By now, we’re all familiar with the renowned and much-admired 10-step Korean skincare regimen. After extensive research, obsessing, and testing, we consider ourselves experts when it comes to serums, essences, and rubber masks (because sheet masks are so 2014) and can contort and massage our faces with the best of our poreless counterparts overseas. And yet our quest for skin worthy of a K-drama star still continues to fall short, with dryness and dullness remaining daily struggles. Cue the dramatic, heart-heavy K-drama actress sigh.
Enter ampoules, the (literally) little skincare secret every Korean woman swears by. More potent than serums and with powerful hydration abilities, ampoules can be used throughout your current skincare regimen to make a huge impact on how your skin looks and feels. Still relatively under the radar in the U.S. market, ampoules are an important part of the typical Korean skincare routine—and luckily, our Korean beauty correspondent, Alicia Yoon, happens to be quite the expert on the matter. Keep scrolling to find out what ampoules are and how they can transform your skin!
Yoon, who goes back to Korea often to interview experts on the latest and greatest for her Korean beauty e-tailer, Peach and Lily, is a huge fan of ampoules herself and was excited when we brought her our query: What exactly are ampoules, and how can they help our skin? Turns out the answer can be a bit complicated, so she went straight to the source and asked various Korean beauty brands and their product development teams.
“Most brands said that they will label a product an ampoule if there’s a super-high concentration of a specific active ingredient that will help restore, correct, or regenerate the skin,” she explains. “When asked how high is considered ‘high’ when it comes to concentration, they said that though it depends on the ingredient, it’s not uncommon to see 50% or more concentration of the star ingredient.”
Because of this high concentration, Yoon says ampoules usually come in smaller packages—a little goes a long way, and sometimes a drop or two is all it takes for you to see results. As for how they feel, ampoules are light and slippery, which makes them easily absorbed by the skin.
Now wait, you may be thinking. These sound an awful lot like serums. What’s the difference? You’re not wrong, young beauty grasshoppers. Other than the concentration of the ingredient, ampoules are very similar to serums—just more potent. Yoon notes that sometimes brands may use the two words interchangeably, but for the most part, ampoules contain more concentrated active ingredients.
Another thing that sets ampoules apart from serums is how you use them—or, rather, how many ways you can use them. Instead of just adding them to your current skincare routine, Yoon says, you can use ampoules in some other unexpected ways, too—such as sheet mask sandwiching.
“Apply a sheet mask, and when it’s still damp and not totally dry, lift it up, pat an ampoule into your skin, and place the sheet mask back over your face,” Yoon says. “I love the extreme hydration and nourishment I get from doing this—it’s perfect after long-haul flights and super-late nights!”
Another way to use ampoules? Massage your face with them. “Because ampoules are a bit more slippery, they make facial massages so silky smooth without any tugging or harsh pulling,” Yoon says. (We’ve got a visual guide on how to do a facial massage for you.) And finally, on days when your skin is looking particularly dull and you need a quick fix, Yoon says to do as Korean women do and layer on the triple threat of an essence, ampoule, and serum. “This might seem like overkill, but every time my skin is a bit dull or dehydrated, this is a super-quick fix,” she says.
Now that we’ve unveiled the secret power of ampoules, we couldn’t let Yoon go without asking her to share her favorites. She named It’s Skin Power 10 Formula Propolis ($9), which “is really affordable and gives major boosts of hydration and radiance.” (Another affordable option? Nature Republic’s Rose Ampoule, $11, which we’ve added to our current skincare lineup for a hydration boost.)
And lest you think ampoules are strictly a Korean import, Yoon says German brand Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Hyaluronic Acid Ampoules ($215) are a worthy—albeit pricey—pick. “It includes hyaluronic acid and a powerful antioxidant called purslane,” she says. “You use the seven vials for seven days for results in just a week!”
Have you ever tried an ampoule? What are some of your favorite brands? Tell us below!
This story was originally published on September 14, 2015.