A Korean perspective

From BB cream to K-pop, South Korea has been setting big trends, for instance the Gangnam Style phenomenon that has people across the world copying Psy's wild dance moves.

Peony, Solomon’s seal, East Indian lotus, white lily and adhesive rehmannia are blended to make Sulwhasoo’s signature ingredient, Jaeumdan.

Thai men and women can now follow "Hanbang style" for their skincare routine as Sulwhasoo, Korean's top cosmetics brand, opened its first counter at Central Chidlom yesterday.

Hanbang refers to traditional Korean medicine, and its beauty wisdom comes bottled in Sulwhasoo products manufactured by AmorePacific, the biggest cosmetics company in South Korea. Earlier this year, a subsidiary was established in Thailand for marketing La Neige and launching the Sulwhasoo brand.

"There's a positive perception of Korean cosmetics in Thailand, but they are mostly mass brands whereas Sulwhasoo is a luxury brand for the high-end market," said its Seoul-based product manager Moon Hyung-suk.

"Compared to Western brands, we know more about Asian skin condition from conducting both consumer and scientific research and this knowledge base is used to develop skincare products, which also draws on ancient wisdom to elicit herbal remedies for promoting vitality and youthful-looking skin."

According to traditional oriental medicine, the body's energies change at intervals of seven years. As vital energies diminish, the skin becomes prone to dryness and evermore vulnerable to the ageing process.

The "Seven-Year Theory" provides a timeline of the ageing process, and from the fourth cycle beginning at 28, the skin starts to become dry. Signs of ageing appear from 35, followed by the greying of hair in the sixth cycle from the age of 42. After 49, menopause is accompanied with multiple signs of ageing that show more and more on the skin.

"Based on the 'Seven-Year Theory', an anti-ageing approach can be applied to caring for the skin. After 28, the skin is prone to dryness, which is related to the lack of yin, meaning lack of energy and blood nourishing the skin," said Moon. "So we need to restore the balance and strengthen the energies that promote more youthful-looking skin by using a yin supplement."

When yin and yang are in balance, sangseng (harmony between opposite energies) is achieved in the body, keeping the skin in a good condition.

Out of 20,000 plants, ultimately five medicinal herbs were found to work in synergy as a yin supplement called Jaeumdan, which is enhanced by Jaeumboweedan containing extracts of seven medicinal herbs, to achieve a yin-yang balance.

Jaeumdan and Jaeumboweedan are optimised by immersing herbs in pure honey, which refines the ingredients as well as the skin. These two signature components are blended with other herbs in formulating First Care Activating Serum and Essential skincare products.

"The honey treatment is one of the time-honoured Poje methods used in preserving food and traditional Korean medicine," said Kim Youn-joon, the brand's hanbang skincare researcher.

"Medicinal formulae give the best effect when fresh and treated herbs are adequately blended, and Poje methods have scientifically been proven to activate herbal ingredients as we see a change in the profile of chemical compounds.

"Besides enhancing efficacy, these methods reduce toxicity of herbal ingredients to ensure safe skincare products." Other Poje methods include steam, salt, germinating and alcohol steam treatments that are used to activate different kinds of herbal ingredients.

"Blending many herbs for skincare formulae, we consider their interaction because a harmony of herbal ingredients is required to promote a balance of the five elements that contribute to a healthy complexion," he explained.

The "Five Elements Theory" relates the physiology and pathology of the human body to wood, fire, earth, metal and water, each element associated with an organ and body function. Wood for example reflects the liver, skin vitality as well as cell renewal and growth whereas fire refers to the heart, blood circulation and pimples.

"Having good skin is about beauty from within by achieving a balance of yin-yang and the five elements. Sulwhasoo skincare products also promote a balance through scents, textures and tactile application for a holistic beauty treatment," said Moon, who recommends First Care Activating Serum as a basic skincare product.

Another cult favourite is the anti-ageing Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream, which evolved from the Korean brand's debut product in 1997. Available at Sulwhasoo's Central Chidlom counter, other options include Hydro-aid, Timetreasure and men's skincare ranges.

First Care Activating Serum and Essential skincare products.


Hailed as the supreme herb, panax ginseng grown in the Korean Peninsula outperforms other varieties as a panacea. Since ancient times, it has been used to purge body toxins while refining the skin.

In the Joseon Dynasty, noble women soaked themselves in a ginseng bath for whiter and clearer skin, and this was a popular beauty treatment for brides before the big day. Women would also sip ginseng leaf tea, believing that it prevented skin blemishes and melasma, as well as wrinkles.

AmorePacific founder, Suh Sung-hwan, believed in this miraculous herb as a skin booster and gave women the first ginseng beauty cream in 1966.

The cosmetic giant's researches on ginseng began in 1967, leading to the launch of the Ginseng Sammi skincare products with ginseng leaf and root extract.

Research later identified ginseng's saponin as an anti-ageing ingredient, and R&D focussed on saponin stabilisation and enhancing its skincare efficacy. After several product evolutions and renaming, Sulwhasoo, meaning snowflower, was born in 1997 as a herbal cosmetics brand based on traditional Korean medicine.

Accordingly, a traditional steam treatment is applied to activate ginseng, by steaming it for two to three hours and dried in a sunny, well-ventilated area for two to three days.

The steam treatment is combined with modern biotechnology to obtain enzyme-treated red ginseng saponin (ETRGS) in microcapsules that allow higher absorption of the herbal ingredient.

Reformulated with roots, berries and the water of six-year-old Korean ginseng, Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream is certified by Korea's FDA as a functional cosmetic product containing the patented ETRGS.

The rich cream partners with Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Essential Oil, containing ginseng seed and camellia oils, in fighting wrinkles.

About the author

Writer: Kanokporn Chanasongkram
Position: Reporter