The moment I saw Sulwhasoo, I fell in love. I saw it at the scary high-end counters in Lotte, and always hovered around looking at things while somebody else was looking, just so the salespeople would have to talk to them first rather than me. I got pretty good at that skill while shopping in Korea. Sulwhasoo drew me in with their clean, beautiful design, and the fact that their praises were being sung left right and centre on Instagram certainly helped fuel the fire.
Is Sulwhasoo worth the hype, though? It’s not exactly a cheap option – what if you get hooked on it? It’s nice to have a little luxury once in a while, but not everyone can afford to spend $100 or so every few months – there was a time when I once could, but not now. Now I have to be skincare-savvy and budget if I want to buy something like Sulwhasoo.
In my flusher days, I spent quite a bit on skincare, and quite a bit on Sulwhasoo. I’ve tried their First Care Activating Serum, their Clarifying Mask, their Overnight Revitalising Mask, and their Perfecting Cushion. I’d say from the money I spent, 50% has been a success. The Clarifying Mask peels off like a dream and revitalises the skin, and the Perfecting Cushion gives me the healthiest, most radiant of glows. So when I picked out the Sulwhasoo Essential Balancing Water for review in a recent Althea Korea PR package, I was interested to see how it would fare. Would we make the success rate 60% (please let that maths be right, I’m not the brightest button in the box)?
The Sulwhasoo Balancing Water is actually a toner, which claims to soothe and hydrate, leaving skin feeling supple and moist. This hydrating toner is thicker, and is more of a gel-type, preparing your skin for the layers of product you will later be adding in your routine. For best results, they advise using it after the First Care Activating Serum, which I have, but I wanted to use it alone first to see how well it performed as a standalone product. The two together will be my next experiment.
The bottle is sturdy and heavy, and feels luxurious – just as you would expect a higher end product to be. As the bottle is sturdy, it can handle being carted about a bit, and I’ve dropped it a few times (I’m clumsy, it was always going to happen), but it still looks just as good as new.
You get 125ml in a bottle, and it has been lasting me well. I’ve used it for about two months now, and only about a quarter of the bottle is gone. You have to shake or tip the bottle to get the toner out, but it doesn’t tend to dispense too much, and one shake is usually enough. Be a little careful when pouring it out, but it won’t go overboard on you.
Water, Alcohol, Ophiopogon Japonicus Root Extract, Butylene Glycol, Glyceryl Polymethacrylate, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Glycyrrhiza Uralensis (Licorice) Root Extract, Glycerin Nelumbo Nucifera Seed Extract, Paeonia Albiflora Root Extract, Polygonatum Officinale Rhizome/Root Extract, Lilium Tigrinum Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract, Rehmannia Glutinosa Root Extract, Chrysanthemum Morifolium Flower Extract, Paeonia Suffruticosa Root Extract, Citrus Unshiu Peel Extract, Adenophora Stricta Root Extract, Lycium Chinense Root Extract, Coix Lacryma-Jobi Ma-Yuen Seed Extract, Angelica Tenuissima Root Extract, Honey, Portulaca Oleracea Extract, Astragalus Membranaceus Root Extract, Beta-Glucan, Natto Gum, Sodium Hyaluronate, Betaine, Panthenol, Biosaccharide Gum-1, Glycereth-26, Propanediol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenyl Trimethicone, Peg/Ppg-17/6 Copolymer, Peg-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Bis-Peg-18 Methyl Ether Dimethyl Silane, Potassium Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Disodium Edta, Phenoxyethanol, Fragrance
I normally like to steer clear of alcohol in toners, as I find that sometimes toners which contain alcohol can dry me out slightly. It really depends on the toner – I’ve had several with alcohol in that work wonders, and some which just added to my redness issues and made flaky patches appear on my skin. So it’s hard for me to say how I feel about alcohol. I know some take it very seriously, but generally ingredients lists contain it for a reason.
If you know your skin can’t handle alcohol, and for many, it is an irritant – this product won’t be up your alley.
As usual with Sulwhasoo, this product boasts a fine list of herbal ingredients. That is, of course, their thing. Many ingredients found in Sulwhasoo’s range have products have been used in Korean and Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. I’d like to draw attention to Coix Lacryma-Jobi Ma-Yuen Seed Extract, which you’re more likely to know under the name of Job’s tears. I had never heard of this ingredient before moving to Korea, when I suddenly saw it appear in tea. Tea made of tears? Who is this Job, and why is he crying? I didn’t investigate, but when it started popping up around me in ingredients lists…well, you have to learn.
I first tried the ingredient in the Naruko Job’s tears range – the night jelly worked wonders for my skin, as did the sheet mask. The ingredient soothes and brightens the skin, leaving you with a clear complexion, and redness soothed.
Other ingredients in this toner look to brighten the skin, such as liquorice, citrus unshiu peel extract, and chrysanthemum flower extract. There are some lovely moisturising and soothing ingredients in there too – honey, sodium hyaluronate, and the ever-favourite of mine, camellia sinensis leaf extract. All in all, I find the ingredients list is pretty pleasing, and promising.
Texture and scent
It’s quite hard to photograph the texture, but while it’s still most definitely a toner-like consistency in that it’s liquid and runny, it’s more like a gel toner and has some weight to it. It absorbs quickly into the skin – as it is a little thicker and gel-like, I was worried it would be sticky or leave the skin feeling tacky, but this isn’t the case. It soaks into the skin, with no complaints.
The scent of this product is absolutely beautiful, and one of the reasons I really relish using it. Sulwhasoo products really provide a scent-based luxury experience, and it’s a joy to spread this over my face twice a day. It doesn’t smell particularly strong compared to other Sulwhasoo products I’ve used, but it’s a gorgeous light, herby/flowery/natural scent. I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly – more floral, with a slight herby touch.
If you think of balancing in a typical ‘western’ sense, you might think of it in the way of balancing oils in the skin, which is not what I need – but the balancing in this toner refers to the balancing of energies in the skin. For example, if you have dryness, this toner works to combat it, or if you have a duller skin tone, it will work to brighten it, thus balancing the skin. The idea is that as we lose moisture, we lose yin, meaning the ingredients combat this and get that yin back, so it can balance perfectly with the yang elements.
Toners rarely do wonders for me immediately. I can see the effects over time, which of course is completely normal in skincare and we should really expect it to be that way – hence me waiting two months to write this review up. I normally do it after about a month or so, but in this case I really wanted to be sure if the product was working out for me.
The first thing is that I’m not sure how much the Balancing Water has been hydrating my skin. It hasn’t been dry at all recently, but that could be down to the heat and the weather here right now – I tend to have more normal skin in summer. Throughout the day, my skin looks healthy and makeup goes on like a dream, which it usually only does when my skin is happily hydrated. So yes, my skin is good in this aspect, but I don’t think I can attribute it to the Balancing Water.
When it comes to soothing and calming my skin, however, that’s a different story. I noticed that this was directly related to the Balancing Water after removing it from my routine for a week. I sometimes do this with products if I want to check how effective they are, and if I want to confirm my suspicious. Without that product, skin can change pretty quickly, and it did in this case. Redness crept in around my cheeks, but it wasn’t that which was really bothering me. My redness comes and goes (thanks genetics) so I don’t think that’s an accurate measure of anything really. With the Balancing Water, I simply have the feeling of satisfaction when I look in the mirror – that radiance, that bright glow staring back at me. I have a bad relationship with my skin in the summer, and this toner has given me a supple, bright, healthy-looking complexion, that seemingly crept up on me. My one skincare mishap while using this was using an oil that broke me out, but when I removed it, we were back to normal within days.
Therefore, the Sulwhasoo Essential Balancing Water bumps the success rate up to 60%.
Finally, let’s talk about price. That’s always the snag with Sulwhasoo products. Are they worth it? This toner usually weighs in at about $50-60, so in my opinion, it’s one of the better-priced Sulwhasoos. I never felt the First Care was really, truly worth the money, aside from that wonderful scent.
The toner lasts a while, and as I really notice a change from a toner, one of the staples of any routine, I’d prefer to spend more and have a product which is effective. That’s just me though, and you really have to think what you’re happy with spending. I like treating myself from time to time. Remember you may also have to pay for shipping, or customs if you’re in the EU/another area with high charges. So consider all your options. I’ll leave some links below, some of which offer free shipping:
StyleKorean – $58
YesStyle – $64.71
Althea – $55
Sulwhasoo site – $58 (official US site, may not work outside of US)