Powder power in skincare: all you need to know about the latest Korean beauty trend

With a higher concentration of active ingredients and a longer shelf life, is it time to switch out liquid skincare products for their grainy alternatives?

Cleanser, toner, moisturiser and, for the slightly more beauty-savvy, a daily serum: that is the basic skincare mantra most of us on this side of the world are familiar with.

But as Korean beauty trends seep into the Middle East, mainly thanks to influencers and vloggers, we have been introduced to many more steps and stages to help us clear complexions, induce a glow and minimise wrinkles.

One of the latest trends to spill over from East Asia is skincare in the form of powder – from cleansers and masks to active ingredients that can supplement our existing routines.

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<span>Many of these powders contain fewer preservatives than liquid products, as it is the moisture that provides a breeding ground for bacteria</span>

“A lot of products are pioneered in Korea, and these formulas first emerged there several years ago,” says Kate Park, founder of Dubai’s K-beauty store Lamise. She believes the offbeat ingredients and products that come out of Korea gain popularity thanks to the high standards of the beauty community there.

“Korean companies have tried and tested many innovative products and unique ingredients. The cosmetic brands step out of their boundaries to stay progressive and come up with new products,” says Parks, who recently added the brand Daymellow, which specialises in powdered skincare, to her shop and online offering in the UAE. And slowly but surely, more global brands – such as The Ordinary and Salt by Hendrix – are tapping into the trend and creating their own powder-based products.

'A much greater concentration of active ingredients'

We ask the experts how they work, what the pros and cons are, and how (if at all) we should be incorporating this K-beauty phenomenon into our skincare routines.

Most common skincare powders contain sought-after complexion-boosting extracts such as vitamin C. But if it’s the same fundamental ingredients bottled into face washes and serums, why take the powder route? “Powder forms of skincare products have a much greater concentration of active ingredients than traditional liquid alternatives,” says Park.

Lana Kashlan, a dermatologist at CosmeSurge in Dubai, explains: “An active ingredient is anything that is designed to treat a specific issue. These are ingredients that we know have an effect and alter the skin in some way. They have strong research supporting their efficacy and are often regulated by government bodies to confirm that they actually do what the companies claim.”

So if not "active", what are the rest of the ingredients that make up a product? “The inactive ingredients are called the excipients,” says Khawer Saleem, specialist dermatologist and cosmetologist at Burjeel Hospital in Al Ain. Most creams contain a small percentage of the active chemical or molecule that is presented as its selling point, with solvent vehicles (the main excipient) such as water, silicones, and vegetable or animal-derived oils making up the bulk of the product.

Meaning that when opting for a dried powder over the seemingly endless hyaluronic acid-infused serums, for example, you will often be getting more of that scientifically backed hydrating molecule for your money.

However, Saleem warns: “Not all active ingredients can be dried up and presented in binding with vehicles in powder forms.”

Concentrated powders in the form of cleansers, face masks and skin boosters also have a loyal following in Korea because of their greater potency and life span. As Saleem says: “The good thing about powders as an application of active ingredients is that they are more stable compared to creams and lotions. This means they can last a long time without any change in composition.”

A common beauty woe is when a serum turns an off-putting brown colour. It’s much harder for dried alternatives to degrade, lose effectiveness or to be spoilt by environmental factors – be it heat, oxygen exposure or water. In turn, many of these powders contain fewer preservatives than liquid products, as it is the moisture that provides a breeding ground for bacteria. Kashlan says: “Beauty powders are a good option for people who have sensitive or allergy-prone skin because they are usually preservative and alcohol-free and so are less likely to irritate.” The longer shelf life and higher concentration of more stable powders means they are often more environmentally friendly, too.

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<span>You can add beauty powders to your skincare like you add vitamins to your diet</span>

As well as being an effective exfoliating alternative to regular cleansers and face masks, powdered products allow you to customise your skincare routine. “You can add beauty powders to your skincare like you add vitamins to your diet,” says Park.

The ingredients to layer

You are in control as to how much or how little you want to use, how often and with what. Instead of giving up your favourite daily cream because it is time to start implementing collagen into your routine, or layering three or four targeting serums on to your skin, simply mix your needed actives in with your existing serums or creams that feed your complexion daily.

Park gives an example based on four of the major ingredients present in Daymellow products: collagen, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid and Centella asiatica, a plant that helps to calm inflammation, heal wounds and stimulate new cell growth. “If you want to plump the skin, you can add a boosting collagen powder to your serum. When your skin is irritated and needs soothing, you can put Centella asiatica with your gel-type cream. If you need to up moisture levels, add hyaluronic acid to your night cream and to brighten your complexion and even skin tone, bring vitamin C into the mix.”

And it is this benefit of being able to control and customise your routine that makes powders a favourable option among dermatologists, too. Citing vitamin C treatments as an example, Kashlan says: “It can be irritating on the skin when you first start using it. I usually start my patients on a low concentration like 10 per cent and then have them build up to 15 or 20 per cent. With a powder formulation, they can adjust the concentration without having to buy a new bottle of a serum, so it’s a major saving for them.”

Potential powder downsides?

But is there anything to be wary of? Of course, when self-administrating actives, getting the right quantity is key – so always read the instructions carefully. As the products are quite potent, being negligent about the recommended amount is not the best idea for your complexion. When it comes to stronger extracts, be sure your powder investment is a swap out for your treatment cream or serum to avoid over-application that can cause skin sensitivity. Other than that, skin-boosting powders are a welcome addition to the region and your regime.

In the powder room: five to try

FACTR Pure Probiotic Cleansing Powder

Not just a miracle for your gut, probiotics keep your skin happy, too. Try this cleaning and exfoliating formula that removes dead cells while clearing skin and adding moisture; Dh105, Lamise Beauty

Salt by Hendrix Rose & Acai Face Mask

The plant-based beauty brand has taken to the K-beauty trend by concocting a series of clay-based powder masks ready to be mixed with water and applied to the skin. Antioxidant acai extract works to protect and revitalise skin while rose helps to soothe; Dh79, Beauty Solutions

Daymellow All Round Collagen Powder

This powder is ideal for those who want to boost their regular toner, serum, and moisturisers. It's formulated with hydrolyzed collagen and amino acids to help revitalise skin to be firm, smooth and hydrated; Dh80, Lamise Beauty

The Ordinary 100% L-Ascorbic Acid Powder

A popular and powerful antioxidant, vitamin C is known to brighten the complexion, even out the skin tone and limit signs of ageing. Cult Canadian brand The Ordinary's dry offering consists of a fine L-Ascorbic Acid powder that can be mixed in with other creams and treatments; Dh42, Glamazle

Daymellow All Round Hyalron Powder

If you suffer from dry, lacklustre skin, blend this mix of sodium hyaluronate, betaine and trehalose into your daily cream to help supply moisture the skin and keep it looking healthy; Dh80, Lamise Beauty