This Giant Q-Tip Is The Secret To Clear Skin

Another day, another Korean beauty trend. From the country that has already brought you new ways to wear makeup (cushion compacts, brow tattoos, lip-tint markers) and take care of your skin (sheet masks, essences, sleeping packs) comes a new, fresh take on exfoliation. We present to you: aqua peels and milk peels.

The moisturizing peels — which sounds like a misnomer, we know — are based on the Korean craze for a professional treatment called Aqua Peel. And when we say craze, we are not exaggerating: According to Sarah Lee, cofounder of K-beauty mecca Glow Recipe, aqua peels are the most popular treatment in derma clinics around the country, appearing at the top of service menus. Given that they've only been on the market for a few months, that's pretty impressive. The appeal, says Lee, is that they are both fast — they are marketed as lunchtime express treatments — and effective at exfoliating and hydrating at once.

"Think of this as a gentle pore bath," explains Lee. "It's basically a gel, exfoliating formula that's applied on the skin, cleansed off after just a few minutes, and then they use this device that starts sucking out your pores and blackheads — which is so satisfying — while infusing skin with moisture."

Of course, as it happens with all professional treatments that become popular, Korean beauty brands immediately started developing at-home versions, which are just hitting the market now. Talk about a fast turnaround.

The at-home formula features a base of glycolic acid — or lactic acid, in which case it's called a milk peel — plus an infusion of botanicals that both soothes and hydrates, eliminating that dry, red, irritated, tight-feeling skin that usually comes post-peeling. The key to these products are the applicators: Each peel comes packaged with a pre-soaked "jumbo Q-tip" that you rub on the face, distributing the formula. The idea behind those cotton swabs is that they allow you to apply the product more conveniently all over the face, and to spot-treat target areas that need purging, like the nose and chin.

Having tried the aqua peel, we can indeed tell you that it's unlike any other peel we've tried before. Skin doesn't sting post-application and feels soft, with a clearer, smoother texture. No wonder many Korean women do these peels twice a week or more.

"The milk peel is for people looking for even tone, a brightening result — people who are looking to strengthen and protect their skin. Whereas the aqua peel is for people who are just so scared of the drying-out effect of exfoliation in general," says Lee.

Ahead, check out the aqua peels currently on the market — and get ready for the inevitable deluge of products soon to follow.

This one-step peel comes in a single-use tube and is enriched with a marine complex. You can buy these individually for $6 a pop, or splurge on a box of 11 for $60.

Yoon Dermaline Marine Complex Exfoliator, $6, available at Glow Recipe.
Riffing off the "entire skin-care routine in one package" concept that is immensely popular in South Korea, this all-in-one kit features an alpha-hydroxy-acid peeling swab, which is followed with a brightening serum, and then all that goodness is locked in with a moisturizing sheet mask. You're supposed to use the items in immediate succession, and then leave them on the face (no rinsing off).

Reme+G Aqua Home Peeling 3-Step Kit, $6, available at Glow Recipe.
Milk peels, like this one from Primary Raw's Doyou (which means "soy milk" in Korean) line, use lactic acid in the swab. "Aqua peel is really [about] the hydration, going deep into the skin with intense moisture; the milk peel is all about the protection on your skin and nourishing," says Lee.

This milk peel from Primary Raw uses fermented, soybean-based milk — fermented ingredients are thought to be more effective. The two-step system features the milk-peel cotton ball, which should be immediately followed by the pre-drenched soy-milk sheet mask.

Primary Raw Doyou 2-Step Face Therapy, $6, available at Glow Recipe.
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