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What Ingredients Do Koreans Use In Their Skincare Instead of Retinol?

December 07, 2021

What Ingredients Do Koreans Use In Their Skincare Instead of Retinol?

What Ingredients Do Koreans Use In Their Skincare Instead of Retinol?

If you’re up to date on the latest K-Beauty Star Ingredients, you’ve probably realised that retinol rarely features.

While not completely absent, it doesn’t have the same hold over the Korean beauty industry as it does in the West.

There are several reasons for this, and we’ve discussed them at length in our Retinol blog. 


If not retinol, then what?

So, with that in mind (and to go completely Carrie Bradshaw on you), I couldn’t help but wonder…if not Retinol, then what? 

K-Beauty is never lacking in a supply of awesome and effective ingredients in their products and their go-to anti-ageing ingredients are no different.

Let’s start with some of the more popular ones which are also commonly found in Western Beauty.



Collagen is what keeps us looking young.

Plump, young, and firm skin is a result of high levels of collagen. As we age, our collagen levels begin to deplete and our skin loses elasticity. It also begins to thin and sag.

The rate at which our collagen levels deplete is about 1% every year after the age of 25. We know that can sound intense but, our advice?

Don’t over-worry about it!

We all get old. It happens to literally everyone. Every. One. Your friends. Your colleagues. Your cousins. It’s always helpful to remember we aren’t alone, so there is no need to panic.

(Also, to put that into perspective, by the time your 50 you’ve really only lost 22% of your collagen levels. Laughing!)

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 you'll find a lot in Korean skincare is collagen.

While applying topical collagen doesn’t have the intense anti-ageing benefits of Vitamin A and C, it is still great to pop into your skincare routine as 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.

Some of our favourite anti-ageing products containing collagen are;

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


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.

What Ingredients Do Koreans Use In Their Skincare Instead of Retinol?

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. 

Some of our favourite Korean anti-ageing products which feature Vitamin C are:

  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.

Our K-Beauty favourites featuring niacinamide (and a whole bunch of other anti-aging favs) are:

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




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.

Some of our favourite anti-ageing Korean skincare with peptides are:

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

(Oh, and don’t worry, we did the research for you and both of those products contain Tetrapeptides AND Hexapeptides)


Other Lesser-Known Ingredients 



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. Mary & May Rose Collagen Mist Serum; and
  2. D’Alba Piedmont Peptide No Sebum Balancing Toner.




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. Mary & May Idebenone + Blackberry Complex Serum



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.

Ingredients Koreans Use in their Skincare instead of retinol

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.  



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 


TL:DR 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.  


STYLE STORY - Your Go-To for K-Beauty


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"K-Beauty is never lacking in a supply of awesome and effective ingredients in their products and their go-to anti-ageing ingredients are no different."


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