cosrx korean skincare

K-beauty: Five brilliant Korean skincare brands to know now

28 May 2024 | |By Annie Lewis

From green tea to snail mucin, harness the power of Korea’s famed skincare industry with these innovative brands

K-beauty is having a bit of a moment. Joining K-pop (music) and K-drama (TV), the popularity wave for all things South Korean never seems to break. The former, however, has created such a buzz that skincare geeks across the world travel to the country just to sample its weird, wacky and wonderful products, which have been created using cutting-edge technology and unique Eastern ingredients. Today, South Korea is one of the world’s top ten beauty markets, bringing in more than $12bn dollars each year – and it shows no signs of slowing. 

So, what makes Korean skincare so good? The relationship between South Koreans and skincare goes back thousands of years, when bygone generations would make face powders from ground rice and millet, blush from safflower, and creams from the juice of health-giving plants. Accordingly, these types of beauty products were accessible regardless of status, gender, and wealth, and have been ingrained in South Korean culture ever since. 

As a result of its humble beginnings, Korean skincare is inherently gentle, with many of the brands listed below using PHAs (polyhydroxy acids) over glycolic and salicylic acids (the larger molecule size of PHAs tends to be softer on skin without aggravating pores) and, of course, natural ingredients. 

Not sure where to start? We’ve checked out five of the most popular and longstanding Korean skincare brands and sought out the innovative products you never knew you needed. 


Dr Jart+ korean skincare

Founded in 2005 in the South Korean capital of Seoul, Dr.Jart+ is now one of the most famous Korean skincare brands on the market – but it was born from unlikely beginnings. The brainchild of Leeo (Chin Wook) Lee, who was working as an architect when he was first introduced to a makeup-style blemish balm that was only available in dermatology clinics. Inspired by its sleek results and hybrid functionality, he began collaborating with labs in his home city to create a product that blended powerful skincare benefits with the coverage of a foundation – and Dr.Jart+ was born. 

The name was derived by taking skincare’s best innovators (Dr) and joining (J) them with artful experiences (art), and its signature BB Cream became an instant hit in Korea, reimagining the possibility of what skincare could be, with many claiming it triggered the K-beauty wave. And Leeo didn’t stop there. There are now nine lines of skincare, with the two most popular being the hyper-moisturising Ceramidin Complex, featuring a blend of five ceramides, and Cicapair: specially formulated with tiger grass to help soothe, calm and moisturise skin. While we have no doubt that you’d have already seen the latter plastered all over your social media feeds, Dr.Jart+ prides itself on avoiding celebrity endorsements and relying on word of mouth – which has served the brand, and its multi-million-pound revenue, rather well. 


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cosrx korean skincare

Made famous by its snail mucin serum (yes, you read that right), which went viral on social media, Cosrx was born out of necessity for founder Jun Sang Hun back in 2013. Having failed to strike a balance between his sensitive skin and a Korean skincare market packed full of high-performing (but often triggering) ingredients, Sang Hun set out to create a hypoallergenic skincare line which eventually paved the way for ‘clean beauty’. Six years after it was founded, Cosrx was ranked the number one skincare brand in South Korea. Job done. 

So, what to try? The products are characterised by the fact they contain as few ingredients as possible, and what is in the bottle is as effective as it is natural. The Cosrx cleansing patches – the OG pimple patch – promise to speed up the healing of acne, while the aforementioned Advanced Snail Mucin Power Essence contains snail extract to hydrate, regenerate and soften all skin types. However, my favourite of the collection is the Aloe Soothing Sun Cream, packing a punch with SPF 50 while leaving skin feeling so smooth it’s as if you applied no product at all. Tick, tick, tick. 

COSRX Aloe Soothing Sun Cream SPF50 PA+++

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COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence

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You’d be forgiven for thinking Laneige is new, but it’s actually one of the original Korean skincare brands, celebrating its 30th birthday this year. It was founded in 1994 by Amore Pacific, the largest cosmetics company in South Korea, and branched into the Chinese market with much acclaim in 2002. Since its inception, Laneige has focused on water-rich recipes and pioneered the ‘glass skin’ trend before it was even a trend. Spanning two decades of research, the brand has developed its own technology to create hydro-ionised mineral water that offers quicker and deeper absorption for better overall hydration and re-balancing of the skin. 

Its colourful products are unique and efficacious – ocean-brewed with nutrient-dense vegetables, fuelled with moisture-enhancing minerals, or cold-brewed and bursting with amino acids – made to flood features with ingredients they’re thirsty for. You’ll see what we mean when you sample the Lip Sleeping Mask and wake up with baby-soft lips come morning, or try the Water Sleeping Mask packed full of probiotics to help strengthen the skin barrier, reducing dead skin cells and hydrating skin.

LANEIGE Lip Sleeping Mask Mango Berry

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LANEIGE Water Sleeping Mask

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Created on the pristine and preserved island of Jeju – South Korea’s largest island – Innisfree was inspired by the landscape’s mineral-rich soils, which have been cultivated into its innovative skincare products for the past 23 years. Fascinated by the impact of green tea on skin, having watched his mother transform camellia (green tea) oil into personal care products, founder Sunghwan Suh travelled to the once-abandoned Jeju island to harvest the natural powers of green tea, laying the foundations for one of Korea’s biggest skincare brands. 

Today, Innisfree’s green tea skincare is a cult favourite around the world, but it doesn’t stop there. Innisfree has tapped into more than 15 island-sourced ingredients – from bija to cherry blossom – to inform its range. Our favourites include the Green Tea Seed Hyaluronic Cream, infused with the brand's signature Beauty Green Tea complex alongside five types of hyaluronic acid and panthenol to flood the skin with intense hydration, as well as the Cherry Blossom Glow Jelly Cream featuring Jeju cherry blossom extract, niacinamide and naturally-derived betaine to both brighten and hydrate. 

INNISFREE Green Tea Seed Hyaluronic Cream

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Erborian, founded in 2007 by Katalin Berenyi and Hojung Lee, epitomises the fusion of Korean skincare with French luxury. Translated as ‘oriental herbs’, the brand’s signature recipes are enriched with traditional Korean herbs such as white ginseng with licorice, wild yam and horsetail plant. All products are gluten free and made without sulphates, parabens and formaldehydes to create timeless, clean formulas that work for all skin types. 

Its cult-status products include the CC Cream – the brand’s High Definition Radiance Face Cream which is a hard-working hybrid of hydration, illumination, colour-correction and SPF 25 protection – and the plumping Bamboo Super Serum, which uses bamboo waterlock juice to help improve the skin's natural hydration process.

Erborian CC Crème Clair

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ERBORIAN Bamboo Super Serum

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