For decades, South Korea has been famous for innovative beauty exports like cushion-compact foundation, BB cream, and sheet masks. Known for their “skin first” approach, K-beauty brands like Belif, Peach & Lily, and Glow Recipe have become staples for skincare obsessives who want quality ingredients and packaging at an affordable price point.
From cleansing micellar water to hydrating essence, here are the best K-beauty products to try now.
Everyday Essence Face Serum
Packed with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and minerals, this gel-like essence quickly absorbs into skin to deliver deep hydration.
It’s difficult to articulate exactly what makes a universally beloved beauty product, but whatever it is, skincare brand CeraVe has it. Having launched in 2006 in the US and finally arrived in the UK in 2018, few faces that have tried a CeraVe product have not liked it. Before it crossed the pond, British beauty journalists were known to return from work trips to the US towing suitcases loaded with CeraVe products. Now, it’s the fastest growing brand in health and beauty, with a total estimated retail value of over £31 million.
Over Zoom, one of the founders of the brand, Tom Allison, explains that a big clue to its success is in plain view on the utilitarian packaging. “Under the CeraVe logo, it says ‘developed by dermatologists,’” he says. “In 2004, we brought together a panel of dermatologists who are considered the world experts in ingredient formulation design and asked them what they would create were they to start a skincare brand themselves. They pointed us to ingredients called ceramides.”
At the time, skincare fell into one of two camps: so gentle it wouldn’t disrupt sensitive skin, or so thick and occlusive that skin had no option but to not dry out. Ceramides, which had been extensively researched and scientifically supported by clinical papers, offered a solution to these two extremes, and one that would work for all skin types. “If you imagine the skin is a brick wall, skin cells stack up on top of each other like bricks, and there is mortar that holds the cells together. Half of that mortar substance in skin is comprised of ceramides,” explains Allison. “Put simply, you don’t lose water through the skin cells themselves, but rather through the cracks between them – also known as barrier dysfunction.”
The CeraVe range is built on ceramides, which explains where the “Cera” in its moniker came from. The “Ve”, meanwhile, comes from MultiVesicular Emulsion (MVE), a clever delivery technology in each formula that escorts ingredients to exactly where they need to be within the skin – no mean feat given our skin is a defence machine that doesn’t let any old thing through its walls. “It delivers six times the amount of active ingredient to skin, in comparison to an identical formulation without MVE – and it’s patented and exclusive to us. [Skincare] brands that just have water as an ingredient in their dropper bottle formulations? There’s no thought into the actual delivery of the ingredients into the skin,” Allison says.
Allison and his team understand that today’s customers can see through a poor formulation. In this hyper-connected age, we are more skin-savvy, understand the specific benefits of each and every ingredient, and know what the skin needs. As a result, transparency is king. “Our product development process gives us a leg up, since the dermatologists we partner with are considered subject matter experts when it comes to ingredient and formulation designs,” says Allison. “Transparency drives trust with the consumer.”
Since a lot of skincare now comes with a lofty price tag – and sometimes for dubious formulas – CeraVe’s affordable, efficacious (and luxurious) formulas are refreshing. All products – even the jumbo sizes – cost less than £20, with the bestselling Hydrating Cleanser a steal at £15 for a large 473ml bottle. “CeraVe delivers performance while still driving accessibility,” adds Allison. “We define accessibility in two ways: easy to find at your local store or e-commerce site, as well as value for formulation design and size of format.” Big tick on both counts.
Since the brand puts an onus on creating a product that appeals to dermatologists – its “most important customer” – it’s not just the formulas that are important, but how easily their clients can get hold of them. If a dermatologist is to recommend a product to a client to use consistently, they need to know it’s affordable and easy to find – especially since most clients are paying to visit the dermatologist in the first place, and will often be forking out for prescriptions, too. Accessibility also comes from the fact that there is a formula for every skin type, race and age.
The brand can afford to sell its excellent formulations at a great price because it forgoes the big budget celebrity advertising and paid influencer posts that so many brands subscribe to. Instead, it lets the products speak for themselves, and ultimately, word of mouth is the biggest driver of sales. You only have to take a quick glance at TiKTok to see thousands of videos offering organic testimonials and before-and-after photographs featuring the brand’s products. “We are not making as much money as other skincare brands, and L’Oréal [which bought the brand in 2017] knows that, but it’s okay because we perform and that’s really all that matters,” says Allison.
So, what to try first from the brilliant budget brand beauty editors can’t get enough of? Well, if this article hasn’t already communicated just how brilliant the cleansers are, then it’s not done its job correctly. The Hydrating Cleanser is an excellent all-rounder that effectively and gently removes make-up and grime, leaving all skin types happy and hydrated. The recently-launched Hydrating Cream-to-Foam cleanser, meanwhile, is designed for those who like the sensation of a foaming formula, but with the sensibility of the hydrating cleanser – it uses amino acids, rather than surfactants, so won’t strip the skin like most foaming formulas do. Oily skin types will love the SA Smoothing Cleanser thanks to the 0.5 per cent concentration of salicylic acid, which gently exfoliates clogged pores.
The rest of the range is brilliant, too. Everyone should have a Facial Moisturising Lotion in their repertoire, whether their skin is acneic, and even the Salicylic Acid Foot Cream is a must-buy.
CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser
CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser was developed with dermatologists to cleanse and refresh the skin without over-stripping it or leaving it feeling tight and dry. CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser is a gentle face wash with ingredients like three essential ceramides and hyaluronic acid, to help restore the skin’s barrier and retain hydration. It also includes the patented time-release MVE Delivery Technology for all-day hydration. This non-comedogenic face wash is an effective yet non-irritating way to start off any skincare regimen for normal to dry skin.
A salicylic acid cream is an effective way to improve skin texture by exfoliating, softening and smoothing very dry skin. From scaly skin on the legs to bumps on the backs of the arms, smooth skin starts with eliminating dead cells. The ideal cream for rough skin contains salicylic acid, lactic acid, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide and ceramides. We recommend a hypoallergenic, non-irritating moisturizer like CeraVe SA Cream for Rough & Bumpy Skin to help improve skin texture.
CeraVe Moisturizing Cream acts as both by effectively hydrating as it helps restore the skin’s protective barrier. Developed with dermatologists and ideal for dry and very dry skin on the face and body, this rich, non-greasy, fast-absorbing moisturizing cream features three essential ceramides, hyaluronic acid and the patented time-release MVE Delivery Technology for all-day hydration. Suitable for sensitive skin, this oil-free and fragrance-free ceramide cream also helps the skin hold on to moisture while improving its look and feel.
Developed with dermatologists, CeraVe Hydrating Cream-to-Foam Cleanser begins as a cream before transforming to a soft foam when you begin to lather it on the skin with water, and effectively removes dirt and makeup without stripping the skin’s natural moisture or leaving it feeling tight and dry. This gentle, fragrance-free formula features three essential ceramides, amino acids and hyaluronic acid, which work together to help maintain the skin barrier and lock in moisture.
A gentle salicylic acid cleanser can help exfoliate and smooth your skin while also effectively removing oil and dirt, sweeping away dead cells, and softening rough skin—without leaving skin feeling dry. Cleansing with CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser, a salicylic acid cleanser enhanced with barrier-restoring ingredients like ceramides, can help keep moisture in while keeping irritants out.
Best Moisturizer for Acne-Prone Skin: Boscia Green Tea Oil-Free Moisturizer
“Less moisture in the air causes skin dryness,” says Dr. Nussbaum. “If your skin’s natural moisture barrier isn’t properly hydrated, it’s not as equipped to fight off acne-causing bacteria.” If you deal with constant blemishes, look for an oil-free, water-based lotion or gel that will moisture skin without clogging pores. This Boscia gel offers a soothing formula, rich with calming tea tree extract that will minimize breakout-induced redness.
Best Moisturizer for Sensitive Skin: Aveeno Ultra-Calming Moisturizer SPF 15
If your skin leans on the sensitive side, Dr. Nussbaum recommends avoiding moisturizers with “irritants such as fragrances, dyes, lanolin, parabens and formaldehyde.” This drugstore staple checks off all the boxes. Aveeno’s moisturizer is light, fast-absorbing, and is formulated with skin-calming botanicals. Bonus: It also serves as a second layer of SPF protection.
Best Moisturizer for Hyperpigmentation: Murad Essential-C Day Moisture Broad Spectrum SPF 30 PA+++
Whether your uneven skin tone is the result of a bad breakout or caused by sun damage, a vitamin C-infused moisturizer will help brighten dark spots while simultaneously hydrating skin. But don’t forget the sunscreen. “Moisturizers containing SPF will reduce the oxidative damage of the sun,” explains Dr. Nussbaum. That’s exactly what this Murad tube is made to do.
Best Moisturizer for Oily Skin: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream
Fun fact: Hyaluronic acid is an all-star moisturizing ingredient, because it can hold up to 1000 times its weight in water. That’s what makes Neutrogena’s gel-based, HA-packed moisturizer ideal for oily skin types. Instead of a heavy cream, this lightweight water-based product pulls in moisture without clogging already congested pores.
Best Moisturizer for Combination Skin: The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA
The Gemini of skin types, finding the right moisturizer for combination skin can be tough because it has to jive with both oilyness and dryness. That’s where The Ordinary’s Natural Moisturizing Factors comes in. The lightweight, non-greasy cream includes dermal lipids to protect the outer skin layer, hyaluronic acid to draw in moisture, and amino acids to hydrate. It’ll moisturize the right areas of the face without making oily spots shinier.
Best Moisturizer for Aging Skin: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Anti-Aging Moisturizer
Important PSA: The sun can still cause oxidative damage in the winter, which can lead to photoaging. That said, Dr. Nussbaum suggests looking for a moisturizer that’s packed with antioxidants to counteract the harmful effects of UV/UVA rays. What else should an anti-aging moisturizer include? Retinol, along with skin-plumping hyaluronic acid and moisture-sealing ceramides. “Certain moisturizers will contain a form of retinol that increases skin cell turnover,” she says. “The shedding of the dead skin cell layers also enables increased absorption of moisturizers.” Look no futher than this Dr. Dennis Gross jar, which is formulated with both retinol and ferulic acid, a powerful antioxdant.
Best Moisturizer for Dry Skin: Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Cream
“Ceramides are lipids that help form the skin’s natural moisture barrier,” explains Dr. Nussbaum. “In dry, cold weather, your skin’s ability to naturally produce ceramides may be compromised, leading to dry, dull skin.” If your skin is extremely dry year-round, go with a ceramide-rich moisturizer for winter, like Dr. Jart+’s cult-favorite cream. The lipids will strengthen the skin barrier so less moisture gets out.
Best Moisturizer for All Skin Types: Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream Face Moisturizer
If your skin doesn’t fall into one particular category, Dr. Nussbaum is a fan of Olay’s Sculpting Cream because it’s a rich, nourishing cream that works well for balanced skin, but also targets dryness and aging. “It contains niacinamide (vitamin B3), a hard-working ingredient which regenerates surface cells and strengthens skin’s natural moisture barrier,” she says. “It also contains amino-peptides, known to boost collagen production and improve skin’s elasticity, smoothness and firmness as well as hyaluronic acid & glycerin.”