The 12 Craziest Korean Face Mask Ingredients You’ll Ever See

When it comes to skincare products, there are some conventional ingredients that we all know and love, and few of us would question donning a soothing face mask made with fragrant flowers, scrumptious fruits, or even some nice, earthy mud. But Korea, living up to its reputation as a hotbed of skincare innovation, does not stop at these pleasant concoctions. Unusual ingredients abound in Korean sheet masks: from vegetables, to animal extracts, to even venom. Want to know how these weird ingredients could possibly benefit your skin? Read on to learn about 12 of the craziest ingredients you can find in Korean masks, as well as why they might be just the nourishment your face needs.

1. Snail slime

Snail slime, otherwise known as snail mucin, has become ubiquitous in Korean skincare products — but that doesn’t make it any less odd of an ingredient. The secretion keeps snails’ bodies lubricated as they glide along, and it’s what leaves that telltale, shiny trail on the ground behind them. As the theory goes, if mucin can effectively protect snails’ bodies from damage as they slide over even the roughest of surfaces, it can probably do a thing or two for our skin. And indeed, snail masks confer the regenerative powers of these tough little critters to your face, from increasing the production of collagen to helping heal scars and reduce the appearance of marks and wrinkles. It also goes without saying that the stuff is extremely hydrating. And no — the snails are not harmed in the making of these masks!

2. Starfish

Considering they have the remarkable ability to re-grow lost limbs, it’s no surprise that starfish are widely known for their regenerative powers. It also makes sense that starfish extract, with its abundance of collagen, can help restore the youthful properties of your skin, smoothing wrinkles and promoting turnover of skin cells to give your face a bright, healthy glow. The Mizon Returning Starfish Bio Mask is even shaped like a star, so it gets right at the areas that are most susceptible to wrinkles: around your eyes, nose, and mouth. If you’re a lover of starfish, then you may want to know that the essence is extracted from ones that are no longer alive, but they were not killed for the purpose of the mask: rather, the extract is a byproduct of starfish that are culled by conservation groups due to widespread overpopulation problems.

3. Bee venom

Bee venom, or apitoxin, is the liquid that is injected by a bee when it stings. You may wonder how a toxin could possibly benefit your skin, but in small doses, this substance can work wonders! The secret is that the venom makes your skin think it has been stung — very lightly — and triggers the body’s natural response: increasing blood flow towards the face and encouraging the production of collagen and elastin. The result? Tighter, plumper skin and the reduced appearance of wrinkles and scarring. How does one collect bee venom, you may ask? By placing a small, slightly electrically charged metal plate inside the bees’ hive. The plate’s charge stimulates the bees to sting it, but its hard surface ensures that the stingers do not fall off, so the bees don’t die. And in case you’re curious, propolis, the other ingredient in this popular mask from Skinfood, is also a bee product: a mixture of beeswax and saliva that the insects use to help seal up their hive. Naturally, it also acts as a barrier when applied to your skin, protecting and locking in moisture.

4. Donkey milk

In addition to its obviously moisturizing effects, donkey milk confers anti-aging benefits, working to minimize lines and redness. Why donkey milk, specifically? The liquid abounds with proteins and fatty acids, and contains several times more Vitamin C than cow’s milk, making it extra nutritious for your skin. If that’s not enough incentive, Cleopatra, queen of Egypt and renowned beauty, was known to bathe in donkey milk regularly in order to maintain her youthful visage. Why not give yourself the royal treatment with a donkey milk face mask?

5. Bird’s nest

No, not a pile of sticks and straws. The bird’s nest extract found in Korean skincare products comes from the swiftlet, a kind of bird that builds its nests on the sides of caves — out of its saliva. Swiftlet nest has long been consumed in China, both as a delicacy and as a traditional anti-aging medicine, and recently has become a popular topical ingredient in Korean creams and sheet masks. The substance is rich in proteins, amino acids, and all kinds of goodies that help combat signs of aging, brightening your skin and helping it retain moisture.

6. Placenta

As the organ that provides nourishment to baby mammals before birth, the placenta is packed with vitamins and nutrients that can bestow your skin with a multitude of benefits: hydration, minimized pores, increased cell turnover, and more. Placentas used in skincare products tend to come from sheep and pigs, but we understand if you have qualms about slathering placenta extract on your face — this one is a little tough to wrap your head around!

7. Broccoli

You know you should eat your greens, but how about putting them on your face? Out of all the fruits, vegetables, and herbs out there, broccoli might not top your list of foods you would think to rub on your skin, but even this cruciferous veggie has its benefits. Tonymoly promises that their broccoli sheet mask, full of vitamins and nutrients, will confer this nourishment right to your face, not only leaving your skin more radiant and hydrated, but also working to tighten it up and reduce the appearance of fine lines.

8. Sea cucumber

Sea cucumbers certainly aren’t the first creature we would have thought of for skincare purposes, but Skinfood promises refreshment, hydration, and youth from this cooling gel mask. Peptides from sea cucumber extract encourage collagen formation and minimize lines and wrinkles. This ingredient may not be the next snail slime, but it’s probably worth a try!

9. Pig collagen

Barbecue pork dishes are a staple in Korean cuisine, and it has long been said that eating the fatty pieces of this meat will help keep your skin looking young and glowy. This thought, of course, has translated into K-beauty products galore, and pig collagen is now an oft-encountered ingredient in creams and masks. Hydrating and firming, a pig collagen mask will boost your skin’s youthful properties and leave your face feeling elastic and supple.

10. Horse oil

While horses are not being killed solely in the name of human beauty products, they are consumed in countries across Europe and Asia alike, and horse oil is a byproduct of this meat industry. The oil is created from the fats of the animals, and is said to have a similar makeup to that of human sebum. This means that horse oil is easily absorbed into the skin, without feeling heavy or leaving a greasy residue like some products tend to. The oil acts as a natural barrier, repairing and moisturizing the skin for a fresh, light complexion. If you’re not from a country where consumption of horse meat is the norm, you may find the idea of using their oil for your skin a bit hard to stomach, which we totally understand!

11. Silkworm cocoon

The use of silkworm cocoons in skincare harkens back to ancient China, where women discovered the exfoliating advantages of rubbing the little pods on their skin. But the strong, silken fibers of these cocoons are packed with useful proteins that make them beneficial when delivered in mask form too. A cocoon mask will give you noticeably stronger, healthier-looking skin, and decrease signs of aging.

12. Fish eggs

Fish eggs are chock full of nutrition for your skin, and can help hydrate, reduce signs of aging, and minimize lines and scarring. In addition to caviar, salmon eggs are another popular mask ingredient with some interesting science behind their use: when salmon hatch, an enzyme in the egg works to dissolve the egg’s shell so that the baby fish can swim out. Of course, the enzyme must target the shell without harming the little salmon inside, and accordingly, skin care products that utilize this enzyme have the ability to clear away dead skin cells while leaving the live ones intact, giving the face a bright, fresh complexion.

Hey Soompiers, would you dare to try a mask with any of these unusual ingredients? Have you already? Let us know in the comments!

hgordon stays up way too late on weeknights marathoning K-dramas and trying to keep up with the latest K-pop releases.

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