Why Ampoules Are the K-Beauty Step You Should Add to Your Routine
Why ultra-potent serums are becoming the heroes of the Korean beauty world.
In case you missed it, "skip care" is the new Korean skin-care trend that's all about simplifying with multitasking products. But there's one step in the traditional, time-consuming 10-step routine that experts say is worth keeping: step #4, aka ampoules.
What is an ampoule, you may be wondering? Well, these potent serums are the darlings of the K-beauty world. Each vial uses only a few main ingredients, which means they allow for plenty of experimentation-and a promise of perfect skin. Ahead, we found out everything you need to know about using ampoules, including how to find the right one for you.
The Benefits of Ampoules
First and foremost, are ampoules really worth the hype? Mostly yes, says Y. Claire Chang, M.D., a cosmetic dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York who travels to Seoul on a monthly basis to understand Korean skin-care trends.
What makes them different from plain old serums? Well, ampoules (from reputable brands-more on that below) have higher doses of active ingredients and far fewer of them. Having a few ingredients in potent quantities can make it easier for people to address specific concerns, making their skin care more customized without overapplying additional, less-effective products, she explains.
In general, ampoules may have one or two ingredients to help with a specific skin concern and often are potent enough that they are only intended for short-term use, explains Dr. Chang. Most of the time, ampoules "have specific benefits for the skin, such as improving fine lines, brown spots, dry skin, a dull complexion or anti-aging effects," she says. Applying an ampoule a few days after a long flight, for instance, can give dehydrated skin a super-charged dose of moisture. (Related: 23 Travel-Sized Beauty Products That Won't Get Thrown Out by TSA)
Decades ago, ampoules were "a packaging concept borrowed from the medical industry where small sealed vials made of glass have been used to preserve and deliver a specific dosage of a medication," adds cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos. These days, the packaging helps ingredients stay active without exposure to light, heat, or air, which can render them inactive, she adds.
How to Shop for an Ampoule
Educate yourself before splurging (though many of the Korean-based ampoules cost $30 or less). Since there's no minimum of the necessary active ingredient that constitutes an ampoule, consumers need to do their homework and understand whether the product is really stronger than a typical serum or essence or simply a marketing strategy, says Dobos. Read the ingredient label and reviews to make sure it's legit.
Another key detail to know when choosing an ampoule? Not all ingredients work well in super-high doses. Dr. Chang recommends K-beauty faves such as green tea, licorice root, red ginseng, snail mucin, and the medicinal plant Centella asiatica because the natural ingredients are beneficial in higher concentrations. Others, including vitamin C, are unlikely to absorb into skin beyond 20 percent concentrations, she adds. (So you're better off sticking with these vitamin C skin-care products.)
"A few broad categories of valuable ingredients to look for include hydrating factors, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory ingredients, and anti-aging ingredients," adds Dr. Chang. (Related: The 11 Best Anti-Aging Serums, According to Dermatologists)
How to Integrate Ampoules Into Your Skin-Care Routine
Ampoules aren't new: U.S. companies have long offered ampoules that focus on anti-aging and often contain synthetic ingredients such as ceramides and retinol and are marketed only to aging skin, says Dr. Chang. But in Korea these days, much of the focus is on botanical or hard-to-find ingredients, she adds.
Korean or not, when it comes to ampoules, don't overdo it by using daily, advises Dr. Chang. Instead, plan to use an ampoule two to three times a week after cleansing and toning, when the skin is best adjusted to absorb the active ingredients, says Dr. Chang. "I recommend applying serums and moisturizers after using the ampoules so that the higher concentrations of active ingredients are absorbed first."
Best Ampoules to Try
- Repair acne-prone skin with Mizon's Snail Repair Intensive Repair Ampoule. With continuous use, the snail mucin also helps reduce the appearance of acne scars. ($18, walmart.com)
- Mádara Cosmetics's Antioxidant Booster uses antioxidants to combat UV exposure and target dullness and uneven skin tone. ($38, madaracosmetics.com)
- CosRX Propolis Light Ampoule combines propolis extract, a gooey substance collected from bees, with brightening niacinamide to provide intense hydration without causing breakouts. ($28, dermstore.com)
- Organic K-beauty brand Yuri Pibu's Amaid Ampoule uses fermented galactomytes extracted from sake yeast to brighten the skin. ($38, glowrecipe.com)
- The Plant Base's Time Stop Collagen Ampoule uses a heavy dose of mushroom extract to increase collagen production. ($29, sokoglam.com)
- With fermented lactic acid, Missha's Time Revolution Night Repair Science Activator Ampoule improves skin texture while you sleep. ($18, target.com)
- German skincare guru Barbara Strum offers potent hyaluronic acid ampoules to keep skin looking refreshed. ($215, barneys.com)
- Elizabeth Arden's Retinol Ceramide Capsules Line Erasing Night Serum uses individual ampoules to help keep the active ingredients (including anti-aging powerhouse, retinol) protected against heat and air. ($48, macys.com)