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Ingredients Koreans Use Instead of Retinol

May 26, 2022 2 Comments

Ingredients Koreans Use Instead of Retinol

Episode Title:Ingredients Koreans Use Instead of Retinol  


Episode Description:

If you’ve been dabbling in the world of Korean skincare for a while, you’ve probably realised that retinol doesn’t have the same hold over the Korean beauty industry as it does in the West. On today’s episode of the Korean Beauty Show podcast, Lauren is running through some of the many ingredients Koreans turn to for anti-aging benefits instead of retinol. 



Prefer to listen on Youtube? Visit the Korean Beauty Show podcast's new Youtube channel. 

Episode Summary - Ingredients Koreans Use Instead of Retinol

If not retinol, then what?

K-Beauty is never lacking in a supply of awesome and effective ingredients. The go-to anti-ageing ingredients are no different. Let’s start with the popular ones that are also found in Western Beauty.



Firstly, collagen. This is what keeps us looking young.

You've probably heard that plump, young, and firm skin is because of high levels of collagen. Unfortunately, as we age, our collagen levels begin to deplete and skin loses elasticity. It also begins to thin and sag.

In fact, we lose about 1% every year after the age of 25.

Having said that - there are things we can do to encourage and stimulate our collagen production and help our skin out during its ageing journey. One of those things is topical collagen.

While applying topical collagen doesn’t have the intense anti-ageing benefits of Vitamin A and C, it is still great because it works to give the skin an instant hit of hydration.

Mature skin tends to be on the drier side and products containing collagen can help moisturise the skin and offer satisfying levels of hydration.

K-Beauty collagen products to try are:

  1. APLB Propolis Collagen Eye Cream; and 
  2. APLB Collagen Peptide Moisture Cream.

Ingredients Koreans Use Instead of Retinol


Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and anti-ageing ingredient. It is ideal for getting rid of pigmentation and dark spots, two commonly found conditions in ageing skins.

Not only does Vitamin C have antioxidant properties that work to repair and renew skin cells, it also resulting in glowing skin and a healthier complexion. For this reason, Korean skincare (much like western skincare) loves Vitamin C to stimulate the synthesis of collagen for tighter, firmer skin. 

Korean anti-ageing products with Vitamin C include:

  1. APLB’s Vitamin Propolis Moisture Cream; and
  2. Neogen Real Vita C Serum.  



Niacinimide and K-Beauty are a match made in heaven. A form of Vitamin B3, this ingredient has a host of benefits that include:

  • brightening dull skin;
  • reducing the appearance of fine lines;
  • minimising wide pores; and
  • calming acne-prone skin.

K-Beauty products featuring niacinamide (and a whole bunch of other anti-aging favs) include:

  1.  Jelly Ko Bubble Tea Steam Cream; and
  2. Jelly Ko Cherry Blossom Sleeping Mask

Ingredients Koreans Use Instead of Retinol



Peptides are short chains of amino acids that are the building blocks of collagen and elastin fibres in our skin.

Small Science Lesson: There are hundreds of different peptides but there are two that we want to look out for in our skincare. These are tetrapeptides and hexapeptides.

Both differ in their chemical structure and properties and therefore offer different results. Tetrapeptides boost elasticity and firmness, while hexapeptides offer brightening properties. Both are great, but if you want to target a specific anti-ageing issue it’s helpful to know the difference.

Must try Korean skincare with peptides are:

  1. AHC Private Real Eye Cream for Face, and
  2. COSRX Advanced Snail Peptide Eye Cream.

(Both of those products contain Tetrapeptides AND Hexapeptides)


Ingredients Koreans Use Instead of Retinol


Other Lesser-Known Ingredients 

Other Korean skincare alternatives to retinol are a little lesser known abroad. These include things like adenosine, red ginseng, idebenone, glutathione and EGF. 



Adenosine naturally occurs in the body as ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) and is the storehouse for energy molecules.

When used in skincare, adenosine can help reduce the appearance of fine lines, stimulate collagen production, and soothe inflammation and damaged skin. That's why Korea's version of the FDA recognises it as an anti aging ingredient. 

Some of our favourite Korean skin care products containing Adenosine are:

  1. APLB Collagen Ampoule Serum;
  2. Jelly Ko Cherry Blossom Sleeping Mask; and
  3. D’Alba Piedmont Peptide No Sebum Balancing Toner.


Ingredients Koreans Use Instead of Retinol


Red Ginseng

There are two types of ginseng used in Korean medicine and skincare - red and white ginseng.

White ginseng (which uses 4-6 year old ginseng root) is peeled and dried without heating it. Red ginseng on the other hand is 6 year old ginseng root that has been steamed first, then dried.

Even though both types of ginseng have beneficial properties, red ginseng is the more potent. It is a great anti aging ingredient because it can protect the skin against UVB-induced damage. This is likely due to the chemical changes that occur during the steaming process.

The Korean species of ginseng (Panax ginseng) has many biologically active ingredients including ginsenosides, polysaccharides, phytosterols, peptides, polyacetylenes, fatty acids, and polyacetylenic alcohols. There are 3 that are unique to red ginseng. 

Not all Hanbang brands are alike - although brands market themselves as "Hanbang" they don’t use the same high quality of ingredients as others. For example, there is a difference between cultivated and wild ginseng. The cheaper the product, the more likely it is that they are using cultivated ginseng, which doesn't have the same benefits and is not medicinal grade. 



Idebenone is a synthesised replica of Coenzyme Q10. Touted for its antioxidant properties, it also reduces the appearance of fine lines.

Skincare manufactures have been drawn to the ingredient because of its power as an antioxidant and free radical fighter. For this reason, it’s also great for sensitive skin.

Whilst a new player in the world of skincare, idebenone is considered safe to use.

Our top recommendations to give idebenone K-Beauty a try are:

  1. APLB Idebenone Ampoule Serumand
  2. iUNIK Propolis Vitamin Eye Cream.   



As it makes the leap out of the world of medicine and into beauty, you'll see more and more of this. One of the most potent antioxidants, Glutathione is a godsend both for our bodies and, now, our skin.

Apart from its ability to fight free radicals and oxidative stress, it has also been praised for its brightening properties and ability to combat pigmentation.

Some of our favourite products are:

  1. APLB Glutathione Ampoule Serum; and
  2. APLB Glutathione Brightening Tone Up Cream.  


Ingredients Koreans Use Instead of Retinol


Found naturally in the body, EGF, are proteins responsible for cell regeneration. Initially developed for the medical field, it was popularised by South Korean cosmeceutical brands, which claimed that EGF could advance the acne healing and promote collagen production. 

This remains one of the most popular ingredients you'll find being used in Korea's plastic surgery, hair transplant and dermatology clinics. 

Some of our favourites to try at home are:

  1. APLB EGF Facial Repair Essence, and 
  2. Tosowoong Propolis Brightening Essence 


Wrap Up: Retinol in Korean Skincare  

While some people find retinol to be the Holy Grail of skincare, for others it is simply too harsh or not practical to use. This is particularly so for those of us who spend lots of time in the sun or have weak, damaged skin. 

To learn more about Korean skincare's approach to retinol, take a listen to this episode of the Korean Beauty Show podcast:

If retinol doesn’t work for you or you are simply looking for alternatives, K-Beauty has the answer. To learn more about Korean skincare, or to chat about your own skincare routine, reach out to one of our lovely team members here at STYLE STORY.

We are always here to help and love nothing more than matching you with your perfect skincare companion.

Did you love today's episode - Ingredients Koreans Use Instead of Retinol? If so, please rate and review our show. 

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"Korean beauty hasn't traditionally focused on ingredients like retinol because Koreans don't like a lot of the side effects that go along with regular retinol use. Instead, the Korean beauty industry has focused on developing a range of other ingredients that have anti-aging benefits."

- Lauren Lee, Host of the Korean Beauty Show podcast

2 Responses


November 30, 2022

can i use thw recommended products at the same time or alternate days?


June 30, 2022

Great episode! I tried researching a good red ginseng product but I’m not sure which one to choose. Can you please recommend one?

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