While I know that many of my readers are HC beauty junkies, in Finland K-beauty is kind of new and cool thing: we have some access to drug store Korean skincare or things that can be purchased from ebay, but not much else. Today I chat my personal relationship to Korean skincare, introduce hanbang (as a reference for future reviews) and best of all - interview my Seoul-based Instagram friend Lisa @Beautybemused who knows a ton about K-beauty!
My personal experience with K-beauty
I've been fascinated by Korean skincare for years, ever since I discovered Reddit's Asian Beauty subreddit and K-beauty blogs some years ago. Seriously, these blogs and subreddit taught me so much about skincare - ingredients, pH and recommendations. The final kick was my visit to Seoul in February 2014 where I couldn't get enough about the endless sea of skincare and beauty shops. So much for the sights, I had to see all the bottles and potions; I remember spending most of my "free" time studying the Laneige shop and re-visiting the busy 3CE counter, haha.
I salute myself for not giving into 1,000 steps, thousand new products (OK, a few...) and cute gimmicky packaging, but instead started to pay more attention in my skincare ingredients, proper application and take masking as a regular part of my routine. Applying multiple layers of toner, essence and serum really has helped with my dry skin - as well "whitening" products to fade my acne scaring. I find that Korean (or Japanese) beauty routine is more about the lifestyle and can be done without Asian products - just like Lisa says below.
The more I learned about Korean (and Japanese) skincare, the more intrigued I became with fermented ingredients. First of all, I love to eat everything and anything fermented: kimchi, sauerkraut and natto. I firmly believe in the health benefits of these food, so I started thinking what if these could be applied in skincare. After trying some essences with fermented ingredients I soon found hanbang, which I'm going to talk about next.
WHAT IS HANBANG and Fermented Skincare?
Hanbang (한방) stands for Korean traditional medicine, which includes an extensive use of herbal remedies to treat illnesses and maintain overall health and wellbeing. You may have heard about aromatherapy or Chinese traditional medicine, but Korean has it's own traditions, native herbs and a heavy emphasis on fermentation. Some popular hanbang brands include Sulwhasoo, History of Whoo, Illi, Missha (some lines), Whamisa and Sooryehan.
While the oral consumption of these herbs (such as ginseng) are better known, there have been little studies on how these traditional herbs affect the skin applied topically, but so far the results seem promising. Hanbang ingredients and combinations vary, but one important factor seems to be their biologically active compounds as well as fermentation. SK-II is a very famous brand in Japan and it's cult essence has yeast from fermenting sake. Again, while there are not many scientific studies about how fermented products work topically, I've read it's possible that fermented ingredients are higher in antioxidants than their non-fermented counterparts and better-absorbed by skin thanks to their enzymes and how they break compounds into smaller molecules.
Most of the hanbang brands promise their ingredients have antioxidant and anti-ageing benefits, while merging them with modern-day science to make the concoction as efficacious as possible. To learn more how hanbang is actually used in Korea, I had a quick chat with Lisa and asked her a couple of questions.
Interview with Beauty Bemused
Laura: For the people who are new to your page, please tell me something about yourself in a couple of words!
Laura: Your house is on fire, but don't worry, your loved ones are safe! But you only have time to save 3 beauty and 1 other item from the fire! What would you grab?
1. Face cleanser, if I had to choose just one, I would choose a gentle gel-foam cleanser.
2. Emulsion, since that’s a product between serum and cream, if I can’t have toner+essence+serum+cream, and can only have one, definitely emulsion!
3. UV product, cuz I need to prevent aging at all times.
4. When it comes to non-beauty item, of course my CELL PHONE!
Laura: Let's talk about hanbang. What are your memories about Korean medicine when growing up? Did you ever go to a family doctor [hanisa?] or see your family members practising herbal medicine for good health?
Lisa: My mom had me drinking hanbang health drinks since I was 5 years old! I’ve been to Haniwon clinics many times growing up and my mom sometimes brewed her own Hanbang remedies.
Laura: Have you tried other traditional medicine methods, such as acupuncture?
Lisa: I’ve had acupuncture for migraines for over a year and also for stomach pains and shoulder aches. I also heard of acupuncture treatment for healthier skin but haven’t tried that yet!
Laura: I think Korea is famous for its doctors, high hospital standards, cosmetic surgery etc. Is traditional medicine as common as "bread or butter", or does it come and go out of style? How do people perceive it right now?
Lisa: Hanbang medicine is still very much alive and well received in Korea. Of course it’s overall more popular with the older generation for treating general ailments, but a lot of younger generation still seek out Hanbang medicine as alternative to western medicine. It’s become popular in the past several years among general population as alternative treatment for diet and beauty purposes.
Laura: What are the biggest skin concerns people want to treat with hanbang ingredients?
Lisa: Anti-aging has always been popular, but lately I see a lot of Hanbang formulas for sensitive and acne prone skin.
Laura: When shopping for beauty and skincare, do you specifically look for hanbang or fermented ingredients in products?
Lisa: I don’t particularly seek out Hanbang ingredients in beauty products but somehow naturally get attracted to products with Hanbang formulations. However, I do actively search out products with fermented ingredients.
Laura: Do you have a favorite brands or products what kind of impact have they had on you?
Lisa: I adore the brand Atoclassic which stems out from historically famous Korean traditional Hanbang doctor Wooboo. They specialize in safe and effective Hanbang formulations for sensitive skin, and I always turn to their line of products when my skin feels aggravated or irritated.
Laura: I know the Western and Asian skincare themes tend to not go in synch. I'm curious to hear if there are any skincare "secrets", theme or advice that are in or popular right now in Korea?
Lisa: Nowadays, Western and Asian skincare themes seem to go hand in hand: Korean beauty R&D companies actively seek out Western formulations to tweak and improve using Korean standards, and Western brands are busy soaking in ideas and practices that’s popular in Korea. I’m sure you’ve heard the question “can you practice k-beauty without using Korean products?” My answer is YES! K-beauty is no longer just about Korean products but a type of “beauty lifestyle” in my opinion.
Laura: Your skin always looks amazing - what's your best personal secret or advice?
Lisa: Double cleansing every night and don’t use too many different actives and don’t over exfoliate! And at least twice a month I go to bed with nothing but just some Avene Thermal Water sprayed on face after washing up. But I would be sure to have my filtered water diffuser on. Sometimes you just have to eat healthy and let your body work it’s magic on your skin while you sleep.
Thank you SO MUCH Lisa! Please check out her Instagram and other websites linked above, her images are beyond amazing. I especially love her beauty routine shots – excellent way to stalk what's really good, haha!
Have you heard or tried any hanbang skincare? Are you an avid fan of K-beauty?