One of the selling points to starting a Korean-style skincare routine is that the number of steps and the variety of competing products to fill each slot means that the universe is a virtually-infinite, interchangeable smorgasboard of options that we can play with in order to keep our faces healthy and happy (and pretty). Now, that style isn’t for everyone, and it’s certainly possible to have a Korean-style routine while still using the same brand, the same product line. You don’t even need to use non-western products for it: for example, you can use the Mandelic Acid Skincare System by Vivant Skincare.
Personally, it’s rare that I ever have a complete skin care system (like, it’s been since I was in middle school and using Clinique on the regular), so I intended to go about this review a little differently. I planned to test each product that can be used alone by itself for two weeks, then try using everything together (and nothing else) for two weeks, to see how each product does alone (or in a duo, as some of them are supposed to be used) and then how the whole system plays out.
We’ll start with the cleanser – the Mandelic Acid 3-in-1 Wash.
Product copy says that this cleanser “controls bacteria, lifts pigment and opens impacted pores”. The bottle also indicates that it can be used on the scalp for acne, dandruff and irritation, and works as a shaving gel for folks prone to ingrown hairs.
Here are the ingredients: Water, Ammonium Lauryn Sulfate, Propylene Glycol, Glycerin, Disodium Cocoampodiacetate, Mandelic Acid, Hydroxethylcellulose, Camella Oleifera (Japanese Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Butylene Glycol, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Fruit Extract, Actinidia Chinensis (Kiwi) Fruit Extract, Honey Extract, Diazolidinyl Urea, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Fragrance, Red 36.
Butylene Glycol rates a 1 out of 5 as an acne trigger on COSDNA; that’s really the only thing that pops up.
This product has a slight pink tinge but is mostly clear. It comes out of the bottle fairly quickly so be careful not to be too heavy handed or you’re going to waste product. According to the bottle, you can use this wash on your skin and also on your scalp if you have issues with acne there, so if you do accidentally squeeze out too much you don’t need to just wash it down the drain. The instructions say to use it all over your face and rub it into a lather. The cleanser foams up nicely – but this isn’t a light, airy foam like you’d expect from an Asian foaming cleanser and a foam net; this is a stiff, dense foam. It doesn’t tug on the skin or anything but it’s definitely more solid than I was expecting after using the Hada Labo’s Gokujyun cleanser for months. There’s a really slight artificial fragrance, but I honestly couldn’t smell it unless I stuck my nose right into the cleanser in the palm of my hand. If you’re allergic to fragrance ingredients you should avoid this product, but if you just dislike the scent I’d say you’re pretty safe here.
It washed off fairly easily and left my skin feeling clean but not stripped – my face didn’t feel tight afterwards. I sat down after the first time using the cleanser and was quite pleasantly surprised to feel how smooth my skin was before I even started doing the rest of my night-time skincare routine.
I tested the cleanser with my handy dandy pH strips and got a nice result: a pH of about 4. Mandelic Acid is an AHA, so this is within the appropriate range.
Although this cleanser is decent at getting everything off your face, it really doesn’t do anything for blemishes at all – I got a fair number of them while testing the cleanser. It is a little drying on my skin as well.
I used this product as shampoo, and it cleaned my hair but also stripped it a little. It was flat as a pancake the next morning; enough that even my roommate, who very rarely notices what I do with my hair, said something to me about it. Then I decided to go whole hog and use it as a shaving cream instead. It did the job about as well as most shaving creams would. I didn’t notice any effects afterwards, although I’m not particularly prone to ingrown hairs so it would have really been strange if something had happened.
Next is the combination of the toner and the serum.
The toner is called the 3% Mandelic Acid 3-in-1 Toner. The bottle says that it “refines the surface of the skin and penetrates deep into pores to remove dirt, oil, make-up and pore-clogging dead skin cells”.
Here are its ingredients: Water, Alcohol Denat., Propylene Glycol, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Extract, Mandelic Acid, Polysorbate 20, Sodium Lactate, Sodium PCA, Glycine, Fructose, Urea, Niacinimide, Inositol, Sodium Benzoate, Lactic Acid.
The alcohol ranks a 5 out of 5 as a potential irritant on COSDNA, and that ain’t no lie.
I pH tested the toner and it looks to be at around a pH of 2.
There are a couple things about this product that I find less than appealing. The first is the smell. Now, I’ve reviewed products that stink before, and it’s not that I can’t or won’t use them (my skin isn’t that sensitive to fragrance and I’m willing to overlook a lot for nice skin), but this product smells like burning and I hate it. The second thing is the alcohol content. If you look at the ingredient list that I put up above the picture, you’ll notice that denatured alcohol is the second item on the ingredients list – and you can tell. This stuff goes on my face and it feels like half the toner evaporates off before it has a chance to absorb at all, and it leaves my face feeling kind of weirdly dry and clean in a bad way.
The serum is called the 8% Mandelic Acid 3-in-1 Serum, and Vivant claims that it “improves the appearance of acne and hyperpigmentation and helps reverse the visible signs of aging”.
Here are its ingredients: Water, Propylene Glycol, Mandelic Acid, Niacinamide, Xanthan Gum, Polysorbate 20, Saccharomyces/Zinc Ferment, Sodium Lactate, Sodium PCA, Glycine, Fructose, Urea, Inositol, Sodium Benzoate, Lactic Acid, Fragrance.
There are no COSDNA listed triggers on this list. It is a nice list (except for the fragrance, which in my opinion is neither here nor there).
This product also smells a little unpleasant, although it’s in more of a ferment-y, musty way than the burning alcohol scent of the toner. I find the serum a lot easier to deal with. It has a pH of around 3.
Where the wash and the toner come in bottles that dispense through their cap, which I find to be not particularly effective, the serum comes in a nice bottle with a dropper cap.
This point in the testing process is where everything ran off the rails. My skin condition rapidly deteriorated; whether it was using these products, or stopping use of my Curology prescription, or a combination of the two, I stopped being able to use these products at all. Not only were they not preventing any breakouts or acne, but it almost seemed like they were triggering it. My review of the last part of the routine is based solely on label reading and tests on various parts of me that are not my face – I was in bad enough shape that I had to discontinue use of all of the products and return to my Curology prescription. This was literally the worst shape that my face had been in in years.
The final step in the Mandelic Acid routine is the Day Treatment Lotion, which notes an SPF of 15. The bottle has no claims on it other than the SPF and the fact that it is a daily use moisturizer.
The active ingredients are listed as Octinoxate 7.5% and Octisalate 5.0%, both sunscreens. The inactive ingredients are Water, Propylene Glycol, Octyldodecanol, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Cetyl Alcohol, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Polysorbate 60, Dimethicone, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice Powder, Titanium Dioxide, Polysorbate 20, Carbomer, Diazolidinyl Urea, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Saccharomyces/Zinc Ferment, Disodium EDTA, Sodium Hydroxide, Fragrance.
Both the Cetearyl and Cetyl Alcohol rate 2 out of 5 for both acne and irritation triggers. The Dimethicone and PEG-100 Stearate rate 1 out of 5 for acne triggers, and the Carbomer rates a 1 out of 5 for irritation triggers.
The Mandelic Acid routine kit retails for $130 all together. The Wash retails for $31, the Toner for $44, the Serum for $50, and the Lotion for $33. So you save about $28 if you buy the whole system together. Of the four products, I can’t really say I think any of them give a huge bang for your buck, but if I had to choose a product I’d probably pick the Serum.
I really don’t know what caused the horrible, horrible acne that surfaced once I started using these products, but to be frank it was bad enough, and these products helped so little with it, that I am not willing to even keep testing them anymore.
One final bit.
This isn’t part of the kit, but Vivant also sent me their Wink Eye Rejuvenation Cream, which says that it “combines vitamin A propionate, peptides, hyaluronic acid and kojic acid to soften fine lines, brighten dark circles, and reduce puffiness, giving skin a more youthful appearance.”
It is an eye cream for daily use. It’s slightly salmon colored.
Its ingredients are as follows: Water, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Oil, Propylene Glycol, Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Octyldodecanol, Caffeine, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Emulsifying Wax NF, Dimethicone, Steareth-20, N-Hydroxysuccinimide, Chrysin, Palmitoyl Oligopeptide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7, Kojic Dipalmitate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Lecithin, Sodium Acrylates Copolymer, Xanthan Gum, Retinyl Propionate, Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Flour, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice Powder, BHT, Diazolidinyl Urea, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Mica, Titanium Dioxide, Carmine, Fragrance.
Again, the Cetyl Alcohol rates a 2 out of 5 on both acne and irritation trigger charts from COSDNA. The Steareth-20 ranks a 2 on acne and a 1 on irritation; Dimethicone a 1 for acne. The Emulsifying Wax NF is listed as 0-2. I’m not sure what that means, really, but if it goes up to 2 that’s not a nice sign in my opinion. Slightly more troubling to me is the fact that the BHT shows up red on the COSDNA safety chart, which frankly I have only seen once before. I immediately stopped using that product, and I’m not likely to continue using this one either, especially where the skin around the eye area is so thin. The International Journal of Toxicology published an article in 2002 concluding that BHT as found in cosmetic formulations is safe and non-carcinogenic – but it does pose some risks when ingested orally. Sorry, I’d rather not take that bet.
This eye cream comes in a pump top bottle with a clear pop-on top. Although I was pretty careful about making sure the top popped on securely every time I used it, I did have an issue with the product clogging up around the exit point on the pump several times. The cream itself is pretty nicely hydrating. I can’t say that it did anything for my dark circles, but they’re genetic and at this point I think nothing short of plastic surgery would get the job done. I didn’t notice any improvement with my under-eye wrinkles either, but I’ve been fairly lucky in that regard so there isn’t a whole lot for the product to work with. I will say that the cream was fairly pleasant to use, although there is generally a little left over when I wash off my face in the morning.
The eye cream retails for $57.50 for half an ounce. Although I routinely use expensive eye creams, I generally purchase sample packets from brands like su:m37 and Sulwhasoo which are fairly inexpensive. I can’t really imagine spending that much money on an eye cream, personally.