If you have been using Korean skincare products or would like to start a Korean skincare routine, you might have noticed a type of product called an “emulsion”. AND, you might have wondered what an emulsion is and when in your routine to use one.
So, what is an emulsion in the Korean skincare world? What does it do for your skin? And can any skin type benefit from using an emulsion?
I’m going to answer these questions for you today because I think emulsions are a fantastic and extremely underrated type of skincare product that can be beneficial to any skin type.
There are a lot of Korean emulsions to choose from and their formulations all differ quite considerably. So I’ve done the research for you and narrowed down what I think the best 3 Korean emulsions are.
TL;DR: (Don’t have time to read the whole article? Here are the 3 products I recommend in this post):
- Etude House – Soon Jung 10-Free Moist Emulsion – Buy at SokoGlam
- Isntree – Green Tea Fresh Emulsion – Buy at Jolse
- Danahan – Ginseng Seed Secret Emulsion – Buy at SokoGlam
What Is An Emulsion?
Emulsions are lightweight water-based versions of moisturizing creams that absorb into the skin much quicker and don’t leave it feeling sticky and suffocated.
They are thicker than a serum (which are quite watery), and thinner than a typical face cream.
In chemistry terms, an emulsion is a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally unmixable or unblendable (such as water and oil). A process known as emulsification (the addition of an emulsifier) is what creates an emulsion, common examples of which are butter and mayonnaise.
When it comes to emulsions in skincare, they are water-based, but contain other moisturizing ingredients that wouldn’t normally mix with water. They therefore contain emulsifying ingredients to make such a lightweight and moisturizing product possible (the most commonly used ones being cetearyl alcohol, glyceryl stearate and polysorbate 60).
Some emulsions look and feel like very lightweight creams, whereas others can have a very watery or even gel-like consistency. To make things a little confusing, not all emulsion-like products have the word “emulsion” in their name.
Some emulsions may be marketed as lotions or gels even though ingredient-wise they are still emulsions and are formulated in a way to lightly moisturize the skin without clogging pores or creating excess sebum production.
What’s The Difference Between An Emulsion And A Moisturizing Cream?
As I explained above, an emulsion is typically water-based and more lightweight compared to moisturizing creams.
When applied to the skin, they don’t feel heavy and suffocating and absorb into the skin quickly.
I like to think of emulsions as a hydrating toner and moisturizer in one.
This is because they:
1.) Contain humectant ingredients (such as glycerin or panthenol) that help to hydrate the skin,
2.) Contain emollient ingredients (such as squalane, sunflower seed oil, pentaerythrityl tetraoctanoate, and bis-diglyceryl Polyacyladipate-2) that help to prevent water loss and have a softening and soothing effect on skin, AND
3.) They often contain lightweight silicones (such as cyclopentasiloxane and cyclohexasiloxane), which not only seal hydration but allow products to dry and evaporate faster, while making them easier to spread too.
Unlike moisturizers, most emulsions don’t contain the thick, heavy occlusive emollients (such as petroleum jelly, beeswax, olive oil, lanolin and dimethicone and other heavier silicones).
The higher the lipid to liquid ratio in a moisturizing product, the more emollient it is (the better it is at preventing trans-epidermal water loss).
Emulsions have a higher liquid to lipid ratio compared to typical moisturizing creams, which makes them less effective at preventing trans-epidermal water loss. But this also makes them thinner, lighter and less suffocating and beneficial for oily and acne-prone skin or for those hot, humid summer months.
What Does An Emulsion Do For Your Skin?
An emulsion works in a similar way to hydrating toners. However, on top of hydrating the skin, they also work to strengthen the skin barrier and prevent moisture loss from occurring (although not to the same extent as a moisturizer).
Emulsions can also act as a treatment product, similar to serums and ampoules. This is because emulsions can also contain other beneficial ingredients to target various skin concerns (such as green tea, ginseng, Centella asiatica, and snail mucin).
Since emulsions are water based (meaning they are formulated as oil suspended in water), they won’t clog your pores or make your skin oily like regular moisturizers can. This makes emulsions especially attractive for people with oily or acne-prone skin as a way for their skin to get the hydration it needs (without suffocating the skin and potentially clogging pores).
Can All Skin Types Benefit From Emulsions?
Although emulsions are especially loved by people with oily and acne-prone skin (due their lightness, fast absorption and water-based formulation) they are still beneficial for any skin type.
If you have dry, combination or mature skin, you can benefit from the added hydration of an emulsion. This is especially so in cold and dry climates when your skin really needs a lot of hydration. Because an emulsion is so lightweight and absorbs so well, you can use it in addition to your moisturizer without any product build up or heaviness.
When In Your Skincare Routine Should You Apply An Emulsion?
Although this depends on your skin type and how many products you use in your skincare routine, in general, an emulsion should be applied after any treatment products in your routine (such as serums and ampoules), but before moisturizer and sunscreen.
An example of a simple morning skincare routine for someone with oily skin would be: WATER-BASED CLEANSER > HYDRATING TONER > EMULSION > SUNSCREEN
An example of a simple morning skincare routine for someone with dry skin would be: WATER-BASED CLEANSER > HYDRATING TONER > EMULSION > MOISTURIZER > SUNSCREEN
Other products such as essences, vitamin C serums, retinol creams, AHA and BHA-containing exfoliators and any other serums or ampoules should be applied before an emulsion.
The 3 Best Korean Emulsions (Fragrance-Free)
#1 Etude House – Soon Jung 10-Free Moist Emulsion: The Best Emulsion For Sensitive or Acne-Prone Skin:
If there’s one Korean skincare brand that I can’t recommend enough, it’s Etude House’s Soon Jung line. I love how gentle and effective the Soon Jung line is (and it’s affordable too!). Products from this line are all fragrance free and contain some of the most soothing and hydrating ingredients, which means they are really good at strengthening the skin barrier and soothing sensitive skin (including any breakouts).
My current skincare routine actually consists of three Soon Jung products and my skin wouldn’t have survived the dry winter we just had without them. I’m also currently 28 weeks pregnant and this line is perfect when trying to avoid any harmful or irritating skincare ingredients.
This emulsion is my top recommendation for you if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin, although it’s actually perfect for all other skin types too.
This emulsion does what an emulsion is supposed to do – which is to add an extra layer of hydration to the skin. But it’s also extremely soothing as it contains both madecassoside (an active constituent of Centella asiatica) and green tea extract.
It contains panthenol, a powerful and underrated skincare ingredient with hydrating (humectant) properties, that also has the ability to reduce itching and inflammation of the skin.
And speaking of hydrating ingredients – it contains glycerin, which is naturally found in your skin’s stratum corneum (the epidermis). It’s an extremely safe and non-allergenic skincare ingredient that’s suitable for all skin types. In fact, I recommend including glycerin-containing skincare products in your routine if you have dry or sensitive skin as studies have shown that these skin types are actually lacking glycerin.
Full ingredients list: Water, Glycerin, Propanediol, Pentaerythrityl Tetraethylhexanoate, Squalane, Panthenol, Madecassoside, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Cetearyl Alcohol, Bis-diglyceryl Polyacyladipate-2, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/vp Copolymer, Polyglyceryl-3 Methylglucose Distearate, Glyceryl Stearate, Stearic Acid, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Glyceryl Caprylate, Xanthan Gum, Ethylhexylglycerin, Hydroxypropyl Starch Phosphate, Butylene Glycol, Disodium Edta
#2 Isntree – Green Tea Fresh Emulsion: The Best Emulsion For Oily Skin
This emulsion is chock full of so many natural ingredients that have a variety of benefits for your skin.
It’s actually what the brand Isntree is known for – a focus on using quality natural ingredients while avoiding potentially harmful and unnecessary ingredients such as artificial fragrances. I love that Isntree packaging is also recyclable.
As the name suggests, the Isntree Green Tea Fresh Emulsion contains green tea extract (harvested from Korea’s pristine Jeju Island). In fact, green tea extract is the second ingredient on this product’s ingredients list (after water), which gives this emulsion a strong soothing and revitalizing effect. It also contains Centella asiatica extract and dipotassium glycyrrhizate (a main constituent of licorice root extract) for even further soothing benefits.
Isntree have added a blend of 4 plant extracts which together help to control sebum production (which is what makes this emulsion perfect for those with oily skin):
- Pinus Palustris leaf extract
- Ulmus Davidiana root extract
- Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose) flower extract, and
- Pueraria Lobata (Kudzu) root extract
On top of all of that, this emulsion also contains two powerful humectants (glycerin and beta-glucan), to help keep your skin hydrated and your moisture barrier healthy.
Full ingredients list: Water, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Propanediol, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Glycerin, Cetyl Ethylhexanoate, Polyglyceryl-3 Methylglucose Distearate, Beeswax, Ginkgo Biloba (Maidenhair Tree) Leaf Extract, Centella Asiatica (Gotu Kola) Extract, Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Extract, Vaccinium Angustifolium (Blueberry) Fruit Extract, Pinus Palustris Leaf Extract, Ulmus Davidiana Root Extract, Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose) Flower Extract, Pueraria Lobata (Kudzu) Root Extract, Allantoin, Beta-glucan, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Xanthan Gum, Tromethamine, Disodium EDTA, 1,2-Hexanediol, Hydroxyacetophenone
#3 Danahan – Ginseng Seed Secret Emulsion: The Best Anti-Aging Emulsion For Mature Skin
Although traditional herbal ingredients have always been popular in Korea for their benefits on the skin, they are becoming better known in the West now too.
These ingredients are referred to as “hanbang” and they have a long history of medicinal use in Asian cultures (often going back thousands of years).
Ginseng is probably the most popular hanbang ingredient when it comes to Korean skincare due to it’s powerful anti-aging properties (I’ve even written an article on the benefits that ginseng has on the skin).
As the name suggests, this emulsion from the natural herbal cosmetics brand Danahan contains ginseng as a main ingredient. But, not only does it contain ginseng root extract, the brand has also added hydrolyzed ginseng saponins, ginseng root water AND ginseng seed oil for an extra anti-aging kick.
Since Danahan is a brand that focuses heavily on traditional herbal ingredients, they have also added a powerful blend of natural ingredients, including licorice root extract (which has powerful skin soothing properties) and various seed extracts (which work to nourish the skin).
I think this emulsion is most suitable to people with mature and/or dry to combination skin who would like to focus on preventing fine lines and wrinkles. If you have oily skin, I would suggest to try using this emulsion without the addition of a moisturizer first as you may find it is all your skin needs to stay hydrated throughout the day.
Full ingredients list: Water, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Dipropylene Glycol, Butylene Glycol Dicaprylate/Dicaprate, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Polyglyceryl-3 Methylglucose Distearate, Cetyl Ethylhexanoate, Hydrogenated Polydecene, Glyceryl Stearate, Phenoxyethanol, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, Sodium Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, PEG-100 Stearate, Isohexadecane, Cetyl Alcohol, Fragrance, Polysorbate 80, Hydrogenated Lecithin, Caprylyl Glycol, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Glyceryl Acrylate/Acrylic Acid Copolymer, Ethylhexylglycerin, Disodium EDTA, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Adenosine, Propylene Glycol, Panax Ginseng Extract, Panax Ginseng Root Water, Chrysanthellum Indicum Extract, Panax Ginseng Seed Oil, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Extract, Camellia Japonica Seed Extract, Camellia Sinensis Seed Extract, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Extract, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Extract, Nelumbo Nucifera Seed Extract, Prunus Armeniaca (Apricot) Kernel Extract, Prunus Mume Seed Extract, Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose) Seed Extract, Pinus Koraiensis Seed Extract, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, 1,2-Hexanediol, Magnolia Officinalis Bark Extract, Honey Extract, Poria Cocos Extract, Hydrolyzed Ginseng Saponins
Where to buy: SokoGlam