If you like to experiment with skincare, it’s probably happened: you introduce a new product that seems great, but after a week or so an outcrop of zits appears. The worst is when the new product in question is supposed to be soothing, and filled with calming ingredients that you might have even had great results with in the past. Wouldn’t you think it’s foolproof? Because skin is finicky and so rarely throws you a bone, not necessarily so! A bad reaction to a new product is, nine times out of 10, caused by an allergy, and it’s probably something you don’t even know you’re allergic to. It’s easy enough to link a red, itchy rash with peanuts—sensitivity to something like decyl glucoside, a mild surfactant only sometimes used in cleansers, not so much.
In desperate times, consider simplifying. “Having a formula with just one ingredient minimizes the chance of an allergic reaction to added fragrances, essential oils and preservatives,” says Charlotte Cho, aesthetician and founder of online K-beauty mecca Soko Glam. It also means that if you find you’re allergic to that ingredient, you know what to avoid in subsequent purchases. Simple enough! Single-ingredient products have been trending in K-beauty since about 2018, and their popularity continues to grow—because they’re great for sensitive skin, but also because the group of people who want to know exactly what’s in their beauty products is growing, too. You’ll see the same tendency towards minimal ingredients play out with brands like The Ordinary, The Inkey List, Naturium, and even pricey options like Biologique Recherche and Skinceuticals too. Ingredient lists are just easier to understand if there’s not much to get. “People like seeing a straightforward ingredient list, and gravitate towards concentrated and more potent ingredients.”
Of course, most ingredients are too potent to be used all by their lonesome. In fact, most ingredients are too potent to use at concentrations above 20-percent, and work well in the 1 to 3-percent range. Anything used in a single-ingredient formulation needs to be hydrating, not drying. Charlotte also points out that potency isn’t the only factor for what makes an ingredient able to stand on its own. “Pure ingredients that can sit on the shelf for a long period without needing preservatives are great picks for single-ingredient formulas.” They also need to be, er, not gross—anything that’s too greasy, smelly, or sticky won’t fly. Not many ingredients tick all the boxes. What does work? If you want to hop on the low-stakes trend, here are some places to start:
… has no rabbits in it, to be very clear. (Like most single-ingredient products, this essence and all the others on this list are vegan.) The only thing that IS inside its psychedelic-hued bottle is tremella, a mushroom that sort of resembles a wavy loofah puff and works similarly to hyaluronic acid. In fact, the two share a major component (glucuronic acid, not that you really need to know it) so you could call them cousins. If you’ve had bad reactions to HA in the past but miss its hydrating effects, tremella may be something to consider. The extract is also rich in probiotics like beta-glucan, fatty acids, and antioxidant vitamins, so it’ll do more than just hydrate. “Mushroom is a multi-tasking ingredient that works not only to hydrate but stimulate cell growth and smooth fine lines,” says Charlotte, who thinks this essence utilizes it particularly well.
“I’m From is a cult-favorite brand in Korea that focuses on sustainable fresh skin care ingredients,” says Charlotte, who notes that they even won a highly coveted Hwahae Won award in Korea. But as far as ingredient names go, mugwort is not the sexiest. If you can look past it, mugwort is a great barrier repair ingredient, and the fact that it can do that as a sheer, watery liquid makes it particularly ideal for acneic skin or oily folks who’ve gone overboard with harsh, stripping treatments. It’s actually the perfect thing to keep on hand when your skin needs a little something extra as the seasons transition. Plus, it’s also rich in antioxidants like vitamin C and amino acids. Mugwort is surprisingly lovely in its whole plant form: a leafy herb that looks a little like parsley and smells a little like sage.
Cica is a nickname for centella asiatica, an adaptogenic herb known for its wound healing and antiinflammatory properties. “It’s often touted for its calming and soothing properties, making it great for sensitive skin types.” The K-beauty staple has found its way into a lot of western beauty products too these days, sometimes broken down into its components, madecassoside and asiaticoside. So you’ve probably heard of it. But this essence is one of Charlotte’s favorite versions, and she says it’s formulated perfectly with the cica extract as-is. The closest you can get to bathing in the stuff. We’ll take 20.
Photo via ITG