Why You Won’t Find Korean Retinol Serum | 6 Alternatives To Use Instead

by Jih Yun

Retinol is world-famous for its anti-ageing power and so are Koreans! Then why is it that you won’t find a Korean retinol serum? Why has the Korean skincare industry rejected this anti-ageing skincare ingredient? Here’s the full low-down on why Koreans and retinols don’t get along!

Retinol is a globally popular ingredient famous for its anti-aging properties, yet why is it a nation like Korea, which is obsessed with superb skincare products and regimes is not in favour of this amazing ingredient? 

Today through this post, I shall try my best to answer all the frequently asked questions based on retinol in Korean skincare.

Why You Won’t Find Korean Retinol Serum

What is Retinol?

Retinol is a grade-A ingredient when we speak about anti-aging. It is a derivative of Vitamin A and is known for its properties like reducing the signs of aging like reducing fine lines and wrinkles, healthier and glowing skin and it even helps in reducing acne marks and blemishes. 

Korean retinols

Retinoids, which are a class compound, consists of retinoids, retinals and retinoic acids. Retinoids are known to increase the collagen production which helps in increasing the skin cell turnover rate. 

By doing so it also helps in reducing the clogged pores which helps in reducing pigmentation marks and blemishes leading to smoother skin texture, even skin-tone and glowing skin

Retinol and retinyls are available as over-the-counter products as well. They are low in strength but do the job of improving skin nevertheless. Retinol  are more potent than retinyls, hence are more popular too. 

Uses of Retinol 

Retinol is considered as a miracle ingredient, all over the world, especially in the field of anti-aging. Here is why – 

  1. It increases the cell renewal rate – which directly helps in reducing the appearances of fine lines and wrinkles
  2. It boosts collagen production – which is a preventive measure for aging skin. It helps in making skin appear healthier from within
  3. It reduces the oil production – which helps in reducing clogged pores which eventually helps in reducing acne and acne marks.
  4. It is a known ingredient to reduce hyperpigmentation and make skin even-tone.

Then why is that there aren’t many Korean retinol skincare products?

Why Retinol is not Popular in Korean Skincare Products

Retinol is an ingredient that helps slow down the aging process. But Korean skincare industry is not a fan of Retinol. In fact, Korean skincare brands don’t use Retinol in their products at all.

You won’t find Korean retinol serum because it is a harsh ingredient that often causes skin irritation and makes the skin very sensitive. 

retinol side effects

Retinols are known to make the skin dry and flaky. And Korean skincare focuses on hydrating the skin by using gentler ingredients like licorice root extracts and niacinamide

Since retinol is a harsh and potent active ingredient, Korean skincare brands avoid the use of this ingredient. This is why any Korean skincare or Korean serum with retinol is not easily available

Koreans Believe in Preventive Skincare 

Korean skincare doesn’t focus on dramatic and immediate results. Korean skincare works overtime which is why Korean women start taking care of their skin at an early age.

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Korean skincare focuses on prevention is better than cure rather than waiting for a skin issue to manifest first. 

Retinols in general slightly harsher ingredients and don’t suit sensitive skin. And the Korean skincare industry doesn’t believe in the fact that one product can solve skin aging problems.

They believe in a more holistic approach where the right combination of skincare products can help you achieve healthy and youthful skin. 

Korean skincare focuses a lot on cleansing and hydration. It’s recommended to use a mild cleanser that doesn’t disturb the natural barrier of the skin. The double cleanse method is practiced religiously amongst many Korean women.

First use an oil cleanser suited for your skin type to clean out the pores and then a mild and hydrating water-based face wash or cleanser. 

After cleansing, it’s time for moisturization and hydration. Following a consistent skincare routine like using a toner, hydrating serum, ampoules, essences, and moisturizer based on your skin type can ensure that you have well-hydrated skin. 

Skincare products like serums, ampoules and essences ensure your skin is deeply hydrated and help the rest of your skin care products penetrate deeper into the skin. 

Finally, Korean women also ensure that their skincare routine includes using a sunscreen daily and also other products contain antioxidants. Why antioxidants? Antioxidants protect your skin against free radicals that can lead to premature aging of the skin. 

Pick Korean skincare products that formulated for your skin type and concern and follow a good skincare routine. Stay consistent and over time you’ll see your skin become better and healthier 

How to Use Retinol With Korean Skin care

Retinol is a strong and mostly the main active – it doesn’t sit very well when combined with other main actives. Like AHAs, BHAs, Vitamin C, etc. It is recommended to be used at night and followed by using and reusing sunscreen throughout the day. 

Since retinol is a potent ingredient, it can sensitise the skin, hence, it is imperative to protect your skin from harsh UVA and UVB rays the next day. Keep skin covered and not going out during the day are also some measures to be taken. 

Using retinol regularly can make your skin appear dry and flaky which is, again, pretty normal and not to be too worried about. Skin takes some time to adjust to new actives, especially strong actives like retinol. 

It might take a little while to adjust but once your skin acclimatizes with the said ingredients, the results are just wonderful.

When and How To Start Retinol With Korean Skincare

Since retinol is such a potent ingredient, it’s not always for everyone. If you have sensitive or acne prone skin, you should first try to bring the skin barrier up.

Korean serums with retinol

In short, hydrate and make the skin barrier stronger as one of the characteristics of retinol is that the top layer of the skin becomes sensitive and hence to an already sensitive skin it can cause severe damage. 

If you are very well motivated and are willing to follow the way it should be used then I recommend you to start using it in your late 20s and early 30s, that’s when the preventive anti-aging methods should be used.

Integrate the retinol/ retinoids for that matter very slowly and gently. Start slowly with the lower percentage and use it say twice or thrice a week. 

I will also discuss the difference between Retinol and Retinoic Acid.

Retinoic acid is stronger than the natural derivative Retinol, though both are derived from Vitamin A, potency and thus efficacy matters. 

Retinolis is less potent and provides slower effects but that also means that it is less harsher to the skin and is also available over the counter without prescription. 

Retinoic acid which is also known as Tretinoin requires prescription and is way stronger and hence, should be only taken under guidance. 

These ingredients are so popular even though they require such discipline and can cause sensitivity to the skin because they work – they boost collagen production and help evening out the skin tone, then why is it that Koreans don’t incorporate Retinol in their skincare. 

Korean Anti-aging Skincare and Alternatives to Retinol

Unlike western countries, Korea starts to focus on skin care at a much younger age.

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They also focus on protein rich diet and a good balance of hydration + moisturization in their daily skincare routine.

You can say that Korean skincare routines are more preventive in nature than to provide speedy recovery. 

Korean anti ageing retinol serum

Koreans use many actives in their products but they stay away from retinols because of harshness to the skin.

Korean’s believe in making the skin barrier stronger by providing rock solid hydration to the skin. Korean serums focus on hydrations and moisturization. 

Antiaging Ingredients Popular In Korea Other Than Retinol

Snail Mucin 

Over the past decade, this ingredient has taken the korean ( even global) skincare industry by a storm. Applying snail slime to your face might sound gross but it is effective and has turned out to be a real game changer in the skincare industry. 

It contains natural peptides which help in boosting collagen production in skin which as discussed above, helps in increasing the cell renewal rate.

Snail mucin also contains hyaluronic acid and natural glycolic acid (very limited quantity) too  which means it provides hydration and also works on hyperpigmentation. 

It makes it a great opponent to use retinol, even though it is milder and slower in showing the results, since it’s gentler, Koreans are in favour of it. 

Ceramides 

Ceramides are naturally available in our skin and their job is to retain moisture and maintain skin elasticity.

As we get older, natural production of ceramides decreases but Now Korean have ceramides in their creams. One of the best anti aging moisturizer/serums you can incorporate in your skin care. 

Dr Jart Ceramidine range is personal favourite and its serum never disappoints me 

Peptides 

Peptides are again very popular in korean skincare regime. Peptides are a kind of protein which are like building blocks like keratin and collagen. 

Collagen and copper peptides are the most popular. Copper peptides are known for their healing properties where collagen peptides signal the skin cells to produce more collagen. Both are known for their anti-aging properties. 

The Korean skincare brand Mizon makes some great serums, their peptide formulation is very popular too. 

Ginseng 

Another world class ingredient brought to the world by Korea. Korean skincare enthusiasts are in love with this potent ingredient which is natural and works amazing well on the skin, especially the aging skin. 

It is rich in Vitamin B which helps in smoothing away fine lines and wrinkles, It can be used even around the eyes and other sensitive parts of the skin since it is very gentle in nature. 

Niacinamide 

Beloved by oily or normal to oily skin type around the world,  niacinamide is vitamin B-3 which is known for protecting skin barrier, It helps in reducing clogged pores and hence prevents breakouts. 

This ingredient again is known to boost collagen production. It does not cause any redness or flakiness and thus making an effective competitor to Retinol. 

Vitamin C 

Vitamin C serums are now very common and are known for their umpteen amount of benefits from collagen production to reducing hyperpigmentation, vitamin C is a darling ingredient of us skincare lovers.

Vitamin C also helps in gentle exfoliation of skin which leads it to looking more plump, glowy and brighter. Koreans love their vitamin C(in their diet as well as their skincare) 

Our Favourite and beginner friendly Vitamin C serum, Dear Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin drop 

Through the comparative list of the above ingredients, it is clear why Koreans dont prefer retinol, since their main focus is hydration and nourishment ( protecting skin barrier) 

What Korean Dermatologists Say about Retinol

Dermatologists say that while Retinol helps with wrinkles, it also stimulates collagen production which results in thickening of the skin. Retinol exfoliates the skin to remove the layer of dead skin cells. This reveals brighter and fresher skin hiding underneath. 

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While it’s good to use retinol for longer periods of time because the skin takes time to adjust to the ingredient, it is best to use retinol less during the summer. This is because of the risk of sunburn and increased photosensitivity. 

Also, keep in mind that sensitive skin will take longer to adjust to retinol. So it’s best to introduce retinol slowly into your skincare routine, if you have sensitive skin. 

Since it is very common in Korea to visit dermatologists and they are also not as expensive as they are in the West, over the counter retinol products don’t have a strong need in the market as the dermatologist can prescribe ( if the absolute need be ) and monitor the patient closely for its efficacy. 

Can Retinol still be used with Korean Skincare Routine?

Korean skincare focuses on gentler ingredients than the most potent one but that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate something that wonderful in a regime.

Just be mindful of how to use it, don’t mix it with other actives and focus on hydration and skin protection to save the skin from getting sensitive, extra dry or flaky.

International skincare champs in retinoids that are gaining popularity in Korean market are from The Ordinary and Paula’s choice

Retinol and retinoids is a very extensive topic and there are new researches happening in Korea and globally. In the future, we may see a lot more products from Korean Skincare containing retinol.

Till then, if you so wish to add retinol/retinyl in your routine, head on and incorporate some international best sellers to your skincare routine.

Korean Retinol Skincare Products: FAQs

Can you use retinol with Korean skincare?

There are a few things to consider when using retinol with Korean skincare. Retinoids can be helpful for increasing cell turnover and preventing aging, but they can also be irritating to the skin. In general, it’s best to start with a lower concentration of retinol and increase the amount slowly if your skin tolerates it well.
Many Korean skincare products contain retinol derivatives like retinaldehyde or retinyl palmitate, which are less irritating than pure retinol. If you’re looking for a product that contains retinol, make sure to read the ingredient list carefully to see if it will be too harsh for your skin.

Why Korean skincare does not use retinol?

Answer: While retinol is an effective ingredient for skincare, it can also be irritating and cause dryness and redness. Many Korean skincare companies instead use peptides, which have been found to be more gentle and less irritating to the skin. Additionally, Korean skincare products often contain a higher concentration of beneficial ingredients than those found in American or European products.

Where does retinol go in Korean skincare routine?

Retinol is a type of vitamin A that is often used in anti-ageing skincare routines. It is typically used in the form of a serum or cream and it helps to improve the appearance of skin by repairing damage, increasing collagen production, and reducing the appearance of wrinkles and age spots. It is generally not used in Korean skincare as it considered too harsh. But if you’re buying a retinol serum separately and are adamant to use it, you can put it on after applying moisturizer as retinols are harsh and direct application is too irritating.

Is the Cosrx retinol effective?

Yes, a Korean skincare brand has finally come up a retinol based product due to demand. However, this isn’t a serum but a cream. The COSRX Retinol 0.1 Cream contains as the name suggests 0.1 percent Retinoid along with panthenol and Vitamin E. The retinol content is enough to be effective but not too much to cause irritation. Also, anti-inflammatory agents like panthenol and vitamin E prevent the cream from being too harsh on your skin.

I hope this sums it up on why retinol isn’t a popular ingredient in Korean serums or any other form of skincare product.

Koreans believe in preventive skincare rather than finding a cure for signs of aging. So you’ll see an emphasis on hydrating serums, sunscreens, etc. that can prevent skin from getting dry and lose collagen and tightness.

But then again there are several anti-aging ingredients in Korean skincare like ceramides, snail mucin, bee venom extract, among others. So you can still get anti-aging Korean products without the use of retinols.

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