Hubert Burda Media

Sulwhasoo on secrets to healthy skin

Thanks to an immersive afternoon with Sulwhasoo, we dish out the secrets to healthy skin.

You must know the First Care Activating Serum EX. First launched in 1997, it is credited for turning Sulwhasoo into the first beauty brand to surpass W1 trillion ($1.25 billion) in revenue in 2015. The first step in the Sulwhasoo skincare ritual, it combines modern science with traditional Korean herbal medicine to moisturise and nourish skin, as well as boost the absorption and efficacy of treatment products that follow.

Given its pedigree, you’d wonder how the brand would mark the serum’s 20th anniversary. But save for a new limited-edition bottle design that’s positively resplendent with a plum blossom pattern by artist Park Yongcheol, the serum remains drop for drop the same. In any case, the serum was last upgraded only in 2015, with an extraction process that supposedly enhances its active ingredients.

So confident in the efficacy of its serum, Sulwhawoo doubled down its efforts (literally) by pushing out a First Care Activating Mask that’s infused with the same active ingredients. Each sheet is made from ultra-soft cotton and designed to hold one-third a bottle of the First Care Activating Serum EX. But really, what makes this serum so loved and efficacious? Here’s the breakdown.



The Donguibogam — a book on Korean traditional medicine compiled by a royal physician from the Joseon Dynasty — tells of the seven-year cycle that the female body, her skin included, undergoes. A woman’s well-being lies in her store of yin energy, it advocates, and yin deficiency can lead to dryness, which accelerates ageing. “Once the moisture replenishing mechanism of the skin becomes damaged, ageing occurs. Other problems follow as moisture plays very diverse roles. Not only does moisture lead to firmer, more resilient and lustrous skin, it also helps maintain skin’s natural barrier against external stimuli,” explains Choi Sowoong, a senior researcher at Sulwhasoo.


Sulwhasoo’s philosophy is about harmony and balance, and this is best encapsulated by the First Care Activating Serum EX. It features the brand’s signature JAUM Balancing Complex, which is derived from five ingredients, including peony, lotus, Solomon’s seal, white lily and rehmannia, to nourish, energise, clarify, strengthen and renew your complexion. While the campaign calls upon women to “find your balance”, the message is not fixated solely on one’s visage. “What we mean is the harmony and balance between inside and outside. That is the type of beauty we envision,” explains Chun Joohyun, who leads Sulwhasoo’s marketing communications team.


The average person tends to focus on one superficial problem at a time — acne or especially dehydrated skin. What she doesn’t realise is that skin woes result from the disruption in balance. This is why restoring balance to the skin is imperative. “If you have balanced skin, it’ll be able to recover from short-term setbacks, whereas if your balance is shattered, you are caught in a vicious cycle during which bad leads to worse and so forth,” says Choi. It’s no coincidence that the serum’s name in Korean, “Yun Jo”, means “to replenish yin”.


As the very first step of skincare, the First Care Activating Serum EX addresses dehydrated skin, which is the root cause of skin problems. While the serum has helped transform the beauty ritual of countless women over the last two decades, it insists that there are no instant results: Only those who diligently use it daily will be rewarded. “Whereas other products may claim to offer dramatic change overnight, ours works slowly but surely. With consistent use, customers reach a point where they can clearly feel that their skin has improved for the better. That is a crucial point of this product,” says Choi.


“Some men may not go so far as to use eye or facial creams, but I hear many use the serum. And that’s because they’ve seen and experienced how it enhances the efficacy of the subsequent products that they apply — this is the case whether you are male or female,” notes Chun. “But I know that [the mask] is a product that men will search out to use.”


While the Sulwhasoo research team is too modest to assert immediate results for its serum, its new First Care Activating Mask sheet comes close to delivering instant radiance. It is not just infused with an extra dose of the same JAUM Balancing Complex, but each mask is a specially developed micro net structure made from 100 percent natural cotton fuzz to encourage absorption of ingredients, hence enabling them to penetrate the deeper layers of the skin. Its intensity is akin to that of covering the face with a warm cloth during a spa treatment. It absorbs quickly, with no sticky after-feel, and the skin-tone hue means you can pull one on during a flight without having to worry about scaring other passengers. Simply use twice a week on top of the serum for best results.