If you’re familiar with Korean skincare, then you’ve definitely heard of the brand Sulwhasoo và this star product. But what exactly does it do?

If you’re familiar with Korean skincare, then you’ve definitely heard of the brand Sulwhasoo, specifically their star product: Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum. It was one of the first K-beauty products I tried almost a decade ago, và this is my 4th bottle. So why am I only writing about it now?

Because for the longest time I was confused about what it’s supposed khổng lồ do.

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Don’t be fooled by the name, it’s anything but your typical serum.

If you’re also confused by this product, or just want khổng lồ know if it lives up to the hype, this post is for you.


What is itThis best-selling K-beauty serum is the coveted step to getting a visibly smooth, glass skin-level glow–now elevated to lớn perfection with a glossy exterior for a more luxurious look & feel. The secret is in JAUM Activator™, a masterfully blended complex of 5 precious herbs that improves the look of skin’s hydration, brightness, radiance, translucency, visible wrinkles, and moisture barrier.

Best suited forAnyone who enjoys the grounding scents of hanbang (Korean herbal medicine) in a lightweight yet hydrating formula. Those in their late 20’s or older will probably get more out of this than younger folks.Sensitive skin may want lớn avoid due khổng lồ all the extracts, alcohol, and fragrance.

Things lớn noteContains alcohol but doesn’t feel drying. Also contains fragrance.

PackagingA beautiful opaque ceramic pump bottle. Occasionally they also release limited edition designs.

ScentA light herbal scent which I personally find calming. If you’re familiar with Chinese or Korean herbal medicine, this smells just lượt thích that. Scent dissipates after the hàng hóa has absorbed.

TextureLight and almost water like, with an amber color.

FinishAbsorbs quickly, & assuming you apply this first on clean skin, it leaves a natural non-sticky finish.

Purchase$89 for 60ml on Amazon, Sephora, Skinstore; $66 on Jolse, $57 on Stylevana

Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum Ingredients

Water, Alcohol Denat., Butylene Glycol, Betaine, 1, 2-hexanediol, Bis-peg-18, Methyl Ether Dimethyl Silane, Glyceryl Polymethacrylate, Carbomer, Peg-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Tromethamine, Propanediol, Glyceryl Caprylate, Walnut Seed Extract, Dextrin, Cocoa Extract, Skullcap Root Extract, Fragrance, Ethylhexylglycerin, Adenosine, Limonene, Methyl Trimethicone, Disodium Edta, Xanthan Gum, Cellulose Gum, Carrageenan, Honey, Madecassoside, Rehmannia Glutinosa Root Extract, Pentylene Glycol, Ophiopogon Japonicus Root Extract, Paeonia Lactiflora Root Extract, Lilium Candidum Bulb Extract, Linalool, Lycium Chinense Fruit Extract, Polygonatum Odoratum Rhizome Extract, Biosaccharide Gum-1, Propylene Glycol, Ziziphus Jujuba Fruit Extract, Nelumbo Nucifera Flower Extract, Pueraria Lobata Root Extract, Natto Gum, Licorice Root Extract, Prunus Mume Fruit Extract, Citronellol, Citral, Geraniol, Hydrogenated Lecithin, BHT, Citric Acid, Lentinus Edodes Extract, Tocopherol, Hydrolyzed Soybean Extract, Paeonia Albiflora Root Extract, Ginger Root Extract

Your typical K-beauty formula with lots of extracts, get your tea/coffee ready & let’s break them down:

Walnut seed extract – Exhibited antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, & anti-aging properties in vitro.1Cocoa extract – Similar to lớn walnut seeds, the polyphenols within provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, và anti-aging benefits in in-vivo studies.2Rehmannia Glutinosa Root Extract – Aka Chinese foxglove and 1 of the 5 extracts in the JAUM Activator. A study in mice found it can suppress the expression of inflammatory cytokines and chemokines, both which can contribute to skin aging.4Ophiopogon Japonicus Root Extract – A study found it to lớn be anti-inflammatory and barrier restoring.5Lilium Candidum Bulb Extract – Aka White Lily and a part of the JAUM Activator, though there’s little research on its exact benefits. One study did find that when used together with other extracts (none of which are included here), it can help reduce the appearance of dark circles.7Lycium Chinense Fruit Extract – Goji berries are considered a superfood rich in antioxidants, but topically it’s also found to lớn help decrease hyperpigmentation and improve skin tone.8
Taking a break khổng lồ focus on my fluffy assistant who decided he was the star of the shoot, not the First Care Activating Serum lolZiziphus Jujuba Fruit Extract – Aka Jujube, a study found it to lớn have anti-inflammatory effects when applied topically.9Pueraria Lobata Root Extract – Aka Kudzu, it’s shown khổng lồ help with collagen production và inhibit photoaging.12Prunus Mume Fruit Extract – Aka Chinese Plum, it’s been found khổng lồ brighten the skin by inhibiting melanin production.14Paeonia Albiflora Root Extract – aka Peony, which is different from the White Peony earlier. I couldn’t find any research on this specific Peony, but it contains Paeoniflorin as well, which is an antioxidant.Ginger Root Extract – Its main compound Gingerol has great antioxidant & anti-inflammatory properties.16, 17

Based on the studies I found, the brightening/radiance & anti-aging claims of the JAUM Activator complex are supported, albeit the tư vấn is pretty weak. But there’s nothing to support the hydration or barrier tư vấn claims, though other ingredients pick up this slack.

Overall it’s a mixed bag here, with some more proven extracts lượt thích licorice root but also a lot of obscure ones like lily bulbs & solomon’s seal (interestingly both part of the JAUM Activator). Not a completely lost cause though, as there are other well-researched ingredients like honey to lớn moisturize và vitamin e + madecassoside (from centella asiatica) as powerful antioxidants.

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A warning about having too many plant extracts: the more you have, the greater the chance of one causing a sensitive reaction. Granted I have never experienced any issues, but it’s something lớn keep in mind.

It"s critical that you use the serum in right step of your skincare routine and in the right amount, otherwise you"re not going to see the expected results.


After cleansing, lightly dry your skin leaving it damp but not wet. Or spritz a light layer of facial mist.Apply 2-3 pumps into your palms & gently warm up the serum with a light rubbing motion.
Massage the serum gently into your skin.Press your hands on your face & hold it in place for a few seconds, allowing the heat from your hand lớn help the hàng hóa absorb.If you love the herbal scent, take a few deep breaths and enjoy the aromatherapy benefits!Continue on with the rest of your skincare routine!

Don"t skimp on the amount lớn use - you"re not going to lớn see the full benefits if you just use 1 pump! khổng lồ save on the product, you can just use it once a day in the evening instead.

Usage Experience và Results

✅ A delightful sensorial experience

While results is my #1 priority, I still love when products deliver a beautiful usage experience, & this Sulwhasoo serum absolutely hit the spot. From the beautiful bottle khổng lồ the grounding herbal medicine scent to the water-like texture, it’s a joy to lớn use. The scent is truly calming for me, breathing it in as part of my evening routine is a wonderful way to end the day.


✅ Helps with hàng hóa absorption

It seems contradictory that adding an extra layer of skincare would help subsequent layers absorb better, but it works. Maybe it’s the alcohol (a known penetration enhancer), but the rest of my toner và serums seem to lớn aborb quicker and leave less of a film when I use the Sulwhasoo activating serum.

✅ Helps boost other products’ efficacy

This was slightly harder khổng lồ notice, but I’ve noticed that the rest of my products work harder when I use the Sulwhasoo serum. When I don’t, my skin hydration and glow levels seems lớn drop by about 10%, which is obviously an arbitrary number, but you get my point – my skin just feels more moisturized và has a bit more glow when I use this. I didn’t notice a difference in fine lines either way though.

💡 The older your are, the better it works

So if you’re in your 20’s, as I was when I first tried the Sulwhasoo Activating Serum, you’re going lớn be disappointed. But as we get older & our skin gets drier, duller, and more fine lines, this product can be just the boost your skincare routine needs. I’m definitely noticing more overall results now than I did 10 years ago!

😐 Must use 2-3 pumps to see results

I’ve tried using just 1 pump, which honestly feels enough for my face, but the efficacy is noticeably reduced. As in you won’t notice any difference at all. With this serum, you either go big or go home, which is tough since a bottle isn’t cheap!

That’s one pump, so you’ll want to double the amount

😐 Doesn’t deliver the claimed results when used alone

Yes it seems lớn boost the efficacy of other products, but what about when used alone? I tried using this without any of my other skincare products except moisturizer, và it was a flop. It’s definitely not hydrating on its own, & it’s anti-aging benefits are inferior compared khổng lồ retinol. As for skin brightening, there are so many more effective and affordable options as well!

But as a “first serum”, it’s not meant to lớn be used on its own, just like how the SK-II FTE isn’t meant khổng lồ be used on its own. First serum/essence goals are mainly to lớn boost overall routine absorption & efficacy, which it does well. But again if you’re going off the claims thinking this $98 is the answer to lớn all your skincare concerns, you’re going khổng lồ be disappointed.

What Others Say

I would consider adding it to lớn my routine to boost my favorite serums if it were cheaper, but at $89, I don’t think it’s for me.

Kelsey Clark, dry skin

I wouldn’t say there’s a huge, glaring difference in my fine lines that I could 100% attribute lớn this product. I vị think it makes my skin look more radiant, healthy and plumped up.

K Beauty Hobbit, combination skin

What my skin gained from the First Care Activating Serum EX (and then lost when I cut it from my routine, and then regained when I welcomed the product back into my life) was a youthful radiance that I don’t think I’ve had since I was seventeen.

Fiddy Snails, normal skin
Cooper’s opinion: I like that it matches the colors of my fur!

Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum dupes

We’re going to look at other products with either 1) similar hanbang ingredients or 2) similar functions.

🌿 Missha Geum Sul Rejuvenating EssenceThis is probably the closest “dupe” you’ll get in the traditional sense: it’s also a first essence/serum that you use at the start of your routine, with Korean herbal ingredients lượt thích ginseng, licorice root, & reishi mushroom extracts.

🌾 Haruharu Wonder đen Rice Hyaluronic TonerNot as many extracts, but this includes ginseng, rice, bamboo, and skullcap root lớn name a few. It also as a similar texture to lớn Sulwhasoo, a light hydrating liquid that absorbs well into the skin. The main effect of this is hydration, which in part helps with subsequent product absorption.

🌌 Klairs Midnight xanh Youth Activating DropsThis has a super minimal và non-hanbang formula, but its EGF content and help provide an anti-aging boost to your routine. I’ve found it to lớn improve my overall skin health when used in my routine. Full review here.

💦 Any facial mist!You don’t need a fancy serum khổng lồ help boost sản phẩm absorption, just use a face mist to dampen your skin và you’ll find that your serums & creams absorb much easier and faster! Don’t use one before acids or retinol though, or else you’ll increase their potency & irritation!