ABC – Part I

Korean beauty is well known for its innovating use for ingredients, but for real, what the heck are the most of them? Every single time I’m ordering new products, I end up Google’in the living dead out of myself. Sometimes I just give up and order stuff while hoping for the best results. But now, those times are changing. Behold, the complete (well, part one) of my skincare and beauty glossary!

Honestly, it’s been a while since I started working on this never-ending post. So I ended up deciding to split it into a few parts. This time, I’ll introduce you to the first letters of the alphabet to make sure you guys don’t get confused. Now, if something is left out, let me know and I’ll add it to the list.


Acid Mantle: Our skin has a protective layer at the surface. This generally consists of lipids, sebum, and dead skin cells. Thus, acid mantle delivers a barrier to lock moisture in the skin and keep bacterias out. To be honest, when over-exfoliating, and using harsh, alkaline cleansers the integrity of the acid mantle is often compromised. When this is weakened, it can lead to dehydrated skin, an oily appearance and an increase in acne.

Actives: These are skin care ingredients that aim to affect the actual physical change in the skin structure or cell behavior. To make it easy, actives will show changes as opposed to generating a superficial or temporary effect. Actives are commonly found in chemical exfoliants and cell-communicating ingredients.

Adapalene: For a lot of us, this isn’t a thing we should worry about. However, this is a prescription strength retinoid that is commonly used to treat acne. It is also known for being extremely irritating to the skin.

Adenosine: Derived by yeast, this cell-communicating ingredient functions as a good soothing and skin-restoring agent. It has also proven anti-wrinkle benefits due to its ability to energize the skin surface, making it seem younger and smoother. Since this already is present in our bodies, adenosine is a beneficial ingredient all skin types can use.

AHA:  Alpha hydroxy acids are chemical exfoliants that origins from a wide group of natural and synthetic ingredients. When applied and properly formulated, these acids gently exfoliate the upper layers of the skin. The result? Fresher, refined skin that is more hydrated, appears smoother and, over time, will become visibly firmer. The most common AHA acids found in skincare products are glycolic and lactic acids (and a few more like citric acid, malic acid and tartaric acid that we will tell you more about later). One of the reasons why these two are often used is honestly just because they have the most impressive results for all skin types and ages. Just remember to use SPF!

Aloe Barbadenis: Or just aloe, aloe vera reduces inflammation and increases hydration by binding moisture to the skin. Well known as a home remedy for minor burns and as a great after sun, don’t forget to consider it as a mild soothing agent that works for all skin types! As a natural ingredient, it shockingly consists of 99,5% water.

Allantoin: A skin-soothing and skin-conditioning agent that promotes and supports skin regeneration and promotes cell turnover. This is commonly found in products that are meant for healing scars and repairing the skin. If you are looking for a gentle way to fade your acne scars, look for this.

Amino Acids: Amino acids are the building blocks of both peptides and proteins, and each of them has a specific role within skin care. They maintain skin hydration, texture, and provide an overall supple, healthy appearance.  Amino acids are naturally present in the skin, as a part of our natural moisturizing factors. Within the uppermost layers, they work as managers, putting together complex actions that allow our skin to thrive and stay hydrated. There are so many different kinds of amino acids that writing about each and every one of them would actually confuse you, but just remember – these are good for you.

Ampoule: A well-known product for treating different skin concerns in the Korean skincare routine. These are thick liquid made to deliver high concentrations of actives to target specific skin problems. Technically, ampoules are more concentrated than serums and hence the most intense treatment step.  However, the terms “ampoule” and “serum” are often used mutually and the distinction is honestly meaningless unless it’s used within a single skin care line that provides both types of product.

Arbutin: Extracted from the bearberry plant, other plants or synthetically, this is a natural brightening ingredient. Although it does prevent the formation of melanin, it does a great job inhibiting cells from producing skin darkening pigments. This is also a more expensive ingredient compared to other skin lightening ingredients like hydroquinone. However, this is a great alternative for those’s skin that can’t tolerate retinoids from the pharmacy but cosmetic retinoids.

Antioxidant: A class of skin care ingredients that prevents cell and DNA damage due to oxidative stress by free radicals. Vitamin C is a common antioxidant.


Barrier Function: Our acid mantle’s ability to prevent the loss of moisture and microbial infections.

BHA: Well known as beta hydroxy acid’s these are chemical exfoliants that can clear anything from blackheads to large pores while in somewhat way, calm the skin. BHA refers to products containing salicylic acids that exfoliate the skin. This is a multi-benefit ingredient that does a lot for acne (my honest opinion)! BHAs are recommended for those who have sensitive skin and want to exfoliate, rather than use physical scrubs. In order for BHA products to function as exfoliants, the pH of the product must be between 3 and 4, lower pH values are effective, but if you’d go further below 3, this would be very sensitizing to the skin.

Bamboo Extract: Commonly used in Asia for centuries to heal the skin, research has shown that this is a source of natural antioxidants and the fact that it can have skin soothing, inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Products containing bamboo extract are known to act as a humectant, thus the ability to draw moisture to the skin.

Bee Venom: or Apitoxin, is a combination of enzymes, peptides, and amino acids that diminish the visibility of fine lines, encourage naturally occurring cell regeneration, boosts collagen formation, accelerates the recovery of damaged skin cells and act as a natural alternative to harsh antibiotic therapy for acne.  The best thing might be; no honeybees are harmed in the process!

Beta-Glucans: Some might have heard about beta-glucans in a different setting when it comes to skincare, these work to soothe and calm irritated skin while working as an effective anti-aging remedy for plumping fine lines and wrinkles.

Birch Extract: While being high in nutrients like amino acids and enzymes, it comes charged with powerful anti-inflammatory and moisturizing effects. Birch extract protects the skin because its non-toxic, water repellent and does not allow moisture to get out of the skin. The extract isn’t just anti-inflammatory, but it’s also a skin energizer depending on the formulation of use.   Couple this property with its antibacterial nature and it is a very effective treatment for inflammatory acne.  Finally, Birch Bark Extract is quite literally, an anti-aging product.

Black Tea: Used for over a century in skincare, its loaded with antioxidants that help protect the skin of environmental pollution and UV damage. With a high content of caffeine, it’s perfect for toning and tightening the skin.

Broad Spectrum: This might not be relevant for all, but in the states, they mark sunscreen with it to make sure the user knows that the product protects against both UVA and UVB radiation.


Calendula: Also known as Calendula Officinalis, is a plant extract that has been used throughout history within skin care products.  Originating from marigold and beeing rick in antioxidants, flavonoids, and saponins, Calendula is beneficial for dry or damaged skin. It also promotes fast healing and regeneration of skin thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties! Hello, the perfect ingredient for sensitive skin!

Cell-Communicating Ingredient: These actives regulate and optimize the behavior of our skin cells. There are a couple of different kinds, but the most common ones are peptides, retinoids, and niacinamide.

Ceramides: To make this easy, ceramides are lipids (fats) that help hold the skin cells together. Found naturally in high concentrations in the uppermost layers of skin, making up more than 50% of the skin’s composition. Suprise, they are actually quite important. Think of them as the glue that keeps your skin cells together.  They do this by creating a defensive coating that limits loss of moisture while protecting against visible damaging from pollution and other environmental factors. When the skin is irritated or damaged, the levels of ceramides have gone through reductions. So, by adding ceramides your skin, you don’t just protect it, but you do also nurture it. Another fun fact, ceramides are more powerful than retinol, niacinamide, and peptides against anti-aging, supporting the skin’s dynamic nature!

Chemical Exfoliant: Multiple actives that exfoliate the skin by dissolving or weakening the bonds between dead skin cells. AHAs and BHAs are chemical exfoliants that can do amazing things for your complexion as long as you do use them properly.

Citric Acid: As mentioned formerly, citric acids go under the category of AHA acids. These are extracts delivered from citrus fruits and are often used in small amounts to regulate the pH of products to inhibit them from being too alkaline. In the right formula and concentration, it does have the ability to exfoliate the skin. But, Citric acid does not contain Vitamin C! Research has shown that it is a need for higher concentrations, compared to the amount used in other AHAs for actually having any visible results.

Cleansing Balm: An oil-based emulsifying cleanser that comes in a more solid form. Now, this is not as solid a piece of soap, but it has more of a creamy consistency that reminds me of marmalade. When massaging it onto the skin, it might be a bit more greasy than other cleansing products. A balm is an effective option to remove dirt and oil without overly drying the skin, Just massage, and wash away.

Cleansing Serum: Quite similar to both cleansing balms and oil cleansers. However, these are most of the times applied to a cotton ball and then gently massaged onto the skin. They are less oily compared to the products mentioned above!

Collagen: For many a buzzword. Collagen is an incredibly important protein that keeps tissues and bones together. Particularly for your skin, collagen provides structure, elasticity and gives it a healthy, wrinkle-free appearance. Containing hydroxyproline, an amino acid unique for youthful skin. When it comes to skincare, this can be applied topically, where it at acts as a film to moisture and make the skin look plumper and healthier. That being said, collagen cant fully penetrates into the skin or create fibers, so the effect is temporary.


Dimethicone: This is just a fancy word for an ingredient that is commonly used. In a vocabulary that most of us know, this is just silicone.

Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate: Let us keep it simple, Licorice Root Extract! Commonly found in anti-aging treatments because of its ability to brighten up skin tone and lighten hyperpigmentation. The extract also has powerful antioxidants that help protect the skin from environmental stressors, as well as “licochalcone,” which helps balance oil, making this a good ingredient for those with oily skin.

Double cleansing: Our go-to two-step nighttime cleansing process that cleans our skin more thoroughly than a single foam cleanser or wipes alone. As the first step used an oil-based cleanser to remove makeup and sunscreen, the second step used a foam cleanser removes sebum, dirt and any remaining oil residue. This is one of the most important steps in K-Beauty.


EGF: or Epidermal Growth Factor – naturally occurs in our skin cells. Its main purpose is to heal our skin, including wrinkle improvement, pigmentation prevention, and hydration.

Egg Whites: Commonly found in K–Beauty because of its high level of protein, egg extracts help control excess oil and reduces the appearance of enlarged pores.

Emollient: This is just a whole group of moisturizing ingredients that fill in microscopic gaps between skin cells to help lock in the moisture. Emollients produce a temporary smoothing and softening effect, and these do include essential fatty acids, and animal and plant oils.

Emulsion: Typically lighter versions of moisturizing creams that are usually waterbased. This means that they are both lighter and thinner than creams, and they do come in gel or almost liquid forms. So not as heavy as most facial creams. To sum it up, emulsions are moisturizers.

Essence: For many, the very heart of the Korean skincare routine. Essences are lightweight products that are packed with hydrating ingredients. Most of them aid skin repair and cell turnover, while supporting brighter, smoother skin. They are characterized by a moderate amount of targeted actives and come in a water or gel-ish form.

Evening Primrose Oil: A natural treatment for acne, eczema, and redness. While enhancing skin health with ingredients as vitamin E and fatty acids, this can do a lot for your skin!

Exfoliation: Removing dead skin cells in order to unveil healthier-looking skin. This can either be chemical or physical. Just remember to wear SPF after exfoliation due to the skin cell removal!


First Essence: This is a more watery kind of essence compared to regular essences. They do also have a higher concentration of yeast ferment extracts. They are meant to be applied as the first step of your skincare regimen so you can think of them as toners on steroids. If you are looking for an extreme boost, add a first essence product between your toner and regular essence.

Folic Acid: Naturally found in foods, such as legumes, leafy greens, and citrus fruits, this is an anti-oxidant to maintain healthy skin. Whilst fighting against the free radical damage it’s well known for improving the skins retention of moisture and improve skin blotchiness.

Free Radical: Molecules capable of damaging our skin cells and DNA. This can be neutralized by antioxidants.



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