COSRX Natural BHA Skin Returning Emulsion
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COSRX

Natural BHA Skin Returning Emulsion

3.38 fl. oz. for $ 19.00
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COSRX Natural BHA Skin Returning Emulsion demonstrates that natural isn’t always better when it comes to skin care, because some natural ingredients can actually be pretty problematic!

This somewhat milky liquid comes in an opaque plastic bottle with a pump dispenser, which protects its light- and air-sensitive ingredients. Its lightweight texture means it’s best suited to those with combination to oily skin (those with drier skin will want something a bit richer).

The main ingredient in this toner-like product is centella asiatica water, which while not as potent as its extract form (which is also included further down in the ingredient list), still has antioxidant and skin-calming properties. More to love: this also has skin-soothing allantoin, skin-plumping sodium hyaluronate, and even a small amount of the skin-replenishing amino acid arginine.

As for the BHA this contains, it comes in the form of a 1% concentration of betaine salicylate, a salicylic acid (BHA) alternative that can be derived from beets, but the synthetic form is usually used in skin care products. There is some research (though not a great deal) showing that it can have exfoliation benefits like BHA does (you’re likely to get some very mild exfoliation from the 1% concentration here, and it’s at a pH that’s considered optimal – between 3.8 and 4.2 – for it to work that way). It also has soothing properties, it just doesn’t have quite the same effect on skin that salicylic acid does.

What isn’t soothing at all is the amount of skin-drying alcohol this product contains. It’s the third ingredient in, and while alcohol is certainly natural, it’s not skin beneficial in such a high amount (see More Info below for details on why this is the case).

Another drawback: this contains fragrant orange oil, which can trigger skin irritation. Both of these ingredients can cause inflammation that makes oily skin worse (see More Info below), and this is a product designed specifically to improve oily skin!

Skip this one, and opt instead for one of the superior products you’ll find on our list of best BHA exfoliants.

Pros:
  • Centella asiatica has antioxidant and soothing properties.
  • Contains allantoin, sodium hyaluronate, and arginine.
  • Betaine salicylate can have mild exfoliating properties.
  • Packaged to protect its beneficial ingredients.
Cons:
  • Contains a high amount of drying denatured alcohol.
  • Includes orange peel oil, which puts skin at risk for irritation.

More Info:

Alcohol-Based Skincare Products: Research makes it clear that alcohol, as a main ingredient in any skincare product, especially one you use frequently and repeatedly, is a problem.

When we express concern about the presence of alcohol in skincare or makeup products, we’re referring to denatured ethanol, which most often is listed as SD alcohol, alcohol denat., denatured alcohol, or (less often) isopropyl alcohol.

When you see these types of alcohol listed among the first six ingredients on an ingredient label, without question the product will irritate and cause other problems for skin. There’s no way around it—these volatile alcohols are simply bad for all skin types.

The reason they’re included in products is because they provide a quick-drying finish, immediately degrease skin, and feel weightless, so it’s easy to see their appeal, especially for those with oily skin. If only those short-term benefits didn’t lead to negative long-term outcomes!

Using products that contain these alcohols will cause dryness, erosion of skin’s protective barrier, and a strain on how skin replenishes, renews, and rejuvenates itself. Alcohol just weakens everything about skin.

The irony of using alcohol-based products to control oily skin is that the damage from the alcohol can actually lead to an increase in breakouts and enlarged pores. As we said, the alcohol does have an immediate de-greasing effect on skin, but it causes irritation, which eventually will counteract the de-greasing effect and make your oily skin look even more shiny.

There are people who challenge us on the information we’ve presented about alcohol’s effects. They often base their argument on a study in the British Journal of Dermatology (July 2007, pages 74–81) that concluded “alcohol-based hand rubs cause less irritation than hand washing….” But, the only thing this study showed was that alcohol was not as irritating as an even more irritating hand wash, which contained sodium lauryl sulfate. So, the study is actually just telling you that one irritant, sodium lauryl sulfate, is worse than another irritant, alcohol.

Not all alcohols are bad. For example, there are fatty alcohols, which are absolutely non-irritating and can be beneficial for skin. Examples that you’ll see on ingredient labels include cetyl alcoholstearyl alcohol, and cetearyl alcohol, all of which are good ingredients for skin. It’s important to differentiate between these skin-friendly alcohols and the problematic alcohols.

References for this information:
Chemical Immunology and Allergy, March 2012, pages 77–80
Aging, March 2012, pages 166–175
Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, November 2008, pages 1–16
Dermato-Endocrinology, January 2011, pages 41–49
Experimental Dermatology, June 2008, pages 542–551
Clinical Dermatology, September-October 2004, pages 360–366
Alcohol Journal, April 2002, pages 179–190

Irritating Ingredients: We cannot stress this enough: Sensitizing, harsh, abrasive, and/or fragrant ingredients are bad for all skin types. Daily application of skincare products that contain these irritating ingredients is a major way we unwittingly do our skin a disservice!

Irritating ingredients are a problem because they can lead to visible problems, such as redness, rough skin, dull skin, dryness, increased oil production, and clogged pores, and they contribute to making signs of aging worse.

Switching to non-irritating, gentle skincare products can make all the difference in the world. Non-irritating products are those packed with beneficial ingredients that also replenish and soothe skin, without any volatile ingredients, such as those present in fragrance ingredients, whether natural or synthetic.

A surprising fact: Research has demonstrated that you do not need to see or feel the effects of irritants on your skin for your skin to be suffering, and visible damage may not become apparent for a long time. Don’t get lulled into thinking that if you don’t see or feel signs of irritation, everything is OK.

Generally, it’s best to eliminate, or minimize as much as possible, your exposure to ingredients that are known to irritate skin. There are many completely non-irritating products that contain effective ingredients, so there’s no reason to put your skin at risk with products that include ingredients research has shown can be a problem.

References for this information:
Journal of Dermatological Sciences, January 2015, pages 28–36
International Journal of Cosmetic Science, August 2014, pages 379–385
Clinical Dermatology, May-June 2012, pages 257–262
Aging, March 2012, pages 166–175
Chemical Immunology and Allergy, March 2012, pages 77–80
Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, June 2008, pages 124–135
Food and Chemical Toxicology, February 2008, pages 446–475
American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2003, pages 789–798

Jar Packaging: No
Tested on animals: No

Formulated with 79.37% Centella Asiatica Leaf Water and 1% BHA, this lightweight lotion is designed to prevent further breakouts while soothing and hydrating the applied area. As a lightweight hydrating emulsion, this is the ideal moisturizer for those who want to mattify their oily skin surface, while keeping their skin hydrated. It's excellent for combination to oily skin types.

Centella Asiatica Leaf Water, Butylene Glycol, Alcohol, Dimethicone, Betaine Salicylate, Betaine, 1,2-Hexanediol, Cetearyl Olivate, Sorbitan Olivate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Allantoin, Sodium Hyaluronate, Centella Asiatica Extract, Lecithin, Xanthan Gum, Zinc PCA, Panthenol, Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree) Leaf Oil, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil, PEG-60 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Arginine, Ethylhexylglycerin, Ethyl Hexanediol.

COSRX is one of a growing number of Korean beauty brands – a category known by many simply as K Beauty – that’s gaining a foothold in the Western cosmetics world. COSRX got its start in 2014, though it’s essentially an offspring of older “sister” brands, including C20 and Gatzmen, which have longer-standing histories in the Korean market. As the story goes, COSRX came about after the parent company compiled a decade’s worth of research based on customer data and beauty consumer research.

The brand name, as you might have guessed, is a mash-up of “cosmetics” and “RX” (for prescription), and illustrates COSRX’s overall philosophy. Whereas some other K-beauty brands are known for whimsical packaging and brightly-colored products, CosRX’s focus is minimalistic packaging and products designed to target specific skin care concerns, each highlighted by active ingredients.

To that end, the brand is largely successful. Most of the packaging is designed to protect light- and air-sensitive ingredients, though there are some jars in the mix. The formulas focus on active ingredients such as alpha hydroxy acids, hyaluronic acid, and beta hydroxy acid (though it should be noted, COSRX uses BHA derivatives, since salicylic acid’s use is restricted in Korea).

Most of the exfoliants are formulated at the optimal pH for exfoliation, which is between 3 and 4, and are fragrance free. Unfortunately there are some formulas that include natural ingredients that can potentially sensitize skin, including pine and cedar extracts, and anise fruit extract – proof once again that natural isn’t always better! Some products also contain drying alcohol, which is interesting since other products are specifically advertised as being “alcohol-free.”

Overall, this line is worth considering, especially if you prefer a more targeted approach to skin care that focuses on science rather than trends. For more information, visit cosrx.kr, the brand’s official Korean site. COSRX is available for purchase at several U.S. and online retailers, including Ulta, Amazon, and SokoGlam.

About the Experts

The Beautypedia team consists of skin care and makeup experts personally trained by the original Cosmetics Cop and best-selling beauty author, Paula Begoun. We’re fascinated by skin care and makeup products and thrilled when they meet or exceed our expectations, but we’re also disappointed when they fail to perform as claimed, are wildly overpriced, or contain ingredients scientific research has proven can hurt skin.

Our mission has always been to help you find the best products for your skin, no matter your budget or preferences. Beautypedia’s thorough and insightful reviews cut through the hype and provide reliable recommendations for all ages, skin types, and skin tones.

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