Korea's Best-Selling Soap Is Legit Magical

Magic Stone is a soap so popular in Korea that even I was eventually drawn into clicking on its viral videos — which invariably follow a format of a tween blogger drawing makeup all over her face only to wash it off to demonstrate the effectiveness of the soap. It’s like the infomercial reincarnated for the millenial set. And it’s working: this soap is getting all the clicks and all the buy nows.

Magic Stone actually comes in two versions, Magic Stone Original and Magic Stone Black, which contains charcoal. One reason this duo is so popular is that the soaps are all natural, but effective, which make them especially popular among teens — a demographic most concerned with proper cleansing. The ingredient lists are stellar, containing a blend of Korean herbal extracts, and the soap’s effectiveness flies in the face of everything we’ve always had a problem with when it comes to cleansing bars. Even its recommended usage is different from your average bar soap.

In the past, because cleansers were seen as a removal product, cosmetic brands didn’t make much of an effort to include skin-nourishing ingredients. Why bother? Cleansing is over in a matter of seconds. Magic Stone attempts to pivot the cleansing step to double as a treatment ritual by instructing users to work up a rich lather and apply it to the face like a mask before rinsing off after 30 seconds. Not only does this allow the nutritive ingredients to sink into skin, it also decreases the pulling-and-tugging assault on skin to remove dirt and stubborn makeup.

The unprecedented popularity of Magic Soap reveals a growing trend in Korea to perfect the cleansing ritual. Overall, cleansing is great, but only if you’re going to put everything back — which is maybe why the Korean skin-care ritual is so famously long. There’s moisture and nutrients to put back into your skin. The problem is that not everyone does this — those with acne and oily skin are taught the mantra of skin cleansing, but not necessarily the importance of treating and moisturizing the skin post-washing to combat and care for aging skin. Magic Stone and its ilk allow the two to go hand in hand.

Read through for my experience with Magic Stone, as well as a few other natural bar soaps that are spearheading this soap-as-treatment trend.

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The first thing I noticed about Magic Stone Original was the smell, which is surprisingly elegant — an unexpected delight from what the campy packaging would suggest. I felt like I was sitting in a garden in Provence, butterflies and everything. The aroma is so potent, I was leaving the bar on my coffee table to scent the area. The bar is also super-hard, like a hockey puck. It's a far cry from many other natural soaps, which are soft and melt away at the mere suggestion of water.

April Skin, the brand that makes Magic Stone, recommends using Magic Stone Black in the morning and Original at night. There are minor differences in formula, but I preferred just using Magic Stone Original to get a really deep cleanse. Rubbing the bar in your hands works up a surprisingly rich lather, which, when rinsed off, leaves the skin feeling super clean — but not tight and uncomfortable.

April Skin Magic Stone, $6, available at Korea Depart.

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The premise of this cleansing bar is that it’s derived from the secrets of Korea’s royal courts. Though I have no idea how this would be verified for that particular claim, I do know that the bar is formulated with Korean herbs that make it slightly acidic to match the natural 5.5 pH of skin. History of Whoo is known for its unctuously ornate packaging, and this engraved soap set is no exception. I may have been whispering “I’m a queen” to my reflection as I cleansed away.

History of Whoo Gongjinhyang Cleansing Bar, $34.18, available at Korea Depart.
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AmorePacific is Korea’s largest cosmetic company. Think of it as Korea’s L'Oréal. Because many of its brands make excellent use of the peninsula’s natural botanicals in their formulations, it made complete sense that the cosmetic giant developed its own green tea plantations to supply one of its most popular beauty ingredients.

Now these plantations churn out 25% of South Korea’s green tea production through its commitment to green tea brand, O’Sulloc. Their green cleansing bar demonstrates the wide variety of uses for green tea and its benefits to skin. It comes with a handy net to whip up a healthy lather that gently removes impurities and cleanses the face.

O’Sulloc Natural Green Cleansing Bar, $5.79, available at Korea Depart.
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Being a Japanese product in a story about Korean soaps and carrying a price tag of $55, this soap really had to work it to make me believe. And boy, did it: 36 botanical extracts are squeezed into this circular bar, which lend maximum moisturizing-while-cleansing benefits. My skin was like, “What soap?”

But the real magic? It's frothing power courtesy the included whipping net, which whips up the most luxurious lather imaginable. Just watch this video of how quickly it works up a rich, dense foam opposed to lathering without one. I wore the resulting fluff frosting on my visage like Mrs. Doubtfire’s cake face. It’s such a marvelously rewarding experience for the skin; it’s hard to just call it just cleansing.

Koh Gen Do Oriental Plants Soap, $55, available at Sephora.
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Gounjae is a revered Korean traditional soap brand originating from Korea’s botanical-rich Jeju Island. It approaches soapmaking with the same obsession as vintners do winemaking. Using time-honored techniques, Gounjae obsesses over optimal temperature and timing to unlock ingredients at their most optimal state. Soaps are steamed three times and then aged 500 days to ripen before being wrapped in traditional Korean hanji paper that allows the soaps to “breathe."

The soaps are egg-shaped and I can almost see the wizened old hands that crafted each single bar. The brand's Green Farm soap contains persimmon leaves to lighten freckles and pigmentation, pine leaves to purge pores, and nutrient-rich mulberry leaves for amino acids.

Because it’s a natural soap, it doesn’t have abundant lather, but the soap works more effectively when applied directly to the face. The texture is gently exfoliating and the shape makes it effective as a facial massager as you cleanse.

Gounjae Green Farm Handcrafted Soap, $12, available at Shop Rescue Spa.
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Sulwhasoo’s Herbal Soap is the antithesis of everything a bar soap used to be denounced for. Cleansers, particularly bar soaps, are commonly judged foremost on their ability to clean and remove makeup, which skews their formulas towards heavy detergents. This type of washing strips the face of natural oils, damages the skin barrier, and wreaks havoc on its pH levels. Sulwhasoo’s Herbal Soap is the exact opposite: gentle, effective, and proof that bar soap doesn’t have to be a lump of face-desiccating detergent.

The bar centers around powerful (and expensive) ginseng, which most beauty brands would say is a complete waste to dump into a bar of soap. But in Korea, cleansing involves a facial massage routine that justifies and honors ginseng’s existence as a powerful anti-ager in this bar of soap. The ginseng scent is pretty potent and may be too medicinal and off-putting to some, but to me, it was reminiscent of an old Korean apothecary.

Sulwhasoo Herbal Soap, $40 for 2, available at Neiman Marcus.
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