The Beginner’s Guide to Asian Cosmetics Part 2 : An Asian Approach



Continued from Part 1 : The Skincare Obsession 

Today, in Part 2, we will be talking about the uniqueness in Asian cosmetics. Therefore we won’t be talking about brands that are very similar to the western cosmetics market, but rather those that takes a different approach to Western cosmetics. Even in Asia, it is believed that Cosmetics must have a western appeal & approach to be successful, but the emergence and popularity of solely Asian base approach in Skincare products have proved huge success in the past decade.



1. Chinese Medicine Herbal Skincare



One would think that China would have this in their pocket, but you will be totally wrong. Instead, it is South Korea that dominates and owns the whole Chinese Herbal Skincare market. Chinese Medicine is all about the balance of the yin and yang. Therefore, Chinese Medicine skincare aims to balance the yin and yang of the skin. As we age we lose our yin (the moist substance, also known as the female part of our body) and our skin starts to dry out.



Herbs are carefully selected based on their qualities to replenish the yin , yet balancing the yang, and also to move chi energy to ensure the normal flow of chi energy throughout the entire skin. Healthy skin is nourished by qi and blood. In Chinese Medicine, Great Skin starts with great digestion. Therefore, herbs are selected in a way that they help ground the earth/spleen stomach energies. 60% of what you put in your skin gets absorbed into the body. However, like what you put into your mouths, great skin begins with great digestion. Therefore if you are eating well and exercising it will show in your complexion.



The Chinese pharmacopoeia lists over 6,000 different medicinal substances in terms of their properties and the disharmonies that they were helpful with. There are about 600 different herbs in common use today.



Herbs are classified in two major dimensions :


  • The first dimension refers to the temperature characteristics of the herb, namely hot (re), warm (wen), cold (han), neutral (ping), and aromatic.
  • The second dimension refers to the taste property of the herb, namely sour (suan), bitter (ku), sweet (gan), spicy (xin), and salty (xian).


Based on the conditions and problems of your skin, herbs are carefully selected according to their properties to help solve skin problems.



Brands based on Chinese Medicine Skincare :


Skin Trouble Causes & Symptoms Treatment
Dry Skin

Lack and unbalance
of oil and moisture

Purifying blood circulation and supplying fresh blood

Oily Skin Overflowing sebum Cure and removal of fever

Sensitive Skin

Erythema(red spot)
caused by thin skin
layer and small pores

Supply nutrition and blood circulation

Skin pigmentation,
freckles, non-vitality

Extravasated blood,
humidity sputum,

Preventing to rise murky spirit on face by eliminating
humidity, removing blood circulation barrier by supplying qi energy


Weakened vigour and pale face

Supplying qi and fresh blood



Like i’ve said – South Korea dominates this market. Most of them are luxury skincare, but lower-end brands do offer their own Chinese herbal line as well. Chinese Medicine Skincare is a HUGE market in Korea and the South Koreans love their Chinese medicine skincare more than the Chinese themselves! Many brands are now introducing fermentation process with Chinese Medicinal Herbs as they reduce the herbs to small molecules to be easily absorbed into our body. This will be further discussed in the ‘Fermentation Based Skincare’ below.






If you want to try Chinese Medicine based skincare – the most well known and the one that made it famous in South Korea and carved an entire market for Chinese Herbal Medicine is Amore Pacific’s Sulwhasoo. Released in 1997, market watchers
were sceptical about it’s release. It was something that was never tried by other cosmetics brands. Some critics said the Sulwhasoo brand would collapse because there’s prejudice that cosmetics goods should have Western values given that cosmetics products originated from Western countries. Overturning such skepticism, Sulwhasoo broke a long-held perception in Korea that cosmetics products should contain Western values and ingredients to lure customers.



It carved out a WHOLE NEW MARKET and started the entire Chinese Herbal Medicine fever in South Korea which paved ways for other companies like LG, Danahan etc to produce their own line of Skincare. Therefore, Chinese Traditional Medicine Skincare fans have a lot to thank Sulwhasoo for. In 1997, Sulwhasoo raised 12.7 Billion won – and in 2011 – it raised 690 Billion won – a more than 54-fold increase !!!!



Korea’s entire cosmetics market is estimated to be worth 8 trillion won and products using oriental medicine made up 25 percent of the entire cosmetics market in 2010, according to the Korean Cosmetics Association. The success of Sulwhasoo forced rival companies to release copycat versions of Sulwhasoo, industry sources said.



Therefore, the ‘copycat’ mentioned there is LG’s The History Of Whoo. Sulwhasoo basically dominated the Chinese Herbal Skincare market for years, and companies were scraping to emulate Sulwhasoo’s success. LG being Amore’s biggest competition in Korea, launched only in 2003 to grab Sulwhasoo’s dominance on the Korean herbal cosmetics share. Whoo is a modern interpretation of the royal court secrets. It’s logo – – a Chinese character which translates to ‘empress’ in English, it based on beauty secrets and prescription handed down from Ancient China’s Imperial Royal Family.Therefore, the History Of Whoo is a combination of prescriptions from Ancient China and the Korean Technology.


Korean cosmetic brand “The History of Whoo” has become especially popular in China, Japan and Taiwan, while in Vietnam it beat Lancome and Estee Lauder brands to hold 16 percent of the market.


Another few brands based on Chinese Herbal Skincare


Korean Based :


  • Amore Pacific’s Hannule / Hanyul
  • LG’s Sooryehan
  • Somang’s Danahan
  • Saimdang
  • Welcos’s Hyohyeon
  • Enprani’s Goyun Goyoon
  • Coreana’s Herbal Beauty & Zain
  • Coway’s Allvit
  • KT&G’s LLang
  • KGC’s Donginbi 동인비
  • Mass market brands such as Tony Moly, The Saem, Missha, The Face Shop, Nature Republic also has their own chinese medicine skincare brands


Chinese Based :

  • Herborist
  • Herborn
  • Wei Beauty



Japanese Based :

  • Menard
  • Kose’s Sekkisei



2. Fermentation Based Skincare


image image


In western hemisphere, fermentation is used to create quality cognac and wine and in eastern hemisphere, fermentation is used to create quality food. The major reason of fermentation is to preserve natural abilities of every ingredient without using preservatives. Yeast is an excellent source of peptides, proteins, amino acids, carbohydrates and nucleic acids


Fermentation has two remarkable advantages:


  • Fermentation excludes the use of preservatives (preservatives by being strong chemicals can kill good microbes of cosmetic products)
  • Fermentation separates natural ingredients from all the bacteria and enables to create skin care products with no bacteria and with no expiry date
  • Fermentation creates small molecules which absorbs easily into our skin which are beneficial for the skin.


Definition of Fermentation
The word “fermentation” was originated from a Latin word “fervere” which means “boil”, because bubbles may have been observed when alcohol was fermented to produce carbonic acid gas.


What is Fermentation?
Fermentation is the process in which microbes decompose organic compounds with enzymes in them. Organic compounds are the materials that produces energy to our body. In other words, all foods such as grain, vegetable, fruit, and meat are organic compounds.


The Beginner&rsquo-s Guide to Asian Cosmetics Part 2 : An Asian Approach


The Process of Fermentation
Human beings take organic compounds such as ca
rbohydrates, deriving energy from oxidation of organic compounds which turn into carbon dioxide and water. However, microbes do anaerobic respiration, so they cannot fully decompose organic compounds. Instead, they produce different kinds of organic compounds that have less amount of energy. In the process of fermentation, organic compounds are decomposed to produce different kinds of organic compounds and provide small amount of energy to microbes.


The Difference between Fermentation and Decomposition
Fermentation requires ferment bacteria such as enzyme and bacillus. Such bacteria decompose nutritional matters in anaerobic environment to produce other matters which are byproducts as a result of imperfect decomposition.
The microbes decompose organic compounds that lay different characteristics are the two same processes. However, fermentation is different from decomposition. Fermented food has good flavor, edible taste and nutrition, while decomposition cannot be eaten due to bad smell and can cause a food poisoning. Of course, the two processes seem similar, but their differences are as follows:



The Beginner&rsquo-s Guide to Asian Cosmetics Part 2 : An Asian Approach



  • First, the by products are different. The byproduct of decomposing cannot be eaten, while the byproduct of fermentation can be used as food.
  • Second, the processes are different. Putrefactive bacteria and ferment bacteria are different kinds. The activities of putrefactive bacteria produce bad smell due to amine and hydrogen sulfide. In other words, decomposition is the process in which amine and hydrogen sulfide are created by putrefactive bacteria.
    Putrefactive bacteria come to exist without exception when organic compounds are put in natural environment. However, fermentation is generally triggered in specific conditions and environment. For example, Chinese cabbage would spoil with no special treatment, but it does not decay with salt treatment. Salt prevents putrefactive bacteria from activating and helps ferment bacteria be stimulated. When salt-treated cabbage is stored in an appropriate container with the right temperature, ferment bacteria turns it into kimchi.
    As such, specific conditions and environment are the main cause of fermentation . Another example can be found in the case of milk. Milk spoils with disgusting smell in normal temperature due to the activity of putrefactive bacteria. However, milk can be fermented to become cheese when it is placed with specific enzymes in certain conditions. The cheese-making process causes some kind of smell which is different from the smell of amine and hydrogen sulfide.
    Now can you distinguish fermentation from decomposition?


Benefits of Fermentation

The Beginner&rsquo-s Guide to Asian Cosmetics Part 2 : An Asian Approach

Fermented foods are known to be good for health. Korean foods such as kimchi have become famous in the world wide for recent years. They are considered to be synonyms of “well-being foods” because the world is now paying more attention to their health benefits. Many studies have proved that small molecules, the outcomes of fermentation, are beneficial for physiological function of our body. In particular, there are a large number of studies for the benefits of kimchi.


Lactic acid bacteria and lactobacillus, contained in kimchi, stay in intestines of human body, functioning as gatekeepers. It is known that eating well-fermented kimchi is more beneficial than drinking yogurt, in terms of the intake of lactic acid bacteria. A study was found that in the case of a group of mice that were fed with kimchi, the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in heart arteries and liver dropped by 38%. Moreover, ingredients of Kimchi such as radish, garlic and ginger are major anti-cancer food. A recent study also showed that naturally-fermented kimchi is effective in preventing food poisoning bacteria (Salmonella, Staphlococcus, Vibrio, and pathogenic coliform bacillus) from growing.



Cheonggukjang, Korean soup , also represents the health benefits of fermentation, even though it is not widely enjoyed among young generations. Cheonggukjang is made by bacilli that are sticking to beans and straw and the fermentation process only takes 2 to 3 days. This is the shortest period among bean-based fermented foods. When beans are fermented, more than 100 billion digestive enzymes per 100 g of beans are produced to boost digestion and absorption. Moreover, substances are also created during the process. For example, sticky thread- like elements are found in cheonggukjang. These substances contain high molecular nucleic acid (immune booster), anti-oxidants, and proteases (good for thrombolytic treatment). They are also known to have anti-cancer effects. Source : MieV Skincare


The Beginner&rsquo-s Guide to Asian Cosmetics Part 2 : An Asian Approach


The one that launched and made fermentation skincare a household name was none other than Japan’s SK-II. The story of SK-II began at a sake brewery in Japan, where scientists noticed that elderly workers had wrinkled faces, but extraordinarily soft and youthful-looking hands. These hands were in constant contact with the sake fermentation process.


Five years of research, and the careful examination of over 300 types of yeast led to the discovery of Pitera, an ingredient that would become the keystone of the SK-II line, born in the 1980’s. In fact, the signature Facial Treatment Essence is 90% Pitera (more on that in a bit). A by-product of yeast fermentation, Pitera is a blend of vitamins, amino acids, minerals, and organic acids that protects, rejuvenates, and renews the skin. The Facial Treatment Essence is known to Asians as ‘The Holy Water’ or ‘The Miracle Water’.


There have been studies done by Charmzone Cosmetics about the Mechanism of Melanogenesis Inhibition by Melanoston Isolated from Yeast ( read : here ), Inhibitory and Eliminating Effects of Yeast-extracted Melanoston on Pigmentatio
n and Preexisting Pigmentation ( read :
here ).


Another notable South-Korean fermentation brand from South Korea is Su:m37 by LG. Believing in “fermentation cosmetics” as the next growth engine in the industry, LG H&H launched su:m 37, Korea’s first naturally fermented cosmetics brand. As Amore Pacific introduced Chinese medicine skincare to the market, LG aims to create a niche for naturally fermented skincare products.  As is recognized, during fermentation microorganisms double active substances and break down molecular structure of substances to a size that is able to penetrate the skin more deeply and rapidly to boost the skin’s natural defences. Fermentation attracts attention for its powerful ability to break down toxic substances.


The Beginner&rsquo-s Guide to Asian Cosmetics Part 2 : An Asian Approach



In particular, su:m 37 differs from artificially fermented* cosmetics already on the market in that it offers pure, naturally fermented products. About 50 plant species grown organically in Hokkaido, a pristine area of Japan, are naturally fermented at a temperature of 37°C for 1102 days, or “3 years + 7 days.” Su:m 37 is created using a fermentation technique studied for about eight decades by Japan’s Otaka Research Center, renowned for its research in fermentation. In the first step of this process, undiluted solutions of some 50 clean and pure plants are extracted and stored in a Japanese cedar keg in the Research Center for seven days.


The extracted solution is moved to a storage area with a constant temperature of 37°C. It is left to breathe in tune with the melody of a music box while it is fermented dozens of times over three years. The process also produces new substances Zyen and Zyen-γ, which are highly effective at improving the skin. Zyen and Zyen-γ, naturally fermented substances, contain various amino acids, natural organic acids and antioxidants. They do not irritate the skin and stimulate the skin’s metabolism. They help the skin appear healthy and smooth.


LG H&H believes that fermentation technology will be a new growth engine that can reinvigorate a Korean cosmetic market already saturated with Oriental medicine-based cosmetics. Sales has been very encouraging and Su:m37 was a huge success in South Korea.


The Beginner&rsquo-s Guide to Asian Cosmetics Part 2 : An Asian Approach


Amore Pacific then released their fermentation based skincare, Hyosia,  in 2010 after the success of LG’s Su:m37 . Hyosiah is a fermentation skincare brand based of the fermentation of soybeans. In order to discover rare indigenous soybean resources, and systematically restore and research them, AMOREPACIFIC conducted a joint research signing ceremony with The Grace of Nature, an oriental medicine and natural resource research institution.



While domestic indigenous medicinal soybeans have proven their effectiveness and are widely-used in oriental medicine, they have been widely neglected in home. Due to this, AMOREPACIFIC has developed an ‘AMOREPACIFIC indigenous soybean restoration test plantation’ covering around 2,900 square meters at Tanhyeon-myeon area in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, and is planning to cultivate around 10 different types of indigenous soybean.  In particular, it is the company policy to stably secure indigenous soybean raw materials with high effectiveness as well as stability utilizing an organic method of cultivation. Based on this, the company is planning to uncover a new effectiveness of domestic indigenous soybeans for the skin, and to apply its findings to products in stages. This premium-brand is now only at research stage. In the mean time, Amore Pacific has developed Hyosiah to fill in the gap.


AMOREPACIFIC has focused on the skin effects of soybeans since the 1980s, discovering a rare isoflavone called ‘CureBEAN™’ from fermented soybeans through 25 years of research.  A rare isoflavone, CureBEAN™ has a powerful antioxidating function, and is effective at removing toxins from the skin and normalizing the skin’s regeneration mechanism.  Because of this, in August 2010, AMOREPACIFIC released a fermentation science cosmetic product called ‘Hyosiah’ comprising the relevant ingredients.



Japanese Based Fermentation Brands :


  • Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotic Magoroku Skin Care
  • SK-II
  • Ozeki Sake Rice Skin Care
  • KURAHITO Skin White
  • Rice Beauty
  • Hakutsuru Rice Beauty
  • Exhaustive list of brands as fermented sake is a huge thing in Japan


Korean Based Fermentation Brands :

  • LG’s Su:m 37
  • Amore Pacific’s Hyosiah
  • Miev ( 미애부 )
  • Skinfood’s Daal Story ( Skinfood has a few fermentation line )
  • Sooryehan’s Hyo line
  • Saimdang
  • Exhaustive list here too! Exists in almost all brands – high or low end – like The Saem, Missha, etc.


In South Korea, many korean brands are now mixing fermentation with Chinese Medicine herbs to get the best of both world. Unlike Japan’s fermentation skincare which are based purely just on rice sake fermentation, Korean fermentation skincare adds plants, flowers, fruits, and Chinese herbs together.


Some ingredients of herbal medicine are fermented by microbes. Originally, herbs contain rich fibroid material, causing unease in digestion. However, fermentation process helps promote digestion and maximize the effects of ingredients, exceeding the limits of organic solvent extraction.

In the process, herbs are decomposed to have small molecules to be easily absorbed into our bo
dy. Moreover, fermented herb medicine shows effectiveness quickly as superior absorption rate leads to higher usage rate of useful ingredients. They are also rich in physiologically active substances with no adverse reaction. More useful substances are extracted so the amount of ingredients can be saved. Experts note that fermented herb medicine is relatively safe from pesticides and heavy metals.

If you haven’t read Part 1 : The Skincare Obsession , head over here


0 thoughts on “The Beginner’s Guide to Asian Cosmetics Part 2 : An Asian Approach”

  1. excellent write up! bravo and thumbs up to hopeinablog for such extensive research and sharing of knowledge. thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *