Best Korean Moisturizers
Why should you be using a Korean Moisturizer?
Because Korea loves skincare. And it's good at it too.
The hub of Korean skincare, called "K-beauty", is Seoul, South Korea. It's the birthplace of major beauty trends like like glass skin and innovations like sheet masks.
K-beauty is best known for layering. Routines are designed with 10 to 17 steps. No skinimalism here. We could devote an entire article to layering. Things like its history, philosophy and how to do it yourself at home. But today, let’s focus on one step.
You’ll hear me say this a few times: hydrated skin is healthy skin.
I know it, you know it and K-beauty knows it.
There are thousands of Korean skincare products out there. And lots of best sellers! It can be difficult to know where to start.
That's why we’ve rounded up the 10 Best Korean Moisturizers you need to try. And we’ll answer some share-worthy skin care questions along the way.
Are you ready?
The 10 Best Korean Moisturizers You Need to Try
We couldn’t resist kicking off the list with a product from innisfree - a beloved K-beauty brand that has really made a name for itself in North America. The star of the show here is Jeju green tea seed - both an oil and an extract. The combination ensures that skin is both hydrated and protected. It’s light enough for daily use, but intense enough to heal dry skin.
This product does contain fragrance/parfum. For some, this is a red flag because we know fragrance formulations do not have to be disclosed and can contain many harsh chemicals. For others, the scent may just be too strong. It’s lovely, but definitely lingers. If you’re at all sensitive to scent, this is not the Korean moisturizer for you.
This moisturizing cream belongs to the Ceramidin™ Collection by Dr. Jart+ - another popular K-beauty brand. It uses a 5-Cera Complex, which is a group of 5 ceramides. Ceramides are lipids (fats) that occur naturally in our skin, mostly on the outer layers. Their job is to keep the skin barrier strong and protect from external threats.
So, this Ceramidin™ cream is moisturizing and it’s a powerhouse protector. It prevents transdermal moisture loss - meaning water trying to escape your skin - and protects from environmental stressors trying to come in.
This cream is very thick. While that’s what helps it form such a protective layer on your skin, it can feel a bit heavy. It probably won’t be your go-to daily moisturizer for layering under SPF and makeup.
Another protector, this soothing cream forms a rich barrier on the skin to lock in nutrients and moisture. The noteworthy ingredient here is beta glucan, derived from yeast! It’s a soothing agent, beneficial for calming redness and drawing moisture to the skin.
Like the name states, this cream rich - a little too rich - for acne-prone skin. It can clog pores and lead to breakouts if you’re sensitive to that type of thing. But don’t worry if you’ve got it sitting on your shelf. Use it up on your legs, especially as an aftershave! Legs are usually less sensitive and this cream would be perfect to lock in moisture after shaving.
Now here’s where K-beauty’s innovation starts to show. We usually covet our tiny jars of eye cream. They’re sacred and we use them sparingly. AHC is changing the game. They’ve created this lightweight cream that absorbs well and can be used all over your face. It brightens under the eyes, and smooths wrinkles to create the perfect makeup base. Anything that is gentle enough for the eyes is gentle enough for sensitive skin.
Pro tip: it’s great on lips too! Hydrates and fills in creases & laugh lines.
Truth be told, the only negative here is the scent. Again, may be too strong for some styles.
Belif it or not, The True Cream Moisturizing Bomb is clinically proven to retain moisture for up to 26 hours. It’s formulated with oat extract to soothe skin. The hydration comes mostly from comfrey leaf extract (this was a new ingredient to me!). Comfrey leaf is an herb with traditions of being used to heal dry, calloused hands.
It’s time for a truth bomb. This isn’t a clean beauty product by most standards. Sephora doesn’t give it its stamp of clean approval, and neither do we. One main concern is ingredients that are higher than a 2 on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep ranking. PEG-40 STEARATE for example, has concerns about toxicity and contamination.
A lightweight, gel/cream formula spreads nicely for even coverage and good moisturizing. It features lemon extract and vitamin C, both good antioxidants. That makes it a great AM moisturizer - antioxidants under your SPF is always a good idea. Say You Dew also has niacinamide, which we’re big fans of for it’s skin barrier strengthening abilities.
Finally, this formulation does include glycerine, a go-to occlusive to lock in moisture and protect. So it’s checking all the boxes… they really dew care.
If you have dry skin, or harsh climate conditions (winter in Canada anyone?) this is not the moisturizer for you. It’s just not rich enough. But if your skin is generally quite balanced, the added brightening of this cream is a great bonus for dull skin!
If you have acne-prone skin, this is the best Korean moisturizer for you. For starters, it’s a gel-cream, which is always preferable for those battling breakouts. It's designed to calm stressed skin.
And now for the real power: mugwort. I know, it sounds icky. But really it’s just a weed, which means it’s a plant. And we love plants. More importantly, mugwort antibacterial and antifungal.
This cream also has salicylic acid for acne and glycerine to seal in the moisture. Korean Beauty takes a different approach to treating acne then we do in North America, but more on that a little later.
Like a few others on the list, the concern with this cream is its cleanliness. A few key ingredients don’t pass the Dirty Dozen test. If clean beauty is important to you, do your research first.
We usually think of serums as the most potent formulations. But this cream is highly concentrated. The main ingredient is snail mucin. Yes, snail. That, along with hyaluronic acid make this cream super hydrating. It’s lightweight and leaves a silky smooth finish on the skin.
Well… you may need to do some mental gymnastics to get comfortable with the main ingredient. SNAIL SECRETION FILTRATE. But once you do, your skin barrier will thank you for it! The gel-cream goes on a little sticky (no surprise there!) but it does dry into a smooth texture. And of course, this product is not vegan, which may be a non-starter for some.
This mild, lightweight “water cream” gets its name from the main ingredient. It’s formulated with 60% deep sea water to restore moisture in dehydrated skin. Hyaluronic acid holds the water in, while niacinamide strengthens the skin barrier to prevent future water loss. The philosophy behind this product is get water in and keep it there!
This cream can feel greasy if worn in warm, humid climates. Because it is water-based, it might not be hydrating enough for folks with really dry skin.
OK, this is technically not a moisturizer or a cream. But stick with us.
It’s the best of Korean beauty coming together into one product.
One of the skincare steps that K-beauty has brought to the world is the essence. Essences are applied after cleansing and before toning. An essence is a water-based skincare product with a very high concentration of active ingredients. Higher than a serum!
Essence is used to treat a variety of skin concerns/preventions, but as a general rule, they are used to hydrate. Laneige is the “skin-hydration expert” in the K-beauty field.
Their Water Bank Hydro Essence is an intensely hydrating lightweight serum (remember, it’s water-based). It’s formulated with green mineral water that’s extracted from vitamin-rich vegetables.
Adding an essence to your routine may seem like a hassle. But trust me, this one is worth a try - even if only on those extra special pampering days.
3 reasons for moisturizing your skin
Confession. There are about 100 reasons you should be moisturizing your skin. But today, I’m going to share 3 big ones in hopes that you’ll remember them.
#1 To keep skin youthful
As we age, our skin produces less oil. We need oil to keep skin looking and feeling soft, smooth and plump. When our skin is dry or dehydrated, fine lines and wrinkles become more visible.
#2 To prevent acne
Our skin produces oil naturally, but when our skin is too dry, that oil production goes into overdrive. Extra oiliness can cause acne breakouts! So while it may seem counterintuitive, moisturizing your skin helps to keep things in balance. If you naturally have very oily skin, you’ll want to be selective our your moisturizing products, so I’ve given some recommendations on that below.
#3 To protect from environmental stressors
We moisturize to hydrate, but also to protect. Moisturizers help to strengthen the skin’s outer layer, called the stratum corneum. This plays an important role in preventing damages from our environment, including pollution and UV.
My ways of applying moisturizer to my face
empyri has a few things in common with K-beauty. One is the importance of hydration in any skincare routine.
Whether you use 3 products or 10, one of them must focus on healthy hydration. We approach moisturizers in two ways: a waterless oil serum and a holistic hydration cream.
empyri’s hemp serum is made with 100% natural, premium virgin oils to hydrate and nourish skin. The main carrier is hemp seed oil, which is non-comedogenic (won’t clog your pores) and it’s similar to your skin so it absorbs. Plus, hemp roots have big time anti inflammatory benefits.
Our hemp cream gives you all day, holistic hydration. It plumps to improve skin texture and protects from environmental stressors.
- hyaluronic acid is a powerhouse humectant that holds 1000x its weight in water
- hydrolyzed hemp seed extract is clinically proven to heal dry skin
- sea buckthorn is a rich occlusive that seals in moisture and adds an extra punch of vitamins and fatty acids
Now here’s a biggie, so listen up.
YOU CAN USE MORE THAN ONE MOISTURIZER IN YOUR SKINCARE ROUTINE!
Yep. That’s how important hydration is for healthy skin.
When the winter hits here in Canada, my favourite dry weather duo is to mix 1-2 pumps of empyri’s serum and cream together on my fingertips before applying to my face, neck and chest.
The two products emulsify (that’s just the fancy word for mix!) perfectly together. And the water in the cream helps the serum to absorb.
How to incorporate Korean skin care into your routine
My favourite way to incorporate Korean skin care into my routine is through its philosophy. This might not be the answer you’re expecting, but it’s worth exploring.
Korea’s 10 (or even 17!) step skin care routine is not about self-indulgence. It’s rooted in a tradition of respect for oneself and one’s body. It encourages slowing down, serving the skin what it needs so that it can thrive.
No quick fixes here.
Korean skincare is about understanding how the skin works naturally so that we can support its healthy functioning over the long-term.
Traditionally, female family members would come together for long rituals of bathing. And today, women gather under the gentle authority of ajumma’s for hours of communal “self” care.
There’s a lot to be untangled here - like the notion that beauty should be hard work - but at the core is something we can all take into our home routines.
Just take a little more time for yourself.
How to Use Korean Moisturizers for Oily Skin
If you have oily skin, there’s no need to fear moisturizers. In fact, Koreans treat acne a little differently than we do here in North America. Moisturizing is key to the solution.
Moisturizing oily skin helps to promote balance. When we let our skin dry out, it overcompensates and produces more oil to try and protect itself. So the first step is don’t skip on your daily moisturizing cream.
My final thoughts on which Korean moisturizer is best for all skin types
The truth is, your skin is as unique as you are. There isn’t ever going to be a one-size-fits-all solution for hydrated, healthy skin.
Some trial and error will be necessary to find the right one(s) for you. Remember, just like you don’t need to limit yourself to one cookie, you don’t need to limit yourself to one moisturizer either.
K-beauty is the global hub of skincare innovation. And many brands have the science to back up their formulations too. So grab a few, try them out and happy hydrating!
You Are Loved.
Author Bio: Jennifer is the president and founder of empyri. Jennifer’s passion for formulation and product development was set ablaze in 2019, when she incorporated the healing power of cannabis roots into her long-standing three-step skin care system. Armed with scientific evidence on the actives in cannabis roots and seeds, a clean and conscious brand was born. Using her masters degree in bio-chemical engineering, Jennifer is forging a path to ...READ FULL BIO