If you’re a beauty enthusiast who has not been living under a rock for the last several years, you would have already heard about the magic of Asian beauty products. And by “Asian,” we mean mostly Korean and Japanese beauty products that have risen so much in popularity that many of them now boast their very own cult followings. These days, it’s not unheard of for women to rave about a particular brands of face creams, exfoliators, sunscreens, or lipsticks and lip balms in the many beauty blogs and forums that have made their home on the web.
In this article, we’ll provide you with a short list of the ingredients you should be looking for when hoarding your first (or next) batch of beauty and skincare products from Korea and Japan!
1. Snail Mucin
You might think it’s gross at first, but try it once, and you’ll probably become a believer of the skincare miracle that is snail mucin. Also known as snail secretion filtrate, snail mucin is basically the slime secreted by the humble mollusks, which is collected by skincare companies to use as ingredients in their products. Typically, the snails are set loose to crawl over mesh-type contraptions, and the mucin is allowed to drip into collecting vessels for harvesting.
Because snail slime is rich in hyaluronic acid and peptides, they can help soothe irritated skin, repair damaged skin, and stimulate the production of elastin and collagen—benefits that the snails themselves also enjoy. Their slime is basically their natural superpower, protecting them from environmental hazards like heat and moisture loss, while also allowing them to walk over risky surfaces and helping their sensitive tissues heal from the injuries they incur.
2. Birch Tree Sap
An ingredient that is slowly becoming more popular in Korea and Japan, birch tree sap is the newest type of tree sap to find its way into the collection of ingredients used in Asian skincare products—and apparently in Scandinavian spa treatments as well.
Extracted from birch trees in much the same way as maple syrup is obtained from maple trees, birch tree sap is super-rich in vegetal acids, niacinamide (vitamin B3), and vitamin C, all of which offer brightening effects for the skin.
Birch tree sap is even consumed by some people because of their nutrient content, as birch trees also produce proteins, amino acids, and xylitol, a natural sugar.
3. Bee Venom
Bee venom is another one of those Asian beauty ingredients that make people raise their eyebrows. However, it’s a skincare wonder that is also proving to be worth the hype. Some people even compare bee venom—a neurotoxic substance—to botox or botulinum toxin, a beauty ingredient that is also a neurotoxic ingredient that helps reduce wrinkles.
However, the active component in bee venom is actually melittin, a compound with anaphylactic effect that lightly triggers the pain response of skin tissues. The interesting thing is that the skin appears to respond to this “attack” by increasing blood circulation, relaxing the skin tissues, and breaking down the skin cell membranes while also initiating the production of new collagen.
If you have bee venom allergy, then this beauty ingredient might not exactly be the bee’s knees for you. Otherwise, it’s really worth trying out!
4. Volcanic Clay
In Korea, popular K-beauty brands have long incorporated volcanic clay into some of their products—particularly the variant that comes from the legendary Jeju Island off the Korean Peninsula’s southern coast.
Derived from volcanic ash and sediments, this beauty ingredient basically sucks out dirt, sebum, and other gunk from the skin’s pores, hence its popularity among people with oily skin and acne problems. If you’re wondering whether there’s a western analog to this product, they would probably be the bentonite clay products that have risen in popularity in recent years.
If you’ve been hearing about galactomyces but you aren’t exactly sure what it is, you’re not alone. Many of us typically see it being listed as “galactomyes ferment filtrate” in the ingredients list of some face creams and skin treatment products, but not all labels are exactly very clear about what this ingredient does.
For the uninitiated, galactomyces is actually a nutrient-rich byproduct of the sake brewing process. Sake, of course, is a Japanese rice wine, for which the fungus Asperigillus oryzae is used to ferment the product. Galactomyces is highly moisturizing in addition to providing antioxidant benefits. In fact, according to one study published in the Asian Journal of Beauty & Cosmetology, using an essence with 97% galactomyces ferment filtrate improved the facial skin of 20 research participants. The improvement was measured based on the reduction of the appearance of large pores, blackheads, sebum, keratinization, and acne. It’s a promising skincare ingredient indeed.
While there are many ingredients that are incorporated into different Asian beauty products, these are some of the ones that we can personally vouch for. Naturally—as with many other things in life—your mileage may vary. After all, every person is different, and how your skin reacts to particular products or ingredients may be different from others. In any case, the best way to find out which ingredients or products work best for you is by trying the many wonderful options you have these days in the world of beauty and skincare. Happy hunting!