The K-Beauty Staple Your Skin-Care Routine Is Missing

Can you even remember a time before K-beauty hit the American market and pretty much changed everything? Us neither. The phenomenon has turned us on to ultra-hydrating essences, next-level sunscreens, and yes, oodles of sheet masks — something that has put us on the path to not just glowy skin, but glassy skin. (Yeah, it’s a thing, and for many of us, it’s the pinnacle of goals.)

Another major player co-opted from K-beauty are ampoules — super concentrated serums that generally deliver a higher potency of skin nourishing ingredients. “Ampoules have been a part of Korean skincare for a very long time,” says Soko Glam co-founder and esthetician Charlotte Cho. “They don’t contain fillers like emulsifiers or emollients that cleansers and moisturizers do, so the active ingredients make a big difference in your skin.” Many are made to target specific issues (like dark spots, the effects of aging, or dry skin) and the most hardcore of skin-care fanatics mix and match them depending on their skin’s particular needs of the day. Others — primarily those made by American-based brands — are built for multitasking because that’s how our culture likes to roll.

A couple things you’ll notice about ampoules: Some are packaged in their own little vials or capsules. (This isn’t just about a cuteness factor, but done for one-off use and portability.) They also tend to be more expensive than other serum options offered by a brand. The reason for both one-off packaging and the higher price point? These suckers tend to pack more potent concentrations of top-performing ingredients than traditional serums, and therefore, offer foolproof portion control.

“Individually-packaged ampoules provide a dose-controlled amount of high quality ingredients,” says Annie Chiu, MD, an LA-based dermatologist and dermatology staff member at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “I find a lot of people overestimate how much they need in potent skin products like serums, which can be more costly. The skin can only absorb a certain amount of nutrients at a time, so more is not always better. Ampoules are a great way to know you are doing enough but not wasting product.”

Dr. Chiu also offers a tip for justifying some of the heavier price tags out there. “Really look at the ingredients,” she advises. “Sometimes, ampoules are just a marketing ploy and not necessarily higher concentration.”

Ahead, follow Dr. Chiu’s guidance on finding the right ampoule for your skin type.

Calming For Sensitive Skin

Upon first application, you’d never know that 10% vitamin C is packed within each of these single-use capsules. That's because the formula is also loaded with hydrators, which takes away any sensation of tingle that can come with other high-C products. That’s by design: CircCell is based in Wyoming, where the climate toggles between one harsh extreme to another, so its founder focuses on formulas that won’t irritate the skin. While some ampoules are best saved for nighttime use, this one is fit for day. “High-antioxidant ampoules used during the day can better combat oxidative stressors like UV radiation and pollution,” Dr. Chiu says.

CircCell Vitamin C Ampoules, $160, available at CircCell.
Brightening For Hyperpigmented Skin

The individual vials in this pack of ampoules are generously portioned, which allows us to cover our face, neck, and décolletage in one shot. Yes, vitamin C alone is a star ingredient — something that brightens complexions. But it’s also charged with moisturizing hyaluronic acid and proteoglycans, which are proteins that help boost the skin’s own hyaluronic acid production.

IsdinCeutics Flavo-C UltraGlican Antioxidant and Moisturizing Ampoules, $102, available at IsdinCeutics.
Hydrating For Dry Skin

“More moisturizing ampoules are a great intermittent boost for when the skin is feeling tight, or if you are building up towards a big event where you want an extra pop of glow,” Dr. Chiu notes. These capsules feature ultra-hydrating ceramides and a potent dose of fatty acids — both great ingredient to help repair dry and flaky skin. They’re also extremely TSA-friendly and are housed in capsules that don’t easily burst. Keep a couple in your bag for an instant boost done anywhere.

Elizabeth Arden Advanced Ceramide Capsules Daily Youth Restoring Serum, $78, available at Nordstrom.
Balancing For Oily Skin

This three-step ampoule system is designed to mimic the popular (and pricey AF facials) that celebrities often get before a red carpet; often, this includes a combination of exfoliation via a peel or microdermabrasion, tightening with radio frequency or lasers, and infusing the skin with nutrient-rich antioxidants. This at-home version, comprising four total treatments, does a great job of balancing out oily skin with steps to gently peel, rehydrate, and brighten with antioxidants, and improve skin texture. Dr. Chiu advises using it before bed. “At night while we are sleeping, the vessels in the skin dilate, making the skin more open to absorption of actives,” she says.

Natura Bissé Diamond Instant Glow, $88, available at Neiman Marcus.
Smoothing For Fine Lines & Wrinkles

Geared to help fight pollution and smooth fine lines around the forehead and eyes, these capsules boast six naturally-derived amino acids and a generous dose of vitamin E, an antioxidant. Bonus: The silky formula also leaves skin impossibly smooth.

Eve Lom Age Defying Smoothing Treatment, $150, available at Sephora.
Nourishing For Every Skin Type

Cho recommends this K-beauty pick, which is made with omega oils, brightening niaminicide, and a host of hydrators, for those looking for a do-it-all ampoule. “This serum is a triple threat: It minimizes fine lines, moisturizes, and seriously brightens skin,” she says.

Hanskin Bio Origin The Ampoule Serum, $64, available at Soko Glam.
Repairing For Aging Skin

Your usual anti-aging cream has nothing on this intensive one-month treatment, which uses the most advanced technology on the market to reduce deep-set wrinkles and improve the skin's density and firmness, all while strengthening, brightening, and promoting mild exfoliation, too. At that price, a product should be a once-in-a-lifetime game-changer — and this innovative ampoule set certainly is.

3LAB Super Ampoules, $1,200, available at 3LAB.
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