TheKoreanGuide is a reader-supported site. Purchases made through links may earn a commission.

Is Korean Skincare Safe To Use?

Jason Park
Published by: Jason Park
Published on:

Considering buying Korean skincare and don’t know if it’s actually safe to use?

Thousands of people have the same thought, but there’s nothing you should worry about.

Overall, Korean skincare products are very safe and effective. However, if you have allergies, sensitivities or intolerances to certain ingredients, some things will not be safe to use. 

While K-beauty brands do a good job of indicating what their products are free of, they aren’t always specific about particular allergens.

This means there will have to be extra investigation on your part to ensure the products you look at contain ingredients that won’t be detrimental. You will have to take a detailed look at the ingredient panel before you purchase it.

How Is Korean Skincare Safe?

Koreans love their skincare products and because it’s such a nationwide demand, they insist on the best quality formulations. Therefore, manufacturers abide by the wishes of those consumers and deliver topnotch skincare that’s very safe and trustworthy.

Research & Innovation

Because there’s such a focus and concentration on innovation while maintaining safety standards, most brands incorporate constituents that come from things like flowers, plants, roots, and other gifts from Mother Nature.

Most Koreans Have Sensitive Skin

What’s more, the most common skin type among Koreans is sensitive. So, it wouldn’t behoove the company to make products that will increase and worsen problems like rosacea, hives, eczema, psoriasis and etc. They have to use ingredients that are powerful yet gentle enough while revealing a radiant and glowing complexion.

Cruelty Free & Vegan Friendly

Another thing to note is that many Korean skincare brands are cruelty-free and vegan-friendly. A healthy number of them label their products as such. So, you can have a fair amount of trust in the fact that these are safe to use. [1]

Typical Safe Ingredients

You’ll find things like hyaluronic acid, ginseng, cranberry, fermented rice water, wine and green tea in many formulations. All of these are safe to use on the skin and provide proven benefits to heal acne scars, increase cell production, reduce fine lines and so much more.

Exotic Yet Safe for Skin

However, other ingredients are strange or exotic compared to the Western idea of skincare. For instance, you’ll also find things like snail secretions, donkey milk, gold and pearl dust throughout many K-beauty products. While these are mostly safe to use on the skin, people should be careful.

How Can Korean Skincare Be Harmful or Dangerous?

With all that said, not every brand intends to be natural with their ingredients or transparent with everything the put into their products. Certain ones will use ingredients that can actually be damaging.

Heavy Metals & Hydroquinone

For instance, sometimes there will be heavy metals like lead or antimony. Prolonged use and exposure to heavy metals can cause many different health issues that include cancer. In other cases you may find hydroquinone, which is a bleaching agent that can darken rather than lighten the skin in an unsightly way.

Steroids & Retinol

Steroids, such as hydrocortisone or triamcinolone, and retinol can also be prevalent in a company’s formulation. While these are generally safe in small doses, it’s been a frequent problem to find excessive amounts of these things and they can be troublesome. Generally, the amounts found post-market require a prescription. [2]

When steroids are present in a skincare formulation, it can cause breakouts, redness, irritation and a thinning of the skin. Overuse of retinol can worsen pigmentation issues that accompany painful dry, red and flaky skin that takes several days to recover. Because of this, there have been several product recalls over the last decade or so.

Other Harmful Ingredients

Unfortunately, some K-beauty products will contain things like talc, tar, synthetic dyes, PVC, camphor, PABA, parabens, benzophenones, sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, DEET, toluene, phthalates, fragrances, formaldehyde and aluminum.

The good news is that Korean skincare companies advertising to the Western market will clearly label their packages as being free of these things. When you visit their website or find it on a retailer’s eshop, they will say if something contains things like soy or fragrance.

How Do You Know a K-Beauty Product Is Safe?

Therefore, it’s important you understand your skin and what you can tolerate. Also, it’s imperative that you look up all the ingredients on the list and know what they are in laymen’s terms. Look for labeling and other indicators on the packaging that declare what ingredients are or aren’t in it.

Understanding the Ingredients & Their Functions

This means understanding ingredient euphemisms too. Sometimes, products will label something one way and it appears kosher. But, upon deeper inspection, it’s actually very questionable. For instance, many K-beauty and Western creams and moisturizers include dimethicone in their formulations.

Dimethicone is a silicon derivative that makes for a creamy substance and smooth texture while helping to prevent ingredients from separating as they sit on shelves. Even though dimethicone is generally safe for skin in small amounts, it can clog pores, cause redness, increase swelling and induce allergic reactions.

Brand & Product Transparency

You may find it time consuming to look up every single ingredient on any given package, but it’s worth your while to do so. Any retailer or brand worth their salt won’t have to be cryptic or hide the ingredients. They’ll put it right out there for you to see before you buy.

Also, if you have any questions about the products, the company or seller should be able to answer them in an honest and forthright way. When anything is questionable, uncertain or if there’s an omission of information, move onto a different product.

How Do You Know a K-Beauty Product Is Safe for Ingredient Allergies?

Another level to K-beauty is for those with allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities to certain ingredients. Unfortunately, most brands do not mention specifics such as “gluten-free” or “lactose-free.” While they do cater to those who are vegan and label products as allergen-free, it’s not a guarantee in certain cases. [3]

Lactose Intolerance

In the case of those who have a lactose intolerance, you will want to avoid products that contain lactic acid, lactose and other similar words listed on the ingredient panel. However, if the product says “vegan,” chances are you shouldn’t have to worry about the label too much in this regard.

Nut Allergies

The biggest concern, though, is for those who have hay fever or are allergic to nuts or gluten. Many Korean skincare products have plentitudes of nut oils like kukui, tamanu or argan. All of these are nuts and those with such an allergy should avoid these because of the swelling, soreness and inflammation that can occur.

Gluten Sensitivity

Likewise, sheet masks and sleeping masks may contain hydrolyzed wheat protein, barley, oats or wheat germ oil. While great for hair and skin, they’re a nightmare for those with severe gluten allergies. In some cases, people just have an intolerance only when they eat gluten. For others, they cannot come into contact with it in any capacity.

Hay Fever

People suffering with hay fever will have to be particularly diligent in their search. This is because wind-pollinated plants like mugwort, chamomile, sunflower and lavender can wreak havoc and misery. For some people it’s only if they breathe in these plants but for others it also includes the skin absorption.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, Korean skincare is very effective and safe for anyone. However, there might be some ingredients that can be too strong for people with sensitive skin. 

If that’s you, then it’s important to be careful with Korean skincare.

About The Author

Photo of author

Jason Park

Jason has been living in Seoul for over 4 years, and during that time, he has experienced many of the city's hidden stores. He loves to write about his experiences and share them with others. Jason has been quoted and referenced by different major media companies like Mashed, Distractify, ThePrint and TastingTable. In his free time, he likes to watch Korean dramas and learn more about Korean culture.

You May Also Like