Korean skincare is a many-headed hydra, and it doesn’t take walking down the pulsing streets of Myeongdong to realise this. There are numerous ways to categorise Korea’s diverse beauty offerings, from sleek packaging to celebrity appeal and ingredient profiles. Do it by the latter, and hanbang will inevitably top the list.

The term hanbang refers to herbal medicine. The same components found in traditional Korean medicine are also applied to skincare, with brands like Sulwhasoo or History of Whoo being the most familiar. The most common hanbang ingredients are ginseng, chaga mushroom, lotus root, as well as various botanical and fermented extracts. Such products often come with a soothing herbal scent, and faint memories of being fed ginseng soup for your own good. Except this time, the nutrients are going on your face.

Hanbang skincare doesn’t come cheap, especially since some of the ingredients are at luxury level. The packaging is also on a different plane, with most products housed in ornamental vials and jars that give off a distinctly royal impression. No skincaretainment here at all. Combined with a shift in focus towards anti-ageing or maturing skin, this realm of beauty has earned the misnomer of “ahjumma skincare”, which means skincare for older, mature women. Even so, this shouldn’t stop anyone who’s dedicated to a healthy, radiant complexion from giving hanbang products a shot.

It’s important to note that these products aren’t going to be a panacea for all your face troubles, despite the fact that hanbang is used as a form of alternative medication. Most of such products focus on moisturising, plumping, brightening the skin, or helping diminish slight signs of ageing through deep hydration. If you’re keen to give it a try, here are some of the best products on the market.

1
Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Cream EX

As one of Sulwhasoo’s best selling moisturisers, this cream promises to restore and rejuvenate skin, regardless of one’s age. The seriously lengthy ingredients list is chock full of plant extracts that have antioxidant properties. This includes a high concentration of Panax ginseng root, an excellent anti-inflammatory component, along with green tea extract that has polyphenols, an active ingredient to reduce inflammation and bolster your skin’s protective barrier. There’s also mulberry root, which contains arbutin to treat hyperpigmentation issues. This cream just melts into your skin, delivering an instant, soft sheen and nourishment to tired skin.

S$298. Available at Tangs.

2
Su:m 37 Secret Essence

Su:m 37 is a brand big on fermentation, and its Secret Essence contains 80 fermented plant extracts to nourish your skin, which is a staggering amount. An essence is intended to be the first step to prepare your skin for moisturising layers, to be applied after using acids and toning your skin. Yeast figures heavily into the Secret Essence, which is great if you want your skin to glow with a capital G. It also helps soften your skin, while boosting its moisture levels.

S$86. Available at Changi Airport Terminal 1.

3
History of Whoo Bichup Ja Saeng Essence

History of Whoo is an extremely premium hanbang-focused skincare line. Its Bichup Ja Saeng is one of the most popular products the brand has to impart anti-ageing benefits. Best used at night, the rich, almost gooey essence is formulated with Whoo’s signature Gongjinbidan complex. Made with deer antlers, angelica roots, cornelian cherries, acanthopanax root bark, wild thyme and asparagus root, this is a product to improve repair as it amps up the suppleness of your skin.

S$212. Available at Tangs Plaza.

4
Illi Mugwort Calming Sheet Masks

Sheet masks are a convenient alternative to get your hanbang fix without having to slather on product after product. The Illi Mugwort Calming masks is a definite favourite. Made with chaga mushrooms, ginseng and mugwort, this mask is a top-notch skin soother, calming down any redness and imbuing the skin with intense moisture. If you want to look your best before a special event, slap one of these on to give your complexion extra oomph.

S$19 for eight sheets. Available on Lazada.

5
Swanicoco First Repair Emulsion

Swanicoco is known for its focus on fermentation, and ingredient lists with minimal fillers. Its First Repair Emulsion contains three Asian skincare favourites — liquorice root water, rice ferment filtrate and snail secretion filtrate along with other plant extracts. This triple threat spells brightening benefits that also help heal inflamed or stressed skin. Apply a layer of this watery lotion before you moisturise to pave the way for good skin health.

S$26. Available on Yes Style.

Beatrice Bowers
Features Editor
Beatrice Bowers writes about beauty, drinks, and other nice things. When not bound to her keyboard, she moonlights as a Niffler for novels and can be found en route to bankruptcy at your nearest bookstore. Don't tell her boss.