First of all, this is not a product review or comparison. It is more of a presentation – three interesting products from different brands, taken from the same product category. In this case: face cleansing. All three brands are from Korea.
So, let’s dive right in! What we have here is a solid cleanser based on coconut oil and glycerin (Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick), a creamy white foam based on sea water and sea salt granules (Sea Salt Perfect Cleanser 40%) and a cleansing oil whose key ingredient, besides deep sea water, is Epidermal Growth Factor cell activator (Pure Propolis Washable Cleansing Oil).
The three brands are equally different: Su:m37 is from the luxury sector, Innisfree is a mass market brand with a very wide distribution and LaCell is firmly rooted in the niche/online retail channel.
Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick
The product: The Rose Cleansing Stick is a cult product amongst Asian beauty fans. I kept reading about this cleanser on Asian blogs and in Asian beauty forums – and of course I added it to my Seoul shopping list! I like fermented cosmetics and although Su:m37 is at best a near-natural beauty brand (I usually prefer organic face care), from what I read about the ingredients the Rose Stick looked very promising indeed.
However, the Rose Stick was sold out all over central Seoul – I read online that the reason for these were frequent stock shortages; apparently the production process of the stick is complicated so it is manufactured in small batches (source: article on Fashionista.com). The article also mentioned that the Rose Stick is more popular outside of Korea than within the country. Interesting.
Anyway, I checked out Su:m37 counters in various department stores and even paid a visit to the Su:m37 store on Garosu-gil: no luck! Then I happened to find myself in an AK Plaza Department Store outside of the city centre – I was actually looking for Korean brand Vieco that day – and lo and behold, a Su:m37 counter and the Rose Cleanser in stock! It cost 23.000 KRW (around 18 Euro) for 80 gr.
There were no English-language ingredients on the packaging so here is the INCI list, courtesy of Skin&Tonics blog:
Glycerin, coconut oil, water, stearic acid, lauric acid, lauryl betaine, potassium hydroxide, betaine, rose (0.5%), fragrance, camellia oil, tocopheryl, green tea seed oil, sunflower seed oil, olive oil, apricot seed oil, yeast/fermented rose extract filtrate (0.01%), basil oil, lemon peel oil, lime Oil, marjoram oil, orange seed oil, ylang ylang oil
You can find another INCI translation at Holysnails who also provides a very detailed breakdown of the ingredients.
As you can see in the picture, the Rose Stick is packaged in a twist up container. I was expecting it to be a kind of hard bar soap, but although this is indeed a solid cleanser the texture is surprisingly soft and pliable. Easy to apply and foams up immediately; I was impressed by how thoroughly it removed my eye makeup, too. There are little rose petal fragments scattered throughout the stick and the fragrance is, of course, rose-dominated. Very nice. And convenient for travelling.
The brand: Su:m37 is a luxury beauty brand owned by multinational LG Household & Health Care. Like many Asian names, “Su:m37” has several layers of meaning: The Korean version of the brand name (a single Korean character) means something like “breathe”, the Chinese variant (two Mandarin characters) is “sumi” which can be translated as “secret story” and the English version Su:m 37 (Roman letters, obviously) has the colon in the middle which again is supposed to indicate “breathing, taking a break”. All three versions have the number 37 attached to it (with a tiny Celsius degree sign) and this refers to the ideal temperature used for fermentation (and, incidentally, the average temperature of the human body).
Su:m37’s products are based on fermented ingredients (a big trend in Korea at the moment) and the portfolio offers 79 products across 14 different ranges: Secret (10 sku), White Award (9 sku), Water Full (8 sku), Time Energy (4 sku), Flawless (5 sku), Losec (6 sku), Centenica (1 product) and Special (2 products, including the Rose Stick) are skin care lines. Sun Away (7 sku) is a sun protection range, Air Rising is a 7-sku line of foundations (various BB and CC creams, cushion foundations and a primer), Dear Flora includes six lipsticks, Skin Savers is a range of six cleansers, Sweet Smile features four body care products and Dear Homme is a 4-sku men’s range.
Su:m37 has brand counters in most Korean department store chains but there are also stand-alone stores – I visited the Su:m37 outlet on Seoul’s Garosu-gil street. Product prices are in the premium range; the Cleansing Stick is actually one of the cheapest products in the portfolio.
Sea Salt Perfect Cleanser 40%
The product: I bought this cleanser in one of Innisfree’s many stores in downtown Seoul. The range offered three cleansers with varying percentages of sea salt and different textures: Sea Salt Jelly Cleanser 20%, Sea Salt Whipping Cleanser 30% and Sea Salt Perfect Cleanser 40%. I chose the 40% version because it had the best (i.e. most natural) ingredients. The price was 10.000 KRW (approximately 7.50 Euro for 120 ml).
The packaging was in Korean and English and here are the ingredients:
Sea salt extract, sodium chloride, sodium cocoyl glycinate, sodium lauroyl glutamate, glycerin, centella asiatica extract, ficus carica fruit extract, citrus unshiu peel extract, orchid extract, camellia sinensis leaf extract, camellia japonica leaf extract, opuntia coccinellifera fruit extract, hydrogenated lecithin, mineral salts, ceramide 3, fragrance
The texture is intriguing: it’s a creamy and almost unctuous white foam with sea salt granules which, however, dissolve very quickly once you massage the foam into the face. The fragrance is a bit overpowering but I don’t care because this cleanser is amazing: takes my makeup and eye makeup right off, the skin feels clean and smooth. I’ll definitely buy this product again. Especially at that price!
The brand: Innisfree is probably the best-known Korean beauty brand. It belongs to AmorePacific, the C&T market leader in Korea. Innisfree (according to popular lore the brand name was inspired by the poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by Irish poet W.B. Yeats) is also the most famous Jeju brand. Jeju is an island in Korea and a popular holiday destination for Korean and Asian tourists – Jeju stands for purity, natural ingredients and a sustainable, holistic life style. Innisfree was the first big C&T brand to use Jeju ingredients, making Jeju beauty famous across Korea and, I would imagine, helping to boost Jeju island’s tourism as well!
The brand’s portfolio is massive; you can check it out on Innisfree’s global website: products includes face care, body, care, hair care, makeup, men’s care, baby care, sensitive, certified organic, sun care and home fragrance plus all sorts of other things. Like so many beauty brands in Korea, Innisfree operates its own retail stores so there are plenty of Innisfree outlets across Seoul and the bigger Korean cities. The brand is also distributed in other Asian countries including Hong Kong, China, Singapore and Malaysia, and of course there is an Innisfree online store which ships to 250 international countries. Impressive.
In 2013, Innisfree opened a flagship store on Jeju island – Jeju House – and in 2014, another Jeju House was opened in Seoul. Innisfree’s Jeju House Seoul is located on Samcheong-dong street; like the original Innisfree Jeju House on Jeju island, the Seoul store has a retail area and a café upstairs which serves Jeju-inspired small dishes, snacks, beverage and cakes. The two Jeju Houses also retail beauty items and limited edition products which are only available in these two locations. I like the Seoul Jeju House and visit it whenever I’m in town.
Pure Propolis Washable Cleansing Oil
The product: A liquid cleansing oil which is formulated with sea water and EGF (Epidermal Growth Factor). The oil has a very light yellow tint, other than that it is transparent – it has a very light scent which is barely noticeable. I was intrigued by the EGF angle because I only know EGF as an ingredient in high-priced anti-ageing creams. The cleansing oil works pretty well; it doesn’t quite remove all of my eye makeup but leaves the skin beautifully soft.
The packaging copy was entirely in Korean and I didn’t see any text block which looked like an INCI listing. So I went onto the LaCell website and used Google Translate which gave me the following ingredients:
Deep Sea Water, stem cell activating agent (Stem Cell Activator), human oligopeptide-1 (cell renewal factor EGF), lavender oil, rose oil, camphor oil, Houttuynia cordata oil, neroli oil, geranium oil, carrot seed oil, eucalyptus Oil, Francincense oil, juniper oil, cypress oil, chamomile oil, bergamot oil, rosemary oil, Tea Tree Oil, Orange Sweet Oil, Cedarwood Himalayan oil, benzoin oil, mandarin oil, mink oil, emu oil, lotus five days , jojoba oil, avocado oil, argan oil, safflower oil, barley Geo day, Lin seed oil, Evening Primrose oil, tea seed oil, rosehip oil, macadamia oil, sunflower oil, Calendula oil, St. John’s wort oil, almond Suites oil, jojoba Gold Oil, heyijeulreot oil, 40 castor oil, olive oil -7 ester, lecithin, squalene, retinol, inflation Racine, tocopherol, allantoin extract, Centella asiatica extract, Sophora extract, golden early extract, licorice extract, Chinese matrimony vine extract, Nettle Extract, Green Tea Extract, Angelica Extract, dunggeulre extract, rosemary extract, decursiva extract, lily extract, bokbunja extract, Mulberry root extract, mulberry leaf extract, Houttuynia cordata extract, Schisandra extract, Jade attempted extract, yugeunpi extract, Coix extract, honeysuckle deongkul extract, injinssuk extract, rose extract, Calendula extract, thyme extract, pyuerariah extract, propolis extract, sewage extract, ginseng extract, Astragalus extract, fish (squid), testicular extracts
I am a little skeptical about this INCI set since it looks really similar to the INCIs for other LaCell products. At the trade show they had a little brochure about the Propolis products (which also includes a cream, lotion and essence) and the ingredients (down to the last typo) were exactly the same for every single product. Still, the Washable Cleanser is nice. I might not buy it again but it is an interesting product.
The brand: I know very little about LaCell; I met the brand at 13th International Beauty Expo Korea trade show which I attended in October 2015 (check out my blog article here). LaCell had a stand at the trade fair and I tried out their different product ranges – I kind of liked the Pure Propolis line so I bought the cleanser to try it out (11.000 KRW which included a small trade show discount = approximately 8.20 Euro for 50 ml).
Afterwards I researched the company more thoroughly. This turned out to be a a bit of a challenge since there are very few sources about LaCell (even in Korean). As far as can tell, LaCell has several cosmetics ranges which are based on herbal extract and plant ingredients; their portfolio also includes herbal supplements, teas and coffee and home fragrances. The LaCell products seem to be mostly retailed online (a very popular retail channel in Korea, especially for smaller and natural brands). On my next trip to Seoul I’ll keep an eye out for other LaCell products.