The Best of 2020: Skincare Faves

You know how I know 2021 is going to be a better year than 2020? Because it’s January and I not only remembered that I want to write a best of 2020 roundup, but am actually doing it instead of pushing it aside for so long that it becomes pointless to even publish it (who wants to read a 2020 roundup in May 2021?). That’s why.

This will be a broader Best Of list than I’ve done before, because one of the lessons I learned in 2020 was how interconnected all of our pursuits are, and how important all of them can be for the maintenance of our overall mental health and well-being. During normal times, it’s easy to forget how much our mundane everyday decisions can affect us. During abnormal times, their impact becomes clear.

One thing I won’t be doing in this year in review is going over the worst of 2020. Our personal worst-of lists are no doubt a mile long and include a lot more than just some skincare duds. I’d rather start out positive. So let’s get down to it–my picks for the best skincare, haircare, health, and fitness products that I tried in 2020!

Some of the products featured in this post were provided by the brands for review. This post contains affiliate links, which allow me to earn a small commission on purchases made through those links. Affiliate links are marked with an asterisk(*).

The Best of 2020: Skincare

I’m no stranger to the use of skincare as a tool for managing mental health–I literally wrote a book about it. And since I already have a well established practice of using skincare as part of my self care routine (and I work from home anyway), very little changed about it this year, even as we moved into virtual schooling and shelter in place orders.

The fact that my routine didn’t change did show me something important, though. Throughout this year, I’ve been thinking hard about how beauty content often inadvertently reinforces cultural beauty standards–it feels almost impossible to completely strip that messaging out of our content. I struggle with walking the fine line between providing information that readers can use to maintain or alter their appearance if they choose to, and accidentally signaling that I believe everyone should (which I don’t agree with at all).

Privately, I also struggle with the question of whether I’m really doing all of this for my own enjoyment, or if there is still a substantial part of me that adheres to my routine to better fit into those cultural beauty standards. Whether I’m doing this for myself or whether I’m doing it for the gaze of others, in other words. The fact that I continued to enjoy my routine over months of hardly ever seeing another person helped answer that question. I am doing this for me. That felt good to learn. Anyway, here are the products.

COSRX Advanced Snail Cleanser, Dual Essence, and Sheet Masks

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know my love for COSRX runs deep and long. Their Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence and Advanced Snail 92 All In One Cream occupy permanent spots in my routine; I don’t want to imagine doing skincare without them. This love for those products actually made me fret more than I would have otherwise when I learned about the new additions to the COSRX Advanced Snail line: a cleanser, a brightening “dual essence,” and sheet masks.

I should have been happy!

COSRX Advanced Snail Mucin Gel Cleanser

I worried most about the cleanser. The selection of low pH cleansers has come a long way since I first got into skincare, but I still get excited when I find another good one and disappointed when one doesn’t work out.

According to both the brand and the pH strips* I use, the Advanced Snail Mucin Gel Cleanser is about a pH 6.5, which puts it a little higher than some like, but low enough for my skin and tastes. In place of SLS and SLES, it uses a blend of milder surfactants like coco glucoside to further minimize the risk of drying out skin. And, with its dense, slippery gel consistency, (for my skin) perfectly balanced cleansing powers, and crisp citrus scent, it’s an actual joy to use. I look forward to use it every morning and every evening. I’ve said it before: I find joy in a cleanser exceptionally important, because on days when I feel so low that I don’t even want to wash my face, having a cleanser I look forward to using is what gets me to do my routine. As a final bonus, the generously sized tube will last me a long time, even with twice-daily use.

COSRX Advanced Snail Mucin Gel Cleanser ingredients: Water, acrylates copolymer, butylene glycol, glycerin, disodium laureth sulfosuccinate, sodium cocoyl isethionate, 1,2-hexanediol, coco glucoside, lauryl betaine, snail secretion filtrate, arginine, tromethamine, potassium cocoyl glycinate, fragrance, carbomer, sodium chloride, ethylhexylglycerin, acrylates/C10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, sodium polyacrylate, disodium EDTA

CosDNA analysis

COSRX Advanced Snail Mucin Power Sheet Mask

Back in 2016, COSRX launched their first sheet mask, the Holy Moly Snail Mask. Though not without its flaws, most notably the so-so mask material that interfered with its ability to cling snugly to skin, the Holy Moly Snail Mask delivered exceptional moisturizing effects. I liked it, but not enough to keep it in my regular rotation. Last year, the brand released new propolis*, centella, and hydrating sheet masks, but while I enjoyed all of those, I found the $6 single mask price too high to comfortably recommend them–lots of other masks offer comparable quality for less than half that price.

It’s okay, I figured. COSRX doesn’t really need to make amazing sheet masks too. Lots of other brands make great sheet masks but not great daily use products; there’s no point expecting one brand to do it all.

Then came the Advanced Snail Mucin Power Sheet Mask.

Oh my God. These masks are what I originally hoped the Holy Moly Snail Masks would be. Soft, pliable sheets absolutely coated in a thick, viscous gel essence that feels immediately calming and protective on skin. I’m almost done with my second box of these (COSRX sent me my first box, and I went and hastily ordered myself a second box before I’d finished the first). They come in especially handy when my skin feels irritated or compromised. They’ve played a key role in quickly calming the eczema flare I recently suffered along my jaw. They leave my skin smooth, calm, even, and absolutely bursting with moisture all the way through the next day. I’m also pretty sure regular use of these masks is why the guy that works at the smoothie stand near my place keeps calling out to me with compliments about my skin when I walk by.

The Advanced Snail Mucin Power Sheet Masks are a little big for my face, but that’s quickly remedied with a few snips of my sheet mask scissors*. Their tea tree oil scent is a bit antiseptic, but the TTO may also help further calm inflammation, so I’m willing to live with it. And at $20 for a box of 10, these are the right price and came at the right time.

COSRX Advanced Snail Mucin Power Sheet Mask ingredients: Water, butylene glycol, glycerin, snail secretion filtrate, 1,2-hexanediol, panthenol, hydroxyacetophenone, hexylene glycol, xanthan gum, dipropylene glycol, sodium polyacrylate, allantoin, hydroxyethylcellulose, sodium hyaluronate, disodium EDTA, dipotassium glycyrrhizate, melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) leaf oil, polyglyceryl-10 laurate, polyglyceryl-10 myristate

CosDNA analysis

COSRX Advanced Snail Radiance Dual Essence

I reviewed this multifunctional Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence alternative not long ago, so I won’t say much more about it here. Instead, I’ll end this COSRX section with an anecdote.

I finished my first bottle of the Advanced Snail Radiance Dual Essence without regrets and without plans to get any more until the weather warmed up. Then my friends over at COSRX decided to send me a fresh shipment of products. Namely, the entire complete Advanced Snail line. This meant a second bottle of the Advanced Snail Radiance Dual Essence fell right into my lap.

Anyway, I took the second bottle of the dual essence out of the box to take some photos of it. When I finished, instead of putting it back in the box and the box back in my beauty closet as planned, I unthinkingly put the bottle into the basket that holds the opened products currently in my daily rotation. That same night, doing my routine, I unthinkingly used it on my face. I didn’t realize my mistake until a step or two later. At that point, I figured, welp, already opened it, might as well keep using it. And so it remains in my routine, and I can’t say I’m mad about that at all.

COSRX Advanced Snail Radiance Dual Essence Ingredients: Snail secretion filtrate, butylene glycol, niacinamide, 1,2-hexanediol, betaine, panthenol, water, glycerin, limnanthes alba (meadowfoam) seed oil, helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, allantoin, carbomer, macadamia ternifolia seed oil, sodium polyacrylate, sodium hyaluronate, inulin lauryl carbamate, arginine, argania spinosa kernel oil, xanthan gum, sodium surfactin, ethylhexylglycerin, glutathione

CosDNA analysis

107 Everyday Plump Hydro Cream

At any given moment, I have half a dozen or so moisturizers in my active rotation. You might assume that’s because I’m not very picky about moisturizers and will use anything that has “cream” in the name. If you assumed that, you’d be wrong. I have a large selection of moisturizers open because I’m very picky about them on a day-to-day basis. I’m especially exacting about my choice of day cream. My skin fluctuates from normal to dry-ish depending on my recent actives use, and our humidity levels fluctuate from pleasantly moist to mummification-level dry, depending on whether the Santa Ana winds are blowing, so I give myself several options.

The cream I choose to use in the morning must do the following:

  • Deliver enough humectant hydration and emollient moisture to keep my skin soft and comfortable all day
  • Dry down quickly, so I don’t have to wait 30 minutes before I can put my sunscreen on, since sunscreen needs at least 15 minutes to dry before I can then proceed with makeup
  • Dry down thoroughly: no oily residue allowed
  • Mix smoothly with the NIOD Photography Fluid Opacity 12%* that I like to use with my morning moisturizer for a luminous effect
  • Sit well under my choice of sunscreen for the day (usually Missha All Around Safe Block Aqua Sun Gel or Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence*), no pilling or flaking allowed
  • Feel nice and make me happy

Ideally, my morning moisturizer will also contain some ingredients that provide benefits beyond simple hydration and moisturization.

107 Everyday Plump Hydro Rich Cream does all these things and does them beautifully.

In a charmingly minimal jar that stacks well with all the other creams in the baskets.

107 founder (and my dear friend and provider of many care packages stuffed full of terribly addicted Korean snacks) Chloe Kwak developed the brand around its signature ingredient, the traditionally brewed 5- and 7-year aged Hanega vinegar that has been made by her partner’s family for over thirty generations. Using the vinegar topically had helped clear up Chloe’s eczema, which inspired her to incorporate it into a line of products suitable for her own dry and sensitive skin.

A few years and one rebranding later, here we are, with a moisturizer that actually fits all of my daytime criteria while also providing enough richness to make it suitable for my nighttime routine as well. It’s also absolutely saving my face right now as I nurse it through an eczema flareup.

This glossy, luscious-feeling cream melts softly into my skin, quickly replenishing hydration and laying a veil of deceptively light-feeling moisture on top. Despite how quickly and thoroughly the Everyday Plump Hydro Cream sinks in, that moisture lasts all day, even under alcohol-heavy sunscreens, even on extremely arid days, and even under alcohol-heavy sunscreens on extremely arid days. It’s one of the few moisturizers that doesn’t burn when I’m having an eczema flare-up–which I’m going through right now–so I lean on it frequently when my face is pissed off. It’s also rich enough for me to enjoy using it at night, when I like a heavier final layer over my serums and sheet mask.

At first glance, the Everyday Hydro Plump Cream can seem a little bland and boring, primarily (at least for me) due to the lack of scent. But closer look at the ingredients list reveals not just moisturizing ingredients to baby my skin right now, but also a number of more exciting ingredients that might help to keep it baby for longer.

107 claims that its signature ingredient, traditionally brewed vinegar fermented for at least seven years under extremely exacting conditions, helps strengthen skin via its amino acid content. It also contains some naturally occurring alpha hydroxy acid content as a result of the fermentation process. In this cream, I don’t expect any notable exfoliation from the AHAs, but their secondary function as a humectant is always welcome. And Hanega Vinegar ferments their vinegar with an array of traditional medicinal herbs more commonly associated with luxury brands like Sulwhasoo.

Most exciting for me is the fermented ginseng root. I’ve long been a fan of ginseng for the effects that a good ginseng product has on my skin: my favorite ginseng serums and creams noticeably increase my skin’s elasticity and appearance of density while evening out and brightening up my skin tone so that I wake up looking like I already have BB cream on. Fermentation, meanwhile, may make the beneficial compounds in the fermented ingredients more accessible to skin by breaking them down into smaller components. So the fact that the Everyday Plump Hydro Cream has fermented ginseng root extract in it really gets me going.

Short-term use of this cream delivers the expected hydrating and moisturizing effects. After using it almost exclusively for several weeks at a time, I also notice an increased bounce and overall glow to my complexion, even when I’ve been skipping most other steps to avoid potential irritation. I’m on my second jar now and see no reason to stop using it, basically, ever.

107 Everyday Plump Hydro Cream ingredients: Water, butylene glycol, glycerin, cyclopentasiloxane, helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, squalane, bacillus/corchorus olitorius leaf ferment filtrate, PEG/PPG-18/4 copolymer, isostearyl isostearate, 1,2-hexanediol, cetyl alcohol, aluminum starch octenylsuccinate, cyclohexasiloxane, polysorbate 60, dimethiconol, glyceryl stearate, PEG-100 stearate, sorbitan stearate, lactobacillus/soymilk ferment filtrate, lactobacillus/punica granatum fruit ferment extract, arginine, acrylates/C10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, lactobacillus/panax ginseng root ferment filtrate, simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) seed oil, panthenol, trehalose, allantoin, sodium hyaluronate, polyglutamic acid, pyrus communis (pear) fruit extract, beta-glucan, rosa damascena flower water, prunus persica (peach) fruit extract, hedera helix (ivy) leaf/stem extract, pimpinella anisum (anise) fruit extract, vanilla planifolia fruit extract, vinegar, cucumis melo (melon) fruit extract, phenoxyethanol (0.52%)

CosDNA analysis

Missha Time Revolution Red Algae Treatment Essence

I think I would have been a lot more upset about the reformulation of my beloved Hada Labo Gokujyun Premium Lotion if Missha’s Time Revolution Red Algae Treatment Essence hadn’t fallen into my lap at the perfect time. This hydrator dominated my skincare routine (and my skincare thoughts and skincare dreams) for much of fall and winter 2020.

Also, that is a sexy, sexy bottle.

Per Missha, this product contains only one ingredient: red algae extract, fermented for 100 days.

The single-ingredient concept, which I talked about a bit for Vogue, is a good introduction to the subtleties of cosmetics ingredients. While this extract can be listed as a single ingredient, in reality it will contain several components: the actual biological matter extracted from the source plant, the solvent into which the biological matter is extracted, and a preservative. (This is separate from the preservatives you’ll find in the ingredients lists of a finished product. The preservative included in the extract is there to preserve the extract itself in its status as a raw ingredient, while the preservative system in a finished product is included in proportions calculated to preserve the formulation as a whole.)

Products like these are a gamble. With such a high concentration of the featured ingredient, it could be spectacular for those whose skin responds well to that ingredient. But it could also be a total bust that’s hardly any different from water, especially if the extract itself isn’t particularly potent.

The Red Algae Treatment Essence is spectacular for me. Thicker than water, this scentless and incredibly slippery liquid glides over skin like silk and sinks in almost immediately. It hydrates my face almost as much as the Hada Labo Gokujyun Premium Lotion, which was basically a sheet mask in a bottle for me, and it leaves the surface of my skin super smooth and bouncy. It also layers well. I’ve patted on three and even four layers on very arid days without noticing any stickiness or residue buildup. My point is that it performs like a hydrating toner but with the added textural and potential antioxidant benefits of a sea kelp serum. I really, really love seaweed extracts, and effects like what I get from this essence are why.

On their website, Missha actually does list the extract components separately, which I find very helpful:

Missha Time Revolution Red Algae Treatment Essence ingredients: Chondrus crispus extract, water, glycerin, 2,3-butanediol, 1,2-hexanediol

CosDNA analysis

NIOD Fractionated Eye Contour Concentrate (FECC)

Oh, NIOD. Again with the wordy, self-consciously Sciencey™ product names.

As much as the Long Science Names annoy me, though, I can’t deny that when NIOD’s products work for me, they work amazingly well. The Fractionated Eye Contour Concentrate (FECC) does.

It’s a “hyper-concentrated bio serum for the eye contour” that “combines 28 clinical technologies.” Okay.

I’ve tried quite a few eye serums over the years, but until last year, the only one I’d ever used that had given me results noticeable enough to make me want to keep using it was the Amorepacific Intensive Vitalizing Eye Essence. And then the NIOD FECC came into my life to blow me away (slowly).

Deciem sent me this product at my request: one of my longtime Instagram followers and DM friends had recommended it to me, with the caution that it had taken him a fairly long period of use before he saw results. My experience was similar. I used the FECC morning and night for two or three months before I noticed any changes. Once I did, though, I was hooked.

The FECC is a very thin, runny liquid with a slightly more oily feel than water; I dab it around my eyes with my ring finger immediately after cleansing, then follow up with my eye cream (which is still the COSRX Advanced Snail 92 All In One Cream).

Most of the other serum-type eye treatments I’ve tried have a noticeable hydration component. This allows them to quickly plump skin up, for an immediate but temporary improvement in surface smoothness and firmness. NIOD FECC does not do this, which meant that my first few months of use required a very large leap of faith. If I hadn’t had my friend’s recommendation in the back of my mind, I don’t think I would have continued past the second month.

Thank my friend for the fact that I did, because around the third month, I noticed that my eye area had become visibly brighter and less puffy. A couple of people I know in person commented (unprovoked) that my eyes seemed bigger. I noticed an increased tightness and general lifted look as well. I took a month or so off in between my first and second bottles and saw a marked difference during that time. NIOD FECC under COSRX snail cream has become my holy grail eye combo: the FECC lifts, depuffs, and brightens, and the COSRX snail cream smooths and moisturizes.

The FECC ingredients list is incredibly long and contains several categories of beneficial ingredients. A couple of note are acetyl hexapeptide-8 and acetyl tetrapeptide-5, which it shares with my beloved NIOD Copper Amino Isolate Serum 2:1 (CAIS2). Niacinamide and a couple of forms of vitamin C help with brightening. Also of note are the glycolic and lactic acids in the formula. Typically, I’d caution against using acids around the eyes, but here the acids are so far down in the ingredients that I assume they only contribute humectant effects, not exfoliation. Below, I’ve bolded some of the key ingredients.

NIOD Fractionated Eye Contour Concentrate Ingredients: Aqua (water), glycerin, butylene glycol, propanediol, hydrolyzed yeast extract, albizia julibrissin bark extract, niacinamide, dipeptide diaminobutyroyl benzylamide diacetate, palmitoyl tripeptide-38, acetyl hexapeptide-8, acetyl tetrapeptide-5, decapeptide-22, oligopeptide-78, palmitoyl decapeptide-21, palmitoyl hexapeptide-52, zinc palmitoyl nonapeptide-14, palmitoyl tetrapeptide-50, pentapeptide-18, acetyl hexapeptide-30, heptapeptide-15 palmitate, palmitoyl heptapeptide-18, S-Mu-Conotoxin CnIIIC acetate, sodium hyaluronate, darutoside, epigallocatechin gallatyl glucoside, gallyl glucoside, ascorbyl glucoside, zinc PCA, methylglucoside phosphate, disodium acetyl glucosamine phosphate, copper lysinate/prolinate, hydroxypropyl cyclodextrin, superoxide dismutase, escin, ascorbic acid, ammonium glycyrrhizate, polyglucuronic acid, ascophyllum nodosum extract, asparagopsis armata extract, fraxinus excelsior bark extract, olea europaea leaf extract, polypodium vulgare rhizome extract, cetraria islandica thallus extract, sphagnum magellanicum extract, ruscus aculeatus root extract, centella asiatica extract, calendula officinalis flower extract, arginine, panthenol, hydrolyzed rice protein, glycine soja (soybean) protein, hydrolyzed wheat protein, hydrolyzed yeast protein, lecithin, polyacrylate crosspolymer-6, xanthan gum, cetyl hydroxyethylcellulose, silanetriol, sodium dextran sulfate, sorbitol, pentylene glycol, dimethyl isosorbide, citric acid, glycolic acid, lactic acid, lactic acid/glycolic acid copolymer, PPG-26-buteth-26, polyvinyl alcohol, PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil, propyl gallate, potassium sorbate, caprylyl gycol, glyceryl caprylate, ethylhexylglycerin, sodium benzoate, benzyl alcohol, phenylpropanol, dehydroacetic acid, phenoxyethanol, chlorphenesin

CosDNA analysis

NIOD FECC isn’t cheap. Since I only need one or two drops to do my eye area every time, however, the little 15 ml bottle lasts me almost an entire year.

Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum (4th gen) and Timetreasure Invigorating Sleeping Mask

If I remember correctly, I’ve been using Sulwhasoo products since 2016. Not a year has gone by since then that I haven’t loved some product from the brand. 2020 was no different, except that I had more time on my hands to enjoy their products but fewer opportunities to go out into public to show off the results.

Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum (4th gen)

Sulwhasoo doesn’t release new products as often as many other brands. They do reformulate products regularly, however. In my experience, most of their reformulations preserve the original feel and performance of the product, although in a few casesSnowise foam cleanser they…don’t.

Luckily for me, the fourth iteration of the First Care Activating Serum, which I believe I first tried in its second or third incarnation, does retain everything I originally loved about the product. Intended for application as the first step after cleansing, this super lightweight gel serum speeds up absorption of whatever products I apply afterwards and, over time, brings a soft rosy glow to my skin, making me look more alive from within. That glow goes away every time I take a break from the product for longer than a week and always comes back when I reintroduce it to my life.

Sulwhasoo US will be releasing the fifth generation of this product soon–I just started it via this year’s gorgeous limited edition Lunar New Year bottle–but for now, the fourth gen version that I’ve been happy with all year is still available on their site.

But seriously. Look at the beauty of the LNY bottle.

Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum (4th gen) ingredients: Water, butylene glycol, alcohol, glycerin, betaine, PEG/PPG-17/6 copolymer, glyceryl polymethacrylate, ophiopogon japonicus root extract, phenoxyethanol, bis-PEG-18 methyl ether dimethyl silane, PEG-60 hydrogenated castor oil, carbomer, tromethamine, glycyrrhiza uralensis (licorice) root extract, fragrance, honey, juglans regia (walnut) seed extract, theobroma cacao (cocoa) extract, dextrin, lilium candidum bulb extract, paeonia albiflora root extract, rehmannia glutinosa root extract, polygonatum officinale rhizome/root extract, nelumbo nucifera flower extract, xanthan gum, ethylhexylglicerin, portulaca oleracea extract, limonene, camellia sinensis leaf extract, disodium EDTA, pheyl trimethicone, chondrus crispus (carrageenan), linalool, biosaccharide gum-1, zizyphus jujuba fruit extract, natto gum, citronellol, citral, propylene glycol, geraniol, chlorphenesin, hydrogenated lecithin, BHT, sodium dehydroacetate, potassium sorbate, citric acid, sorbic acid, tocopherol

CosDNA analysis

If you’re dying to get the new one in the breathtaking 120 ml red bottle, you can find it for $120 at Nordstrom*.

Last year’s LE bottle was lovely too.

Sulwhasoo Timetreasure Invigorating Sleeping Mask

There are a few different levels of love that I feel for a product. If I actually finished my first full-sized container of it, then I loved it. But if I finished my first full-sized container of it, tried to move on, and found myself longing for it constantly until it returned to my life, then I really loved it.

really love Sulwhasoo’s Timetreasure Invigorating Sleeping Mask. Which is kind of unfortunate, because that is a $200 sleeping mask, but there you go. I can’t help how I feel. This smooth, concentrated-feeling cream imparts an overnight brightness and translucency to my skin, as well as the same kind of healthily rosy glow I get from the First Care Activating Serum. But beyond that, it also gives my skin a creamy density and more fine-grained appearance than usual. It’s an effect that’s hard to describe with words but unmistakable when seen in person. I talk more about the effects, and about the multitude of extracts in this product, in my full review of the product. Here I’ll just say that I was very happy to see it included in a Timetreasure gift set that the brand sent my way around the holidays.

A gift set that costs more than what many people pay in rent every month.

Sulwhasoo Timetreasure Invigorating Sleeping Mask ingredients: Water, propanediol, glycerin, dimethicone, limnanthes alba (meadowfoam) seed oil, hydrogenated polyisobutene, butyrospermum parkii (shea) butter, PEG-40 stearate, alcohol, butylene glycol, 1,2-hexanediol, cetearyl alcohol, octyldodecanol, hydroxyethyl acrylate/sodium acryloyldimethyl taurate copolymer, glyceryl stearate, PEG-100 stearate, nylon-12, sorbitan stearate, phytosteryl/beheyl/octyldodecyl lauroyl glutamate, jojoba esters, stearic acid, palmitic acid, fragrance, acrylates/C10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer, honey, glyceryl caprylate, methoxy PEG-114/polyepsilon caprolactone, tromethamine, nelumbo nucifera flower extract, polygonatum officinale rhizome/root extract, rehmannia glutinosa root extract, paeonia albiflora root extract, lilium candidum bulb extract, sorbitan isostearate, polysorbate 60, disodium EDTA, ethylhexylglycerin, adenosine, cymbopogon martini oil, geraniol, hydroxypropyl cyclodextrin, phenoxyethanol, tricholoma matsutake extract, pinus densiflora leaf extract, glycyrrhiza uralensis (licorice) root extract, ophiopogon japonicus root extract, limonene, dextrin, theobroma cacao (cocoa) extract, linalool, panax ginseng root extract, hydrolyzed proanthocyanidin, hydrolyzed ginseng saponins (enzyme-treated red ginseng saponins), lithospermum erythrorhizon root extract, morus alba leaf extract, prunus armeniaca (apricot) kernel extract, farnesol, myristic acid, arachidic acid, carthamus tinctorius (safflower) seed oil, coix lacryma-jobi ma-yuen seed extract, tocopherol

CosDNA analysis

Sekkisei Treatment Cleansing Oil and Emulsion

As we get to the end of this list, in the wake of my love for a $200 cream, I’m incredibly relieved to finish this off with two products that gave me distinct Sulwhasoo vibes, sometimes at distinctly not-Sulwhasoo prices. I got lucky this year to stumble into an opportunity to review Sekkisei’s Treatment Cleansing Oil and Emulsion, and I’m glad I did. I doubt I ever would have tried them otherwise.

Sekkisei Treatment Cleansing Oil

For years, I’ve had two great cleansing oil loves. Both are medium thickness oils that massage easily over skin, break up even stubborn waterproof makeup and water-resistant sunscreen without much effort, emulsify well, and rinse off cleanly. On the more budget-friendly end of the spectrum is Japanese drugstore brand Hada Labo’s Gokujyun Cleansing Oil, a no-nonsense option that I don’t feel bad about also using to clean my sunscreen puffs and makeup brushes. On the higher end of the spectrum is Sulwhasoo’s Gentle Cleansing Oil, which enhances the cleansing experience with fun herbal additions and a beautiful scent.

Sitting right between them is Sekkisei Treatment Cleansing Oil, which costs a few dollars less than Sulwhasoo’s for a much larger bottle of product but retains a sense of luxury and indulgence thanks to Sekkisei’s choice of skin-friendly herbal extracts and distinctive scent. I’ve had my bottle open for several months now and am not even halfway through with it, despite using it for more than just my face. After I eventually finish this one, meanwhile, I have a second bottle to open and expect I’ll be perfectly happy to do so instead of moving on.

Sekkisei Treatment Cleansing Oil ingredients: Mineral oil, PEG-8 glyceryl isostearate, cetyl ethylhexanoate, cyclomethicone, water, glycerin, angelica acutiloba root extract, carthamus tinctorus (safflower) seed oil, coix lacryma-jobi (job’s tears) seed oil, melothria heterophylla root extract, sesamum indicum (sesame) seed oil, tocopherol, alcohol, phenoxyethanol, fragrance

CosDNA analysis

Sekkisei is no longer at Costco as far as I know, but you can now find them at new K-beauty online store Plump Shop. I happen to know the team behind Plump Shop and can vouch for their products’ authenticity and their reliable order fulfillment.

Also, the pretty pretty blue bottles add some visual enjoyment to my routine, too.

Sekkisei Emulsion

I feel even more strongly about the Sekkisei Emulsion than I do about the Treatment Cleansing Oil, because this is one of only two emulsions I’ve ever loved. Two pumps covers me from hairline all the way down my chest, and the milky liquid moisturizer packs a surprising amount of hydration with a lightweight and totally non-greasy finish. I find this unbelievably useful on mornings when I want extra hydration but don’t have the time or energy to add a toner or essence to my routine. It does have a noticeable initial scent of alcohol as I put it on, but the scent fades quickly, and the fragrance of the product is otherwise pleasant to me. As an extra bonus, the Sekkisei Emulsion sits really well under the sunscreens I like and dries down so smoothly that it almost doubles as a makeup primer. It’s good stuff.

Sekkisei Emulsion ingredients: Water, alcohol, butylene glycol, glycerin, dipropylene glycol, ascorbyl glucoside, propylene glycol dicaprate, dimethicone, cetearyl alcohol, dipentaerythrityl hexahydroxystearate/hexastearate/hexarosinate, squalane, angelica acutiloba root extract, coix lacryma-jobi (job’s tears) seed extract, gentiana lutea root extract, hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel) extract, inula brittanica flower extract, melothria heterophylla root extract, paeonia suffruticosa root extract, polyphosphorylcholine glycol acrylate, tocopheryl acetate, triticum vulgare (wheat) germ oil, C13-14 isoparaffin, cellulose gum, citric acid, disodium EDTA, disodium phosphate, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, hydrogenated lecithin, hydrogenated rapeseed glycerides, laureth-7, PEG-8, polyacrylamide, polysorbate 80, sodium hydroxide, sodium methyl stearoyl taurate, sorbitan stearate, ethylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben, fragrance

CosDNA analysis

My 2021 skincare routines are getting off to a gorgeous start.

It’s the last day of January, and it took longer to write this post than I expected: the upcoming release of my book and my mask line has been taking most of my time and attention. But I’m still testing out and using products just like I always do, and I’m looking forward to sharing more with you guys this year! Let’s hope 2021 brings some new bests to our personal lists.