Do You Need Actives, Part Deux: Sulwhasoo x2 (A Double Review)

A couple of weeks ago, I talked in a general way about how to decide whether to introduce actives into your skincare routine. Now, as promised, here are a couple of examples: one product that just didn’t have enough oomph to get the job done, and one that doesn’t need anything more than what it already contains to do what I want!

One of the products featured in this post was provided at my request by a Fifty Shades of Snail sponsor and is disclosed in the text. Affiliate links are marked with asterisks(*).

Sulwhasoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask and Snowise Brightening Serum reviews
I guess the fact that I have one of these and two of the other kind of gives the ending away.

Review: Sulwhasoo Snowise Brightening Serum

I acquired this product around late spring or early summer. My friendly contact at Jolse had gotten in touch to see if there was anything on the site I wanted to try; with my ginseng boner at full schwing, I clicked right over to their Sulwhasoo section and picked out this luxurious-looking item.

Summer is always a dicey time for my skin when it comes to things like PIH and sunspots. I’ve said before that I refuse to live like a cave troll to avoid UV radiation, and I do have plenty of great sunscreen on hand, but my skin overproduces pigment very easily. Sometimes I think it does it just to screw with me. It’s a constant battle to keep things under control, so I always have an eye out for anything that could help.

Sulwhasoo Snowise Brightening Serum English ingredients

Sulwhasoo Snowise Brightening Serum ingredients:  Water, propanediol, alcohol, glyceryl polymethacrylate, dimethicone, butylene glycol, glycyrrhiza uralensis (licorice) root extract, paeonia albiflora root extract, nelumbo nucifera flower extract, polygonatum officinale rhizome/root extract, lilium candidum bulb extract, rehmannia glutinosa root extract, honey, hydrolyzed ginseng saponins (hydrolyzed white ginseng saponins), oldenlandia diffusa extract, panax ginseng root extract, glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) root extract, broussonetia kazinoki root extract, morus alba root extract, gingko biloba leaf extract, scutellaria baicalensis root extract, hydrogenated lecithin, methoxy PEG-114/polyepsilon caprolactone, sodium methyl stearoyl taurate, acrylates/C10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, ethylhexylglycerin, polyquaternium-51, hydroxyethyl acrylate/sodium acryloyldimethyl taurate copolymer, 1,2-hexanediol, disodium EDTA, potassium hydroxide, phenoxyethanol, fragrance

CosDNA analysis

Sulwhasoo Snowise Brightening Serum

Okay, so here’s the thing. Remedies for excessive pigmentation have been Extensively Researched™, particularly by the beauty industry in fairness-obsessed East Asia. The research has identified numerous actives more or less capable of reducing hyperpigmentation, including but not limited to:

What I’m saying is that if you’re working on a brightening/lightening product, you’ve got a wealth of fairly reliable actives to choose from. I’ve listed the ones that I understand to be most supported by research up above (with the top 4 being the ones that I know work consistently for me), but there are definitely others. So many others.

Sulwhasoo’s brightening serum coolly eyes the really well known and research-supported lightening agents, then flips its hair and rejects them for lots and lots of herbal extracts. Licorice flavonoids have some evidence as skin brighteners, and the other extracts in the serum may also provide brightening benefits, though in a more roundabout way than, say, a good old 20% L-AA vitamin C serum or 5% niacinamide product would.

But still! I’m totally open-minded to the herbal approach to skincare and I have plenty of actives on hand in case the herb thing doesn’t work out, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

Sulwhasoo Snowise Brightening Serum is a lightweight, hydrating, quick-absorbing pearly gel with a pleasantly spicy scent. It’s more watery-feeling than the Capsulized Ginseng Fortifying Serum, and I find the fragrance a little less intense as well. (I happen to love the way the ginseng serum smells, but I know many people, including the unfortunate Lord Fiddy, find it way too strong.)

Sulwhasoo Snowise Brightening Serum texture
I’m not really sure what value this picture gives, but it really is a pretty product.

I used the Snowise Brightening Serum for about six weeks full-face. During those six weeks, it was the only product I put around my eyes, where I’d gotten a couple of sunspots and thought I’d give it a shot in isolation. I also used it for about four straight weeks on my left foot, because the flip-flop tan lines there always make a good testing ground for products that claim to reduce melanin. I stuck to my usual summer sunscreen regimen and kept an eye out for any changes to skin tone. For my skin, six weeks is generally long enough to tell whether a thing will do the thing it’s meant to do, especially if that thing is brightening.

Sadly, what I found was decidedly ehhhh. Overall, I noticed an increased calmness and subtle translucence to my skin, but the serum didn’t budge any of the spots around my eyes or the stubborn tan on my foot. My guess is that the lightening agents in the Snowise Brightening Serum are effective enough for the very upper layers of skin but not quite strong enough to shift a ton of pigment or affect its production deeper down. It does feel nice going on and hydrates well, but those are attributes plenty of other products have at a far lower price point. Essentially, the results I saw after those six weeks were a consistent sheetmasky sort of glow, which, well. Sheet masks do that too.

So the Snowise Brightening Serum turned into an example of a product seemingly not as well suited to produce the effects it claims as it might be if it were to incorporate some more serious actives. I had no particular problems with the product, but neither was I wowed by any results it gave. There is now an upgraded, EX version of the serum available at Jolse, but for the moment, I think I’ll stick to stronger actives for my particular brightening needs.

Rating: 2.5/5

Review: Sulwhasoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask

For me, “I want to fade some dark spots” is a valid reason to reach for strong actives. “I didn’t sleep well and because I’m not twenty anymore, not sleeping well makes my skin look like crap,” on the other hand, isn’t quite as good a reason.

Lately I’ve talked a lot about categorizing different skin concerns according to priority. I have primary skin concerns, like dark spots and FUCKING WRINKLES TRYING TO SPROUT EVERYWHERE, and those tend to respond best to actives. And I have secondary skin concerns, like dullness, that are generally temporary and, though annoying, not serious enough to throw actives at. Which is where products like Sulwhasoo’s storied Overnight Vitalizing Mask come in.

Sulwhasoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask
Pictured is the newer, EX version, because I didn’t notice that it was EX and not the OG I’m reviewing here. I’m sorry.

Of all the products in my stash, the Overnight Vitalizing Mask is one of the most meaningful to me. I’d wanted to try it since before I even had a blog, ever since reading rave reviews about it by two of my own blogging inspirations-turned-friends: Sheryll at the Wanderlust Project and Kerry at Skin and Tonics. Alice from W2Beauty tucked a travel-sized tube of it into one of my orders, and I loved it even more than I’d expected to. I actually never intended to review it, though, since I always felt like Sheryll and Kerry had said it all. But after going through my original deluxe sample and then a full-sized tube of it, I do want to add my voice to the chorus. It is something special.

Sulwhasoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask (non-EX) ingredients: Water, butylene glycol, glycerin, cetyl ethylhexanoate, butyrospermum parkii (shea) butter, squalane, DI-C12-13 alkyl malate, cyclopentasiloxane, dimethicone, glyceryl stearate, camellia sinensis leaf extract, cyclohexasiloxane, panax ginseng root extract, ophiopogon japonicus root extract, glycyrrhiza uralensis (licorice) root extract, paeonia albiflora root extract, nelumbo nucifera seed extract, polygonatum officinale rhizome/root extract, lilium tigrinum flower/leaf/stem extract, rehmannia glutinosa root extract, chrysanthemum morifolium flower extract, paeonia suffruticosa root extract, citrus unshiu peel extract, adenophora stricta root extract, lycium chinense root extract, coix lacryma-jobi ma-yuen seed extract, angelica tenuissima root extract, honey, juglans regia (walnut) shell extract, scutellaria baicalensis root extract, angelica acutiloba root extract, morus alba root extract, beta-glucan, sodium hyaluronate, trehalose, C14-22 alcohols, stearic acid, silica, hydrogenated castor oil isostearate, hydroxypropyl starch phosphate, palmitic acid, cetearyl alcohol, dimethicone/vinyl dimethicone crosspolymer, PEG-100 stearate, C12-20 alkyl glucoside, polyacrylate-13, phytosteryl/behenyl/octyldodecyl lauroyl glutamate, C12-16 alcohols, carbomer, polyisobutene, xanthan gum, hydrogenated lecithin, dextrin, theobroma cacao (cocoa) extract, polysorbate 20, propanediol, ethylhexylglycerin, alcohol, tromethamine, disodium EDTA, phenoxyethanol, fragrance

CosDNA analysis

The Overnight Vitalizing Mask has gone through at least one repackaging and one reformulation since I’ve become aware of it. Kerry and Sheryll both reviewed a version that came in a fancier tube than either of mine. I’ve now used up an “Overnight Vitalizing Mask” and moved on (accidentally) to a tube of “Overnight Vitalizing Mask EX.”

To make sure I have the correct ingredients for the one I’m reviewing right now, I reached out to Sulwhasoo US. A company rep clarified that the Overnight Vitalizing Mask EX is new and confirmed the ingredients for the current, non-EX version, provided above. Since there isn’t a solid US launch date for the EX version, which Sulwhasoo US told me they hope to offer in 2017, I figured I’m still in the clear to put in my two cents about the non-EX.

Sulwhasoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask EX reformulation
And I’m making good progress on the EX now, too.

Ready for it?

It’s absolutely lovely.

The Overnight Vitalizing Mask is a thick, smooth cream, occlusive in a satiny siliconey way rather than heavy or oily. I’d classify it as medium weight: if I’m having a particularly dry day, I layer it over an emulsion or cream, but if my skin’s feeling fine, I can get away with using it immediately after a sheet mask, no other moisturizer required. Full of Sulwhasoo’s signature traditional medicinal herbs, it dries down quickly and smells warmly of ginger.

Texture of Sulwhasoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask
I use a lot each time.

As for results, the Overnight Vitalizing Mask is exactly what I want a sleeping pack to be: an overnight treatment that delivers actual overnight results. No matter how stressed or tired or nutrient-deficientor hung over I am, a night with this stuff leaves my skin looking even and glowy the next day.

It’s especially great on nights when I’m not feeling up to much of a routine at all. Something about its blend of calming, moisturizing, brightening, and anti-inflammatory ingredients covers up a multitude of sins and weaknesses and questionable life choices. I rely on it a lot. Seriously. I have six other sleeping packs in my current rotation (that I know of) but end up using the Overnight Vitalizing Mask at least three or four times a week.

With that being said, while I do consider the Overnight Vitalizing Mask magic in a tube, it is a temporary magic. It’s David Blaine, not Dumbledore. That ultra-calm, ultra-glowy effect does fade by the next evening and doesn’t persist for progressively longer the more I use the product. But I don’t expect it to.

Going back to the actives vs. not-actives discussion, “my skin is showing my lack of sleep and inability to live a healthy adult lifestyle” is not really a concern that can be addressed by actives. Tired-looking skin is a temporary issue and really only needs temporary remedies, in my opinion. And the Overnight Vitalizing Mask is one of the best of the temporary remedies I’ve tried.

Oh, and the best thing about it? A nice big 120ml tube, which lasts me months and months despite my liberal use of it, costs much less than many other Sulwhasoo products! It’s a fantastic introduction to the brand.

Rating: 5/5

Where can I buy Sulwhasoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask?

This is a product that’s pretty easy to find. I see it at reasonable prices at:

  • Amazon in sample foils*
  • Amazon in 30ml travel-size tube*
  • Amazon in full size*
  • Jolse
  •* (US-based). Check the special codes section in my right-hand sidebar, as Sulwhasoo US regularly offers Fifty Shades of Snail readers extra gifts.
Sulwhasoo products
There are plenty of options to choose from.

What are your favorite non-actives skincare products, and what do they do for you?



20 thoughts on “Do You Need Actives, Part Deux: Sulwhasoo x2 (A Double Review)

  1. While I know that everyone’s experience is different with any product, I was bummed to hear about your experience with the Sulwhasoo Snowise Brightening Serum as I just purchased this last month. Those pesky sun spots are popping up EVERYWHERE on my face, from my many, many years of sun tanning. I don’t mind admitting that I’ve now become a cave dweller, but in spite of my new cave dwelling life style & being covered from head to toe during the 60-90 seconds I spend outside, sun spots continue to pop up!!! I planned on giving this serum a fair shot, and was going to use it once I’m out of my current serum. Now, I need to decide whether to use it or return it and purchase other products that just may be more effective and certainly more cost effective as well.
    Thanks for another awesome review!


  2. Oh boy, isn’t that Sulwhasoo sleeping pack magical! I absolutely love that thing and I can’t make myself purchase another one, this one performs so well. It makes my “I barely slept 4 hours for the past two days face” look like “I sleep like a princess every night” one!


  3. Sold out at Jolse, boo! I’m in the UK for the year — anyone have a suggestion for a reliable dealer here? I’m worried I’ll be stuck with customs charges…Thanks in advance for any suggestions!


    1. I’m in the UK and I use Jolse. I’ve never been nabbed yet by the customs gremlins. So I can’t promise, but anecdotally it’s a perfectly sensible place to get your fix 🙂


      1. Thanks, Ki! Jolse was out of the Sulwhasoo, but just put in an order for some other goodies, so great to hear it works okay for you….now just have to learn patience, been spoiled by fast shipping of US Amazon and Prime….


  4. Hi Fiddy — Quick question — do you like the new EX version of the mask as much as the old? Just received mine and it looks like they’ve taken out quite a few of the botanical extracts, added glycerin instead of the shea butter, seems to smell different?
    Just wondered what you thought since you are the queen…..


    1. EX is how Sulwhasoo indicates a product reformulation, and OG means…original gangsta HAHAHA. Just my way of pointing out the original formulation 🙂


  5. Hi there! First of all, I really enjoy your reviews – thanks so much! Like you I am a big fan of nearly all things Sulwhasoo. I recently stumbled upon The History of whoo and was curious if you have had the chance to try any of their products. If so what do you think? If not I would be so curious to hear what you think. They seem to be at a similar quality and unfortunately price point — what i have tried so far has really blown me away… putting Sulwahsoo second which I can’t believe I would ever be saying. I feel safe saying it here. This might be my new obsession 🙂

    fellow product ho


  6. Hi! Quick question for you on the Overnight Vitalizing Mask. I recently used the EX version and loved what it did to my skin (made it really glowy, soft, plump), but after using it for a couple days, I noticed some fine lines showing up under my eyes, which I originally never had. A couple days prior to using this product, I also used some mandelic acid under my eyes (Wishtrend’s Mandelic Acid), and that was the first time I ever used mandelic acid under my eyes (I usually use it on my forehead). I wasn’t sure which product was causing the fine lines, since the Sulwhasoo product has alcohol in it, and I read somewhere that you shouldn’t put AHAs under your eyes. Does mandelic acid dry out the under eye area? What do you think could be the culprit, and would it be safe to try the Sulwhasoo product again? I love everything else it did for my skin, just hoping that the fine lines weren’t caused by this product.
    Thank you!


    1. Yes, I wouldn’t use AHA right under my eyes. It thins skin, and while on the rest of the face the resurfacing effects are worth it, around eyes it can be counterproductive. I would discontinue using the mandelic under your eyes and wait a bit then try again!


      1. Thank you for letting me know! In your experience, do these fine lines disappear (since I’ve never had them in this area ever) after awhile? I only used the mandelic acid twice under my eyes. Do you recommend any products to help with this in the meantime (I am currently using the COSRX Rice Mask)?


      2. Yeah, they’ll probably go away after a bit now that you’ve stopped with the AHA. Just try to keep that area hydrated and moisturized–whatever you’re using on your face that isn’t an exfoliant should be fine 🙂


  7. Thank you for the review. I think I’m gonna buy the sleeping mask. And the snowise line is really excellent on my skin. In my opinion Sulwhasoo will be most suitable for dry skin


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