5 Things to Watch Out For in Korean Skincare Products for Dry Skin

5 Things to Watch Out For in Korean Skincare Products for Dry Skin


   Korean skincare or k-beauty products, has been embedded in the world of beauty and cosmetics for good reason.  With exceptional innovation, gentle formulae, novel ingredients, and better value, it isn't surprising that it has became so sought out.  But, its rapid rise to popularity probably started out most notably due to Hallyu, or the Korean Wave. Hallyu, is a pheromone referring to the popularity in Korean pop culture.  With, brands such as Beauty of Joseon and Sulwhasoo, being a luxury staple for many years now, it is no wonder that many skincare experts recommend it.   But, with the rise in K-Beauty, it has become easier for brands to establish themselves as a skincare brand.  So how does one filter out the good from the bad products?  Are Korean products good for all skin types?  Let's demystify these questions in detail.

Korean vs Western Skincare: Whats the Difference?

   Let's address the elephant in the room.  What is the difference between western and Korean skincare? Is one better than the other? The answer is, it depends. It ultimately boils down to what is your skin type, and are the laws more or less demanding in your country.  But, there are certain things that are well documented for dry skin types.

   The main focus in Korean skincare, is hydration.  This focus is derived from maintaining a healthy skin barrier.  They often called this term, glass skin. The term often means flawless skin, which appears to look like glass, but in this case, we are talking about the basic concept.  While, looking natural is not a foreign concept now, in the 1980's it was in the US.  Certain brands such as Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, revolutionized the way people look.  Back then, skincare products were not as refined as it is today.  For example toners, were very harsh.  It was definitely not used for dry skin types. 

   But, I digress, the point is, during this time especially when hallyu, or Korean Wave was on the rise, there was a desire to "have it all" natural skin without looking like you were wearing makeup.  The rise of hallyu, was during the mid 2000's, which was when people started to stop using tanning beds, and replacing it with sunscreen.  In addition, instead of using oily lotions (fear that it would make your skin greasier), they started using "hydrating moisturizers, face masks and serums."  As more people started to become more aware and skin conscious, the appearance of Korean entertainment also started to take root in other countries. With celebrities endorsements and promoting their personal routines, the skin revolution really started to come together.

   With an emphasis on preventative practices, skincare treatments are a frequent practice in Korea.  These skin shops or beauty treatments that are so affordable, is an addition to the skin routines standardized in the US.

   Traditionally, Western skincare often adopts a more clinical approach, emphasizing the treatment of specific skin issues such as acne, wrinkles, and sun damage. The philosophy here leans towards minimalism, with routines that are typically shorter and products that are designed to deliver quick, targeted results. Western skincare formulations tend to focus on active ingredients like retinol, hyaluronic acid, and AHAs/BHAs, aiming for efficacy and efficiency in skin improvement.

   In this instance, it can be interpreted as a proactive vs reactive measure.  Where western skincare practices were more concentrated on concealing and a quick fix for that specific problem, albeit skin, body or illness.  While, Korean skincare is deeply rooted in a holistic philosophy that views the skin as an integral part of one’s overall health. It emphasizes prevention over cure, focusing on maintaining a healthy, hydrated, and balanced skin barrier. The Korean regimen is also renowned for its multi-step routine, which can range anywhere from 5 to 10 steps or more, each serving a specific purpose in achieving glowing, youthful skin. This approach is about pampering and taking time to care for the skin, with a strong emphasis on hydration and gentle care. 

1. Essential Hydrating Ingredients

   Dry skin is a common concern that can lead to discomfort and a lackluster appearance, but incorporating key hydrating ingredients into your skincare routine can significantly alleviate these issues. Hyaluronic acid, glycerin, E.G.F., and ceramides stand out as four of the most effective moisturizing agents, each with unique properties that help to maintain the skin's hydration levels and overall health. Understanding the role of these ingredients can empower individuals to make informed choices about their skincare products, leading to more supple, hydrated, and healthy-looking skin.

   Hyaluronic acid is a naturally occurring substance in the skin known for its incredible ability to attract and retain moisture. It can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water, making it an exceptional hydrator for the skin's surface. When applied topically, hyaluronic acid acts as a humectant, drawing moisture from the environment into the skin, which helps to plump up the skin cells, reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and providing an overall moisturizing effect. This makes it an ideal ingredient for those looking to boost their skin's moisture content and achieve a dewy, youthful complexion.

   Glycerin and ceramides, on the other hand, play crucial roles in strengthening the skin's barrier function and preventing moisture loss. Glycerin, another powerful humectant, works by drawing water into the outer layer of the skin from deeper levels and the air, helping to maintain the skin's moisture balance. Ceramides are lipid molecules found in high concentrations within the cell membranes of skin cells. They are essential for maintaining the skin's barrier and retaining moisture, protecting the skin from environmental aggressors, and preventing dryness and irritation. Together, these ingredients provide a comprehensive approach to hydrating the skin, making them indispensable in the fight against dryness.

   Expanding the arsenal of hydrating ingredients, Epidermal Growth Factor (E.G.F) has emerged as a significant player in skin hydration and moisture. E.G.F is a protein that naturally occurs in our skin cells and is known for its ability to stimulate cell growth and proliferation. When applied topically, E.G.F can help improve the skin's hydration levels by promoting the synthesis of hyaluronic acid and glycosaminoglycans, which are vital for retaining moisture. Additionally, E.G.F enhances the skin's barrier function, reducing transepidermal water loss and ensuring that the skin retains its natural moisture. This makes E.G.F an invaluable ingredient not only for its hydrating properties but also for its role in maintaining the overall health and vitality of the skin.

   Squalane, is another great ingredient. It's a lightweight, non-greasy oil that mimics the skin's natural oils, providing hydration and helping to keep the skin's moisture barrier intact. 

2. Potential Irritants to Avoid: Alcohols, Fragrances and Essential Oils

   Korean skincare products are known to be gentle on the skin.  But, there is a caveat, there are many ingredients that might not be suitable for all skin types. In the event that you'd like to understand your skin better, make sure that there are products you may suspect that irritate your skin, please take a look at these ingredients and their breakdown below.  

2.1. Good and Bad Alcohols For Dry Skin

   While it is true that Korean skincare products has been alcohol free for a while, alcohol itself is a broad term.  Since, there are many types of alcohol, some in which are actually good for your skin! This can include glycerin (aka glycerol), which is a key component in retaining moisture. The technical term, it is called an humectant.  But, the term alcohol probably refers to harmful alcohols that include SD Alcohol, Alcohol Denat., Ethanol, and Isopropyl Alcohol.  For example, Denatured alcohol is a drying agent, and in most cases, these bad alcohols can do more damage than good to your skins barrier or protective layers.  While, it is true that alcohol does enhance the absorption of other ingredients such as Vitamin c and retinol, these types of alcohols should be avoided. 

   Good alcohol ingredients listed on product labels may include cetyl, stearyl and cetearyl alcohol.  These are called fatty alcohol, which have beneficial skin properties.  Where fatty alcohol are great for dry skin.  

2.2. Fragrances: It Might Smell Good, But Is It Right For Your Skin? 

   Fragrance in skincare products can enhance the sensory experience but may also lead to irritation or allergic reactions in some individuals, especially those with sensitive skin. Here are common fragrance ingredients found in skincare products that can be irritating:

  1. Alcohol (in the context of fragrant or volatile alcohols): While not a fragrance ingredient per se, it's often used in fragrances and can be drying and irritating for sensitive skin types.
  2. Essential Oils: Though natural, essential oils like lavender, peppermint, and citrus oils (lemon, bergamot) can be potent allergens and irritants due to their chemical components (e.g., linalool, limonene).
  3. Synthetic Fragrance: Often listed as "fragrance," "parfum," or "perfume" on ingredient labels, this can be a blend of numerous chemicals, some of which may be irritants or allergens. The exact composition is usually not disclosed, making it difficult to identify specific irritants.
  4. Cinnamal: A fragrance compound that gives a cinnamon scent, known to cause allergic reactions in some people.
  5. Citronellol: Commonly found in rose and geranium oils, citronellol can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.
  6. Eugenol: Found in clove oil, nutmeg, cinnamon, basil, and bay leaf, eugenol is another potential irritant and allergen.
  7. Geraniol: This is a fragrance ingredient with a rose-like scent, found in geranium, rose oil, and citronella. It's known for its potential to cause allergic reactions.
  8. Isoeugenol: Used for its spicy, clove-like scent, isoeugenol is another common allergen found in fragrances.
  9. Limonene and Linalool: These are naturally occurring compounds in many essential oils and are used in synthetic fragrances for their citrus and lavender scents, respectively. They can oxidize when exposed to air, becoming potent allergens.
  10. Benzyl Alcohol, Benzyl Salicylate, and Benzyl Benzoate: These are used in fragrances for their sweet floral scents but can be irritating or allergenic for some people.

   It's important to note that not everyone will react to these ingredients; sensitivity varies greatly among individuals. For those with sensitive skin or known allergies, it may be beneficial to use fragrance-free products or patch test a new product before applying it fully. If you suspect a product is causing skin irritation, consult a dermatologist for personalized advice.

2.3. The Good and The Bad Essential Oils for Dry Skin

   Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts that retain the natural smell and flavor, or "essence," of their source. While they can offer therapeutic benefits and are popular in skincare for their aromatic and purported skin-enhancing properties, some essential oils are known to be irritants or allergens for certain individuals, especially those with sensitive skin. But, note that it may depend on your needs.  Such as tea tree oil can be used for pimple patches.  Here are some common essential oil irritants found in skincare products:

  1. Lavender Oil (Lavandula angustifolia): Despite its widespread use for its calming and anti-inflammatory properties, lavender oil can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some people.
  2. Peppermint Oil (Mentha piperita): Known for its cooling effect, peppermint oil can be too harsh for sensitive skin, leading to irritation or a burning sensation.
  3. Citrus Oils (e.g., Lemon, Lime, Bergamot, Grapefruit): These oils are phototoxic, meaning they can cause skin reactions when exposed to sunlight. They can lead to redness, burning, or blistering on sun-exposed areas.
  4. Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia): While tea tree oil is praised for its antimicrobial properties, it can be a strong irritant for some, causing redness, dryness, or itching.
  5. Eucalyptus Oil (Eucalyptus species): Eucalyptus oil is another potent oil that can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some individuals.
  6. Cinnamon Bark Oil (Cinnamomum zeylanicum): This oil is known for its warm, comforting scent but can be highly irritating to the skin, causing redness or a burning sensation.
  7. Ylang-Ylang Oil (Cananga odorata): Used for its sweet, floral fragrance, ylang-ylang can cause headaches, nausea, and skin irritation in sensitive individuals.
  8. Clove Oil (Eugenia caryophyllata): Clove oil is known for its pain-relieving properties but is also a potent skin irritant and can cause dermatitis in some people.
  9. Lemongrass Oil (Cymbopogon): Popular in skincare for its fresh scent and purifying properties, lemongrass oil can be irritating to the skin, causing rashes or a burning sensation.
  10. Oregano Oil (Origanum vulgare): Known for its antibacterial and antifungal properties, oregano oil is also a strong irritant that can cause redness and irritation.

3. The Importance of Skin Barrier Protection

   The skin barrier, also known as the stratum corneum, is the outermost layer of the skin and plays a crucial role in maintaining overall skin health. Its primary function is to act as a protective shield against environmental aggressors such as pollutants, toxins, and harmful microorganisms, while also preventing excessive water loss from the body. A healthy skin barrier is essential for keeping the skin hydrated, supple, and resilient.

How the Skin Barrier Works

   The skin barrier is composed of dead skin cells (corneocytes) bound together by a mixture of lipids (ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids). This structure is often compared to a brick wall, where the skin cells are the bricks and the lipids are the mortar. This barrier is responsible for:

  • Preventing Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL): It helps to retain moisture in the skin, keeping it hydrated.
  • Protecting Against External Aggressors: It acts as a defense mechanism against environmental pollutants, allergens, and irritants.
  • Maintaining Skin Integrity and Health: A strong barrier supports the skin's natural repair process and maintains its elasticity and firmness.

Ingredients That Support a Healthy Skin Barrier

   Several ingredients are known to support and strengthen the skin barrier, including:

  • Ceramides: Lipids that replenish the skin’s natural ceramides, helping to restore moisture and reinforce the skin's natural barrier.
  • Niacinamide (Vitamin B3): Helps to improve the skin’s elasticity, fade discolorations, reduce inflammation, and support the skin barrier.
  • Hyaluronic Acid: Attracts moisture to the skin, helping to keep it hydrated and plump.
  • Fatty Acids and Cholesterol: These lipids are essential components of the skin barrier and help to maintain its integrity.
  • Glycerin: A humectant that draws water into the skin, aiding in hydration and barrier repair.

Ingredients That Can Damage the Skin Barrier

   Conversely, certain ingredients and practices can weaken or damage the skin barrier, including:

  • Harsh Exfoliants: Overuse of physical or chemical exfoliants (such as scrubs, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid) can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to irritation and barrier damage.
  • Sulfates: Found in many cleansers, sulfates can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to dryness and irritation.
  • Alcohol (Denatured): High concentrations can be drying and irritating to the skin, disrupting the lipid matrix of the skin barrier.
  • Fragrances and Essential Oils: Can be irritating to some skin types, leading to inflammation and barrier damage.0

4. Understanding Product Formulations

   Product formulations for dry skin are meticulously designed to provide maximum hydration and to fortify the skin's barrier. The formulation is a blend of ingredients including:

  • Humectants: Such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and propylene glycol, which attract water into the skin from the environment or deeper skin layers.
  • Emollients: Including ingredients like ceramides, fatty acids, and squalane that fill in the gaps between skin cells, smoothing and softening the skin.
  • Occlusives: Such as petrolatum, beeswax, and silicones that create a physical barrier on the skin surface, preventing water loss.

   The balance and concentration of these components vary across different product types (lotions, creams, and oils), significantly influencing their texture and efficacy for dry skin.

4.1. Significance of Product Texture

   The texture of a skincare product not only affects its sensory attributes but also its functionality, particularly in how it hydrates and protects dry skin.

  • Lotions: Typically lighter and more fluid, lotions are easily absorbed into the skin. They often contain a higher water content, making them refreshing and less greasy. Lotions are suitable for mild dryness and for those who prefer a lighter, non-greasy feel. They can be applied throughout the day for hydration without the heaviness.
  • Creams: Thicker and richer than lotions, creams have a higher oil content, making them more effective at providing a barrier that locks in moisture. They are particularly beneficial for very dry or dehydrated skin, as they deliver intense hydration and help repair the skin's barrier. Creams are ideal for nighttime use or during colder months when skin tends to be drier.
  • Oils: Pure oils or oil-based products offer deep nourishment and are excellent occlusives, sealing in moisture and other hydrating ingredients applied underneath. They can be used alone or added to creams for an extra moisture boost. Oils are particularly effective for treating very dry, flaky skin or for use in a facial massage to promote circulation and absorption.

4.2. Choosing the Right Product

   Selecting the right product depends on several factors, including the severity of dryness, personal preference regarding texture, and how the product fits into your overall skincare routine. It's also important to consider the climate and environmental factors, as these can affect your skin's hydration needs.

5. The Role of Personalized Skincare Routines

   Dry skin can result from various factors, including genetics, environmental influences (such as cold, dry weather), lifestyle choices, and aging. Each person's skin is unique, and factors like the severity of dryness, sensitivity levels, and the presence of other skin conditions (such as eczema or psoriasis) can vary widely. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach to skincare is often ineffective for those with dry skin. Personalized skincare routines take into account these individual differences, allowing for a more targeted and effective approach to hydrating and nourishing the skin.

   While, K-beauty has a range of daily skin care routines, which may include ampoule, eye creams, double cleansing and spf, the thing to remember is to understand your skin needs.  But, if we had to break it down into the basic steps, a personalized skincare routine for dry skin would typically involve several key steps, each tailored to the individual's specific needs:

  1. Gentle Cleansing: Choosing a gentle, hydrating cleanser that doesn't strip the skin of its natural oils is crucial for dry skin types. Personalization might involve selecting a cleanser with specific hydrating ingredients that suit your skin's needs.
  2. Hydration: Incorporating products that offer deep hydration—such as hyaluronic acid serums or essences—is essential. The choice of hydrating products can be personalized based on the skin's reaction to different ingredients and the level of hydration needed.
  3. Moisturizing: A personalized moisturizer that addresses the individual's level of dryness and preference for texture (lotion, cream, or ointment) can significantly impact the skin's health. Ingredients like ceramides, fatty acids, and glycerin are particularly beneficial for dry skin.
  4. Targeted Treatments: For those with additional concerns like redness, fine lines, or dark spots, incorporating targeted treatments with specific active ingredients can be beneficial. Personalization here involves selecting treatments that address these concerns without compromising the skin's moisture barrier.

Embracing Skinimalism

   The trend of "skinimalism" emphasizes the importance of simplifying skincare routines to include only what is necessary for maintaining healthy, balanced skin. For individuals with dry skin, this approach can be particularly beneficial. Over-layering products can lead to product buildup, which can prevent the skin from effectively absorbing moisture and nutrients. Moreover, using too many products can increase the risk of irritation, especially for sensitive or dry skin types.

   Skinimalism advocates for a minimalist approach, focusing on quality over quantity. By carefully selecting a few effective, hydrating, and nourishing products, individuals can avoid overwhelming their skin and ensure that each product has a purpose and benefits the skin. This approach not only simplifies skincare routines but also aligns with the principles of personalization, as it encourages individuals to listen to their skin's needs and respond accordingly.

   Not all Korean skin care practices are meant for all skin types.  That being said, there are specific practices that dry skin types should avoid at all costs.  For example, double cleansing, and adding too many steps into their skincare routine all at once.  


   Korean skincare offers a comprehensive approach to maintaining healthy, hydrated skin, with a focus on prevention and gentle care. Understanding your skin type and sensitivities is key to choosing the right products and avoiding potential irritants. Personalization and simplicity in skincare routines can lead to better outcomes for individuals with dry skin.

Final Thoughts

   With this comprehensive look at Korean skincare products, you should have a better understanding of what works for you.  But most of all, what doesn't.  Especially, for dry skin types, it's important to not follow the trends blindly, since it may make your skin worse off.  Remember, at the core of Korean skincare is hydrating your skin, and keeping a healthy skin barrier.