From ampoules to king swabs to whitening oils, deciphering the world of Korean beauty can be daunting at first. So we created this glossary of terms to help you navigate K-beauty like a pro. Before you start, we recommend reading Why Korean Beauty and the Korean Beauty Routine.
Ampoule: An Ampoule is a skin treatment. Ampoules contain a high concentration of active ingredients and are usually packaged in small bottles with droppers. If layering treatments, ampoules are generally used after essences but before serums. A good rule of thumb for layering is to go from lightest to heaviest.
BB Cream: A BB Cream stands for blemish balm or beauty balm. BB Creams provide light coverage along with other skin benefits. They also typically contain SPF although should not be used in place of regular sun protection.
CC Cream: CC Cream stands for color correction cream. CC Creams are very similar to BB Creams that along with coverage, they also provide other skin benefits and SPF. The difference between a BB and CC Cream depends more on the product than the name.
Cleansing Balm: A Cleansing Balm is a cleanser that comes in a semi-solid balm form. They can also be called sherbert cleansers. Cleansing balms are used as the first step in the evening routine to remove makeup and sunscreen. They are put on dry skin and then emulsify (turn milky) when they come in contact with water.
Cleansing Oil: Similar to a Cleansing Balm, Cleansing Oils are another first cleanser used to melt away oil-based impurities, like makeup and sebum.
Cleansing Water: Also known as beauty water or micellar water, Cleansing Waters are multi-purpose waters that gently remove makeup and impurities. Some can also be used as toners and/or exfoliators. With some cleansing waters, rinsing is optional.
Cushion Compact: Cushion Compacts provide coverage, and usually SPF, in a convenient compact. The product is housed in a cushion and comes out only when the cushion is pressed. Like BB or CC Creams the amount of coverage varies between each product.
Dewy (“gwang”) Skin: Also called glowy skin, dewy skin looks deeply hydrated and glossy, as opposed to matte skin.
Double Cleansing: Double cleansing is the first step in the evening routine. First you use an oil-based cleanser, which can be either liquid or balm. Oil cleansers are the best way to remove oil-based impurities like makeup, sunscreen and excess sebum. Next, follow up with a water-based cleanser, which removes any remaining residue.
Essence: An Essence is a skin treatment. It’s normally light in texture and is used after cleansing and toning. Essences generally add extra hydration but some offer other skin benefits such as brightening or anti-aging. TIP: If using multiple treatments, layer from lightest to heaviest.
Emulsion: An Emulsion is a light moisturizer that has a lotion-like texture. Emulsions add another layer of hydration and would be used after essences and serums. TIP: If using multiple treatments, layer from lightest to heaviest (Toner - Essence - Serum - Emulsion - Cream)
Exfoliator: Exfoliators remove uneven and old dead skin cells on the skin’s surface. There are two types of exfoliators, physical and chemical. Physical Exfoliators are scrubs that manually remove dead skin, whereas Chemical Exfoliators typically use acids such as AHA or BHA.
Mists: Mists are toners that come in a misting bottle. They can be used after cleansing in place of a toner or before toning. Mists are also great throughout the day (even over makeup) whenever skin needs a boost of hydration.
Lotion: Lotions are another hydrating treatment that are slightly thicker than an emulsion but not as heavy as a cream. In the evenings, lotions can be followed by night creams or sleeping packs.
Low pH Cleansers: Skin needs to maintain a slightly acidic pH balance (about 5.5) in order to function at its best. A low pH cleanser will not only regulate your skin’s pH level but will support a skin-healthy environment.
K-beauty: The umbrella term used for all Korean beauty, including skincare, cosmetics, terms and trends.
King Swab: King Swabs are exfoliators that look like oversized Q-Tips. They are presoaked with exfoliating ingredients like AHA or BHA. King Swabs are used after cleansing in the evening, 2-3 times a week.
Peeling: Peeling means exfoliating. A couple examples are Peeling Gels and Peeling Pads. Exfoliating always comes after cleansing and should never be overdone, typically twice a week is enough.
PA: PA indicates sun protection from UVA rays. PA ratings range from PA+ to PA++++. More + signs mean longer protection.
Oil: Oils are another skin treatment that are highly-concentrated. Oils can be applied directly on the skin or mixed with a moisturizer.
Sebum: Sebum is the natural oil that skin produces. Excess sebum can lead to oily skin which is often associated with acne. Many K-beauty products aim to help control excess sebum.
Skin: Skin is actually a term for toner :-).
Serum: Serums are like supercharged essences. They add a layer of hydration, and like all treatments, target specific skin concerns such as age spots or blemishes.
Sheet Mask: A Sheet Mask is a single-use face treatment with the main goal being hydration. Masks are typically made from cotton fibers or gel-type materials, and they’re soaked in rich essences. Sheet Masks are used after toning and then followed by a cream. You can learn more about sheet masks here.
Seven Skin Method: The 7 Skin Method is when you apply up to seven thin layers of toner to your face immediately after cleansing. FYI: Toner is also referred to as Skin in Korea. This layering technique allows your skin the opportunity to easily absorb all the extra hydration without the heaviness or congestion of a thick moisturizer.
Sleeping Mask or Sleeping Pack: A Sleeping Mask is a time-released hydrating treatment that you use at night as the last step in your evening routine. Sleeping Masks are typically used once or twice a week in place of or on top of a moisturizer.
SPF: SPF indicates sun protection from UVB rays. Higher numbers mean longer protection against UVB.
Sun Cream: Sun Cream is sunscreen.
Treatments: In a K-beauty routine, after cleansing and toning comes the treatments. Treatments treat specific skin concerns--wrinkles, enlarged pores, age spots, etc. Treatments include liquids, essences, serums, ampoules, emulsions, lotions and oils. The key with treatments is to layer starting from the lightest product to the heaviest, or thinnest in consistency to thickest.
Toner: A Toner is applied after cleansing to help balance skin’s pH levels and prep skin for the following treatments. Toners can be light mists or have an essence texture, aka Essence Toners.
UVA - Long wave ultraviolet A (UVA) rays penetrate deep into the dermis, the skin's thickest layer and causes premature skin aging, wrinkling and dark spots. PA indicates sun protection from UVA rays.
UVB - Short wave ultraviolet B (UVB) rays burn the superficial layers of the skin and is the main cause of sunburn and skin cancer. SPF indicates sun protection from UVB rays.
Water-Based Cleanser: A Water-Based Cleanser is the second step in double cleansing and can be used as a morning cleanser. Water-based cleansers come in many forms; Foaming Cleanser or Gel Cleanser.
Whitening: Whitening simply means brightening. Whitening products aim to brighten and even out skin tone. There is no bleaching involved.Want to learn more about K-beauty? Check out the rest of our Oholly Blog and our YouTube Channel. Plus if you have any questions, we’re only an email away at firstname.lastname@example.org.