Stating the obvious here, but Korean cosmetic companies are at the absolute forefront of skin care development. And since they’re so highly specialized, Korean products are especially effective for treating chronic or otherwise stubborn skin conditions. Case in point: The best Korean moisturizers for dry skin are formulated not only to replenish dry, dull skin immediately, but to repair your skin’s moisture barrier — the root cause of dry skin — which ensures that your skin stays properly hydrated over time, as well.
Your skin’s moisture barrier is fairly self-explanatory: It helps your skin retain moisture and essential nutrients, and protects your skin from environmental aggressors that can cause or exacerbate dryness, flakiness, itchiness, and irritation. The best Korean moisturizers contain both natural and science-backed ingredients that work to actively rebuild that barrier, like ceramides, probiotics, proteins, and hyaluronic acid. But they often contain other cool ingredients, too — think hydrolyzed collagen, snail mucin, niacinamide, and propolis — which provide additional skin care benefits.
To find the best of the best Korean moisturizers for dry skin, I scoured the most obsessive corners of the internet — and, in the process, became an obsessive myself. Herewith, the eight moisturizers that made the cut (plus a science lesson or two).
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1. The Ultra Gentle One
ATOPALM was first developed by a doctor to heal his infant son’s dermatitis, which should tip you off to just how gentle their products are. But this Intensive Moisturizing Cream is one of their most popular offerings. In here, the brand’s patented MLE technology works to mimic your skin’s natural lipids, which tend to be depleted in dry, dehydrated, or damaged skin, and helps restore your moisture barrier. It’s also hypoallergenic and free of common irritants, like parabens and other synthetic preservatives; and although it contains a small amount of fragrance, Amazon reviewers with extremely sensitive skin (including conditions like rosacea, and those recovering from dermatological procedures) haven’t experienced any irritation. One reviewer said this even healed their cystic acne, thanks to its barrier-repairing and anti-inflammatory abilities.
2. The “Juicy” One
First, the bad news: Topically applied collagen probably can’t do much to affect your actual collagen production, since the molecules are too big to penetrate your skin deeply enough for that. The good news: Collagen is an ace moisturizer — and, as you know, well-moisturized skin looks plumper and feels firmer to the touch. With those caveats in mind, reviewers are obsessed with this Etude House cream. It lists hydrolyzed collagen as its first ingredient, which promises to keep your skin hydrated for 100 hours; and both the feel and effects are, for lack of a less-gross word, juicy. You only need to massage a tiny bit into your skin — otherwise, the rich, jelly-like consistency will kind of just sit there and make you feel greasy.
3. The One For Dehydrated Skin
Just to throw a wrench in things, it’s very possible that your skin isn’t dry, but dehydrated. In both cases, skin can feel tight and look sallow; but where dryness is a skin type, dehydration is a skin condition. And where the former lacks oil, the latter lacks water — so emollients and occlusives, which exist in most moisturizers, won’t do quite enough to help you out. What you need is a humectant, like hyaluronic acid, which attracts and retains moisture at a cellular level. (I think of the cells as swelling water balloons.) This COSRX cream is loaded with the stuff, along with other moisture-retaining ingredients like sea buckthorn and panthenol. The consistency is pretty thick and juicy, like the Etude House moisturizer, but it’s not at all oily — also brilliant for dehydrated skin, which can be oily enough on its own. You can apply a thin layer as a cream, or a little more as a sleeping mask.
4. The Multitasking One
Depending on how much you apply, where you apply it, and what your skin needs today, this Too Cool For School cream can work as a serum, hydrating primer, eye cream, neck cream, face mask, or your regular moisturizer (and probably as a foot and hand cream, too, because why not). That’s because the ingredients in here target virtually every skin concern: Egg yolk extract nourishes, adenosine smooths, niacinamide brightens, centella asiatica reduces inflammation, ceramides help repair your moisture barrier, and soluble collagen does all the things you already know collagen does, to name just a few. It’s suitable for all skin types, but people with dry skin are particularly vocal about how good of a job it does at replenishing moisture.
5. The One With Probiotics
Probiotics, like those found in this NEOGEN cream, feed your skin’s microbiome with the healthy bacteria it needs to retain moisture and stave off inflammation and irritation (which dry skin types frequently experience). This Redditor favorite contains tons more strengthening and nourishing ingredients as well, like royal jelly extract, hydrolyzed collagen, panthenol, a blend of proteins, and propolis — another do-it-all ingredient that’s popular in Korean skin care. The “yogurt-like” consistency feels cooling and lighter weight than other creams on this list, so it’s an especially good choice if your skin type is on the combination side.
6. The One With Snail Mucin
Snail mucin may seem gimmicky, intimidating, kind of gross, or all of the above, but there’s a reason why it’s snuck into so many high-performing Korean skin care products over the past few years: Snail slime is a veritable treasure trove of good-for-skin ingredients, like hyaluronic acid, glycolic acid, and zinc, which all work to hydrate, smooth, and soothe your skin, and promote a more even-looking complexion.
In particular, a huge amount of Redditors and Amazon-ites count this Mizon Snail Repair Cream as a holy grail for treating dryness, flakiness, dullness, and hyperpigmentation. If your skin is very dry, though, this lightweight cream may actually not be moisturizing enough on its own. In that case, you can follow it up with a richer occlusive.
7. The Tatcha Alternative
Like the cult-favorite Tatcha Water Cream, this belif cream uses “water-burst technology” to deliver a flood of hydrating ingredients when it comes into contact with your skin. But this costs $38 to Tatcha’s $68; and the formula is even richer, so it might be even more effective for treating severely dry or flaky skin. Hot tip: Keep it in the fridge for an even more refreshing sensation.
8. The Dr. Jart+ Alternative
One more cult-favorite alternative to another cult favorite: This Holika Holika cream, a worthy replacement for Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Cream. Both are formulated with ceramides, which help your skin feel smooth, bouncy, and properly hydrated over the long term. You’ll recognize some of the formula’s other key ingredients as equally beneficial for dry skin — like aloe, niacinamide, allantoin, and hyaluronic acid. And at about $17 on Amazon, this jar costs a fraction of the price as the Dr. Jart+ cream, which costs upwards of $45.