First things first: Why Sulwhasoo's star serum continues to thrive after 20 years

First things first: Why Sulwhasoo's star serum continues to thrive after 20 years

Find your balance

Text: Renée Batchelor

Buro heads to Korea to discover why Sulwhasoo's First Care Activating Serum remains the product you want to invest in

There's a lot to be said about skincare and the miracle results that women expect out of them. But we all know that while it's a key preventive measure, good skincare does not work overnight. One of the best things about Sulwhasoo is that this luxury skincare brand does not believe in the quick fix solution and the empty promises route, but in achieving balance and harmony in your life and in your skin. After all, we're talking about a brand that has thousands of years of traditional Korean skin wisdom and that undertakes intensive research before it releases a new version of a product. It's star First Care Activating Serum (FCAS) has been around for 20 years and through five incarnations it remains a firm crowd favourite for its long-term benefits in restoring skin balance. Says Chun Joo-Hyun the team leader of Sulwhasoo's marketing communications team, "It's an innovative product that transforms a woman's beauty ritual. This is why it has appealed to consumers. The efficacy of the product is in the JAUM Balancing Complex that balances the five concepts that are crucial to your skin: Regeneration, vitality, nutrition, resilience and clarity."

That said, the brand believes that achieving balanced skin is a long-term process that takes time and investment. Quips Chun, who herself boasts a pristine complexion, "If you want instant efficacy, you probably need to see a dermatologist or plastic surgeon, but in the long-term this will help your skin and your inner beauty as well." Echoing the sentiments of Chun is Choi Sowoong, a senior researcher with Sulwhasoo who also sat in for our session."Where some products claim to offer dramatic change, our product works slowly but surely. That's another crucial point." But in a world where everyone is demanding faster, quicker and better versions of things where does that leave a rich, hydrating and boosting serum based on a blend of five key ingredients: Peony, sacred lotus, Solomon's seal, white lily and regmannia? Well the first thing you need to know about the FCAS is that it was a game-changer way ahead of it's time. It introduced the concept of the booster serum way back in 1997 when many women were still doing a basic cleanse-tone-moisturise regimen. Explains Chun, "When it was released in 1997, it was the first product of it's kind — a category opener. As a boosting serum it was meant to be used in your daily ritual to enhance the absorption and efficacy of the products you would use subsequently." Choi adds that many other brands have tried to recapture the formula of the serum and that after five renovations, the brand would have to put in a lot of research and testing before renewing it for the sixth time. He said, "You should ask how the rest of the market is trying to emulate this serum? It was a category inventor. The formula is not renewed every year, and the texture and user experience will remain the same as that is our heritage."

First Care Activating Serum Limited Edition

In order to renew the product in a novel way without doing a reformulation per se, the brand decided to create a FCAS Mask in response to the demand for a product that contained the benefts of JAUM but worked even quicker. Made from a unique micro net that is almost invisible when worn on the face, each piece is saturated with the latest FCAS formula (improved in 2015), that has been tweaked slightly to accomodate the new form of introduction into the skin. Designed to be used twice a week, the mask is safe to be used in a variety of ways: As a standalone treatment at night, or layered over your FCAS serum for even more obvious benefits. Speaking of benefits, according to Chun, the results you will see is not limited to just the surface improvements which you will get from a lot of other sheet masks. "It immediately addresses radiance and lustre, but this is not just a temporary source of moisture." How the FCAS is different is that is geared towards improving the yin deficiency in the skin — a Korean concept that roughly translates to a worsening dryness of the skin that leads to ageing. The JAUM Balancing Complex's impressive herbal blend is designed to counteract the loss of yin. Says Choi, "In Korean the name of this product roughly translates to 'to replenish yin'. Once the skin's moisture replenishment mechanism is damaged, it will lead to ageing of the skin and the problems that follow. Moisture plays a diverse role in skin — it leads to lustre, firmness and resilience and helps maintain the skin as a structure so that is has a barrier against external stimuli." Again, it's the long-term approach to healthy skin.
First Care Activating Serum Mask
In order to refresh the product for its milestone anniversary, Sulwhasoo will be introducing a jumbo version of the FCAS decked out in the brand's signature plum blossom pattern — a traditional Korean motif — and dipped in gold. The weighty and luxurious new packaging will be available for a limited time and will offer fans of the original white and orange skincare treat something even more gilded to hold on to. That said, while pretty packaging is always welcome, it's the precious serum inside — thick without being heavy, scented naturally by its herbal ingredients yet miraculously light on the skin — that remains the true winner for the brand.

The mask retails at $72 for 5 pieces and the limited edition serum retails for $195 for 120ml. Available from May at Sulwhasoo stores and counters