants and provide soothing and protecting effects. White Cloud Grass unfortunately, I could not find what this name might relate to…. So that they can describe better than me I guess. Then White Ginseng Polysaccharides, another component of ginseng that is. Polysaccharides, being a NMF (natural moisturizing factor) and antioxidant carrier, and making up 10-20% of the root, makes it a no brainer for the formula.

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Some ingredients Sulwhasoo was too modest to brag about are: Two types of Licorice Root Extract, powerful soothing agents I love to see anywhere and everywhere. Ginkgo Biloba, an anti inflammatory ingredient that helps increase circulation.

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Is she brighter than me? Well she’s covered in silver highlighter head-to-toe…

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Does it brighten? Well.. if you’re speaking about dark spot suppression, not as much. There are specialized dark spot correcting products within the Snowise line. However, the fluid I believe is designed to be more of a multifunctional emulsion / soothing, tone restoring, antioxidant hug.

Why didn’t I go with the popular Essential Balancing Emulsion, when I said I loved it in an IG post? After a short conversation with my Sulwhasoo savvy Ajumma in the Amore boutique, she mentioned the Snowise fluid is more moisturizing. But when I applied them both on the back of my hand I felt like the Snowise absorbed much quicker. I also liked the products high Squalane content, something the Balancing Emulsion lacked.

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One perk of emulsions are finely tuning the amount of lipids, or moisture your skin gets. I would never be able to wear just a gel moisturizer, unless I was in the TROPICS. Unfortunately, Seattle is not the tropics last time I checked. My skin wants at least a little bit of lipids. With it being spring time, my skins doing great with emulsion and gel moisturizer in the morning, and sticking to emulsion, cream, and sleeping pack at night. No face oils have been necessary, luckily.

Overall, Sulwhasoo did it again. I feel like I could pick anything up from them and probably find something to love about it. But this emulsion made me fall in love with it inside and out.

 

 

[REVIEW] Sunday Riley Tidal Brightening Enzyme Water Cream

I have a bad habit of moving directly on to another moisturizer after finishing (or growing tired) of my current one. But Sunday Riley has made the FIRST moisturizer I had to come back for more of. 

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Tidal claims to be hydrating and brightening. It hydrating with 2 forms of Hyaluronic Acid, a low molecular weight HA to penetrate deeply and hydrate over time, as well as your regular HMW-HA to give surface hydration. You find Jojoba Esters as the seconds ingredient providing moisture very similar to human sebum without feeling like an oil or heavy butter. So we know with this moisturizer we are getting both some hydration and also some moisture (without the weight!) 

Tidal’s brightening effects I feel like are actually a bit understated. Papain, or papaya enzymes help lightly exfoliate, which in my use have helped cut down how frequently I exfoliate noticeably. 1% Alpha-Arbutin is the power ingredient however, which is up to 20x more effective than Beta-Arbutin or commonly known as just ‘Arbutin’. While Arbutin is a natural ingredient (you can find it in Bearberry extract) Alpha-Arbutin is a biosynthetic powder that is manufactured and MUCH more expensive than it’s Beta brother. What is arbutin? It is a brightening ingredient that is related to hydroquinone but is much less harsh and doesn’t have nearly as many safety risks included. Another point to note is the cool use of papaya enzymes, generally we see them in powder washes like Tosowoong’s (Review here!) or AMOREPACIFIC’s enzyme peel. Some have concerns of these washes not actually exfoliating much, if at all because the enzymes are not left on long enough/ are not strong enough. Since the enzymes are being left on they have a chance to exfoliate to visibly smooth and retexturize over the course of a few uses. 

This is my second jar now of this gel-cream. It has a subtle floral/earthy scent with zero added fragrance and a beautiful light teal color with a subtle iridescence. Tidal isn’t you’re average hydrating moisturizer, it’s actually a very active treatment as well. I recommend this for clients who often times want an all-in-one moisturizer, but they actually want it to show results. 

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I don’t pick favorites, but if I were to this may be it. No complaints here, man. 

[REVIEW] Dr. Dennis Gross C + Collagen serum

Vitamin C & Niacinamide: a Potential Love Story

There’s always a new fancy type of vitamin C that’ll gain buzz for a few months. Sunday Riley is currently touting THD or Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate in their C.E.O line, Korres has ‘Super C’ or Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate, some brands prefer the tried and true L-Ascorbic or pure form of vitamin C. But Dr. Dennis Gross has recently launched his newest vitamin C serum focused on brightening skin tone and supporting collagen production sporting 3-0-C, or Ethyl Ascorbic Acid.

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Vitamin C is a great ingredient. Arguably one of the most anti-aging non invasive ingredients you can slather on. But being an active ingredient it does have a vitamin it doesn’t like to mingle with. Niacinamide! (or vitamin B3) All forms of vitamin C eventually metabolize into L-Ascorbic Acid, the raw form of vitamin C. Some take longer, but it’s generally deemed safe to use Niacinamide and other forms other than L-AA together. When Niacinamide and L-AA mix they can potentially form what is known as a ‘1:1 complex’ and render each other useless. No vitamin C, no Niacinamide. This is still a grey area for cosmetics and cosmetic formulators. Some believe you should have the two used at separate times (such as morning and night). When mixed they produce a substance called nicotonic acid which can cause skin flushing, and irritation. However it’s said it could be as, or more effective than Niacinamide on it’s own. This usually is not the case again, with forms of vitamin C other than L-AA. Some brands, like Dr. Dennis Gross are using them side by side. If you’re interested in all of the interactions with vitamin c and niacinamide I would recommend checking out this post by KindOfStephen it’s super informative, and he goes over the in’s and out’s of it and what nicotinic acid is.

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3-0-C has a small list of benefits it touts over other forms of vitamin C. The biggest one is that it is both oil and water soluble, allowing for maximum absorption. It shows great improvement in hyperpigmentation/dark spots by inhibiting Tyrosinase activity therefore slowing down Melanin synthesis. It’s also a great antioxidant and is shown to be very stable in formulations. To read more aout 3-0-C this is a relatively easy to understand study on it check it out here.

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One of my biggest complaints about vitamin C serums is the consistency. SO MANY are tacky, or leave a less than desirable feeling. While I unfortunately can’t tell you this could be an exception, it still feels a little like a sticky vitamin C serum. It isn’t nearly as tacky as say, OST 20, but not great. No weird smells, or gimmicks just a quick absorbing well formulated vitamin C.

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To make sure you’re getting more than just your anti-aging/brightening effects with the Niacinamide and vitamin C team, you can also find Superoxide Dismutase (SOD) a lesser known Skin Identical ingredient (something found naturally occurring in our skin) that inhibits oxidation. Hexylresorcinol, a UV protectant and potentially a skin brightening ingredient. Lastly to note, Collagen amino acids, a favorite of mine to provide moisture and building blocks for collagen production.

 

[REVIEW] Joseon Dynasty Cream

The Multi Functional Hanbang Cream

Here is a gummy cream moisturizer I’ve seen talked about for literally years but it wasn’t until the ‘discontinue’ scare that I finally tried it. From what I have gathered from many reddit posts and searching was that the cream was discontinued and memebox said they could not get the manufacturer to make anymore. But then, somehow magically they came back! Some people said this was just a last run, but then my like new favorite website find crystalcovebeauty.com stated in an instagram post they “have not heard that this is a last run production or that the cream has been discontinued.” So great news!

joseon dynasty cream

I love this packaging, unfortunately my box came damaged so I cannot share a great photo of it.

What it is: gel-cream-like Hanbang (korean natural medicine) multifunctional moisturizer. To help break down the benefits this cream delivers here are a few of them broken down:

Niacinamide(conditioning, balance oil:water, brightening), Hyaluronic Acid(humectant), Centella Asiatica Extract(soothing, good for acne, rosacea, eczema), Hippophae Rhamnoides Oil(Sea Buckthorn)(anti-aging/moisturizing antioxidant and omega rich), Human Oligopeptide-1(EpidermicGrowthFactor)(conditioning/restoring), Argania Spinosa Kernel Oil(Argan Oil), Ceramide 3(moisturizing, protective), Trehalose(Hydrating), Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Extract(smoothing), Honey Extract(moisturizing, antibacterial), Panax Ginseng Root Extract(conditioning, hydrating, stimulating)

*bolded ingredients are some of my favorite key ingredients I find in products.

What I don’t like about it: There are a few acne triggers you can see in the CosDNA posting and I do believe it is the culprit for a few weeks of breakouts on my forehead which is very acne prone. However it was fine on the rest of my face, including other acne prone areas but my forehead has always proven to be the hardest to please. It is also ever so slightly tacky, In my routine this moisturizer isn’t the last step before SPF or BB Cream(day) or Sleeping Pack(night) so this feeling goes away for me.

What I like about it: For starters the packaging is pretty damn beautiful. The scent isn’t overpowering but it is a pleasant scent. I feel like my skin has been a little bit more luminous since starting this moisturizer and I get this nice temporary immediate glow too which I’m sure is from the higher Niacinamide content (it’s the 3rd ingredient after all).

UPDATE 1/27/17: I’ve now almost finished the entire jar. I’ve used the cream almost every day and every night. There’s something about the cream that keeps me coming back. Maybe it’s the gorgeous scent, or packaging. It could be how cool and refreshed my skin feels after. Or it may be I get thinking about all those great ingredients and feel like slathering it on. Anyways.

What’s found in fortified bread, but also in skincare?

Vitamin B-3! Well specifically we’re talking about Niacinamide, like a lot of ‘actives’ in skincare are a form of a Vitamin (Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A, Vitamin C we all know and love). Vitamin B3 is found present in all cells, like we’re literally made up of this stuff. It helps specifically with the cell reproduction and has incredible anti-inflammatory properties. This makes it effective for acne and can even show signs of improvement in cases of rosacea, keratosis pilaris, and psoriasis. But Niacinamide doesn’t quit with just helping 4 common skin conditions it’s also a great anti-ager as well as hydrator. With the increased skin cell turnover helping reveal brighter, healthier skin Niacinamide also helps stimulate production of ceramides, a lipid our skin produces to protect against aggressors and maintain moisture. So this is why it’s been a major skin care ingredient in Asian beauty for so long. It’s results can be great and it’s suitable for sensitive skin so it’s kinda a no brainer ingredient.

Some bomb products I personally love that contain effective amounts of Niacinamide:

Mizon Good Night White Sleeping Pack

This lil’ fella smells very very similar to LUSH’s Twilight Bath Bomb if you’ve ever had a chance to smell it. It’s key ingredients are Niacinamide and White Mulberry to deliver a bright glowy complexion in the mornin’. It’s also packed with Trehalose, Hyaluronic and Glycerin; all three powerful humectants to keep your skin pulling in humidity for serious hydration. 

(as you can see, I need to repurchase soon)

CosRx Galactomyces 95 Whitening Power Essence

While Galactomyces may be the power player in this product the assistance of Niacinamide really pushes this product into Holy Grail status. Read my full review of this here! 

J.One Hana Cream

This cream does it all and it was designed to! J.One is founded by famous Korean actress Jiwon Ha is a capsulated cream packed with macademia nut oil, ceramides, and other powerful moisturizers and hydrators while it works to firm, lift, (Peptides) brighten & smooth (Niacinamide, Salicylic acid) and protect (Fullerene, Centella, B5)