[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.

[REVIEW] Dr. Dennis Gross Firming Peptide Milk

The Dry Skin ‘Does it All’

Sometimes you want a product that’s corrective, but not drying. Moisturizing, but still a beneficial treatment. Dr. Dennis Gross’ Firming Peptide Milk is all that and a bag of chips.

This formula first starts off with my favorite Natural Moisturizing Factor; Squalene. NMFs are ingredients that are naturally occurring that can mimic our skin’s own moisturizing factor. Squalene specifically is also skin identical ingredient, meaning we can find it naturally occuring in our skin! It makes up ~12% of our skin’s sebum. But is considered to be superior for moisturizing not only just generally dry and very dry skin, but also for oily/unbalanced/acne prone skin. Next key ingredient down on the list is Tetrapeptide-21. Peptides are great repairing agents. Tetra 21 specifically is a state of the art peptide that can improve skin texture and the depth and size of wrinkles. Some believe it is actually the most effective peptide for anti-aging. Collagen Amino Acids, are present to help repair and moisturize.

 

One interesting ingredient note is Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate AND Retinol are both present. Retinol, a dermal exfoliator that helps correct signs of damage and aging by speeding up our skin cell regeneration. Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate is what I owe all my dark spot correction and retexturization, it’s best described as ‘Retinol 2.0′. It’s a trans-ester retinoic acid that works similarly to Tretinoin. (generally referred to as prescription retinols. Retin-A, Curology formulates with it, etc) without any of the irritation that comes along with Tretinoin.

Besides squalene, sphingo and phoso lipids also help protect and moisturize. Saccharide Isomerate is another designer ingredient known by the name Pentavitin. It is a water binding agent to prevent water loss. This serum is unscented and leaves the skin feeling incredibly soft and just lightly moisturized.

Now if those ingredients weren’t enough to get you to Sephora ASAP to check it out… low on the list a fantastic penetration enhancer is found, Demethyl Isosorbide. For me, this ingredient is a sign of a great formulation. It’s generally found in prescription treatments to ensure well, absorption. But also to help prevent ingredients from crystallizing before absorbing.

Dr. Dennis Gross is a guilty pleasure. Their price point can be high (at times) ((like the peel pads, cmon)). Their packaging is pretty dull (BUT PACKAGED FOR EFFICACY!) But their formulations never cease to amaze me. 

 

[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.

 

[First Take] The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

Brands like the Ordinary make me worry about large cosmetic resellers like Sephora and Nordstrom. Effective, affordable, attractive. Asian Beauty brands are one thing because uneducated westerners don’t know how to really shop the products, let alone the different product types they’re used to seeing. But brands like the Ordinary and their parent company DECIEM bring a different philosophy to selling skin care that I’m all about. 

DECIEM created The Ordinary after their two core brands N.I.O.D (Non Invasive Options in Dermal Science) and Hylamide. These two brands offer more advanced formulations and other types of products such as ‘boosters’ and ‘finishers’. NIOD being their attempt at the ‘Ferrari of skincare’ provides people with incredible formulas using the latest technology in active ingredients and dermal science. You can find products from them like Sanskrit Saponins which is a pH balanced, raw saponin cleanser to actually cleanse the skin instead of stripping or purifying it has Lysine an essential amino acid to help optimize skin functionality. They tout the brand as the brand for the hyper obsessed about skin, while I agree it’s definitely a brand of it’s own class, but there’s a lot of exaggeration in the description of some of their products. The Ordinary is the ‘essence’ of these two brands, it essentially delivers  minimalist versions of some of their core brands’ products. So to better understand the differences between these 3 brands lets quick compare their 3 hyaluronic acid serums:

NIOD (top end) – Multi-Molecular Hyaluronic Acid Complex – 12 forms of HA – peptide delivery system ($35/.5oz)

Hylamide – Booster – Low Molecular HA – 5 forms of HA ($20/1oz)

The Ordinary – Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 – 3 forms of HA – Panthenol ($6.80/1oz)

Kinda classist but hey, even the most expensive is NIOD at $35.00 for .5 oz you could also go to any cosmetics store and find some very basic hyaluronic acid serums for about the same price point. 

This is my first Ordinary product. I kinda forgot about reviewing it until one of my favorite coworkers asked me if I’ve tried anything from them. I got it during a black friday sale for $1.00! However the company didn’t process anything in a timely matter and it took until about a week before christmas to show up at my door. The company also failed to inform customers of the delay. No note in the package, email, or compensation. I literally just got a product a month late that I figured got stolen because it was taking so long. But awful customer service isn’t the formulators fault and they did a pretty good job themselves but it’s worth mentioning before potentially throwing money at them.

Now onto the the HA + B5…

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I was pretty impressed with what 6.80 can buy you as far as a Hyaluronic Acid serum goes. It contains HA crosspolymer to give surface hydration, as well as two lower weight forms to insure penetration and deep hydration. The Ordinary notes that when using just regular HA, because of it not being able to penetrate into our skin it can actually pull hydration from the surface of our skin and this is why they use 3 forms. HA is great at pulling that hydration in, but where does it get that hydration from? Generally we expect from the environment, but HA serums will almost always contain a decent amount of water to insure you’re ‘feeding’ that newly absorbed HA. (Also if you live someplace where it’s dry AF the HA isn’t gonna do a lot for you unless it has water to absorb in the product) It also contains Panthenol or B5 to lock in that moisture too.

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Here is the ingredient list. Just goes to show how incredibly simple they keep their products. 

Smart formulation, simple and effective. I think as people catch on to brands such as the Ordinary and CosRx we’ll see the beauty industry shifting their skincare market. High end brands have already been hustling to get new improved, more concentrated formulas out on the shelves to sway people back to loyalty. Something western brands get that most Asian Beauty brands do not get! I will definitely be trying some more products out from the Ordinary as well as NOID since this product went well for me. 

I give this HA serum a 8/10, I hope I would give the NIOD version a higher rating but comparing this to my Caudalie Resveratrol Lift Serum, I still prefer Caudalie. For comparison it has 3 forms of HA, peptides, resveratrol and a patent from Harvard University but an $88 price tag. I want to compare the NOID 12 forms to it soon. So we’ll see! HA show down?!

[REVIEW] MIZON Snail Repair Intensive Ampoule

Ampoule Up Your Skincare

So these aren’t things found in most routines. In fact, most American/European brands do not sell them! It’s something much more popular in Asian Beauty. Now, what is an Ampoule? An Ampoule is part of your ‘treatment’ steps. The consistency is usually very thick. Think of it as a super powered serum, containing more actives than a serum. MIZON, a fantastic South Korean brand surprisingly sold in Urban Outfitters, and the “net-a-porter” of Asian Beauty, Peach & Lily; has a popular Ampoule ‘Snail Repair Intensive Ampoule’. This product contains 80% snail secretion filtrate! It’s exactly what you think it is. But remember the key word filtrate as this product doesn’t have a smell or color. But why would we want to put snail secretion on our faces anyways, right? Snails are magic little creatures, they’ve been around they say for over 500 million years and are able to regenerate with ease!

Lets look into what snail secretion carries that’s beneficial to the skin:

  • Hyaluronic Acid – this is something we produce naturally! We use it to maintain a ‘water reservoir’ in our skin. It gives our skin that “plump” feeling we all love.
  • Proteoglycans – Also helps hold moisture in the skin
  • Copper Peptides – A favorite ingredient of mine! These guys actually help repair skin’s structure. In one way, it has been noted it can break down cross-linked collagen (scarring tissue)
  • Antimicrobial properties – All my acneic friends rejoice as this product will help with that stubborn congestion and/or bacterial breakouts.

I’ve noticed some significant improvements in my skin in a very short amount of time with this ampoule. My skin’s hydration has gone through the roof! I was using Fresh’s Black Tea Overnight Firming Mask about every other night and I’d wake up in the morning feeling normal instead of dry. After a couple nights with this Ampoule I noticed I had to blot my nose about mid-afternoon at work. Something I haven’t done since summer! The product absorbs crazy fast. leaving it ready for the next step of your routine whether it be the beginning of your treatment steps or the last step before moisturizer.

So with all that goodness how could I not resist? It’s price from American retailers like UO is $38.00 but you can easily find this product for under $15.00. I found mine on Amazon for $12.99, it came sealed and all MIZON products should come with an expiration date.

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