I’ve always been obsessed with Korean skincare products and trends, so when K-Beauty brand Sulwhasoo invited me to Seoul back in June for a sneak-peak at their newest launch, to say I was thrilled was an understatement. I spent four days with Sulwhasoo in their home city learning about the newly reformulated First Care Activating Serum VI, along with the one key ingredient in the serum that makes it so effective: ginseng.
Ginseng may be an under-the-radar ingredient in the US, but it’s super popular in South Korea and used in a ton of skincare products, from face serums and essences to overnight sleeping masks and more. Keep reading for everything you need to know about ginseng and the new Sulwhasoo serum that harnesses the power of star ingredient.
What is ginseng?
Ginseng is a traditional Korean herb that kinda looks like a white carrot IMO. It grows as a root and has been used for thousands of years in Korean culture. It’s commonly found in teas, soups, herbal remedies, and of course, skincare products. When used in topical skincare products—like essences, face serums, and face moisturizers—ginseng’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging properties shine. Think of it as a “superfood” for your skin, similar to other popular ingredients like green tea, kale, or mushroom extract.
What does ginseng do for skin?
While on my trip to Seoul, I visited the Amorepacific labs (the parent company of Sulwhasoo that also owns popular K-beauty brands like Laneige and Innisfree) where I learned that ginseng does a whole freaking lot for the skin. Ginseng is packed with antioxidants, so it can help protect skin from free radical damage (from exposure to things like pollution and UV rays) that leads to signs of aging, like dark spots and wrinkles. Ginseng is especially great when paired with sunscreen, since the antioxidants in ginseng help bolster the efficacy of SPF (similar to the way vitamin C does).
Ginseng is also able to increase skin hydration, improve skin barrier function, increase circulation in the skin, minimize the look of dark spots and dull, uneven skin tone, and even help smooth fine lines and crepey skin texture. Basically, it’s the all-natural multitasker your skin needs if you want a dewy glow.
Is ginseng good for anti-aging?
Yes, ginseng is a good for anti-aging thanks to it’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and collagen-boosting properties. In fact, ginseng is recognized by the Korean FDA for its anti-aging properties.
That said, it shouldn’t replace tried-and-true anti-aging ingredients like retinol or peptides in your routine. IMO, ginseng is a great “supporting cast” ingredient. It’s great on its own, but when you combine it with other actives, it’s even more effective at smoothing and plumping skin.
Which ginseng products should you use?
Sure, I may be a bit biased, but Sulwhasoo’s new First Care Activating Serum VI is a must-try if you’re interested in adding ginseng to your skincare routine. The ginseng used in the serum (and all Sulwhasoo products, FWIW) is grown on farms in Korea and then harvested four years after it’s planted, when the root is at its peak freshness. It’s then dried and chopped up and put through multiple processes where the valuable components for skincare are extracted. It takes six to seven ginseng roots to make one bottle of the First Care Activating Serum, so the formula is super-concentrated for maximum efficacy.
It’s also worth noting that Sulwhasoo’s First Care Activating Serum VI is more of an essence—so you’d use it as a first-step after cleansing and toning and before your other serums and moisturizers to hydrate and prep your skin for whatever you put on top. I love how the texture is incredibly lightweight and fast-absorbing (once you apply it it legit soaks into skin in seconds with zero greasy residue). I’ve been using it the morning under Alastin’s Brightening Serum and my prescription cream from Curology at night and have been loving the results.
Are there any downsides to using ginseng?
In general, there are no downsides to using ginseng in your skincare routine. Unlike retinoids, vitamin C, or AHAs and BHAs that have potentially irritating side effects, ginseng is super gentle and generally well-tolerated by all skin types, including sensitive skin.
Overall, ginseng is an ingredient that’s absolutely worth adding to your skincare routine. It can help improve your skin tone and texture and address a multitude of skin issues, including dryness, discoloration, and fine lines. And unlike many other skincare ingredients, ginseng can be safely used by pretty much anyone, no matter their skin type or tone. So go ahead and try it in Sulwhasoo’s reformulated First Care Activating Serum VI, or one of the top-rated K-Beauty products below.
Why trust Cosmopolitan?
Lauren Balsamo is the deputy beauty director at Cosmopolitan with a decade of experience researching, writing, and editing skincare and aesthetics stories that range from the best sunscreens for sensitive skin to the best lasers for acne scars. She regularly works with the industry’s top dermatologists and aestheticians to assess new skincare treatments, products, ingredients, and trends.
Deputy Beauty Director
Lauren Balsamo is deputy beauty director at Cosmopolitan, where she writes, edits, and produces all types of beauty content—from product reviews to personal essays and trend reports. She has covered beauty for nine years at Cosmopolitan and has contributed to Women’s Health and Seventeen magazines as well. Follow her on Instagram.