Review: Sulwhasoo & Dr. Young: South Korean Skincare Goes Mainstream

Korea is very much in the news today, but today we want to talk to you about its skincare gems.

Sulwhasoo, one of the most popular skin care companies in South Korea, doesn’t play around when it comes to Eastern medicine. Jill Blakeway, an acupuncturist and professor of Oriental medicine explained the philosophy behind Sulwhasoo, and I wanted so much to believe it all. Blakeway first pointed out that while some brands might incorporate elements and herbs found in Eastern medicine, Sulwhasoo adheres fully to its tenets in several big ways.

  • Every time the company uses a any given herb in a product, they use the whole herb, root, stem and leaf, while a less devoted company might simply zero in on the active chemical in a herb and synthesize it in mass quantities. As Blakeway says, Mother Nature actually did know what she was doing, and by using every part of a herb, the lucky client gets a larger range of benefits that don’t come with a pale manufactured imitation. Just smell their Concentrated Ginseng Cream – there’s no way to describe it but earthy and whole. Incidentally, ginseng has acquired a reputation as a wonder herb because it helps the body adapt to stress. Sulwhasoo’s cream uses older ginseng root which must be gathered in the wild. This might be inconvenient, but it translates to a more potent cream.

  • All products in the seven-step regimen must be applied with bare hands, so no cotton pads or cloths interfere with the intention. Intention plays a big role in Eastern medicine, and spreading the products on with bare fingers goes a long way toward balancing the energy in skin, which is, after all, the goal of the skin care line. By the by, seven products seems high-maintenance for today’s woman, but literally patting on product after products with bare hands makes it a little more doable.
  • A woman’s body goes through dramatic internal changes every seven years, and Sulwhasoo tailors its line to cater to the needs of women in the fifth set of changes, i.e. thirty-five and older, when energy throughout the body begins to unbalance. This cause dehydration, loss of firmness, and a host of other signs associated with aging. Sulwhasoo blends cultivated herbs to carefully counteract these changes and restore youthful energy to the skin.

Along with the Concentrated Ginseng Cream, the other star of this line is the First Care Serum, a product not unlike Clarins Skin Beauty Repair Concentrate in that it preps the skin and makes the following products work better. The serum uses milk-vetch, licorice, and lilyturf to hydrate the skin and allow for maximum efficiency of the other herbs in the line. Customers often opt to buy just this and the Concentrated Ginseng Cream, but often come back before week is out pick up the rest of the line – they’re just that impressed with these two standouts.

For my part, I really wanted Sulwhasoo to whip my skin into shape – I don’t have terrible problems with the signs of aging yet, but I do have acne, and thought that maybe this line would have what it takes to balance the energy in my skin. Sadly, while my skin did get hydrated, and superbly so, my acne did not get better. It didn’t get worse either; rather, it just kept on keeping on. I’m seven years younger than Sulwhasoo’s youngest target clientele, so this might have something to do with it. If you’re looking for the next big thing in anti-aging and don’t have trouble with acne, check it out. And Sulwhasoo? If you’re listening, why not bring a little Eastern wisdom to help out the under-35 set with their skin woes? If it’s anything like their anti-aging products, I’ll be first in line to test them out.

Sulwhasoo products retail for $36-$220 at This is not the only Korean-based skincare line to make a buzz in recent times. Dr. Young’s skincare just debuted at Plaza Beauty the past month, and it’s very popular among clients with troubled skin condition, so acne sufferers are in luck.

Katharine McKenzie

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