Hanbang Skincare has been trending in the luxury K-Beauty market for a few years but what exactly is Hanbang? And how did it get into cosmetics?
We guide you through the herbs and natural ingredients that set Hanbang Skincare apart in K-beauty and give you cruelty-free and vegan product recommendations!
Hanbang skincare is a type of Korean Beauty that uses traditional Korean medicine's herbal tinctures and formulas with modern science.
With numbers like that, Hanbang Skincare must be getting something right. There's a lot of depth and history to Hanbang, but how can you bring it into your skincare routine?
What is Hanbang Skincare?
Hanbang Skincare combines the theories and prescriptions of Traditional Korean Medicine (TKM) with modern skincare advancements. Rather than attempt to treat an issue quickly, Hanbang Skincare aims to help skin resilience and aid self-recovery using knowledge from centuries of TKM.
This holistic medical system views the body's systems as interconnected rather than separate and aims to bring balance.
The practice’s roots come from Chinese Traditional Medicine, but the Korean region developed its traditional therapies, medical treatments, and theories over time.
TKM acknowledges that when one part of the body is out of balance, the entire body will be affected.
In Korea, Hanbang is a valid form of medical treatment, and globally it’s become part of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). (To learn more about TKM, read this comprehensive piece by The Monodist, who translated 20 sources from Korean.)
So naturally, skin ailments were also treated with Hanbang.
Hanbang sees skin issues as a sign of compromised systems in the body and a weakened immune system. To treat this, the yin and yang of the body must be bought into harmony, and Qi (the vital force in all living things) needs to flow smoothly.
And in Hanbang, herbs are one of the most potent ways to achieve this.
The Most Popular Herbs used in Hanbang?
The root of ginseng is used in tonics, teas, and powders in Hanbang for general weakness, fatigue, anxiety, and gastritis.
Ginseng is popular in K-Beauty brands across the board, mostly for its regenerative properties, which come from antioxidants.
Ginseng boosts blood circulation and increases collagen production. For general skincare, this means antiaging and firming potential. Hangbang formulations and methods add resilience to the skin.
Also known as Wolfberry, it is native to Asia. It has been used in traditional medicines across the region, where they’re said to strengthen the kidney and lungs, keep the eyes and liver healthy and slow aging.
In skincare, Goji berries are favored because of their high Vitamin A and Vitamin C levels, with huge amounts of antioxidants.
Goji berries are known to hydrate skin, minimize fine lines, and increase collagen production. They also heal blemishes and help hyperpigmentation.
In Hanbang, licorice root was often combined with other medicines to soften their harsh side effects. It’s considered gentle and safer, with moisture balancing, strengthening, and harmonizing qualities.
Hanbang skin care uses licorice root's soothing and moisturizing nature in many formulas. Studies have shown licorice has brightening effects and speeds up healing time. It’s popular in acne treatments for these reasons.
Green has been a seamless part of Korean life since the 2nd century. In Hanbang, it is used for improved immune health and cognitive function.
The antioxidants found in green tea make it soothing and anti-inflammatory. Its high Vitamin E amounts also make it nourishing and hydrating, with the ability to reverse sun damage when formulated correctly.
Mugwort is regarded as a healing herb in Hanbang because of its antibacterial, antifungal, and skin-protective properties. It’s used in homeopathic teas to treat painful period cramps and for baths at traditional Korean bathhouses.
Mugwort is soothing and anti-inflammatory, so it targets dry skin beautifully, while it also treats acne thanks to its antibacterial and antifungal nature. It’s safe for sensitive skin and has anti-aging benefits.
A powerhouse herb like this is a feature in many Hanbang skincare ranges- it’s no wonder.
Hanbang has used Schisandra berries to treat coughs, liver and stomach conditions, excessive sweating, and adaptogens to boost vitality.
These tiny red berries also have stress-fighting properties; when applied topically, they become anti-inflammatory. Schisandra berries fight free radical damage for more radiant skin with fewer fine lines.
There's also evidence that this medicinal ingredient can protect DNA from further breakdown.
This is a major medicinal herb used in Korea and other Asia countries for women’s health, gastrointestinal issues, anemia, insomnia, a ‘runny’ nose, and nervousness. It increases blood
Angelica Root is used to brighten dull skin, even patchy skin tones. It’s calming and balances out the snake microbiome so that topical application can soothe eczema and angry breakouts.
The Benefits of Hanbang and Korean Skincare Herbs?
Almost all Hanbang SKincare has a combination of prescribed herbal blends that are anti-aging, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial with antioxidant properties.
This means Korean Skincare that uses Hanbang herbs will calm redness and sensitivity while it fights signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles. With so many different antioxidants, Hanbang formulas often leave skin luminous and can correct hyperpigmentation.
The soothing effects with antibacterial and antifungal properties are a godsend for combination skin, oily skin, or acne sufferers. And dry skin benefits from the high hydration levels of many Hanbang products.
The Differences Between Hanbang and Standard Cosmetics
Some of those ingredients may have already been familiar. They’re mainstream for K-Beauty and have gained attention from Western brands.
But other things set Hanbang Skincare apart from the products you know and love.
Based on Traditional Korean Medicine theories and treatments.
Protocols from modern Dermatology and science.
Approach to skin
Views skin as an integral system in the body and a signifier of health.
Analyses and treats skin separately.
Rooted in medicinal combinations from Hanbang.
Aims to be effective, safe, and clinically backed.
Authentic Traditional Korean Medicine prescriptions and herbal blends are used.
Looks for trending ingredients and uses simple extract and processing methods.
Give skin the ability to retain moisture and restore its own balance.
Temporarily improve skin function.
Hanbang Skincare’s Influence in the Development of Modern Korean Skincare
There's evidence that traditional herbal ingredients were used on skin as far back as 918, during the Goryea dynasty. It's only recently that Hanbang prescriptions started being incorporated into skincare brands, which are usually more high, luxury ones.
The first brand to do this launched in 1973 and did well in the global market. This was Ginseng SAMMI, owned by the AmorePacfic Group. In 1997 the group relaunched the brand as Sulwashoo, an iconic skincare range revered in Korea.
Combining ancient techniques with innovative formulations was a winner, with similar brands launching in the early 2000s.
This has influenced K-Beauty across price ranges, incorporating medicinal herbs, Hangbang ingredients, and ferments.
LG Household & Healthcare Ltd, AmorePacific Group, and Kolmar Korea are Korea Beauty conglomerates with research institutes and development centers dedicated to Hanbang Skincare. In 2020, LG also acquired one of Korea’s largest Hanbang herbal suppliers.
The Most Popular Hanbang-inspired Vegan K-Beauty Products
Some of the most accessible and cruelty-free certificated brands have incorporated Hanbang ingredients into these products.
COSRX - Galactomytes 95 Tone Balancing Essence
Dear, Klairs - Supple Preparation Toner
Benton - Goodbye Redness CentellaCica Mask Pack
Benton - Fermentation Essence
$20 - $80
Then I Met You - Calming Tide Gel Cream
All, safe for sensitive
The Problem with Most Hanbang Brands
Sadly, none of the Hanbang brands we researched are cruelty-free.
This is because the product category is wildly popular in China, with a value of 3.4 billion Korean won in 2019. Even luxury Hanbang brands are developed just for this Chinese demographic; they aren’t available in Korea or other countries.
This is a problem for this type of K-Beauty because Chinese regulations enforce animal testing on skincare and cosmetics products.
China has a shocking track record. It is the country with the most animal testing globally, with over 20 million animals used per year.
As much as we’d love to see more Hanbang skincare celebrated, not with inhumane animal testing and huge numbers of animal deaths.
Can You Use Hanbang Skincare Without Comprising Your Morals and Ethics?
While these cruelty-free brands are not considered Hanbang brands and don’t market products with the term “Hanbang,” some products include Hanbang-inspired ingredients formulated with modern techniques.
Made in korea
Ingredients other than Herbs
It’s not just plant-based ingredients that make it into Hanbang skincare. Like many other traditional medicines, TKM also used mineral and animal-based products.
How ingredients were grown, harvested, and processed will affect their efficacy, properties, and qualities. Product description and information disclosed
Unless a product is formulated around one ‘hero’ ingredient, Hanbang skincare is formatted around complex tinctures with various substances that work together. The idea is that each ingredient has a purpose, and all combined ingredients must complement each other.
The Main Formulation Principle of Traditional Korean Medicine
This principle is applied to herbal medicines but can be used for topical skincare, too
- The Monarch,
- The Minister,
- The Assistant,
- The Envoy
Is the star of the show; the main active ingredient with the most therapeutic effects to target the most pressing skincare concerns. It should have the strongest effect thanks to the higher amount in the formula.
Is the supporting act that will enhance the benefits of the Monarch ingredient. The Minister will also target any other associated concerns and generally has properties similar to The Monarch.
These ingredients target any other common symptoms that the Monarch and the Minister don’t address and alleviate any side effects or irritation from the primary and secondary ingredients.
This is done by carefully selecting ingredients with the opposite effects that won’t cancel out the Monarch’s qualities.
Brings together the actions of the other ingredients and delivers them to the right organ. Or the case of skincare, the correct layer of the dermis is to get the full benefits.
In TKM, the ratios of ingredients in herbal remedies will change the intended effect and benefits for patients. And the same principle applies to Hanbang skincare.
This is why it’s very important to look for the actual name of any ancient herbal remedies and the benefits when looking at Hanbang skincare.
Popular Hanbang Techniques
If you thought this was invented by an American brand (Dermalogica does hold the US and global trademark for ‘Skin Mapping’), you, too, have been misled by clever marketing.
Chinese and Korean Traditional Medicine practitioners have used this concept for eons to track patients' health and ailments.
It’s why so much of Korean Beauty culture is about holistic lifestyle choices- every part of the body is an integrated system.
Traditional medicinal practitioners track and predict health issues in other body systems depending on where acne, dry or oily patches, redness, or rough skin are on the face.
For instance, acne along the jawbones, chin, and up to the cheeks was traditionally thought to mean fertility issues for women. Modern medicine shows that this acne patterning is a common symptom of hormonal issues with an imbalance of testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen.
Fermentation is a process commonly used for food, beverages, and health tonic, but it’s increasingly popular in skincare.
Some Hanbang remedies use fermentation, and we’ve been seeing more and more evidence of the increased efficacy and absorption in skincare using fermented ingredients. Ferments also come with the added bonus of lower toxicity and longer shelf life.
Hanbang Lifestyle and Wellness
These are the three main treatments in Korean Traditional Medicine, and even though modern medicine is predominantly used in Korea, these techniques are still widely used.
These prescribed remedies are made with a combination of plant, mineral, or animal ingredients. Whether administered as a tincture or tea, these combinations are a daily part of Korean life.
Using needles to stimulate different energy points or meridians as a therapy. Acupuncture is probably the most accessible treatment for anyone who wants to incorporate a bit of Korean Traditional Therapy into their lives- without moving to Korea.
This heat therapy involves burning a cone or stick of mugwort near the surface of the skin. A tool is used to prevent skin burning, and working with TKM’s energy points and meridians encourages blood circulation and correct imbalances.
Hangbang Skincare is a huge part of the Korean Beauty Industry, and we can see why.
While Complementary and Alternative medicine is only starting to be fully recognized in the West, Korea’s dual medical system gives its skincare industry a more open-minded approach.
With legal requirements to prove Hanbang Skincare’s effectiveness through studies and many research centers doing the work to combine modern techniques with ancient knowledge, it makes sense that most Hanbang Skincare products are from luxury.
But it's so disappointing that no high-end Hanbang Skincare brand can prove its cruelty-free. It would be incredible to see this turnaround, but with the current laws that require animal testing on these items in China- we can’t see it happening any time soon.
Although they can only be considered Hanbang inspired because of the chosen ingredients, thank goodness for the handful of cruelty-free K-Beauty brands that exist with vegan options.