13 Jul 2016

Comparison Review of 7 First Serum / Skin Booster: Sulwhasoo, Hanyul, Innisfree, Belif, Goodal and Mamonde

It's no secret that I love treatment essence. I have reviewed 5 of them, and have at least 10 lining up in my wardrobe. Given my love for treatment essence, one would expect me to like first serum as well, which is just about the same thing as treatment essence, but are they? In this review, we're gonna talk further on first serum and discussed 7 first care products I'd personally tried.


First serum refers to skin booster with a thicker and concentrated consistency than treatment essence that you use immediately after cleansing and before a toner. Unlike treatment essence that mainly renews, regenerates and exfoliates, first serum focuses more on deep hydration, skin activating and nourishing.

I realize that there are more treatment essence than first serum in the market, probably due to general consumer preference for treatment essence. At least you can always relate to SK-II Pitera Essence when you are trying to sell your treatment essence, right?

Besides, there is also some confusion between first serum and normal serum. This line is getting blurred as more serum has lighter consistency nowadays. For me, it is pretty straightforward. Anything that says "first serum" in its packaging is what I will use as a first care product. All others are considered normal serum. In fact, first serum has lighter consistency and is more refreshing on the skin as they are meant to be your skin appetizer that reminds your skin it is time for breakfast!

Problematic, dull, dehydrated and dry skin will benefit the most from a first serum as it preps and revitalizes the skin before layering it with nutrition. It opens up the skin's appetizer for better nutrition absorption.


Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum (80ml) / KRW 20,000

The Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum is one of the most popular and best-selling Korean beauty products worldwide. It is nicknamed the 3 seconds little green guy that replenishes moisture loss from your skin within 3 seconds after cleansing.

This product is the closest to what I understand as a first serum - a concentrated fluid that preps, hydrates and boosts the skin before layering products on top. Some people use this as a normal serum, but I personally prefer using this right after cleansing. Don't apply this on dry face as it will not be absorbed well and will leave a tacky finish. I think this is too light to be considered a moisturizing serum yet potent enough to replenish whatever your might lose during the cleansing process - your natural oil and moisture.

The major claim of this product is moisturizing and anti-oxidizing with green tea. It is more suitable for younger skin without aging concerns. For mature skin, Primera Super Sprout Serum, Hanyul Optimising Serum and Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum EX are better choices. This is hydrating, moisturizing but not nourishing enough for mature skin type.

In term of performance, this has helped my skin to retain moisture and stay hydrated for the whole day. I was using Nature Republic Super Aqua Max line which was pretty obsolete (yet calls itself Aqua MAX). It got my skin producing oil in about 3-4 hours, a clear sign of moisture loss! After introducing this Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum and Cream into my routine, my skin remained happy and healthy for at least 6-8 hours.

All skin types can use this, even oily-combination and dehydrated skin. However, it may not be suitable for sensitive skin since my friends with sensitive skin develop rashes and breakouts reaction from this serum.

For detailed reviews and ingredients analysis please see my full review here.

Goodal Phytorain Murumuru Seed Hydra Serum (45ml) / KRW 22,000

Goodal is a skincare brand under CLIO and is more popular for its waterest line. This phytorain should be one of the earlier skincare lines they produce.

This Goodal Phytorain Murumuru Seed Hydra Serum shares a lot of similarities with Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum. They are both first serum, has yellowish concentrated fluid texture, use primarily plant seed and focus mainly on moisturizing. This Goodal one has additional brightening and skin balancing claims. If going by local market price, Goodal is slightly more expensive than Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum.

Despite all the similarities, this Goodal serum does not work as well as the Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum. It is one such serum that feels absolutely nothing on my skin. It is not particularly hydrating, moisturizing, brightening, anti-oxidizing or nourishing. The texture is also unpleasant. It looks really similar to Innisfree but is much gooier. Instead of calling it fast absorbing, I would say this evaporates in the process of blending. It will also leave a weird alcoholic smell that I absolutely do not enjoy.

Not something I would recommend but no harm trying for those who are interested.

For detailed reviews and ingredients analysis please see my full review here.

Mamonde Honeysuckle First Energy Serum (100ml) / KRW 28,000

There are two types of products in the first energy line – an essence and a serum. I chose the serum because I have already had a lot of essences in my skincare wardrobe.

The Mamonde First Energy Serum use fermented honeysuckle flower extract which has anti-inflammatory and acne-calming effects. It is also loaded with skin brightening agent niacinamide, revitalizing agent adenosine and deep-cleansing natural BHA willow bark extract. The ingredients make this a perfect combination for individuals with saggy skin, sun damage, dark spots, dull complexion and acne-prone skin. The texture is also unique in the way that it produces a corset effect – a subtle lifting effect that dries down matte and will work as a good skin primer and makeup base.

However, unlike Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum, this does not fit what I would imagine as a first care product. It’s not a treatment essence, but not quite a hydrating and skin boosting serum. If I were to compare, I would say this is a lighter and non-sticky version of the J.One Jelly Pack. Alternatively, you could also use this after your treatment step as a light-weighted essence emulsion, or after a toner as a light-weighted essence. This is insufficient to replace a moisturizer.

The product claims to do things like wrinkles-care, brightening and firming, but so far I only see brightening. No improvements were seen in my pores size and skin texture. This is lightly moisturizing though.

For detailed reviews and ingredients analysis please see my full review here.

Belif Numero 10 Essence (75ml) / KRW 33,000

Just like Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum, this is a bathroom essence you use immediately after cleansing. The differences are that, this is about 1.5 times the price of Innisfree, is much milder on the skin, has watery gel texture instead of oily serum of Innisfree, and uses better ingredients.

The Belif Numero 10 Essence is so gentle that my friend with extremely sensitive skin who survives only on Avene products thoroughly enjoys this. My mom who cannot tolerate Innisfree products adore this as well. She somehow thinks this is better than Sulwhasoo.

There are a lot herbal extracts packed in this transparent little bottle, which I have done a full ingredients analysis here. Together, they are made for individuals with sensitive, acne-prone, dehydrated, oily-dehydrated, dry and flaky skin with damaged moisture barrier. Of course, normal skin can use this as a hydrator as well, but problematic skin will benefit the most from its healing and soothing properties.

This product is more moisturizing than Mamonde, Goodal, and Hanyul, but is less nutritive than Sulwhasoo. The bonus, however, is the soothing and healing effects it offers. I really enjoy using this Numero 10 Essence. I think it has made my skin clearer, dewier, hydrated and plump. I don’t suffer from redness and breakouts a lot so I cannot tell how good its soothing effect is but I have heard enough raves from those people around me who have tried it.

Aromatica Rose Absolute First Serum (130ml) / KRW 35,000

This is another interesting first serum I’ve tried from the brand Aromatica, an organic and animal-cruelty free brand. As much as I adore its eco- and animal- friendliness, it doesn’t translate into great products formulation. The only thing I respect about this product is the ingredients list.

Out of all first serums I have tried, I would say this is the closest to oil. A light-weighted oil. The product is made of pure aloe vera juice, which is quite undiluted, hard to be absorbed and feels tacky on the skin. Applying this on a wet face improves the absorbency but that would greatly disqualify its claim as a toner and essence in one product.

I have tried numerous ways to cope with this but all fails. In the end, I have to sign a divorce paper with it but before I'd to move out this product has already deteriorated. It is in such a bad condition that I'd to throw it away before I could finish it or use it on the drier part of my body.

Definitely would not recommend this for the Malaysian weather, unless if you have very dry skin, your room is super cool or you won’t mind rushing to the fridge to grab this everytime.

For detailed review and ingredients analysis please see here.

Hanyul Optimizing Serum (70ml) / KRW 65,000

I was super curious about this Hanyul Optimising Serum having heard a lot of people calling the brand Hanyul as the little Sulwhasoo. Besides, this product is only 60% of the retail prices of Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum.

This Hanyul Optimising Serum, just like Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum and Aromatica Rose Absolute First Serum, is a first serum type product that contains 83% hanbang ingredients. Its major claims are wrinkles-care, anti-aging, and brightening. Unlike Sulwhasoo which attempts to turn back the clock by treating and feeding the skin with nutrition, this Hanyul one seems to focus more on balancing and restoring. In other words, this Hanyul serum teaches the skin how to dress whereas Sulwhasoo helps the skin to put on dress and by doing so teaching the skin how to do it in the future by itself.

This product contains a special formula called the Yulyeodan, with five oriental extracts safflower seed, gromwell, coix, apricot seeds and mulberry leaves to restore and balance the skin. Other ingredients serve the purpose of balancing, skin restoration, anti-aging and gentle exfoliating. Dong-guai, scot pine, barley, songyi, rice, coix seed and so on are used to improve blood circulation to the skin, prevent aging, and moisturize the skin. More reparative ingredients such as cnidium officinale, soybean seed, fermented soybean, white mulberry tree, and gromwell are potent ingredients to revert UVB damage on the skin, stimulate collagen production and gently exfoliate the skin to reveal younger and brighter looking skin. Some of these ingredients are also good at improving skin elasticity and treating dark spots, which make them a perfect combination for mature skin with aging concern and sun damage.

I have tried 3-4 bottles of this Hanyul serum miniatures and must be very honest with you guys that I was not impressed. It is indeed very light-weighted, hydrating and cooling on the skin, but I was expecting more from a boosting serum that costs KRW 65,000 (USD 65). I think I would not purchase the full size bottle after I’m finished with the miniatures I got.

Having said all these, I still think that this is a decent product to try, but maybe not for immediate results. If you are in your 30s, has oilier skin and is not ready to commit yourself into Sulwhasoo, then this is a good one to start with.

Sulwhasoo First Care Activating  Serum EX (60ml) / KRW 90,000

Now comes our final first care product today - the popular, expensive but highly raved Sulwhasoo First Care Activating Serum EX!

Just like Hanyul, Sulwhasoo focuses on the art of balancing to help the skin to restore and regenerate itself faster. It has a unique JAUM Balancing Complex that is made with 18 hours process involving 5 optimal ingredients selected from over 3,000 oriental herbs. It is said to restore the skin's natural glow by treating signs of aging, rejuvenating the skin's vitality and creating the optimum balance of moisture, transparency and suppleness.

A quick dig into the ingredients also reveal some delicious hanbang ingredients like ophiopogon japonicus root extract (yin tonic that balances and moisturizes to kick away the bad materials), liquorice root extract (treat hyperpigmentation and skin inflammation, great for acne-prone skin), lotus flower extract (powerful antioxidant that can improve skin elasticity and balance out oil production), peony flower extract, sealwort rhizome extract (replenish vital essence, nourish yin and fight against bad bacteria), rehmannia glutinosa (the King of flower and is a great exfoliator and antioxidant)... and the list goes on. Since I really enjoy using this product and has the intention of buying the full size, I think I'll be back with an in-depth ingredients analysis in my future review!

Apart from the ingredients, I truly enjoy using this on my face. It smells awesome, very relaxing and herby and has super light-weighted yet highly concentrated texture that gets absorbed almost immediately. It leaves my skin clear, moisturized, feeling healthy and dewy. I wouldn't say it has done a super great job at improving my skin elasticity but I definitely feel that my skin is looking healthier and plumper. I cannot tell exactly how much I like this serum but just as my favourite vlogger says, this is a product that you don't know what it is doing for your skin until your stop using them.


unit price per ml

main ingredients used

[texture]: oily serum; gooey serum; milky fluid; watery gel; oil; watery fluid; watery serum


Stickiness: Hanyul > Mamonde > Sulwhasoo > Innisfree > Belif > Goodal > Aromatica
Absorbency: Hanyul > Sulwhasoo > Belif > Innisfree > Mamonde > Goodal > Aromatica
Hydration: Goodal > Aromatica > Mamonde > Hanyul > Sulwhasoo > Innisfree > Belif > 


products with visible brightening effects: Mamonde, Sulwhasoo, Belif
products with anti-aging effects: Sulwhasoo, Hanyul, Aromatica, Mamonde
products most suitable for dehydrated skin: Innisfree, Belif, Hanyul, Sulwhasoo
products most suitable for acne-prone skin: Mamonde, Belif
products most suitable for dry skin: Mamonde, Belif, Innisfree, Goodal
products most suitable for oily-combination skin: Mamonde, Belif
products most suitable for sensitive skin: Belif


Out of all 7 first serums I've tried, my favourite would be Belif, Innisfree and Sulwhasoo. I can't decide I like which one better because they serve different purposes. Whenever I need a relaxing scent and a all-in-one product that will keep my hydrated for 2-3 hours before going to bed, I will pick Belif. On days I feel like I need to layer serumy product for more intensive routine later, I will use Innisfree. Sometimes I use Sulwhasoo. Both Belif and Sulwhasoo can keep me comfortable for the next 2-3 hours if used alone without any other products.

Regardless, it is always YMMV when it comes to skincare. I have normal skin with dry forehead and oily noses, and live in a hot and humid climate. I have a personal preference for anything light-weighted, watery, non-sticky yet highly hydrating. This makes it hard for me to tolerate the texture of certain products like Aromatica. The product may not be bad, but it is just not my Mr. Right. For product like Goodal, everything about it including the formula feels so-so. I would even call it a waste of my money. As for Mamonde, I think it doesn't belong to the first serum category, instead would do great as an anti-aging essence emulsion. Hanyul is unimpressive because it is somewhere between Innisfree and Sulwhasoo, which since I have already have both, have no intention of buying the full size product. Your preferences and skin condition may change how you associate with these products, and it is in my hope that this comparison review would be of help for all of you who are struggling to find the right match for your skin type! Good luck!
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