Beauty Trends

Sulwhasoo Reformulates Its First Care Activating Serum | Review

If you caught the episode of Allure‘s The Science of Beauty podcast (shameless plug very-much intentional) all about layering, you already know that the multistep regimens that have become synonymous with K-beauty (we’re talking 10, 12, and even 17 steps) have turned the way we apply serum, moisturizer, and oil into an art form. 

And if you’ll allow us to continue the art metaphor, using Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum is akin to priming your canvas. It’s called a serum because it’s packed with actives that hydrate and brighten (more on that in a minute), but it also functions like an essence in that it helps the products you use afterwards absorb more thoroughly. (Like essence, it’s meant to be applied immediately after cleansing.)

The serum is a star among stars when it comes to K-beauty products: Today, one bottle is sold every 10 seconds in Korea. In fact, since its launch in 1997, more than 35 million bottles have been sold worldwide. (Another major coup: It’s also been featured in Allure‘s own Beauty Box.) That said, it’d be easy for the brand’s research and development team to pat themselves on the back and call it a day — but instead, they’ve taken pains to continue to improve the best seller, updating the formula as new technology becomes available.

The decision to create a fifth iteration of the beloved serum (which just launched on was prompted by new data mining methods that allowed researchers to pull insight from 3,912 formulas and 1,041 ingredients found in ancient Asian literature, according to the brand. Thanks to these findings, researchers realized updating the ratios of the active ingredients in their proprietary blend of herbs would amp up performance even further. 

That blend includes lotus, white lily, and Solomon’s seal (a type of flowering plant), which cosmetic chemist Ginger King says help with moisturization, soothing, and brightening, respectively. Sulwhasoo’s researchers also utilized new extraction methods so those ingredients are more potent than ever. 

Courtesy of writer

After getting my hands on an early sample, I’m pleased to report this version has the same herbal smell and golden color the original is known for, but — as promised — delivers even more impressive results. After incorporating it into my existing skin-care routine for about a month, my skin felt significantly more supple. 

I also noticed that the products I applied afterwards each morning — a vitamin C serum, hyaluronic acid serum, and mineral SPF — weren’t as prone to pilling (as in, balling up on my face), likely because they were absorbing more fully. Here’s to one of the best getting even better.

Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum is available now for $89 on

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