Using cutting-edge formulations and both new and time-honored ingredients (centella asiatica, anyone?) alike, K-beauty is constantly innovating. And if having “glass skin” is your ultimate beauty goal, you’ll want to incorporate some of the best Korean skincare products into your daily routine.
We’ve tapped several experts to help navigate the latest and greatest in this beloved skincare category, including exactly what to look for in a product and their favorite picks. Whether you’re a snail mucin aficionado or novice to a multi-step routine, there’s an essence, cleansing balm or face mask here that you’ll want to add into your beauty regimen. Below, find ten of our top picks across various categories that suit a wide range of skin types.
- Best Korean Moisturizer: Heimish Moisture Surge Gel Cream
- Best Korean Retinol Cream: Iope Retinol Expert 0.1%
- Best Korean Lip Balm: Laneige Lip Glowy Balm
- Best Korean Essence: Schwanen Garten Antioxidant Treatment Essence
- Best Korean Serum: Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum
- Best Korean Sunscreen: Isntree Watery Sun Gel
- Best Korean Eye Cream: Acwell Licorice pH Balancing Intensive Eye Cream
- Best Korean Face Wash: Schwanen Garten Antioxidant Foaming Cleanser
- Best Korean Cleansing Balm: Banila Co. Clean It Zero Cleansing Balm
- Best Korean Sheet Mask: Mediheal N.M.F. Aquaring Ampoule Mask
- Best Korean Face Mask: Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Sleepair Intensive Mask
- Best Korean Perfume: Elorea Water Eau De Parfum
Best Korean Moisturizer
A Soothing Cream That Delivers Major Moisture
Heimish Watermelon Moisture Soothing Gel Cream
When it comes to lightweight moisturizers, Korean beauty brands simply can’t be beat. “They excel in [making ones] that don’t feel heavy on oily skin or in humid climates,” says cosmetic chemist and K-beauty expert, Dr. Michelle Wong. Her favorite pick: this gel cream from Heimish that boosts skin’s moisture levels while calming sun-exposed skin. “Look for humectants like glycerin high up on the ingredient list,” she says. This particular product lists it as its third ingredient.
Best Korean Retinol Cream
A Pioneer In The Retinol Game
Iope Retinol Expert 0.1%
If you’re looking for a trusted retinol, this is it: This Iope cream the best-selling product at Aritaum, a popular beauty retailer in Korea. Charlotte Cho, founder and curator of Soko Glam and in-house line Then I Met You tells us this product represents the brand's reputable innovation. She says, “Iope formulates with proprietary ingredients and a commitment to using advanced lab-based technology, including this product that they launched 27 years ago, literally one of the first retinol products in Korea.” This potent cream is made with the brand’s Retinol 2500, which helps improve the appearance of wrinkles, skin elasticity and plumpness in just two weeks. And thanks to the use of hyaluronic acid, you don’t have to worry about your skin becoming dry or irritated. Plus, in a truly cutting-edge approach, Iope takes efficacy to the next level with its three-stage oxygen barrier packaging that prevents oxidation of retinol by light and air.
Best Korean Lip Balm
A Moisture-Rich Balm With A Hint Of Tint
Laneige Lip Glowy Balm
If you’ve already tried Laneige’s popular ultra-hydrating lip sleeping mask, then you’ll also want to try its Lip Glowy Balm. Consider it the more fun, dressed-up version of the cult favorite product. Shea butter and murumuru richly hydrate, while the subtle tint (available in four juicy colors) imparts lips with a glowy finish—making it the perfect year-round lip balm.
Best Korean Essence
An Antioxidant-Rich Formula With A Serum-Like Texture
Schwanen Garten Antioxidant Treatment Essence
Zoolander said it best: Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty. What sets this one apart from the rest? It has a slightly more substantial serum-like texture, which plumps and hydrates the complexion. Active ingredients like propanediol help skin retain moisture, while bifida ferment filtrate protects its barrier. Apply in the morning and at night as a first step after cleansing and before moisturizing.
Best Korean Serum
A Cult-Favorite Serum That Brightens And Hydrates
Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum
For anyone looking to achieve their “glass skin” goals (i.e., skin that looks poreless and translucent), look no further than this nutrient-packed serum. “One of these sells every three minutes and is universally loved by all skin types,” says Peach & Lily founder Alicia Yoon. A potent blend of hyaluronic acid, cica, peach extract and niacinamide calms, hydrates and firms skin. Apply a pump or two of serum after cleansing and toning, and before moisturizing.
Best Korean Sunscreen
A Clear SPF That Doubles As A Moisturizer
Isntree Watery Sunscreen Gel
A favorite of Korean influencer Ava Lee’s, this sunscreen’s unique gel formula leaves zero white cast or residue. Infused with eight different types of hyaluronic acid, it goes above and beyond your average sunscreen to intensely hydrate the skin. Wong also raves about this sunscreen and recommends it for drier skin types. It’s ideal for everyday use and more rigorous outdoor activity.
Best Korean Eye Cream
A Brightening Formula That Smooths Fine Lines
Acwell Licorice pH Balancing Intensive Eye Cream
This eye cream delivers a serious one-two punch. “It will have your under-eye area looking so much less puffy,” says Skin Library founder and cosmetic chemist Abiola Renée. Standout ingredients include niacinimide, which targets bright spots, and plant-derived squalane, which keeps the skin barrier hydrated. Key ingredients like caffeine improve circulation, and glutathione brightens and repairs. Renée recommends applying the cream both in the morning and at night, before or after your regular moisturizer.
Best Korean Face Wash
An Eco-Friendly Cleanser For All Skin Types
Schwanen Garten Antioxidant Foaming Cleanser
If you’re a devotee of the double cleanse, then you’ll want to add this foaming wash to your cleansing ritual. It’s gentle enough for all skin types and works especially well with acne-prone skin due to its pH-balancing properties. Plus, it features a plant-based biodegradablesurfactant (instead of common synthetic surfactants), so it doesn’t pollute the environment on its way down the drain. Use on its own in the morning and night, or as part of your double cleanse.
Best Korean Cleansing Balm
A Luxurious Balm That Melts Away Makeup And Debris
Banila Co. Clean It Zero Cleansing Balm
Considered the holy grail of cleansing balms, this gentle formula is a best-selling Korean cleansing balm, according to Yoon. It easily removes the most stubborn of waterproof mascara and the heaviest of foundation in one go. Apply to dry skin as the first step of your double cleanse and massage in circular movements before wiping away with a damp cloth or rinsing with water.
Best Korean Sheet Mask
An Ultra-Hydrating Treatment That Locks In Moisture
Mediheal N.M.F. Aquaring Ampoule Mask
At first glance, these sheet masks by Mediheal look like nothing special. There are no brightly colored logos to entice, nor any animal-printed masks within. Instead, you’ll find an effective hydrating treatment inside, packed with hyaluronic acid, ceramides and witch hazel water. Place it on dry skin for 15-20 minutes, then remove and gently pat in remaining essence.
Best Korean Face Mask
A Calming Solution To Stressed Skin
Dr. Jart+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment
The “cica” in Cicapair stands for centella asiatica, a widely used ingredient in Korean skincare that soothes redness and irritation. In other words, this is the mask we turn to when our skin is out of wack.Key ingredients like niacinamide smooth the complexion and minimize the look of pores, while centella asiatica and a cocktail of other herbs and minerals calm stressed skin. Apply before bed for happier, clearer skin in the morning.
Best Korean Perfume
A Unisex Fragrance That Smells A Beautiful As It Looks
Elorea Water Eau De Parfum
Fragrance brand Elorea is deeply rooted in Korea’s history and culture, and draws inspiration from centuries of scents to create a modern approach to perfume. Unisex, vegan and produced in small batches, this scent is just what you need to start your day. After indulging in your skincare routine, a few spritzes of this citrusy, floral and slightly musky EDP acts as an instant mood booster.
MORE FROMFORBES VETTED
What To Consider In Korean Skincare Products
While everyone’s needs will be different depending on their skin type, there are certain standout features to look out for in a Korean beauty product. Co-founder of Schwanen Garten Dr. Suan Hwang recommends formulas that are gentle but effective. “Look for hydrating, nourishing products that will maintain and fortify a healthy skin barrier,” she says.
Yoon echoes this sentiment. “Many Korean skincare products are focused on hydration and being gentle on skin,” she says. If you’re just getting into the world of K-beauty, she recommends starting out with an essence, as hydration has an impact on so many other aspects of our skin. “As an esthetician, I’ve seen these be a game-changer for many people,” she says.
A typical Korean skincare routine can vary in number of steps from several to ten, but it always starts with a good cleanse. “The general steps include cleansing, sunscreen (and makeup) in the morning, and cleansing, serums and moisturizers at night,” says Wong. If there’s one thing to pay attention to in your routine, however, it’s consistency. “Most products take a while to work, so it’s important to use them regularly to really see skincare benefits,” she says.
Day vs. Night
Experts recommend starting your morning with a cleanse, followed by an essence, serum, ampoule (a concentrated liquid packed with antioxidants), moisturizer, sunscreen and makeup (if desired). If this multi-step routine sounds a touch overwhelming, fear not. “You might not need the essences, serums and daily ampoules,” says Hwang. “Your skin will let you know what it needs.”
Begin your nighttime routine with a double cleanse to thoroughly remove impurities from the day. “An oil or balm loosens up dirt, makeup and sunscreen, and a water-based cleanser removes any leftover residue,” says Hwang. After your double cleanse, it’s on to the essence, serum, ampoule and your night cream of choice. “You might want to add a special treatment like a weekly exfoliation or mask,” she adds.
For high-performing ingredients that really deliver results, Korean skincare reigns supreme. Wong recommends seeking out unique ones like snail mucin for hydration, rice for brightening and ginseng for its antioxidant properties. “These ingredients are more difficult to find in Western products,” she says.
Lee looks for products that contain powerhouse ingredients like pearl, propolis, royal honey and mugwort. “Lots of these ingredients have been used for centuries,” she says. Similar to mugwort for its calming abilities, artemisia is a favorite of Yoon’s for treating common skin conditions like keratosis pilaris. Her top product recommendation for it: Peach & Lily’s KP Bump Boss Microderm Body Scrub.
For sunscreen, look for SPF products containing UV filters DHHB and bemotrizinol, which are not yet available in the US. “These allow for lighter textures while still offering high protection,” Hong says.
What Products Does A Typical Korean Skincare Routine Include?
Most experts agree that a typical K-beauty skincare routine includes a cleansing balm, water-based cleanser, essence, toner, serum, moisturizer, eye cream and sunscreen. However, given the recent trend towards paring down the 10-step routine, Hong says there’s a bit of a debate over what’s “typical” these days. The one product experts agree that can’t be skipped: sunscreen.
An added step as needed: Yoon cites all manner of masks (i.e., sheet masks, lip treatments, overnight masks) as an integral part of the regimen. “[They’re great] for whenever skin needs a boost,” she says.
Where Are The Best Places To Shop Korean Skincare?
There’s a wealth of K-beauty stores online, fully stocked with everything from snail sheet masks to watermelon sleeping treatments. A perennial favorite is Peach & Lily, a rigorously curated site in which only 5% of products considered make the cut.
It’s also worth checking out the wide array of Korean beauty products available in person. New York-based Besfren Beauty is known for its reasonably priced items and impressive selection of products; the staff is super knowledgeable and ready to lend its expertise. Also in NYC, oo35mm is another hidden gem located in Chinatown—packed with affordable bestsellers, it’s a K-beauty influencer favorite.
More Beauty Stories To Shop
Our list above may have you covered in the Korean beauty department, but if you’re looking for even more great skincare recommendations check out the following stories. Below, find our top picks on everything from skin-transforming retinol products to eye-brightening masks—all of which have been thoroughly vetted by our beauty team.
- Best Retinol Creams
- Best Neck-Firming Creams
- Best Vitamin C Serums
- Best Eyebrow Growth Serums
- Best Under-Eye Patches
- Best Dark Spot Correctors