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Hot Anti-Aging Ingredients in South Korea: What Ingredients Do Koreans Use in Their Skincare instead of Retinol?

Style Story introduces the hot cosmetic anti-aging ingredients among Korean consumers. ChemLinked compiles the functional cosmetics' compliance requirements.

Although retinol is a hot cosmetic ingredient sweeping the world in recent years, it rarely features amongst the latest K-Beaty Star Ingredients.

Some people may find retinol the Holy Grail of skincare, while it is too harsh or not practical to use for others, particularly for those who spend lots of time in the sun or have weak, damaged skin. 

If not retinol, then what? K-Beauty never lacks a supply of fantastic and effective ingredients in cosmetics, and the go-to anti-aging ingredients are no different. Let’s start with some of the more popular ones: 


Collagen is what keeps us looking young. Plump, young, and firm skin is a result of high levels of collagen.

The rate at which our collagen levels deplete is about 1% every year after the age of twenty-five. As we age, our collagen levels begin to deplete, leading to elasticity loss in the skin.

Applying collagen products is an excellent choice to encourage and stimulate our collagen production. Collagen can pop into your skincare routine as it works to give the skin an instant hit of hydration. Mature skin tends to be on the drier side, and products containing collagen can help moisturize the skin and offer satisfying hydration levels.

Almost all Korean cosmetic enterprises have a collagen line, from the high-end cosmetic brand Sulwhasoo to the niche brand APLB. 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and anti-aging ingredient. It is ideal for getting rid of pigmentation and dark spots, two commonly found conditions in aging skins.

Vitamin C has antioxidant properties that work to repair and renew skin cells, and it also results in glowing skin and a healthier complexion. For this reason, Korean consumers love Vitamin C to stimulate the synthesis of collagen for tighter, firmer skin.


Niacinamide and K-Beauty are a match made in heaven. As a form of Vitamin B3, this ingredient has a host of benefits that include:

  • brightening dull skin;

  • reducing the appearance of fine lines;

  • minimizing wide pores;  

  • calming acne-prone skin.


Peptides are short chains of amino acids that are the building blocks of collagen and elastin fibers in our skin.

Small Science Lesson: There are hundreds of different peptides, but there are two that we want to look out for in our skincare. These are tetrapeptides and hexapeptides.

Both differ in their chemical structure and properties and therefore offer different results. Tetrapeptides boost elasticity and firmness, while hexapeptides offer brightening properties. Both are great, but if you want to target a specific anti-aging issue, it's helpful to know the difference.

Other Lesser-Known Ingredients 


Adenosine naturally occurs in the body as ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) and is the storehouse for energy molecules.

When used in cosmetic products, adenosine can help reduce the appearance of fine lines, stimulate collagen production, and soothe inflammation and damaged skin. That's why the Ministry of Food and Drug  Safety (Korean version of FDA) recognizes it as an anti-aging ingredient.   


Idebenone is a synthesized replica of Coenzyme Q10. Touted for its antioxidant properties, it also reduces the appearance of fine lines.

Cosmetic manufacturers have been drawn to the ingredient because of its power as an antioxidant and free radical fighter. Thus, it's also great for sensitive skin.

While a new player in the world of skincare, idebenone is considered safe to use.


As it leaps out of the world of medicine and into beauty, you'll see more and more of this. One of the most potent antioxidants, Glutathione is a godsend both for our bodies and, now, our skin.

Apart from its ability to fight free radicals and oxidative stress, it has also been praised for its brightening properties and ability to combat pigmentation.


EGF, found naturally in the body, is responsible for cell regeneration. Initially developed for the medical field, it was popularized by South Korean cosmeceutical brands, which claimed that EGF could advance acne healing and promote collagen production.

This remains one of the most popular ingredients you'll find being used in Korea's plastic surgery, hair transplant, and dermatology clinics.


kbeauty-product.jpg(Figure 1. Typical products containing the above-mentioned ingredients, resource: stylestory1)

Ingredient Compliance

South Korea adopts negative lists (list of prohibited ingredients used in cosmetics and list of restricted ingredients used in cosmetics) to regulate the use of cosmetics ingredients in products. As stipulated in Cosmetics Safety Standard2, one of the subordinate statutes of Cosmetic Act3, if an ingredient is not listed in the prohibited ingredients list (Annex 1 of Cosmetic Safety Standard) or used following the limitation requirements of restricted ingredients list (Annex 2 of Cosmetic Safety Standard), it can be added in a cosmetic product. It also applies to imported cosmetics.

However, as “anti-aging” is a claim for functional cosmetics in South Korea, the enterprise needs to apply for a function certificate to MFDS for the product. Nevertheless, for functional cosmetics manufactured following Standards and Testing Methods of Functional Cosmetics4 with the approved ingredients for functional cosmetics, some document review can be exempted.

The dossiers for the function certificate application involve:

1. Data concerning the origin and explanations on development;


2. Data concerning safety:

(a) Data of single-dose toxicity tests;

(b) Data of primary skin irritation tests;

(c) Data of eye mucous membrane irritation or other mucous membrane irritation tests;

(d) Data of skin sensitization tests;

(e) Data of phototoxicity and photosensitization tests;

(f) Data of human insult patch tests;


3. Data concerning efficacy:

(a) Data of effects tests;

(b) Data of human trials;


4. Evidential data for establishing ultraviolet ray-protection factor and the protection grade of ultraviolet A (limited to sunblock cosmetics);


5. Data concerning standards and testing methods (including clinical specimens).

functional cosmetic claim.jpg

(Figure 2. Logo of Functional Cosmetic)

The word "functional cosmetic (기능성화장품)" or a functional cosmetic logo can be labeled on a qualified functional cosmetic.

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