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It came as no surprise to me that my favourite beauty discovery from last year came from South Korea, given how much I adore Asian skincare products. The real eye-opener was the fact that it's not a new product at all – in fact, I remember it vividly from my childhood.
Sulwhasoo is a legacy K-beauty brand that has been around for decades. To the uninitiated, I would probably describe it as something like "the La Mer of Korea". Its hero product, the First Care Activating Serum, $119, will look familiar to any person who spent time in East Asia in the '90s and early '00s. Growing up in Macau, China, I remember it as one of my mum's top wishlisted items. Whenever we went to the local department store, we'd always swing by the Sulwhasoo counter to pick up some samples.
And now, the label is making waves in the West, too, by signing on Rosé from Blackpink – the mega-popular K-pop girl group – as the new face of the brand. Being a blink myself (that's the nickname for Blackpink's fandom), I was already buzzed about the partnership. Things got even more exciting after watching this interview: Rosé named the First Care Activating Serum her favourite, and also shared memories of observing her mum use Sulwhasoo as a little girl. It's basically written in the stars that I gave this product a try.
Read ahead for my experience with the serum for the past two months, and why it captured my heart – beyond the Blackpink connection.
One of the first things you need to know about K-beauty is how much they value herbal medicine. Sulwhasoo was the first ever Korean brand to incorporate ginseng root into its skincare formula. This serum contains the JAUM Activator, a hybrid ingredient made from the root extracts of five herbal plants: peony, lily, rehmannia, Solomon’s Seal, and lotus. Together, the essence aims to hydrate the skin and restore firmness.
The brand recommends using the serum as the first step of your skincare routine after cleansing your face, in place of a toner or skin mist. I was immediately impressed by the product's gel-like texture: unlike other serums, which can be a bit too sticky or oily, it's very lightweight. The liquid is amber-coloured and has a subtle scent that smelled expensive. A little goes a long way: just two or three pumps were enough to cover my face.
A major highlight of my experience with the serum was how quickly it sinks into my skin without leaving a trace of greasiness. I can feel the ingredients absorbed into my face within seconds. I suffer from dry skin in the winter and usually rely on heavy creams and moisturisers to keep my face feeling hydrated. However, with this serum, I'm good to go after just one thin layer, sometimes even forgoing a moisturiser. I recommend warming up your fingertips by rubbing them together before application, so the product absorbs even faster.
"This product truly did wonders to my skin. I noticed that my skin ended up looking more even, clearer, more hydrated as well as rejuvenated."
After using the serum consistently for two months, I can safely say that this is my MVP beauty product of the year. The impact is always immediately noticeable when I have it on: my skin looks brighter and plumper, with any signs of dry patches, uneven skin tone, and redness significantly reduced across the board. Putting it on as the first layer in my skincare routine amplifies the benefits of the other products that follow, such as my retinol and vitamin C serum (Sulwhasoo is a big proponent of using different serums on top of theirs). With this newfound glow over my face, my makeup looks – and my selfies – have been hitting different, too.
If you are looking to invest in a lightweight serum that can shelter your skin from dehydration throughout the winter, you can't find a better option than this K-beauty legend. I can't wait to gift a bottle to my mum when I next see her so she can experience the product in its full-sized glory.