Beauty, Cosmetic Reviews
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The 2nd Annual Skincare Dundies: Favorites & Hate-Its of 2016

Hello, fellow strangers!

I apologize for the absence, work hours increased & life became a bit hectic; but consider your fellow Korean cosmetic addict back & ready to slather more things on my face! No better way to rejoin the skincare addicted community than kicking off the holidays with my personal favorite & biased skincare awards, The 2nd Annual Skincare Choice Dundies of 2016!

We will discuss this year’s stellar products, brands that were trailblazers & skincare moments we wish we could forget in 2016.

Best Cleansing Water

Runner-Up: A’True Sweet Song Black Tea One-Step Cleansing Water

This skincare step is a necessity in both of my AM & PM routines, I use it a traditional cleanser in the morning & make-up remover in the evenings. I have tried many flops over the years, but this A’True product caught my attention in 2016! This cleanser is packed with antioxidants, leaving my face bright & clear every morning. A’True is a cruelty-free & socially conscious brand, which is major bonus points on my rating scale. The steep price tag does leave more to be desired though & it slightly  irritated my sensitive eyes.

*Review from May 2016

Winner: Bioderma Sensibo H2O Micellar Solution

No other cleansing water has been able to rival my fancy French water from Bioderma! It is the only micellar water so far that does not irritate my eyes at all & leaves my skin feeling clean with no residual film. This is one of the few simple steps in my skincare routine that I am willing to splurge on because there is nothing else that works as well for me & it works great as a make-up remover if stubborn mascara still lingers even after Double Cleansing with an oil cleanser. I live in France so the price isn’t as expensive as other countries, I can usually buy 1,000ml [Two full-size bottles] for €16.00.


Best Oil-Based Cleanser

Runner-Up: Amore Pacific illi Total Aging Care Cleansing Oil

This hanbang oil cleanser had all Korean cosmetic enthusiasts excited! It is a product well worth the hype with its fantastic ingredient list & ease of breaking down waterproof makeup without any tugging. It has a completely neutral scent considering it is a product derived from ancient medicinal practices. However, the price tag is a bit steep for a cleanser that is mineral oil based. There is nothing wrong with mineral oil as an ingredient & I really like it for my dry skin, but it is such a cheap resource that it really shows how much the brand marked up this product & I cannot award it the ultimate prize based on this.

*Review from June 2016

Winner: Kose Deep Cleansing Oil

This product received an honorable mention in last year’s Skincare Dundies, but I grew to really love this oil cleanser as I continued to use it throughout 2016. It’s an extremely affordable & accessible Japanese cleanser with a rice bran oil base, which truly worked small miracles at evening my complexion. I tried so many duds throughout 2016 that either were so expensive, didn’t remove make-up well, or irritated my eyes. This oil cleanser is so effortlessly great & I realized I kept comparing all other oil cleansers to this one, I definitely under appreciated this product in 2015.

*Review from January 2016

Best Water-Based Cleanser

Runner-Up: Innisfree Blueberry Rebalancing 5.5 Cleanser

Innisfree has been one of the most improved Korean cosmetic brands for me in 2016. I have a tendency to shy away from their products because they are heavily fragranced & tend to trigger migraines for me. However, Innisfree has produced a lot more neutral scented products this year so I have been excited to begin exploring the brand again! This is one of my favorite products, which was surprising because I tend to also stay away from even mild foaming cleansers. This one did a great job of removing make-up without leaving my skin feeling stripped. I do have some qualms with the ingredient list & it would occasionally leave my skin feeling dry, but overall one of the most affordable & effective cleansers I used this year.

*Review from June 2016

Winner: Burt’s Bees Radiance Cleanser with Royal Jelly

Burt’s Bees is an under appreciated brand, they offer well formulated products at a reasonable price. This is definitely an underrated product, particularly if you have dry skin. The cleanser feels cream-based, but it removes make-up far better than more expensive competitors like Cetaphil or CeraVe. It leaves behind no residue like most lotion cleansers, but still leaves the skin feeling moisturized. I do critique the scent in my review of the product, but it is temporary & this is a product that you obviously wash off.

*Review from June 2016


Best Chemical Exfoliant

Runner-Up: Drunk Elephant TLC Glycollic Night Serum

I did not dare go near Drunk Elephant for a long time because I was worried that it would be one of those skincare products I would begrudgingly fall in love with… And that’s exactly what happened! It has a number of natural chemical exfoliants & botanical extracts, I wake every morning with my skin feeling moisturized & looking brighter after using this product. However, I can’t declare it skincare royalty because of its high price tag & it’s not exactly a unique product.

Winner: Pai Copaiba Deep Cleanse AHA Mask

This product was featured as one of my favorite masks in last year’s Skincare Dundies. I am a wash-off mask enthusiast & my appreciation for this product throughout this year has only grown. I have dry & sensitive skin so occasionally products with AHA or BHA will be to irritating on my skin. However, a wash-off mask still allows my skin to benefit from chemical exfoliants without leaving them on my skin all day or overnight. I must pay homage to my AHA masks because you ‘da real mvp!

Best Physical Exfoliant

Runner-Up: Missha Brown Sugar Facial Scrub

My skin needs a bit of physical exfoliation in its routine occasionally. This is a very gentle sugar scrub with a scent of fresh-baked cookies & it helps remove dead skin so other skincare products absorb easier without leaving my skin feel completely stripped. I like that this product comes in silicone tube packaging instead of a tub like the Skin Food Strawberry Sugar Scrub because it is more hygienic.

Winner: Kanebo Suisai Beauty Powder

I have a love affair with powder cleansers since they are a dual purpose product & I finally found a cheaper alternative with the same effectiveness as the Amore Pacfic Treatment Enzyme Peel. Kanebo is Japanese company that has formulated a non-drying powder cleanser. It comes in single use pods, which makes this product great for traveling!


Best Vitamin Serum

Runner-Up: Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum

This is one of the most unusual skincare products I have tried. It is a 15% Vitamin C serum with a 24 month shelf life, which a standard Vitamin C serum lasts 3-4 months before it oxidizes. It contains a number of antioxidants, fermented extracts & botanical oils. This is the most effective & least irritating Vitamin C cosmetics I have ever used, it is my favorite Vitamin C product if I am being completely honest with myself. However, I can’t award it for being $80.00 USD because that’s a ridiculous mark-up on such a cheap ingredient like Vitamin C.

Winner: Skin Solutions C + E Combination Antioxidant Treatment

This 15% Vitamin C serums is slightly more budget-friendly at $39 & it is a near identical dupe of the high-end SkinCueticals serum. This vitamin c serum lasted me around 5 months before I noticed any signs of oxidation. It contains Vitamin E & Ferulic Acid, which will also help improve skin texture. It has a pH of 3.0 as well, which is ideal for skin exfoliation & the dark packaging will help stabilize the product formula. I did notice brighter & smoother skin as I usually experience with most Vitamin C products. The smell is slightly off-putting though, it is very antiseptic.

Best Toner

Runner-Up: Missha Near Skin Rose Tea Toner

I have been very impressed with the new products Missha have been developing in their Near Skin line. This toner is green tea based, while being infused with rose extract & botanical oils. It is a very simple ingredient list, but it greatly helped reduce inflammation in my cheeks this summer & keep whiteheads at bay. It is one of the most effective products I bought this year at $10 USD for 415ml of product.

*I think WordPress ate my review since it still have my pictures, but not the post!

Winner: Holika Holika Cheoeum Balhyo Miracle Seed First Essence 

My Holy Grail hydrating toner has been reformulated in a way that does not leave my skin looking very inspired so I have been on the hunt for a replacement the last year. I have a tried a lot of good toners, but nothing great until I stumbled upon this product. It is a fermentation based toner like most first essences; but it also contains green tea, caffeine & botanical oils. This product definitely perks up my skin in the morning & it is even more hydrating that my original Holy Grail.

Best Essence

Runner-Up: Ciracle Anti-Wrinkle Drama Essence

Ciracle is the sister brand of Cosrx, but I’ve been far more impressed with the products produced by baby sis! I firmly believe this is one of the best introductory anti-aging products either for younger folks or dry skin types. It is a non-exfoliating essence that is packed with antioxidants & peptides. It is not a product where you will see overnight or dramatic results, but peptides are still important ingredients in an anti-aging routine & this is such an affordable product that lasts forever. I still have not finished the bottle & I use this daily!

*Review from April 2016

Winner: Sidmool Secret of Red Astaxanthin Concentrate

This is a product where I did not appreciate the skin benefits until after I stopped using it. I kept looking in the mirror & noticing my skin looked less plump, some of my pores were looking more clogged, and my skin felt slightly more dehydrated. A product like this will definitely not replace a chemical exfoliant or 20% vitamin c serum, but it’s fantastic emollient for dry skin & provided me with fantastic brightening effects with its potent antioxidants.

*Review from June 2016


Best Anti-Aging

Runner-Up: Murad Retinol Youth Renewal Serum

This is another one of those products where I am mad at myself for falling in love with it. I am an awful Sephora rewards point hoarder, mostly because they never have anything I want though I digress, but I qualified to receive a travel-size of this product. It is honestly one of the best retinol products I have tried. It contains humectants & botanical oils to keep your skin hydrated while still containing multiple forms of retinol & ceramide to erase fine lines. I do believe if you’re going to invest in some expensive skincare, it should be retinol products & I have spent a lot of time debating whether to purchase the full-size or not… I just haven’t been able to justify the $88.00 USD price tag.

Winner: Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM

This product still comes with a high price tag, but it doesn’t hurt my wallet quite as much as Murad. I have always been very impressed with Peter Thomas Roth products, though I usually find the brand seems to be surrounded by skepticism because it is luxury spa line lacking the skincare house names like Dior or Biologique Reserche. However, this retinol is probably the best anti-aging product I have ever slathered on. The small ingredient lists the perfect blend of botanicals oils, squaline & retinol to make fine lines disappear without the irritation.

Best Facial Oil

Runner-Up: Sunday Riley Luna Oil

This product was an award winner in last year’s Dundies & it is definitely still worth the honorable mention this year! I do love this oil, it is another great introductory anti-aging product. I know this product is pricey & essential oils are very cheap so the markup may seem exorbitant, but I have always been able to justify the price because it does contain retinol & so many different types of oils. I have noticed this oil can clog my pores around my temples if I use more than 3 drops at a time on my entire face & the retinol can dry out my skin on occasion, but I am still very happy to have this product in my collection!

Winner: The SAEM Chaga Facial Oil

This is a relatively new facial oil in my collection, but it has quickly risen to one of my favorites. The SAEM is a Korean cosmetic brand that does not receive the attention it deserves, they produce some of the highest quality anti-aging products on the Korean cosmetic market at an extremely affordable price. This oil is packed with niacinamide, glycerin, fermented mushroom goodness & all the other hanbang jazz!

Best Morning Moisturizer

Runner-Up: Laneige Water Sleeping Pack [2015 Renewal]

I decided to try using this as a morning moisturizer because I kept being impressed with how matte it dried at night & this turned out to be be the perfect moisturizer for under make-up! It is so much more hydrating than a typical morning moisturizer, it really helped to control my skin’s flakiness & make-up application in the winter.

*Review from May 2016

Winner: Origins Make a Difference+ Rejuvenating Moisturizer

This is one of the first skincare brands I ever used & I still really enjoy many of their products. They produce some of my favorite lightweight moisturizers because they designed for dehydrated skin like mine & wear incredibly well under make-up. Last year, it was the Origins Ginzing moisturizer that stole my heart with its brightening effects, but this year a different Origins moisturizer has replaced it! The Make a Difference is just so hydrating that it even makes my make-up look better.


Best Evening Moisturizer

Runner-Up: Origins Drink-Up Intensive Overnight Mask

Yet another Origins products! I have been using this moisturizer for years & it is one of the few skincare products that I always make sure I have backup in my cabinet. This Origins has a much short & less intimidating ingredient list, yet still remains true to their botanical basics. Every night I use, I wake up with incredibly supple skin that lasts all day long.

Winner: First Aid Ultra Beauty Repair Cream Intense Hydration

This has long been a cult favorite, but I had never tried it until recently & honestly never would have if I hadn’t received a free deluxe sample. However, this is the only instance this year where I went out to buy the full-size after using the sample. My face has never felt so soft or looked as bright the morning after using this product. I has an issue with cheek redness this year & this product really helped soothe the inflammation.

Best Sunscreen

Runner-Up: Goodal Mild Protect Filter Sun Essence SPF 50+

Sunscreen is the only skincare step where I already have a Holy Grail product, but I chose to test out a wide range of different sincere products this year. The majority of the sunscreens I tried were duds or paled in comparison to my beloved Missha sunscreen… Except this Goodal sunscreen! I was even more surprised how much I liked this sunscreen because I usually gravitate towards chemical sunscreens & this is a physical sunscreen. It has a slight white-cast, but it does fade quickly on deeper skin tones based upon reviews I have read. It has an ingredient list filled with multiple UV filters for the best protection & numerous hanbang components. It has a creamy texture as well so it is great for dry skin, my main critiques is it does have a strong scent & it is quite expensive for a sunscreen.

Winner: Missha All Around Safe Block Essence Sun SPF 50+

This is sunscreen is a 2nd time award winner in this category & well deserved. This sunscreen is my Holy Grail & despite this being my year of experimental sunscreens, nothing has been able to knock Missha off the throne. It is moisturizing while still having a matte finish & it layers well under make-up. It has a great ingredient list while providing UVA & UVB protection.

*Review from January 2016

Best Wash-Off Mask

Runner-Up: Caudalie Moisturizing Cream Mask

I use a hydrating wash-off mask nearly every night & even I have to admit they are not the most exciting products because they do not produce obvious effects like brightening or exfoliating masks until I tried this mask. The Caudalie mask is the best hydrating mask I have ever tried, my skin feels more soft & supple even after 10 minutes of wear. The effects last all day & it helps de-puff my face after a restless sleep. I know this is a pricey mask in the US, but it is under €18 if you ever happen to be in France.

Winner: Balea Enzyme Peeling Mask

Balea is a German drugstore brand & I experimented with a lot of their products while I was living in Austria earlier this year. I discovered some hits & misses, but this was my favorite product by far! My skin is slightly sensitive so I prefer using chemical exfoliants in wash-off form as I mentioned earlier & I have tried quite a few enzyme peels as well, this mask was more effective than all the luxury brand enzyme products I have tried & it only costs €2 in-store! My skin looks so much brighter & smooth after using this mask, my skincare products also absorb far better after using this mask.

Best Sheet Mask

Runner-Up: Holika Holika Juicy Mask in Mango

Great sheet masks do not have to come from luxury brands, Holika Holika really proved that with their Juicy sheet mask line. The simple ingredient list emphasizes hydration & botanical extracts. My favorite mask from the line was the “Revitalizing Mango”. It smells just like fresh mangos & the masks takes about a half hour to full absorb, but the plumping & brightening effects last much longer on my skin than the average sheet mask. The mask fits my narrow, petite face very well though I wish the mask material was a bit thinner.

*Mention in best sheet masks of May 2016

Winner: Naruko Brightening & Firming Magnolia Mask

Naruko produces some of my favorite skincare products of all time so it was no surprise when I fell in love with their sheet masks that a friend brought me back from Taiwan. The masks are thin & cling to the face so well that I do not have to lie down while wearing them. The masks usually last for 30-45 minutes on my dry skin, the essence is slightly milky without being like a lotion.


… Of course this isn’t the end, silly! I know we have all been waiting on the best brands & products of 2016, but mostly anticipating who are this year’s skincare bad boys!

Worst Product of 2016

Runner-Up: Eucerin Sun Creme SPF 50+

Perfecting sunscreen is a difficult task for any cosmetic brand, but Eucerin did it the worst in 2016 with this sun care product. It is greasy & never dries even on my dehydrated, bone-dry skin. It pills under make up, it doesn’t even layer well with other skincare steps. I even hated using it as a body sunscreen because it is so thick & greasy feeling. It is not a cheap product either.

*Review from July 2016

Ultimate Loser: La Roche Posay Redermic C Lotion

I didn’t even need a full-size product of this to know I hated it. I received a free deluxe sample when I was wandering in a Dublin pharmacy, but this product was so bad that even strangers approached me to ask me what wrong with my skin. This is a lightweight lotion with SPF protection & vitamin c to create an allegedly “great” morning moisturizer. FALSE! It smells like cough medicine, it expensive & the vitamin c oxidizes throughout the day so your face turns orange.

*Review included in a skincare sample challenge from October 2016

Best Product of 2016

Runner-Up: Peter Thomas Roth Blue Marine Algae Intense Hydrating Mask

I am a fan of the Peter Thomas Roth masks, the Pumpkin Enzyme & Rose Stem cell are among my favorites. I was introduced to the new Blue Algae in 2016 & it easily became my favorite wash-off mask of the year. It contains multiple forms of algae, glycerin, green tea & fermentation. It has a cooling effect that is very soothing on the face, while leaving my skin looking brighter & feeling fresh.

Reigning Supreme: Missha Zyosys First Treatment Essence

Yes, I need to honor my Holy Grail because this is the last year I am able to do so as it has been discontinued. Let’s have a moment of silence for our departed skincare brethren.  Let us remember the days when this essence brightened our skin & mornings that this toner was the savior to sleep-deprived faces. Let us not feel the anguish of all the failed dupes we have tried in attempts to fill the void Missha has left us. We may never be able to find the perfect replacement & perhaps we are never meant to because Missha’s original first treatment essence was that special, but us skincare addicts will always learn to carry-on & we will never fear to try new cosmetics!

*Discussed in April 2016

**New Category** BRAND TALK

Worst Brand of 2016: OST

This Korean cosmetic brand specializes in Vitamin C products, a trend that is more common in Western cosmetics so it is commendable for OST to try to open this on the Eastern market. However, OST does not execute their specialty very well. The formulas tend to have high concentrations of alcohol & contain less stable preservatives so their products oxidize even quicker than average. Their new Vitamin C serum was launched this year after a number of complaints about the C20 regarding the dry & irritating formulation, but the new product is even worse as detailed in my review. OST has never been one of my favored brands, but the new C21.5 formulation earns OST my title of worst cosmetic brand of the year.

*My OST C21.5 debacle from February 2016

Best Brand of 2016: Missha

Missha has always been one of my favorite brands, I initially got into the brand by using their make-up products way back when I was a teenage school girl. While I have always coveted Missha’s make-up, their skincare tended to either be absolutely amazing or major misses. They are infamous for ripping of luxury brand formulations to sell at a cheaper price, but Missha has truly rebranded their reputation this year. While they still formulate cheaper skincare dupes, they have produced a number of standout products of original design in 2016. I have been a huge fan of their Near Skin line rebranding with well researched ingredients for ultimate skincare benefits & simple ingredient lists.


Worst Product Name of 2016: Cosrx Galactomyces 95 White Power Essence

Vintage has been trendy in the beauty industry since 2010, but 1943 West Germany is a part of history that most people try to keep in the past. I am torn because “White” and “Whitening” are very common terms Korean cosmetic because bright & even skin tone is culturally desired. However, Cosrx is a young company & very active on social media, plus they chose to sell this product on an international market under the “White Power” name. Even though I know the name is unintentionally racist, I still feel like Cosrx should have known better.

It has since been changed to “Whitening Power” so hopefully Cosrx has learned its lesson!

Best Product Name of 2016: Shara Shara White Girl’s Cream

Have you noticed a theme to products in 2016 yet? Brightening & skin tone correction are major factors in Korean skincare, which is why we frequently see “whitening” terminology in Korean product names. At least Shara Shara’s approach to product naming is more “basic” instead of racist & nothing makes me giggle harder than unintentional jabs at popular culture, plus I have so many questions! Does the Shara Shara cream smell like pumpkin spice or peppermint mocha? Is the color of rose gold or white marble?


Did you have any great skincare revelations or discover new products this year? Maybe some not so stellar skincare moments? Also, here is my First Annual Skincare Choice Dundies from last year if you just can’t seem to get enough!


  1. Pingback: My Updated Skincare Routine – Autumn / Winter 2018 | A Little Driftless

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