Casual Quickie: My Skincare and K-Beauty Biases

Skincare from the sea

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.

Affiliate links in this post are marked with an asterisk(*).

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!

COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence
96% snail is pretty much the gold standard of snail, by the way.

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.

Skincare from the sea
I think my geographic location might have influenced my love of marine skincare ingredients.

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.

Sulwhasoo ginseng cream samples and overnight mask
Also, buying samples means I get to hoard a whole collection of adorable mini tubs. Can you imagine the repurposing fun I’ll have with these?

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!

It's Skin Prestige Creme Ginseng D'Escargot
Surprisingly fancy, but then again, it has “Prestige” right in the name and the name is in French. So…fancy.

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?

26 thoughts on “Casual Quickie: My Skincare and K-Beauty Biases

  1. i’m a sucker for “natural brand”, so when i jumped to k-beauty, innisfree was my first choice. my problem was acne and PIH, and one year later i’m pretty much satisfied with my skin now. the most effective products for me are cosrx BHA and AHA liquid. thank you for introducing them in your blog. before, i would never put acids on my face because it wasn’t the “natural way”. now i’m doing exfoliation 3-5 times a week without hesitation.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You make me want to buy the It’s skin cream too but it’s $65 O_O LOL. One day… one day.


  3. When you wrote ‘throw down a Benjamin’ I…did not think you meant what you meant until I thought about it again and realized…OH it’s money!! HAHA I am not quick 😦

    I’ve never considered studying ingredients until I stumbled upon this AB World and your blog. Your blog has been immensely helpful and I can’t stop reading it (just by reading this post alone I ended up with 4 new tabs of your other posts plus 1 for Snow White and the Asian Pear!). I’ve only ever tried one Missha toner with snail, and it broke me out horribly but I patch-tested a Ladykin snail product and so far it’s been fine.

    When you try to narrow down what does or doesn’t work for you in terms of ingredients, do you keep a list of ingredients from products that don’t work well for you or don’t wow you, and go through a process of elimination to figure out what ingredients are no-goes for you?

    I’ve also read (heard?) you mention over-exfoliation a lot. Do you have a post regarding that in particular?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can agree on the tag thing! Every time I read this blog at work I end up with 15 new tags open and my computer crashes all the time. Damn! Too interesting!! 😀


  4. Kim Soo Hyun! 😍😍😍

    I tend to have packaging bias more than anything – even though that Skin79 BB cream in the hot pink bottle turned me orange and made me break out, every time I see it I want to buy more, just because the bottle is so darn cute. 😩

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  5. Great post Fiddy! I agree with the marine ingredients- I was never too impressed with them, couldn’t and still don’t see the hype about them. Especially those Whamisa kelp masks (for $14 each, I’d rather get two Maskingdom masks instead).

    Propolis though, oh boy, I definitely have an ingredient bias there, and I’m not overcoming it ever probably. I did however realize that not all propolis ampoules are that great, especially after trying the much raved about LJH Vita Propolis Ampoule. That one didn’t really do much for me. I’m loving the Graymelin one right now though!

    A bias I notice a lot of K-beauty beginners have is packaging bias, which I had in the very beginning and overcame very quickly thanks to Etude House. I guess you could say I have a slight aversion towards those cheap and cute brands, mostly when it comes to their skincare. I pretty much swore off of Etude House after their collagen cream broke me out. I might have to give Etude House masks a second chance though, especially after knowing how much you like their silk cocoon version…

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  6. I’m super excited about ginseng in my hair products, but I’ve been sticking mostly with Western products because my scalp does poorly with sulfate cleansers. But I have some Lador scalp scaling ampoule and a hair essence coming from Memebox any day now. And my JASON scalp elixir uses ginseng. Very tempted to try some hanbang-y hair goodness from Ryoe when I get through the mega-bottle of shampoo and conditioner I currently have, though.

    Also, I put a Tosowoong Sea Water Mask in my Memebox cart because of you. Also snails, as one does.

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  7. The Face Shop is so lucky Do Manager is the spokesperson and has a Kakao collab or I’d barely pay it attention. I have ugly packaging and “cheap brand” biases, but I -am- able to admit when I’m wrong. –Angela

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Secret key red ginseng cream has nice ingredients and a great price- on the way to me, I am really curious what it is like. Sulwhasoo is great, I went ginsengy because of it too. Their rejuvanating eye cream is also superb, helps me a lot when I have to wake up every two hours to my smallest one at nights…


  9. Eh? But I do like TFS sheet mask tho; they’re not expensive and some do works well (Red Ginseng! KELP!!!). I return to them time to time.


  10. Your rave of the It’s Skin cream has got me looking at Scinic’s red ginseng snail cream.

    Just general advice…should I take the plunge on that or some Sulwhasoo samples? HALP. I feel like splurging and face creams are one of my few steps that I actually try “all the things!”

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What have you just done?! I was all set to order the Joseon Cream soon for my summer cream, but now I’m eyeing the It’s Skin Ginseng because The Beauty Wolf said, “It’s been a perfect alternative to that cream for the summertime.”

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh no! (looks at Jolse cart) …I may be going down this hole also!

        I had a bad experience with an Its Skin sample – I can’t even remember of what now! – and I wouldn’t go near the brand for ages. Ended up getting the Black Pomegranate Oil when the oil I was using turned out a bit heavy for summer and I loved it enough to give their adorable lip balms a try… now I’m a fan 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Ah, drat. My comment upthread is uneditable, but the item I had trouble with wasn’t It’s Skin at all, but SKINFOOD. Gah!

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      1. You know what’s pretty great and not fragranced from Skinfood? Their Green Tea Milk Cleansing Cream! It was my first AB second cleanser and I have yet to find a better, less drying option!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yaaaaassssss! Just add it to your RRS haul with more Etude House masks and some Innisfree Camellia lotion. 🙂 🙂

        ALSO THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. Make sure you get the milk (in the tub) and not the foam (in the tube). The foam is horrible and has a pH of like 11. x-x

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