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When Mizon landed at Chuusi, it didn’t take long for the Canadian retailer to sell out of the Korean skin care line’s most buzzed-about products.

The Vancouver-based beauty boutique wasn’t the first in Canada to carry the popular brand, but their collection includes a few cult products that haven’t previously been available. (And let’s be honest – who doesn’t love a good beauty secret?)

Asian skin care is more accessible than ever in Canada, with online outfits like Chuusi, LaaLaa.ca and Mikaela Beauty stocking beloved brands like Cosrx, Missha, Innisfree and Banila Co.

But for beginners trying to build an Asian-inspired skin care routine, untangling all the steps and ingredients can be overwhelming. Do you really need a high-powered SPF for winter in Prince Rupert? Should you be putting snail cream on your face?

In both cases, the answer is: maybe.

“One big trap that people fall into, especially when they’re younger or new to skincare, is neglecting to realize that everyone’s skin reacts to things differently,” says Jude Chao, author of skincare blog Fifty Shades of Snail.

That means that the holy grail products she lists on her blog might not be perfect for you.

“People are very, very individual,” Chao says. “Specific ingredients can trigger some people’s skin, give them really bad reactions or just not do things for people that they will do for others.”

So how, exactly, should an Asian beauty novice go about choosing new products?

“The first step would be to identify what your skin’s needs are, and what’s not being met by your current products,” says Cat Cactus, whose blog, Snow White and the Asian Pear, includes a beginners’ guide to common mistakes.

She continues, “If you’re already a skincare enthusiast who is looking to level up an established routine with Asian skincare, I’d definitely look at sunscreens, oil cleansers, and hydrators.”

When I started building Asian skin care products into my own routine, Chao’s and Cactus’s blogs inspired a lot of my early purchases – some of which remain firm favourites.

But I also learned the hard way that not every product that sounds right for your skin will be a winner.

These must-try products are among the most hyped on the web. Here’s how they fared.

Banila Co. Clean it Zero Original

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This cleanser describes itself as sherbet-textured, which is a fancy way of saying that it’s a balm. Scoop out a tiny amount and let it melt into a light, sweet-smelling oil that’s ruthless on eye makeup and leaves your skin feeling soft. I love how silky this oil feels, but if fragrance freaks you out, steer clear.

Corsrx Low PH Morning Gel Cleanser

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Double cleansing in the evening is standard in Asian skincare routines, and this foaming formula is one of the most popular for that second cleanse.

The appeal is partly down to science – the cleanser’s low pH is slightly acidic, just like your face in its natural state. It’s not always easy to find a foaming cleanser with a low pH, since soap tends towards the alkaline (a.k.a. high pH) side.

I ordered this cult cleanser after trying a few sample packets; the tea tree scent and satisfying lather had me sold. As it turns out, my sensitive face did NOT agree with the formula long term – so I offloaded it to my partner, who loves it for his eczema-prone skin. Funny how these things work.

Mizon AHA & BHA Daily Clean Toner

This toner includes tiny amounts of AHA and BHA, the acid exfoliators that bust up whiteheads and blackheads respectively. It’s mildly exfoliating, but more importantly, it’s pH balancing.

Yeah, chemistry again. It’s a big topic among the Asian beauty community (and if you’re a reader of Snow White and the Asian Pear, the blog that inspired this purchase, you can’t help but develop a nerd-level interest in it).

A balanced pH is important for two reasons: first, it keeps your skin from getting dry, tight and unruly. Second, it allows the rest of your products to work more effectively. So if you’re not sure about the pH of your cleanser, a balancing toner like this one can really help.

Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid

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Hands up if clogged pores are the bane of your existence. This is, hands down, the best product I’ve found for clearing them up.

With 4% BHA, it’s pretty powerful when it comes to busting oil and gunk deep inside your pores. Somehow, though, it’s not drying or irritating like the blackhead treatments of our youth. That’s probably because Cosrx uses betaine salicylate instead of the usual salicylic acid.

Apparently this stuff isn’t meant for sensitive skin, but my face doesn’t flinch at daily use. The gentler form of BHA is definitely worth checking out if you’ve suffered in the past.

Innisfree Super Volcanic Pore Clay Mask

Don’t be put off by the tiny tub; with this clay mask, a little goes a long way.

I first bought this product to attempt Chao’s magic method of clearing out sebaceous filaments (those dots on your nose that look like blackheads, but aren’t). Her technique really works – and it leaves your skin all kinds of soft – but I’m too lazy to do it as often as I should.

Luckily, this mask makes a visible difference on its own, too. Throw it on while you’re watching Netflix. Your skin will thank you for it.

Mizon Snail Recovery Gel Cream

Like the Daily Clean toner listed above, this Mizon classic didn’t stay on the shelves at Chuusi for long. The gel formula is light and quick-absorbing, so it works nicely if you’re feeling a little oily.

More recently, I discovered that the hydrating formula is a true multitasker: if you forget to put your oven mitts on before grabbing a hot baking tray, for example, this gel works wonders on scalded fingers.

Conclusion: keep a tube in your bag. It’ll come in handy.

Etude House Sunprise Mild Airy Finish SPF 50 PA+++

This sunscreen gets a lot of love for its light formula and lemon-fresh scent. Beyond the obvious (sunburn prevention), it’s hard to measure how well a sunscreen is doing – the lasting signs of UV damage take a while to appear, after all.

But you can judge a product on how it feels, and whether or not it breaks you out. This Etude House product does fine on both fronts. It’s mildly hydrating but not sticky, and I haven’t had any skin flare-ups from using it.

What sets this sunscreen apart from your usual drug store formula is the PA rating. It indicates high protection against UVA rays, the ones that hit your skin deeper down and trigger signs of aging like wrinkles and collagen damage. (SPF ratings only denote UBV protection.)

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Still not sure about adding these products to your routine? Good. This list, just like any article or skincare blog, is really just a starting point.

“One thing that is really helpful is to read a lot of reviews,” Chao says. “Don’t read just one.”

Cactus adds, “While researching, take the time to identify where the information is coming from; if the educator is also a shop, keep in mind part of their agenda is to move their product.”

And the more you experiment with Asian skin care, the better you’ll understand what works for your skin. One helpful tip Chao offers is keeping a skincare log.

“As you get into that habit, just giving yourself data, it will be a lot easier to see what works for you and what doesn’t,” she says.

It’s a challenge, but with a little research and a lot of testing, you can build your own holy grail skin care collection. Good luck!

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