One consistent truth in skincare is that your mileage may vary based on your needs and skin type. But for many, that still leaves them with the question of where to start. Two common starting points are Western and Asian skincare, where Asian refers primarily to Korean and Japanese products, and Western primarily to American and French. While there is no clear “winner” since skin requires a highly-personalized touch, there are many differences between the two prevailing approaches. There are also many skincare enthusiasts who utilize both types of products in their routines, depending on their needs.
The differences between Western and Asian skincare products are rooted in their philosophical differences rather than their ingredient lists. Many in the Asian skincare community believe in proactive skincare, where reduced blemishes and aging is a byproduct of good overall skin health. Many in the Western community are more reactive and focus on targeted skin issues when they arise.
Based on this underlying difference in philosophy, Asian skincare products tend to be milder and with a heavy emphasis on hydration. The goal is to nourish the skin over time and let it handle concerns on its own. Western skincare, on the other hand, tends to rely on strong and even prescription-grade actives that address concerns quickly when they are already visible.
Since Korean and Western skincare products are developed with different goals and intentions in mind, marketing tends to be quite different for the two. Korean brands tend to spend extensive amounts of time educating consumers on ingredients and how to combine various actives. Western brands, on the other hand, focus on before/after comparisons and fast results for specific concerns. In addition to marketing differences, Asian Beauty products tend to be more affordable than Western counterparts. This is especially true when products are imported and exported.
Another striking difference specifically between American and Asian skincare (and to some extent European skincare) is ingredient innovation. Korean brands place a high value on bringing innovative products to the market to stand out in a very competitive landscape. They build out this differentiation with new actives, packaging and themes, for example formulations based on a new botanical family, or sparkly masks that make consumers feel glamorous during and after skincare. Both European and Asian skincare brands also have more regulatory freedom when it comes to sunscreen actives, allowing them to produce more potent and varied sunscreen products than US counterparts. Furthermore, Asian (and increasingly European) brands have traditionally emphasized sunscreen products that provide UVA protection in addition to the baseline UVB. While this differentiation has softened in recent years, it remains a strong cultural difference between brands hailing from these regions.
While Asian and Western skincare continue to follow different philosophical principles, many people combine the two and their relative strengths. For newcomers to skincare, they should try products from both communities and listen to their skin to determine which products, and not necessarily the type of skincare, work best for their skin. Fortunately, Asian products are becoming more common in Western countries and vice versa, giving consumers the best of both worlds close to home.