You Thought Korean Skin Care Was Intense? Try Korean Hair Care
Yes, hair essence is a thing.
For most of us in the Western world, we turn to products like dry shampoo to disguise our oily scalps, hairspray to add volume, and shine serums to tame frazzled ends. But all of it is simply a Band-Aid for the underlying damage—they don’t actually fix the problem, only mask them.
Comparatively, people living in Korea understand that to achieve hair that appears healthy, you must have healthy hair—this is possible through many nourishing products that reintroduce hydrating to damaged hair, and clarifying products that rid the scalp of buildup. In the same way that the 10- or 12-step Korean skin-care routine forever rocked our perceptions of adequate beauty maintenance (and introduced us to products like essences and snail slime), Korean hair care strives to achieve healthy hair, period, not just healthy-looking hair. It’s possible through the right nourishing and clarifying products to reintroduce hydration to damaged hair and rid the scalp of buildup.
In fact, Charlotte Cho, co-founder of Soko Glam and Then I Met You, reveals, “Koreans are very careful about first impressions and their appearance, paying meticulous attention [to] their skin health and their scalp health. The consensus amongst Koreans is that the health and care of your scalp is just as important as skin, as a well-cared scalp improves the appearance of your hair, making it look shiny and feel soft.”
The same way we can perform a 10-step routine to achieve soft, dewy skin, we can do so with our hair and scalp, too, so long as we use the proper hair-care products and techniques. Here is a better look at the steps of K-beauty hair care.
Step 1: Cleansing
Cleansing the hair with shampoo is a pretty universal practice–most people around the world shampoo a few times a week to get rid of the excess dirt and buildup on their heads. However, in Korean hair care, a more thorough cleansing experience is preferred to nourish the scalp and lay the foundation for a healthy head of hair. In fact, a popular at-home treatment for scalp care involves (surprisingly) sparkling water. Cho states, “Koreans have used an interesting technique involving carbonated water to help with gentle scalp exfoliation and to help purify the scalp. Naturally sparkling water on the scalp can help remove dead skin cells.”
Does this mean Korean hair salon owners have gallons of La Croix in their back rooms for clients? Not necessarily. In a professional setting, many Korean hair salons offer a different treatment called scalp scaling. This is an exfoliating salon treatment done in Korea that, according to Cho, “[helps remove] any debris or excess oil that is causing breakage, dry, brittle hair, and/or stunted growth.” Since it uses chemical and physical exfoliants to rid the scalp of grime, it is a far gentler (and just as effective) alternative to SLS-containing clarifying shampoos.
If your salon does not offer scalp scaling just yet, there’s no need to worry—there are plenty of products to help your scalp remain healthy. Cho suggests looking for ingredients like “salicylic acid and zinc pyrithione [to help] exfoliate the scalp and prevent dandruff and hair loss, alleviate seborrheic dermatitis, and improve general scalp health. This results in hair growth and even helps to prevent future hair loss while leaving hair soft and silky—thanks to panthenol, a derivative of vitamin B5.”
AMH Add More Hair Shampoo
This shampoo is a Korean celebrity favorite for a reason: It has powerful cleansing agents like salicylic acid and zinc pyrithione to rid the scalp of any excess oil and buildup, while panthenol, a derivative of vitamin B5, nourishes and softens strands. Additionally, its gel-like consistency leaves the hair feeling fresh and clean without ever feeling stripped.
MAXSOFT Hair Scalp Massager Shampoo Brush
Remember the last time you had a haircut? You most likely were given a full-on scalp massage during the pre-cut shampoo process. Well, you can have this luxurious massage during each shampoo. A scalp-massage brush is phenomenal for stimulating and increasing circulation in the scalp. Plus, this brush’s silicone teeth help to exfoliate the scalp without ever causing any undue damage to the skin. We recommend using this every few shampoos, or as often as you please.
LA’DOR Tea Tree Scalp Clinic Hair Pack
If you struggle with seborrheic dermatitis, consider this scalp treatment to rid you of your dandruff woes. Snail Secretion Filtrate is a key ingredient in this product, which, Cho reveals, “helps to minimize inflammation, which in turn helps to reduce dandruff and flakiness.” In addition to this, tea tree oil helps to rid the scalp of excess oil, while aloe juice rehydrates. Massage this product onto your scalp for up to one minute after shampooing and before conditioning.
Step 2: In-Shower Moisture and Hydration
The process of thoroughly cleansing the scalp also happens to remove necessary oils from your hair, which can be detrimental to hair health. In Korea, reintroducing moisture to the shafts is critical for shiny and glossy hair that retains its shape. Other than following a shampoo with a conditioner, hair masks are of the utmost importance in Korean hair-care routines. Says Cho, “Hair masks are usually done once a week, and it’s always best to leave the mask on for 10 to 15 minutes so that it can really absorb and properly nourish the hair.” Cho recommends looking for products that contain organic pumpkin seed oil and argan oil, two ingredients that are popular in Korea for their reparative nature.
Moremo Water Treatment Miracle 10
The thought most likely to run through your head after a deep-moisturizing treatment at a salon is Wow, I had no idea my hair could feel this soft and silky. This water treatment rinse will leave you wondering the same exact thing, except in the comfort of your own home. This treatment contains three types of keratin and 17 amino acids to help seal fraying cuticles and reintroduce moisture to damaged hair.
SCAPES Apothehair Signature Scalp Care Conditioner
Consider upgrading to this conditioner for an all-around scalp-and-strand moisturizing experience. Camomile, green tea, and mugwort all work to soothe scalp irritation and rebalance the hair's moisture levels. This conditioner works to stimulate blood flow to the scalp and promote hair growth with one of its star ingredients, ginseng.
Too Cool For School Egg Remedy Hair Pack
This hair mask contains egg, butter, and milk, which sounds like a recipe for a delicious breakfast but actually works to smooth frizzy hair. Olive oil and avocado both work to moisturize the hair, while honey acts as a humectant to reintroduce hydration to the strands.
Step 3: Balance Those pH Levels
A balanced pH is your secret to beautiful skin; it creates an environment for your skin’s lipid barrier to thrive and protect itself from any damage caused by environmental stressors. Similarly, balancing the pH on your head is the secret to harmonizing your scalp, whether you have dry and flaky skin or oily strands that need frequent washes. Vinegar rinses are great for this and should be done while in the shower after conditioning. Simply run a vinegar rinse through your scalp and strands, wait about three to five minutes, and rinse the hair thoroughly before stepping out of the shower. Doing this weekly should be enough for a healthy scalp and nourished strands.
A’Pieu Raspberry Hair Vinegar
We must admit that running apple cider vinegar through the hair might make you smell more like a salad rather than like you’re fresh out of the shower. Luckily, the raspberry scent in this hair vinegar masks the otherwise overpowering scent, so your shower experience still feels indulgent. This hair vinegar has a pH level between 4 and 5, which is ideal for bringing an alkaline scalp back to a normal pH level, roughly 5.5.
Step 4: Post-shower Care
When looking at a K-beauty skin-care routine, you will most likely find products like essences, serums, mists, oils, and balms. Well, they exist in Korean hair care, too. Says Cho, “The moisturizing goals for skin have naturally spilled over into hair care. Everything from hair masks, hair serums, hair mists to hair oils are all very popular in Korea.” Rather than daily styling with heat tools or mega-hold products, it is common in Korea to rehydrate the hair to a frizz-free and luminous state. Yet, you should be aware: Only place moisturizing products, like oils and balms, on the ends of the hair to avoid loss of volume and product buildup.
innisfree My Hair Recipe Strength Tonic Essence
While a toner can balance your complexion’s pH, a scalp toner can do just the same. Innisfree’s star ingredient, jeju pine, soothes and balances the scalp, while ginseng saponin boosts circulation. Apply this product to the scalp after every wash for glossy hair and a healthy scalp.
ETUDE HOUSE Silk Scarf Hologram Hair Serum
For those of you who prefer to tease volume into your hair every morning, consider this serum instead. This powerful anti-frizz serum seals the hair’s cuticles to create a high-shine finish without ever weighing the hair down. Run a nickel-size amount of this serum through towel-dried hair, paying close attention to the ends to prevent splitting.
CP-1 Revitalizing Hair Mist in Midnight Blue
If you have curly hair, you know how much of a pain it is to find a great de-frizzing product without having your curls fall flat. Cho states, “I recommend a hair mist to style and de-frizz curly hair. A hair mist is especially good to use on curly hair because it’s lightweight, so it won’t weigh curls down but instead leaves locks looking textured without drying out your hair.” This contains a mixture of olive oil and hydrolyzed keratin, hydrolyzed silk, and hydrolyzed collagen to help seal cuticles and introduce shine to your curls.
LA’DOR Wonder Balm
For those who have straight hair, you might already know that intensely moisturizing products can weigh hair down and leave it looking and feeling greasy. Cho recommends a hair balm for straight hair, as it smooths out any flyaways and leaves hair feeling soft without ever weighing it down too much.
British M Organics Annatto Hair Oil
A hair oil is exceptional for rounding out this entire routine. The Annatto Hair Oil contains pumpkin seed and argan oil, which adds a high shine to hair once it is dry. Cho adores this product and says, “[It] deeply moisturizes and protects your hair from UV damage (yes, a natural sunscreen for your hair!) while creating long-lasting shine without that greasy feeling. Most people compare this to a better, less sticky version of the Moroccan Oil that won’t weigh your hair down.”
Want more stories like this?