Like a bottle of fine wine, they’ll age you well.

By Hana Hong
February 02, 2021
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Growing up as Korean-American, people have often asked me how my parents look so young. Asians never raisin, they'd claim. In turn, I'd usually answer with the same response my grandma gave me: It's all the kimchi we're eating. This was said as a half-joke, but there is some truth to it. Kimchi has been touted as a skincare superfood for years thanks to its fermented properties, and Koreans swear by it as part of their beauty routine. Beyond urban legend, recent studies have also linked fermentation with a series of anti-aging benefits. 

So, what is fermentation? Fermented skincare, much like fermented foods, means that microorganisms (bacteria) have been added, which release enzymes that break down the ingredients. Your skin cannot easily absorb the actives in natural ingredients because of its molecular size, but by breaking down the molecules into smaller sizes, your skin can better absorb the skin-benefitting ingredients. 

"Just like fine wine, fermentation uses yeast in a natural chemical process to secrete enzymes," says Caroline Chang, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at The Rhode Island Dermatology Institute. "The natural process of fermentation creates a higher concentration of beneficial ingredients like probiotics, vitamins, and antioxidants, and allows these key natural ingredients to be more potent. This not only helps fight free radical damage and protect against UV damage, it can also help produce amino acids, which are the building blocks of peptides to combat fine lines and wrinkles.

Don't worry—I'm not about to ask you to smear kimchi on your face (although we've done weirder things for the sake of beauty). Fermented beauty products just refers to the transformation process, and in fact, you might already be using it in your skincare routine. Take lactic acid, for example, which is derived from fermented milk. The commonly used anti-aging ingredient is now being joined by a new wave of products that are developed by fermenting all sorts of superfoods—mushrooms, green tea, wasabi, and more—to reap the benefits of this process.

Below, some of my favorite fermented beauty products (which I'll be applying alongside a large serving of kimchi and wine, naturally). 

1

$175, sephora.com

Fermented green tea works wonders for anti-aging (it helps defend against and neutralize environmental factors that can cause aging) and this pretty brown bottle is the best of it you can get. Why? The process to create a bottle takes a full 100 days. Amorepacific gets its antioxidant-rich green tea leaves exclusively from Jeju Island (a K-beauty skincare ingredient paradise). After harvesting, they’re left to ferment outside for 50 days before moving to traditional Korean onggis (earthenware), which are placed underground for another 50 days. 

2

$39, sokoglam.com

Neogen, the K-beauty king of probiotic skincare, knows a thing or two about fermentation. One of its many fermented beauty products, this serum is made of a 61 percent blend of bifida ferment lysate, yeast ferment lysate, and rice ferment filtrate for a thriving, happy microbiome.

3

$34, glowoasis.com

This lightweight toner-meets-moisturizer balances the skin’s pH using a unique blend of vegan probiotics and amino acids, derived from Korean Napa Cabbage (aka kimchi!). Unlike other harsh astringents, it leaves behind a dewy finish thanks to the addition of hydrating cica and vegetable oils.

4

$148, saksfifthavenue.com

This award-winning serum contains Biophile’s proprietary “Shroom Biotic Broth,” a blend of fermented chaga, reishi, and tremella mushrooms that plump skin and reduce the look of fine lines. 

5

$72, sephora.com

According to Dr. Chang, kombucha—aka fermented black tea—works to hydrate, neutralize free radicals, and improve elasticity. Tap this essence into your skin daily to protect your complexion against three kinds of pollution (indoor, outdoor, and digital light).

6

$225, detoxmarket.com

The esthetician-hailed sibling to the brand’s botanical serum, this essence adds a fermentation step (that takes five weeks to make!) to amplify the absorption of its high-quality ingredients. This includes hyaluronic acid for plumpness, natural stabilized vitamin C for brightening, and a trifecta of pre- and probiotics, micro-marine algae, and daily exfoliators in the form of lactic and phytic acids. 

7

$95, sephora.com

Tatcha’s formula contains something it calls hadasei-3, a concentrate of nourishing green tea, rice, and algae (Japan’s three essential nutrients for youthful skin health), which has been double-fermented to boost its anti-aging benefits.

8

$79, youniqueproducts.com

If you’re looking for brightening benefits in addition to anti-aging, Younique’s line is packed with glow-getting ingredients like vitamin C, kombucha, and sodium hyaluronate to smooth and brighten dull skin.