How K-Beauty Is Bringing The Skin Clinic To Your Bathroom Counter

From microneedling to PDRN, these formulas are the next-gen in skin care.

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In a time when tweakments are taking over and injectables are more innovative than ever, terms formerly reserved for the dermatologist’s office are crossing over into your skin care routine. Brands are racing to market their latest launches as “medical grade” and “clinical grade” (both unregulated terms that dermatologists say are purely marketing jargon) or comparing their latest serums to Botox in a bottle or filler in a jar.

Crank that up another level, and you’ve got the latest trending topicals on the K-beauty scene. Typically, formulations that draw comparisons to at-home dermatologist appointments are spins on already popular ingredients, like encapsulated peptides and multi-weight hyaluronic acid. But go to any Daiso store in Korea and you’ll see that the VT Cosmetics Reedle Shot, which swaps more commonly seen delivery systems for a suspension of microscopic spicules within its formula, is flying off shelves. Or rather, you won’t see it because for the five weeks I was in Seoul this spring (and according to my friends, well before that), it was sold out at every single Daiso I visited.

Microneedling spicules, exosomes, and PDRN (polydeoxyribonucleotide) are a few of the ingredients at the center of some of the most viral K-beauty launches right now. Positioned as a bridging step between your daily routine and a dermatologist visit, they’re a new way for brands to bring the skin clinic directly to your bathroom counter.

“Korea’s most successful beauty innovations have often been based on treatments and procedures used in a surgical or medical setting,” says Charlotte Cho, esthetician and co-founder of Then I Met You and Soko Glam. Cho references the early 2000s example of BB creams, which were inspired by hydrating tinted moisturizers with SPF “often given to patients that needed to cover and protect scars after surgical procedures.” Pimple patches are another well-known example; the hydrocolloid patches used to protect skin after laser or surgical procedures evolved into the smaller breakout-flattening circles we know today.

Now, K-beauty brands have found another way to bottle these treatments. “Even in 2024, we continue to see Korea’s beauty innovations stem from what is trending in a medical setting such as with dermatologists and plastic surgeons,” says Cho. But do they actually work, and can you swap your dermatologist appointment for an Amazon shopping cart? Below, experts weigh in on the rising popularity of K-beauty’s newest treatment-inspired topicals, who can benefit from them, and what you need to know before you grab every launch you’ve seen on your TikTok FYP.

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What Is Clinic-Inspired K-Beauty, & Why Is It So Popular?

From microneedling serums to injection-inspired boosters, brands are looking toward formulations plucked from a skin clinic’s offerings. “Cosmetics treatments in Korea are often innovative,” says Dr. Y. Claire Chang, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at UnionDerm in New York. “PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections and Botox for the masseter and shoulders were popular in Korea several years before they became popular in the U.S.” Now, clients in Korea are increasingly asking for PDRN injections, exosome therapy, and Juvelook, says Chang.

Instead of likening existing ingredients like peptides to these treatments, brands have gotten busy finding ways to incorporate these experiences topically. “K-beauty brands have formulated products inspired by in-office cosmetic treatments, giving customers more widespread access to potential benefits,” says Chang. It’s easy to see the appeal. “While not everyone may be able to go to Korea to get some treatments, these skin care products give them the ability to use these ingredients regularly through their at-home skin care regimen,” she says.

Brands see things the same way. Medicube, the maker of Hailey Bieber’s favorite skin device, is betting big on its new Zero Exosome Shot. “We chose exosomes because they are high-cost ingredients used in actual dermatological procedures, and we wanted to create a product with real effects,” says Lyla Chang, Medicube’s brand manager and team leader. “Additionally, the search volume for this ingredient in Korea has been steadily increasing over the past three years.” Chang says exosome therapy is now “one of the most sought-after treatments in Korea.”

Two factors present barriers to booking a treatment: post-procedure downtime and cost. Because exosome therapy needs to be done in tandem with microneedling or lasers, the process can be painful and cause side effects like bruising and swelling. In Korea, Chang says a single session costs around 200,000 KRW (around $150). (In the U.S., one session of exosome therapy can run between $400-$2,000.) “Zero Exosome Shot can be used without these side effects,” she says. “In comparison, [it] is much more cost effective.”

Does Clinic-Inspired Skin Care Actually Work?

Ask any expert if your priciest serum can truly replicate a Botox injection and they’ll tell you to set your expectations accordingly. Clinic-inspired K-beauty is no exception. “The depth of administration and efficacy of these topicals may differ from that done in-office,” says Chang. As in the case of exosome therapy, these ingredients are usually delivered using injections, lasers, or microneedling for deeper absorption. Remove that element, and there’s a limit to how much ingredients can penetrate.

Take PDRN injections. “One of the hottest treatments in Korea right now is PDRN, which injects salmon egg-derived ingredients into the skin for a lifting and firming effect,” says Cho. This ingredient is a “naturally-occurring building block in DNA that has several potential benefits for the skin, including stimulating collagen and elastin production, reducing pigmentation, and reducing inflammation,” says Chang.

Even without the needles, the promise of surface-level benefits is a big enough sell. One of the most successful examples is IOPE’s PDRN Caffeine Shot Serum. Inspired by the salmon-based injectable, the brand formulates its serum with a plant-derived Bio-PDRN made from green tea enzyme lactacillus ferment lysate. Cho and Chang are both fans. “It also contains 20,000 ppm of caffeine, which is 1/18th the size of collagen so it does penetrate into the skin for a powerful lifting effect,” says Cho. “We call this treatment ‘Botox in a bottle.’” A brand rep from IOPE confirmed that the launch remains one of its top sellers and received seven awards in its first year on the market.

Medicube’s new Zero Exosome Shot is also off to a strong start. Chang says customers are intrigued by the formula’s “stimulating sensation” and have reported “that their makeup applied much better the next day” due to the serum’s powerful smoothing effects. And the VT Reedle Shot, which uses a similar delivery system, is clearly a sellout success. Even if you’ve never set foot in a Korean Daiso before, just search it up on TikTok to see proof that it’s gone viral multiple times.

While the sheer amount of glowing reviews would suggest that these products are definitely doing something, they “work” in the sense that they can give visible benefits similar to your favorite topicals, not as true substitutes to injectables and deeper treatments.

“The goal of all these skin care products is to enhance hydration and improve skin elasticity,” says Dr. David Kim, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Idriss Dermatology in New York and founder of Lightsaver. “They're innovative and fun but need more evidence to meaningfully demonstrate results.” Kim echoes Chang’s viewpoint that in-clinic treatments will always be more robust because of their higher concentrations and deeper modes of delivery. Since these ingredients and delivery systems are relatively new in comparison to cult classics like vitamin C and retinol, they also lack the clinical studies backing traditionally used formulas. That’s not a bad thing; it just means more research needs to be done. “Some [of these] star ingredients are backed by laboratory studies suggesting potential benefits but large, clinical studies are still lacking in the scientific literature,” says Chang.

Perhaps to offset this, K-beauty brands have paired up trending “main” ingredients with more well-known supporting ingredients in the same formula to deliver a double dose of benefits. “Most of these formulas feature a combination of other beneficial skin care ingredients, like niacinamide, AHA/BHAs, retinols, and hydrating ingredients,” says Chang. While she emphasizes that more clinical studies are needed to evaluate the topical efficacy of PDRN and exosomes, “the ingredients show promise [...for] anyone looking for overall skin rejuvenation, anti-aging, and brightening.”

Is Clinic-Inspired K-Beauty Safe For Everyone?

While topicals are generally positioned as a much lower-stakes alternative to in-office treatments, certain products have already caused controversy. If you’ve ever watched a TikTok on the VT Reedle Shot or other spicule-containing serums, you’ll probably see mentions of a viral video by dermatologist Dr. Dray. In the video, Dr. Dray raises her concerns on the potential risk of a foreign body reaction from the spicules within the formula.

For brands like VT Cosmetics and Medicube, spicules are one method of potentially delivering ingredients a little deeper into the skin. “This is a new delivery system that hasn't been widely used,” says Kim, which is one reason why it’s under so much scrutiny. Made to mimic the effects of microneedling without needles, these spicules “are multicellular organic ingredients that are about 13 times smaller than pores and are primarily composed of silica and calcium carbonate,” says Chang. The “needle-shaped” design is meant to allow them to “deliver active ingredients deeper into the skin,” she says. In the case of the VT Reedle Shot, the spicules are a delivery system for centella asiatica, hyaluronic acid, and an amino-acid complex. For Medicube’s Zero Exosome Shot, the goal is higher exosome absorption.

So what’s the issue? For Dr. Dray and other creators, the primary concern is whether the non-dissolving spicules might stay lodged in skin after use. VT Cosmetics has addressed this question under its FAQs, which states that “Cica Reedle is designed to naturally shed along with the skin’s dead cells over several days after application. If any residues remain, they will not be absorbed into your body; instead, they will be removed naturally.” Medicube also lists this question under its Zero Exosome Shot product page with a similar answer.

The dermatologists I interviewed didn’t express concerns about spicules remaining lodged, but do caution those with sensitive skin or skin conditions to conduct a patch test before use. Kim says that overall, “everyone can benefit from these ingredients,” but a combination of spicules and exfoliants “could be irritating to people with sensitive skin, rosacea, or eczema-prone skin.” While these products have been tested by the brands for sensitive skin, Chang also says it’s a good idea to “do a small patch test before applying over the full face” if you have sensitivities.

The Top K-Beauty Products Inspired By Skin Clinic Treatments

Intrigued by the next generation of clinic-inspired K-beauty? You’re not alone. Cho says that the IOPE PDRN Caffeine Shot is currently the “fastest selling serum” on Soko Glam, “based on the results that people are seeing.” Don’t cancel your Botox appointment, but you may find something new to love among these trending launches. “I think if done smartly and expertly by brands that invest in R&D and clinical studies, these medical-inspired treatments can be effective on your skin,” she says. Here are five of the most popular clinic-inspired skin care products to check out now.