Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum

Although rarely mentioned by Western beauty bloggers, the Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum is a firm favourite among Asian beauty bloggers and is touted as something of a miracle product. Now, the word "miracle" always makes me a bit skeptical when referring to skincare, but of course I could not resist the urge to try it out for myself.

Sulwhasoo is a high-end Korean beauty brand rooted in traditional Korean herbal medicine. Their products are based around various plant extracts that aim to balance and purify the skin. The First Care Activating Serum is meant to be used as the first step of your skincare routine right after cleansing, so it should be used before any toners, serums, or creams. It claims to replenish moisture in the skin right after natural oils are stripped away by cleansing, improve skin's ability to retain moisture, promote blood circulation in the facial area, and help subsequent skincare products absorb better and thus perform better.

In terms of packaging, the product comes in a hefty ceramic bottle with a plastic lid. It is quite heavy, so may not be the most convenient when travelling. It comes with a pump, which is my preferred way of dispensing serums, because it keeps the product away from air exposure and thus allows the active ingredients to degrade slower. Although the bottle looks like an opaque white, when you hold the bottle against the light, you can see how much product is left inside, which I find very convenient. The actual serum is amber coloured and has a watery-gel texture. It has a pleasant herbal scent and absorbs very quickly into the skin, but doesn't leave that smooth, silicone feeling over the skin that many serums do. I use 3 pumps for my entire face and neck.

When I first started using the product, it was in the hot, humid climate of summer in China. My sensitive skin responded to the heat in that my skin was always red, and I noticed immediate results from this serum when my skin drastically reduced in redness just after the first few days. This effect continued during the whole time I used this product, but apart from that, I wasn't seeing any other immediate results and was a bit put off. I didn't think a little reduction in redness could justify the "miracle product" standing.

I find that while Western skincare products are often more aggressive in the sense that they deliver fast results but can be harsh/irritating on the skin, Asian skincare is often more demure. It is much more gentle on the skin, but can take a much longer time to see substantial results. After using this product every day and night for the last three months, I can now definitively say that it has made three big changes to my skin:

1. It has reduced the redness in my skin.
2. It has made my skin much less sensitive/reactive to other products and environmental factors.
3. It has changed my skin from combination-oily to more of a normal skin type.

These changes happened over a very long period of time, so I didn't think the product was doing very much until I noticed that the foundation on my nose was not slipping off by the end of the day, and that I was suffering from much less break outs every month. This product works to balance the oil-water ratio in the skin, thus reducing any overproduction of oil, but also helps the skin to better retain moisture, resulting in plump, radiant skin for me. It also helps to calm the skin, which means my face doesn't turn into a bright red tomato every time the bae tries to kiss me with stubble, among other skin-irritating things.

I picked up the limited edition 90mL size,which will probably last me 4 months in total, using it twice a day everyday, 3 pumps every time. I like to pump the product into the palm of my hand, rub my palms together, and just smooth over my entire face and neck. I then pat my face a couple times with both palms to ensure that the product absorbs.

Redness, sensitive skin, and combination skin type are three very common skincare concerns that often are met with no adequate solution, so the fact that the Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum was able to address all three of these concerns was really impressive. The promise of subsequent products being better absorbed is also tempting, because it means you will be getting better bang for your buck for every skincare product you apply.  However, it's not like my skin is completely void of redness now or that I never break out anymore, so I still wouldn't quite say this is anything of a "miracle". The final verdict? I wouldn't call it a "miracle product", but it's a damn good product as far as skincare goes.


4 Products That Just Weren't Right For Me

Skincare is such a personal thing, and sometimes products that others rave about simply don't get along with me. Being an avid beauty blog reader, it's so easy to get sucked in to product hype. I think now, I'm finally starting to learn to take a step back and think "Is this really the right product for me?" So here are 4 products that are raved about, but simply weren't the right fit for me.

Kiehl's Rosa Artica Youth Regenerating Cream ($65 for 50mL)

Purchased under the influence of Michelle Phan way back when. To be honest I don't even know what her skin type is. Back then my thought process was just "Well, she has good skin, I want good skin, therefore I should use this product." Sound logic. But no, really though, this product is so rich in shea butter, it feels like I'm smothering my face in butter, and that is not how I want to live my life. It contains other moisturizing ingredients like glycerin and squalene, but it smells exclusively of shea butter, and is a very, very, very, VERY rich texture (like butter, as I said).

Personally, I prefer moisturizers that rely primarily on humectants, which are ingredients that draw moisture into the epidermis. Examples would be glycerin and hyaluronic acid. Ingredients like shea butter are occlusives, which work by essentially forming a shield over the skin and preventing water from evaporating off. Occlusives can be good for dry or mature skin types, which I'm assuming is what this cream is actually marketed towards (hence Youth Regenerating). For my combination skin, this was just way too much.

I actually managed to use up the whole pot by applying it on dry spots on my body (elbows, heels, knees) before sleep. This cream actually works wonderfully at softening cracked heels, but at $65 for 50mL, it's way out of my foot cream price range.

Soap & Glory Hand Food ($10 for 115mL)

It's possible that I am the only person in the entire world who dislikes this hand cream. I feel like every single beauty blogger I follow has raved about this product at least once throughout their blogging career. This product comes up so frequently in lists of top drugstore buys, and I can see why. The texture of it is actually lovely and it sinks in really nicely. However, I am just not a fan of that signature Soap & Glory scent. It's way too strong and actually makes me nauseous. I would be able to tolerate the product if the scent eventually went away, but it does not go away. Once the hand cream is on, the fragrance is staying for the party.

I've resorted to using this on my feet as well, because that's a bit more far away from my nose and I can tolerate it. If you don't mind the scent of Soap & Glory products, this is actually a really nice hand cream. I'm pretty bummed out that this didn't work out for me because it is a really affordable hand cream option. Alas, for now I will stick with my Caudalie and The Body Shop formulas.

Josie Maran Whipped Argan Oil Intensive Hand Cream ($27 for 70mL)

You might be able to tell at this point that I'm really picky with hand creams, and I'm not going to deny that. I really hate the feeling of hand cream just sitting on top of the skin, like I can actually feel that it's there and everything is slippery and life is just difficult. This hand cream is one of those. It's a really nourishing formula, but it never really sinks in. It just rubs off on my sheets and pillows throughout the night. I put some on just now so I could write this post, and it's all over my keyboard. How's that for dedication?

Caudalie Premieres Vendanges Moisturizing Cream ($40 for 40mL)

Caudalie is one of my favourite brands for skincare, so I really made it effort to make this cream work for me. I tried it out on several separate occasions until I finally came to terms with the fact that this just wasn't right for me. It's a velvety textured moisturizer that does sink in fairly quickly to my skin, but it doesn't really do anything. It doesn't hydrate that well, and I don't see any obvious benefits to using this, especially for the price.

I've since used it up as a night time hand cream, and it's pretty fabulous for that. A little expensive for a hand cream, but hey, skin's skin.