New to Korean Skincare? Start here to be able to decipher K-Beauty like a pro.
Ampoule: Ampoules contain a high concentration of active ingredients and are usually packaged in small bottles with droppers. They are used after essences but before serums. Try COSRX Centella Blemish Ampule.
Aqua Peel: A Korean skincare treatment that hydrates while gently exfoliating the skin with alpha hydroxy acids or AHAs.
BB Cream: Derived from the term “blemish balm,” which was first developed by a German doctor for her post-peel patients, BB cream made the transition to cosmetic application when Korean women discovered its many all-in-one benefits, ranging from hydration to coverage to sun protection. BB cream is arguably the first Korean beauty import to the West and what started the global K-beauty phenomenon. Try Dear, Klairs Illuminating Supple Blemish Cream.
Chok-chok (촉촉): Literally means “damp” or “moist,” this term refers to super hydrated and dewy skin.
Photo Credit: Get It Beauty
Chok-gwang (촉광): This term imparts a juicy, almost wet shine to the face referring to glowy and dewy skin that looks deeply hydrated and glossy.
Cleansing Balm: A cleanser that comes in a semi-solid balm form and is used as the first step in the evening routine to remove makeup and sunscreen. It is first massaged on dry skin and added with water to emulsify (turn milky) and disintegrate makeup and sunscreen more thoroughly. Try Heimish All Clean Balm.
Cleansing Oil: Another first cleanser used to melt away oil-based impurities, like makeup and sebum. Try Dear, Klairs Gentle Black Deep Cleansing Oil.
Cleansing Water: Also known as beauty water or micellar water which gently removes makeup and impurities and can also be used as toners and/or exfoliators. Try Son & Park Beauty Water.
Cushion Compact: A Korean innovation in which foundation and sun protection is infused into a sponge contained within a compact and applied with a special puff. Try COSRX Clear Fit Blemish Cushion.
Double Cleanse: The first step in the evening routine done by using an oil-based cleanser, which removes oil-based impurities like makeup, sunscreen and excess sebum, and followed up with a water-based cleanser, which removes any remaining residue.
Emulsion: Generally, a lightweight moisturizer which can be applied after your serum/essence step or after the toner step and before the serum/essence step depending on the brand’s instructions. Try COSRX Natural BHA Skin Returning Emulsion.
Essence: A treatment with a high concentration of active ingredients that is generally more lightweight in texture than a serum is used after cleansing and toning. Essences generally add extra hydration but some offer other skin benefits such as brightening or anti-aging. Try COSRX Advanced Snail Mucin Power Essence.
Exfoliator: Exfoliators remove uneven and old dead skin cells on the skin’s surface. There are two types of exfoliators, physical and chemical. Physical Exfoliators are scrubs that manually remove dead skin, whereas Chemical Exfoliators typically use acids such as AHA or BHA. Try COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid.
Expiration Date: Generally, the date by which a product should be used, not to be confused with “manufacture date” (제조기한). As written in Korean: 유통기한. You may also see 까지 by the date, which means “use by” or “good until.”
First essence: A watery essence treatment that is typically used after a hydrating toner and before your true essence/serum step. Try Missha Time Revolution The First Treatment Essence.
Gwang (광): A catchall term for that dewy, naturally luminescent skin. Within gwang, there are gradations of dewiness that range from super glossy to a more subtle, lit-from-within glow.
Hydrogel Mask or Gel Mask: This term refers to sheet masks made with hydrogel as opposed to cotton or paper.
K-beauty: Short for “Korean beauty,” this category of skincare and cosmetics is inspired and influenced by beauty routines, trends and technology from South Korea, including double cleansing, cushion compacts, and the ombrè lip.
King Swab: King Swabs look like oversized Q-Tips that are presoaked with exfoliating ingredients like AHA or BHA. They are used after cleansing in the evening, 2-3 times a week.
Kkul-gwang (꿀광): A hyper-glossy, almost greasy shine, like you spread honey all over your face (kkul means honey).
Lotion: Lotions are hydrating treatments that are slightly thicker than an emulsion but not as heavy as a cream. In the evenings, lotions can be followed by night creams or sleeping packs. Try Dear Klairs Supple Preparation All Over Lotion.
Low pH Cleansers: Skin needs to maintain a slightly acidic pH balance (about 5.5) in order to function at its best. A low pH cleanser will not only regulate your skin’s pH level but will support a healthy skin environment. Try COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser.
Manufacture Date: The date the product was produced or manufactured in the factory. This is different from the expiration date (유통기한). As written in Korean: 제조기한 or 제조
Mist: A spray-on treatment that can be used after cleansing or throughout the day – even on top of makeup to boost the skin’s hydration levels. Try Nature Republic Soothing & Moisture Aloe Vera 92 Soothing Gel Mist.
Modeling Mask: Often called “rubber mask” for its rubbery, peel-off texture, this mask hydrates without evaporation. The key ingredient, alginate, which is found in kelp extract, transforms from a powder to a soft gel-like texture when mixed in water. The mask eventually dries to a rubbery finish that stays moist next to the skin, allowing anti-aging ingredients to fully absorb.
Mul-gwang (물광): A category of gwang which literally translates into “water-light” or “water-sheen”. This is the most common type of gwang and refers to the dewy, super hydrated, water-sheen-like skin.
Oil: Another skin treatment that is highly-concentrated. Oils can be applied directly on the skin or mixed with a moisturizer. Try Huxley Oil; Light and More.
PA: PA indicates sun protection from UVA rays. PA ratings range from PA+ to PA++++. More + signs mean longer protection.
Pack: The K-beauty term for gel, cream, or clay masks, i.e., the type of mask you spread on your face. Try the J.One Jelly Pack.
Patting Splash Mask: A new innovation in masks in which an AHA liquid is patted onto skin for 15 seconds for a post-mask glow.
Peeling: Peeling means exfoliating. Two examples are Peeling Gels and Peeling Pads. Exfoliating always comes after cleansing and should never be overdone, typically twice a week is enough. Try Neogen Dermalogy Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine.
Powder Cleanser: An exfoliant in powder form, activated by water, often considered more gentle than harsh physical exfoliants.
Sebum: Sebum is the natural oil that skin produces. Excess sebum can lead to oily skin which is often associated with acne.
Serum: Serums are supercharged essences. They add a layer of hydration and/or target specific skin concerns such as age spots or blemishes. Try Pyunkang Yul Moisture Serum or Tiam My Signature C Source.
Seven Skin Method: The 7 Skin Method is when you apply up to seven thin layers of toner to your face immediately after cleansing. This layering technique allows your skin the opportunity to easily absorb all the extra hydration without the heaviness or congestion of a thick moisturizer. Try Pyunkang Yul Essence Toner.
Sheet Mask: A Sheet Mask is a single-use face treatment with the main goal being hydration. Masks are typically made from cotton fibers or gel-type materials, and they’re soaked in rich essences. Sheet Masks are used after toning and then followed by a cream. Try Innisfree My Real Squeeze Masks.
Skin: In K-beauty, skin refers to a hydrating toner, also called “softener”. Essentially, this category of skincare is meant to hydrate after cleansing, balance pH, and prep skin for following treatments. Try Benton Aloe BHA Skin Toner.
Sleeping Pack or Sleeping Mask: A nighttime treatment that you apply as the last step in your skincare regimen to seal in all the benefits of the preceding steps. They are typically used once or twice a week in place of or on top of a moisturizer. Try Dear, Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin E Mask.
Sok-gwang (속광): A lit-from-within glow, like the healthy glow you get from drinking lots of water and eating tons of veggies. The subtlest of the gwang types.
SPF: Acronym for Sun Protection Factor which indicates sun protection from UVB rays. Higher numbers in sunscreens mean longer protection against UVB.
Suboon (수분): Moisture.
Sunscreen. Applied in the morning after the moisturizer to protect the skin from harmful UV rays and thus, prevent formation of sun spots and premature aging. Try Neogen Dermalogy Day Light Protection Sunscreen SPF 50 PA +++.
Taeng taeng (탱탱): An onomatopoetic term that refers to taut, firm skin with lots of bounce-back.
Treatment Essence: A liquid treatment, for use after cleansing and before your serum/essence step, that is essentially a hydrating toner with benefits that range from nutrients and anti-aging ingredients to a bouncier, more viscous texture. Synonymous with treatment toner and essence toner.
Treatment Toner: A hydrating liquid treatment used after double cleansing to hydrate, balance skin’s pH, and prep skin for following treatments, including essences, serums, and moisturizers.
UVA: Long wave ultraviolet A (UVA) rays penetrate deep into the dermis, the skin's thickest layer and causes premature skin aging, wrinkling and dark spots. PA indicates sun protection from UVA rays.
UVB - Short wave ultraviolet B (UVB) rays burn the superficial layers of the skin and is the main cause of sunburn and skin cancer. SPF indicates sun protection from UVB rays.
Water-Based Cleanser: A Water-Based Cleanser is the second step in double cleansing and can be used as a morning cleanser. Water-based cleansers come in many forms; Foaming Cleanser or Gel Cleanser. Try Huxley Cleansing Gel; Be Clean, Be Moist.
Whitening: Simply means brightening. Whitening products aim to brighten and even out skin tone, not to literally whiten or bleach the skin.
Yun-gwang (윤광): Also known as 3D-gwang, this is similar to strobing, with a strategic sheen on the high planes of the face, like the top of cheekbones, down the middle of the nose, and at the cupid’s bow.
Zzon Zzon (쫀쫀): An onomatopoetic term that refers to supple, plump skin with lots of elasticity and bounce.