While I’m not the most sciencey AB blogger (not by a long shot; I’m not even the most sciencey Snailcaster!), I do try to practice ingredient awareness both as a blogger and as a regular old skincare consumer. The more we understand ingredients and our skin’s responses to them, the better we become at picking the products that can help us achieve our personal skincare goals. Most of the time. But it’s easy to develop ingredient biases, little triggers that make our hauling fingers twitch. Sometimes these biases lead us to holy grails we can’t imagine living without. Other times? They don’t.
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My disasters tend to be centered around a few ingredients or ingredient types, because sometimes I forget that containing one or more of my trigger ingredients doesn’t automatically make a product special. Concentration matters. Other ingredients and overall formulation matter. And product type is important. There’s no point in a snail cleanser, for example. You’re rinsing all that snail right off! Save your snail budget for snail that sticks around.
So that we can all learn from my mistakes, let’s take a look at some of my ingredient bias successes and failures!
Snails: My bias towards snails led me to COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence* in all its 96% mucin snaily glory. I’ve gone through two bottles of it because I love it so much. But my love of snail also led me to Missha Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Cream. That stuff was a terribly perfumey, minimally snaily disappointment. Just because a product has snail secretion filtrate in it, doesn’t mean I’m going to love it. Lesson learned: For me, the best snail products are the ones that contain a lot of snail secretion filtrate and very little else. Snail products with overcomplicated ingredients lists never impress me as much.
Propolis is another big one for me. After COSRX Natural BHA Skin Returning A-Sol* convinced me of the marvelous blemish-shrinking properties of propolis and Leejiham Vita Propolis Ampoule* gave me my first taste of the Propolis Glow, I was hooked. Unfortunately, not every propolis ampoule is equal. COSRX Propolis Light Ampoule barely did a thing for my skin and would need to be sold at half its usual price before I’d consider it any kind of value or worthwhile purchase. Lesson learned: Unlike with snail mucin, simple isn’t always better when it comes to propolis products. The best propolis products for my skin combine a fairly high concentration of propolis (50-70% seems ideal) with some other helpful ingredients, like niacinamide for brightening or BHAs for additional anti-inflammatory and breakout calming effects.
Marine ingredients, like seaweed, sea kelp, sea water, glacier water, and starfish, also fall under the category of “not dependable star ingredients.” I do still love things like sea water or seaweed extract as a base (instead of plain water) in a well rounded product like Tosowoong Pure Deep Sea Water sheet masks* or my foreverbae Shark Sauce, but the benefits of fancy water are dubious. Fancy water is fun to think about and may contain beneficial minerals, micronutrients, and other goodies, but um, probably not very much of any of that. It isn’t powerful enough to stand on its own in otherwise unremarkable products. That’s probably why the Whamisa Organic Sea Kelp Sheet Mask didn’t work out for me. Seaweed alone does not a good product make. Actually, in the case of that mask, I think being made out of seaweed was a serious disadvantage. It smells funky and doesn’t fit anywhere near as well as a normal cheapie pulp or cotton sheet mask. Lesson learned: Marine fluids aren’t potent enough to carry a product. Sea water and its fellows do best as supporting players, not star ingredients.
I haven’t fully learned that particular lesson yet, though! I have a bottle of Innisfree Jeju Lava Seawater Essence
coming to me, and I’m still infatuated enough with sea water to be excited about it.
Ginseng is my latest ingredient obsession, and I’m still very much in the experimental, “OMG THIS PRODUCT HAS THAT INGREDIENT? I SHALL BUY IT!” phase. So far, extracts of the traditional herbal remedy have treated me well in the legendary Sulwhasoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask*, the awesome and economical Etude House I Need You, Ginseng! sheet masks, the heavenly illi Total Aging Care Cleansing Oil* (my HG first cleanser), and even my illi Total Aging Care Body Lotion*. I haven’t had any outright ginseng fails yet. I have, however, noticed one pitfall specific to this ingredient: ginseng products often command a ridiculous price. While the research I’ve read so far (big post coming!) gives me hope that ginseng may, like snail, be a main attraction skincare ingredient, I don’t make enough money to justify throwing down a Benjamin or more on a single cream. I’m not really sure anyone does, even if they make millions. Luckily, lots of sample sizes and travel sets of the premium Sulwhasoo ginseng products* exist. Lesson learned: Try a range of products containing an ingredient that interests you so you can really see whether the ingredient suits you. And if some of the products you want to try are ridiculously turbospensive, get samples.
Also luckily, once I got over one of my brand biases, I found a very competitive answer to the classic Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream: It’s Skin Prestige Creme Ginseng D’Escargot*. As you might have guessed from the name, this cream combines ginseng with snail! It also provides me with a convenient way to segue into some talk about brand biases.
Aesthetics, marketing, word of mouth, and our own past experiences with products can all contribute to brand biases. For example, I pretty much swore off Laneige ages ago. I’d had only mediocre (their Bright Renew line, their famous Water Sleeping Pack) and outright terrible (Laneige Triple Sunblock, the Target cushions) experiences with the brand. I only gave their Water Bank Double Gel Soothing Masks* a chance because I was crazed with desperation for more hydrogel masks and new skincare experiences. But whaddaya know–they’re actually really pretty good!
A more extreme example of my brand biases is It’s Skin. I had such uniformly dreadful experiences with their sheet masks (alcohol-laden to the point where some of them actually smell like rubbing alcohol) and their makeup (chalkiest lavender blush ever) and random samples of their skincare (so much damn fragrance) that I’d written them off completely as a cheap, unremarkable brand. As far as I was concerned, the only good thing about It’s Skin was their use of Kim Soo Hyun as spokesmodel. Then I realized I’d confused It’s Skin with The Face Shop and It’s Skin couldn’t even count Do Min Joon as a redeeming quality. But then Coco from The Beauty Wolf, one of my all-time favorite K-beauty blogs, made an appearance on the Snailcast and raved about the Prestige Creme Ginseng D’Escargot. I looked up her original review of the product and decided to give it a shot. Although I’m still testing it, I can say that I think I like it better than the turbospensive Sulwhasoo cream! Shocker. It just goes to show that getting over our brand biases can lead to wonderful discoveries.
One of the most powerful things we can do to grow as human beings is to identify, examine, and confront or challenge our biases. (Do be polite and respectful when confronting or challenging your K-pop bias, though. They’re human beings too!) None of us is ever right 100% of the time. Understanding the ways we get things wrong helps us move forward in a more thoughtful direction. That applies to skincare, too!
What are your ingredient and brand biases? Have you overcome any of them?