Korea is known for many things: spawning a stratospheric tech boom, making tidal waves in the art world, kimchi—and, most recently, the magical land where all your skin care dreams are coming true in a blaze of fragrant glory. At the forefront of this explosion is Alicia Yoon, the Harvard-educated entrepreneur and founder of Peach & Lily, an all-singing, all-dancing, one-stop mega-site dedicated to Korean beauty brands, bloggers, and the unique business of skin care.
If you’re in any doubt as to the influence of the country’s global beauty industry, just take a look in your bathroom cabinet, where it’s likely BB creams, CC creams, facial essences, sheet masks, and cushion compacts (the holy grail of foundation) all vie for their place in the sun. But how does natural skin care fit into the picture? As companies continue to launch new products lauding the most up-to-date ingredients and touting the latest trends, keeping up with the cornucopia of advancements can be well, daunting.
“The Korean skincare legacy has deep roots in natural ingredients that have been passed down from generation to generation, and so Korean beauty consumers have an affinity for them,” says Alicia. “At the same time, the cutting-edge science in beauty has really propelled the industry forward. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, and often the science breakthroughs are what can help the natural ingredients absorb that much more easily or be combined in interesting ways with other unlikely ingredients and textures that are even more formidable than anything you’re used to.”
Here, Alicia breaks down the seven natural powerhouses that will probably take up prime bathroom real estate STAT. Oh, and since they come from Mother Earth, they’re as gentle as can be. “The ingredients in organic lines are scrutinized by some of the most globally demanding and skin-care-savvy beauty consumers—the women in Korea—and made by beauty brands in a hyper-competitive industry, so there’s a rock-solid built-in vetting process for them. But most importantly, they really do work.”
White Birch Sap
White birch is the ultimate skin brightener and nourisher because it’s rich in vitamin C and minerals. With a molecule size similar to that of your bodily fluids, it can be absorbed by skin extremely effectively. Naturally high in niacinamides (aka vitamin B3) to even out skin tone and vitamin C, this mega power-player ultimately coaxes forth an all-around glowier complexion.
Maple Tree Sap
Another sap that’s molecule size is smaller than water and therefore penetrates active ingredients into the skin and fast. Maple tree sap features as the base of cult raw line May Coop for its quick-as-lightning absorption abilities as well as mineral-rich antioxidants that heal and protect skin.
Jeju Island, otherwise known as the “Hawaii of Korea,” has a lush, unpolluted ecosystem and mineral-rich volcanic soil. One of the most treasured Jeju-based brands is The Lotus, whose main ingredient is pure, natural white lotus leaf extract harvested from a pond at its legendary Buddhist temple. The leaves have powerful antioxidant and flavonoid properties, which help maximize skin’s natural healing ability.
Rose Stem-Cell Extract
Stem cells are basic cornerstones of the body. Multicellular organisms (plants, humans, animals, fruits) all have stem cells, and they help with tissue renewal, plus have the ability to transform and develop into many other types of cells. Rose stem cells are packed with active oxygen, antioxidants, and nourishing vitamins to help skin maintain its firmness and combat free radicals. Rose stem cells also absorb UV radiation, helping to protect skin from sun damage and are mighty anti-inflammatory.
Propolis is the “Bee Super Glue,” made when bees collect resin from trees and mix it with wax flakes and pollen. This beautiful mess is then taken back to the hive to use as glue to continue building and fixing their homes. In skin care, it’s antimicrobial, -fungal, and -viral properties help the skin to heal itself from wounds (think pimples, rashes, sunburn, bruises, you name it).
Pancratium maritimum, or sea daffodil, is a species of bulbous plant that helps inhibit a substance in the skin (Substance P), responsible for activating the dendrites (which transfer melanin to the surface of the skin, where it becomes a dark spot). By reducing the carrier activity, dark spot formations are reduced.
Koreans eat lots of fermented food—just think of kimchi and all its kaleidoscopic health benefits. It’s common that ingredients in natural skin care undergo fermentation to break down their molecular structure, thereby making the nutrients that much more concentrated and easily absorbed. Fermented ginseng has high levels of antioxidants and is a powerful anti-inflammatory that helps with firming, lifting, and brightening skin.