"There is an old Korean expression that goes, "The secret of beauty involves sleeping," a bespectacled lanky man decked in a white clinical coat utters into the microphone at his press presentation in Singapore. He is Brian Suh, the senior vice-president leading the research and development arm of Amorepacific Korea, the parent company behind some of the most recognisable Korean skincare brands — Etude House, Innisfree, Laneige, Mamonde, Hera and Sulwhasoo. "So beautiful women, they sleep a lot," Suh jokes, cajoling laughter from the crowd gathered before him.
"Good sleep has an influence on skin and beauty, but there was no product designed to take care of the skin during sleep," he continues. That was until Laneige's famed Water sleeping mask was launched in 2002. Over the past decade, the introduction of this sleeping mask has made an indelible change to women and men's nightly skincare routines. Beyond mere cleansing, toning and moisturising, people now had to slap on a generous layer of gel-like sleeping packs.
Laneige's Water sleeping mask may be familiar to most of us. It was first introduced in 2002, and has been through numerous reformulations throughout the decade, the last being in 2015.
Most of us assume that sleeping masks merely serve to rehydrate the skin throughout the night. Yet, there's more than meets the eye in these innocuous tubs of Korean-made sleeping masks.
"Our body has a circadian rhythm, it's a biological process. The circadian rhythm is associated with the skin's condition," Suh explains. "Sleep deprivation blocks the circadian rhythm, which causes the skin to lose its firmness."
It was an association that rung familiar. It's common knowledge that the lack of sleep induces breakouts, or that makeup products don't settle well on the skin after a night of bad sleep or insomnia.
"There are two types of sleep deprivation — acute, which lasts for one to two days, which affects the younger generation, and chronic. Those who are middle-aged are likely to have this problem," Suh continues.
Together with his research team, Suh ran clinical trials on subjects with these two types of sleep issues. "It was found that sleep deprivation decreased skin moisture levels, and increased the amount of dead skin cells." Essentially, sleep loss hinders the skin's ability to regenerate and repair itself, leaving you with dry skin the next morning.
"We [also] discovered the impacts of sleep deprivation on the eye — moisture levels and blood flow rates were reduced," Suh continues. Likewise, the lips suffered the same fate.
"So we developed skincare solutions for each problem," says Suh. There were different sleeping masks designed for different age groups, alongside sleeping eye masks and lip masks.
When the clinical trial subjects suffering from varying degrees of sleep deprivation tried the masks out, their skin conditions were observed the next morning. "They improved the overall skin tone, that is measured during the day. They made it brighter again overnight," Suh continues.
Sulwhasoo's jade-infused Radiance Energy sleeping mask comes in a creamy texture, and stays creamy and luxurious throughout the night.
Yet, not every sleeping mask was designed for everyone. Sulwhasoo's Radiance Energy mask for one, was "designed to care for the skin of women in their 40s and 50s suffering from chronic sleep deprivation."
While in Seoul, Hera has generally been perceived as a luxurious skincare brand afforded by women of the same age range, their newly-launched Aqua Recharging sleeping mask may be palatable to a younger crowd. It comes in a light and convenient tube, and the gel quickly melts into a viscose, watery texture, readily absorbed by the skin.
Hera's Aqua Recharging sleeping mask was newly launched in July this year.
Etude House's Moistfull Collagen sleeping pack has been around since the brand launched in 1956. It was recognised for its key ingredient, water from the Baobab trees. The formula was reformulated over the decades, the last being 2015.
Etude House's Moistfull Collagen sleeping mask was designed for women aged between 18 and 35, the brand's local personnel explained. To be specific, the sleeping mask was trialed on women aged 20 to 25, and they reported they observed immediate hydrated and plumper skin.
Similar to the above is Innisfree's Whitening Pore sleeping pack, which has mostly drawn reviews from women aged between 19 and 34 on their official product site.
Innisfree's Whitening Pore sleeping pack is targeted at uneven skin tone.
Some sleeping masks that are not age-specific includes Laneige's Water sleeping mask, which has seen raving reviews from teenagers to women in their 30s. The mask promises to moisturise the skin, add a glow to your skin the next morning, reduce the amount of dead skin cells, pore size and redness.
A similar product would be Mamonde's Enriched Nutri sleeping mask which contains evening primrose oil. It's priced affordably, and solely targets dry and dull skin types.
Mamonde's Enriched Nutri sleeping mask comes in a rich texture with little capsules floating around.
The scents in these products were designed to usher you into relaxation and rest. "We are now working on emotional sleep care," senior researcher Suh explains. "These are things that could improve sleep, and relax the body for better sleep. We conducted brain and cognitive science studies to find the emotional benefits of fragrances through the brainwaves in sleep." And this is the future of these Korean sleeping masks.
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