7 Superstars Of Korean Skin Care

Just as products and formulas vary from country to country, so do professional treatments. One woman's weekly laser facial is another's once-a-year treat.

Such is the case with dermatologists: In the U.S., visits usually require booking an appointment in advance. Treatments generally aim to solve “major” problems like persistent acne and rosacea, and center around injections and lasers, while day-to-day concerns are typically directed to a bottle of Cetaphil. But in South Korea, dermatologists are everywhere and it’s not uncommon to see one as often as once a week. I’ve popped in to have milia around my eyes extracted, the pores on my nose vacuumed, and a devastating pimple popped before an important dinner.

Because Korean dermatologists consult many more people across a wider spectrum of woes, they're able to amass skin-care knowledge from thousands of cases over the years. This has given rise to practices developing their own lines of products based on what they've seen work and not work — further contributing to the growing popularity of derma-cosmetics.

Derma-cosmetics, which got their start hundreds of years ago when Korean monks concocted skin tinctures from herbs they grew in monastery gardens, are skin solutions that combine cosmetics and dermatological science using plant-derived ingredients. They're different from stateside versions, which tend to be more chemical in formulation and are oftentimes created by large pharmaceutical companies.

Currently, derma-cosmetics make up only 3% of the Korean skin-care market, but are growing by 15% annually. This is due in part to their answers to specific skin-care problems, as well as to high efficacy relative to price (they're typically recognizable for no-frills packaging). Another reason derma-cosmetics cost less is because they aren’t sold through department stores and are, instead, distributed through hospitals and clinics, and more recently, through drugstores and pharmacies.

Fortunately for those of you not based in Seoul, many of these brands are now available in the U.S. Ahead, I've rounded up some of the most popular, under-the-radar derma-cosmetic lines and the hero products we can thank for creating a nation of glowing complexions.
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CNP Laboratory
CNP (Cha and Park) Laboratory is one of Korea’s largest medical dermatology franchises. It boasts 90 years of skin-care know-how, and in 2000, it launched its own derma-cosmetics line. With support from CNP’s dermatology practice and research institute, the lab produces products that cater to specific skin problems like aging, moisture loss, and blackheads.

Ever since CNP's launch, the Propolis Ampule has been its best-selling product. However, I came to know CNP Laboratory for its Anti-Pore Black Head Clear Kit. It’s a two-step nose mask, and the first time I tried it will forever haunt my memories. Unlike other nose strips, which harden to rip out nastiness from the pores, CNP's two-step nose strips work a little differently. The first strip is wet like a sheet mask and doesn’t ever harden. It just sits on your nose and seeps into the pores. Removing the strip is downright horrifying. The pores basically throw up the sebum they’ve been harboring. The kit comes with two black cotton swabs which, I presume, are black in order to make it readily apparent how effective the treatment is when swabbed over the pores to collect all the dirt. This mask, I have to say, is an improvement on other pore strips which pull at skin, leaving it red and irritated.

The second mask works to tighten pores, unlike pore strips which tend to leave pores wide open for a refill. Its effect is harder to gauge, but the kit is worth it for the pore-megeddon that is step 1.
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Dr. Jart+
The history of Dr. Jart+ differs from the dermatology-turned-skin-care lines of the others in this roundup, as there is no actual dermatology clinic called Dr. Jart+. Instead, there is SungJae Jung, MD, a dermatologist who was running his own practice and partnered with a business-savvy friend to develop Dr. Jart+ over a period of three years before finally launching in 2004. Dr. Jart+ further crowdsources its expertise through an army of white coats from 15 different dermatology clinics across Korea.

The brand is best known for its creative twist on dermatology. Hear me out: I know the last thing I want to hear from my doctor is that he’s going to get creative, but it’s worked out for Dr. Jart+. Its products are innovative and effective.

The Dermaclear Micro Water is a permanent fixture in my life. I use it every morning and every night on my combination skin in lieu of a cleanser. To gently remove dirt, oil, and layers of BB while at the same time depositing beautifying nutrients into the skin, Dr. Jart+’s Dermaclear Micro Water is my jam. It has all the cleansing and toning properties of a cleanser, toner, and makeup remover, and the enriching properties of a serum or essence. I practically swooned when it successfully removed mascara without leaving my eyes all red and angry. Skin doesn’t feel tight and uncomfortable, and it’s always weirdly satisfying to examine the cotton swab post-swiping.
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Dr. Oracle
Dr. Oracle is the largest dermatology clinic network in Korea, which means it has the expertise of over 100 dermatologists at its fingertips when developing its product line. I had a chance to visit its flagship location in Gangnam, and its lobby has a café and even a nail bar to dabble at while waiting.

I’m a fan of their sunblock because it’s supremely good at being a sunblock and also doubles as a primer. It was originally formulated for use post-EPL laser treatment when skin is especially sensitive, and the sun is skin’s worst enemy. Formulated with peptides and a blend of botanical extracts including lavender, freesia, chamomile, bergamot, peppermint, and rosemary, Korean women love it because it’s lightweight, moisturizing, and “grabs” makeup onto the skin.
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Lee Jiham (LJH)
In 1994, during a time when most dermatologists worked in hospitals to treat serious skin diseases, the trio of Dr. Lee, Dr. Ji, and Dr. Ham launched their dermatology practice right near Korea’s number-one women’s university, Ewha University — the epicenter of beauty salons and shopping. LJH now operates 11 clinics across Korea, and is renowned for its “acne-scaling” technique.

Its derma-cosmetics line, LJH Cosmetics, launched in 2000, and its best-selling franchises are the Tea Tree and Vita-Propolis lines, aimed at acne and aging. The Tea Tree 90 Essence sold over 200,000 units during its first year of launch in Korea. Many acne treatments tend to range from harsh to merciless, drying out and starving skin in the process of eradicating acne. The Tea Tree 90 Essence is unique because it’s gentle, yet effective.

I was shocked when I first tried this serum, because it smells like...nothing. For me, this was super-disappointing because I love the scent of tea tree, but what it lacks in smell, it makes up for in acne-fighting potency. It has rave reviews from all over Korea for its acne-banishing powers.
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Dr. Myer's
Dr. Myers is one of many dermatology clinics in Gangnam, but it sets itself apart with formulas that make use of unique, natural ingredients like rock samphire and “retinol from the sea.” (Yes, not all retinols are created equal.) The clinic partnered with Coson (the makers of Mizon's snail cream) to create a line of products specifically formulated with dermatologists, researchers, and beauty experts in mind. Using natural ingredients that have been scientifically proven to be effective in skin care, Dr. Myer's products are said to enhance the skin’s natural protection and repair functions. The formulas are free of irritants, and beta-tested over the clinic’s customer base.

One of its star products is the Phyto Energy Squalane Ampoule, which has an intense 99% squalane. If you’ve never heard of squalane, let me tell you that it’s pretty amazing. It’s naturally produced by our bodies in the form of sebum, which may sound gross, but is incredibly important for your skin. As an emollient, it allows your skin to hold onto moisture and softens it so it looks and feels healthier. Used consistently over time, this means fewer wrinkles, and improved elasticity and radiance.

Though it’s a component of sebum, the ampoule absorbs rapidly without creating an oil slick on your skin like a facial oil would. Squalane also lends a helping hand to other ingredients, enhancing their efficacy and penetration deep into skin. According to Peach and Lily founder Alicia Yoon, the ampoule is perpetually sold out.
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Dr. G
The G stands for Gowoonsesang, which means “beauty forever.” This clinic of 33 dermatologists and eight MDs makes up the skin specialist team that created the brand in 2003. Inspired by its clinical experience of mentoring over 100 million cases, this team developed products showcasing customized solutions for skin.

Dr. G’s BB cream is a stand-out best seller for its feather-light coverage that doesn’t clog pores. The formula contains lime-tree water and cabbage extract to keep pores clean, while rose-hip oil and lemon balm add to the fresh, floral scent and keep skin moisturized.

Another best seller is Dr. G’s Brightening Peeling Gel, which is formulated with cellulose and bark extract to pill and slough off dead skin. Unlike more abrasive scrubs that contain microbeads or sugar, this gel claims to be more moisturizing and soothing in its gently exfoliating function.
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Modelo is what I think of as Korea’s authority on all things Botox. It claims to have been the first in the world to reduce calf muscles and jaw muscles using the botulinum toxin injections. Botox aside, the dermatology part of the brand is definitely on the cutting edge of beautifying technologies as it's developed procedures that bridge the lines between dermatology and plastic surgery.

Boasting 10 years of clinical results, including its famed anti-aging program Obagi Blue Peel, the clinic launched Modelo cosmetics in 2004. It has since become known for its brightening products and pure vitamin-C technology as a part of its anti-aging program. Its products aren’t available for sale in the United States (yet), but the vitamin C ampoule is one to look out for.
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