I’m going to jinx myself and my super adaptive skin by telling you about the following products that my skin has been loving for the last two years. Bracing myself for a future post of heartache about the end of my love affair with these babies, because my skin is a high maintenance drama queen.
I believe the so called first step essence, or priming, boosting pre-serum is relatively common in Korean makeup routines, but a select few Japanese brands also have their own versions. Technically, a facial oil (especially squalane I hear) can be used in this way as well.
Disclaimer: I’m by no means a skincare expert, and have close to zero knowledge in dermatology. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you what 99.9% of the ingredients are and do. I’m actually a very lazy skincare shopper in the sense that I don’t read the ingredients list. I test it on the back of my hands first, and if I like the texture, I’ll try to snag a sample. All reviews on this blog are my personal experience with products bought by my own money.
I use all of the following products right after cleansing, before toner. Naturally, my first reaction was ‘essences that are to be applied before toner? What is this blasphemy?’.
In the mornings I use the Soon Hwan Essence from The History of Whoo, a high-end skincare brand from the Korean conglomerate LG Corp. ‘Whoo’ means The Empress, and the brand bases itself around imperial, oriental medicinal concepts fit for royalty, that achieves a balanced Qi in one’s skin… if you’re into that.
As a ‘first step’ essence it is touted to prime the skin for skincare. Their official description gave me the WTFs, so it was probably a good thing I snagged a near 1-month generous sample of this before I bothered reading up on it. The ingredients list is long and very disconcerting and I’m really hoping deer antler is an easily accessible by-product of venison, if not then I’ll be phasing this stuff out (Look! this blog is teaching me things!). Come to think of it, since the majority of the ingredients are a Chinese medicine mix, I’ll have to think twice about resorting to Chinese medicine when the Pfizer stuff just don’t work.
The SA emphasized that this product needs to be eased into, so I began with probably a quarter of the above amount, and over time, I reached this amount that easily covers my face, neck and shoulders. It’s a light amber gel-fluid that has tiny white spherical particles that disappears on contact. My Soon Hwan is in the old packaging, which you have to slap the opening into your palms to get the thick liquid out, so it’s a good thing the new packaging now has a pump. There is an old-school perfume fragrance as well as alcohol coming through the scent, but it all goes away pretty much before I apply my next step. The ginseng in the formula is said to promote blood circulation, which supposedly helps ease water-bloatage around the face and neck, but I don’t really see or buy into that.
When I apply this my skin feels fresh and moist from it. But in all honesty, I can’t gage how much it helps the rest of my skincare to be absorbed. Midway through that 1-month trial size, I thought it was a little meh, so I more or less marked this as a no-purchase. Then I started noticing I had days of good skin and days of oil slick skin, and the latter were more often than not days I didn't use the Soon Hwan. So, if nothing else, the Soon Hwan Essence helps with skin hydration or perhaps even the effectiveness of my products in the day, but I wouldn’t say this really helps with oil control.
Since late last year, I swap the Soon Hwan with O Hui’s Cell Power No.1 essence for evenings. O Hui is also from LG Corp, and has very similar skincare steps as Whoo, but the philosophy behind O Hui is based on cell research and technology. More importantly, O Hui is priced a bit lower than Whoo, so where possible, I defer to O Hui first. The No.1 essence functions the same as the Soon Hwan, but the SA said it lacks the bloatage reducing properties of the Soon Hwan. The more I use both, the more I prefer No. 1 because my skin feels noticeably smoother with it, but I do think Soon Hwan keeps me hydrated better. There is a slight woody, caffeine smell to the No.1 which disappears very quickly. 2 ½ pumps of this thick, semi-opaque liquid is enough for my face and neck. The No.1 comes in a pump bottle, which allows for refill bottles, but I’m unsure whether refills are sold seperately since I haven’t finished my LE larger sized bottles brought from a recent trip to Seoul. Even though No.1 is cheaper than the Soon Hwan, the latter is more regularly on sale at my local counter, thus why I have kept using both.
After the Soon Hwan/No1, I follow with Astalift’s Jelly Aquarysta. Astalift is a skincare brand from Fujifilm, which sounds a little dodgy at first, but they deal with microparticle technology and one of their largest concerns on how to preserve the collagen in their films, so it’s not a stretch to see how it could apply in skincare. I seem to love skincare from tech companies... Discovered this nearly two years not because of Lisa Eldridge, but through reviews of Illamasqua’s Hydra Veil, which has a different function, but their unique texture is the same, albeit different colour.
I’m not actually all that sure if I’m using this in the right step, but I think the SA said to apply before toner, and so far, it’s been working well. I take about a pea size amount of this see-through red jelly with the provided spatula, warm it between my palms, which turns the jelly clear, then softly massage into skin. Upon application my skin feels smooth with all traces of tackiness gone once this is fully massaged into the skin, providing a wonderfully clean-feeling surface to apply the rest of my skincare. Like the Soon Hwan, I feel a big difference if I miss this step, and I’m convinced this helps a lot in containing my oils during the day, at least more so than the Soon Hwan.
Got a little taster of the whole Astalife line when I got a big set of the Jellies and was given a small sample set of all their stuff including their makeup. It’s an experience like none other. I feel its even more funky than the black algae from Givenchy. Slightly red tinged toner and jelly I can handle, but red essence and moisturizer? WEIRD! While I thought the essence was decent, ultimately I only like the Jelly, sunscreen and their base makeup line.
For awhile, I used the Aquarysta only in the day, but I read that it helps with pigmentation (due to its antioxidant properties), and I only use whitening products at night, so I thought I may as well prime the whitening products with the jelly at night too. Don’t think this alone has particularly helped with my pigmentation, but combined with whatever whitening products I’ve been using with the jelly, my pigmentation has gotten much better, and I'm not as prone to severe sun spots as I used to be (but that could be because I've upped my sunscreen amount). I don't have wrinkles on my face other than some fine lines in my eye area that is more to do with puffiness than anything else, so I'm not best suited for testing its anti-wrinkle claims, but it does give me plump, smoothed out skin in the short term.
You’re right to think that I should just stick to one of the products, and any sane person would, but so far, my skin seems to prefer I ‘doubled’, and it protests with eww-dew when I skip one. My rationality is that the Soon Hwan/No.1 helps to hydrate/moisten, and the Aquarysta helps control sebum as well as aiding against sun damage. A balanced act. My face needs it.
I have also tried (and emptied) Sulwhasoo’s First Care Activating Serum, but I don’t like it as much as the LG duo above, since it tended to leave my skin feeling parched and slightly tight. I’ve got Kose’s RC Liquid lined up to try out, but it is the most expensive per gram in an already expensive cluster of items, so I’ll have to see if it can become the super pre-serum that eviscerates my inane doubling of pre-serums.
Have you any experience with first step essences?