HwaHae is a Korean beauty product ingredient analysis/review platform that launched in 2013. Now more known for its ranking, it has had a powerful impact on the brands and the entire industry. As of now (May 2020), it has over 5 million accumulated customer reviews. As it is a highly data-driven platform, you can easily customize your search based on your skin type and by concern within the app. Unfortunately, Hwahae is only available in the mobile app in Korean. It officially replied to the request for an English version that it is not planning to service in English.
I would like to be a little help by posting Hwahae ranking of selected categories (Total, Skincare, Makeup) every week in my blog since it could become a great reference for you (K beauty lovers or anyone who’s interested in ;)) to see the real-time trend and best sellers of Korean beauty products. There are, of course, non-Korean brands but most of the products are from K-beauty brands. Since I lack time and technology to pull all the available data from the app, I will limit the number to top 10 products from each category every week.
Even though the ranking is not based on the ingredient analysis (it is only based on customer reviews and scores), I still would like to provide the full information on the five key features of the app and what parameters/sources the app is taking to analyze the product’s ingredients. It will help you to better understand Hwahae as an entire platform.
Feature #1: Ingredient Analysis
Korean customers use Hwahae to look up for the ingredients of a product. When you read an ingredient list, oftentimes you don’t know what each means or whether it’s good for your skin or not. Hwahae started as a service to address this problem and its name Hwahae(화해) is an abbreviation of 화장품을 해석하다 which means interpreting cosmetics products in Korean. To interpret the ingredient list, Hwahae uses 5 parameters/sources. I referenced Hwahae’s official Q&A page for the below information.
Parameter 1: Safety
To evaluate whether each product is safe for your skin or not, Hwahae borrows the Hazard score from Skin Deep ratings that have been created and run by EWG, a US-based nonprofit corporation. Hazard score ranges from 1 to 10, where 1~2 are low hazard, 3~6 are moderate hazard, and 7~10 are high hazard.
Parameter 2: 20 Ingredients to Avoid
Hwahae also shows if any ingredient of a product belongs to the below “20 Ingredients to Avoid”. This list has been extracted from the book called “The Secret of Korean Cosmetics” which was published in 2009 by a local expert.
- BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene) = butyl hydroxy toluene = dibutyl hydroxy toluene = butylated hydroxytoluene
- Mineral Oil
- BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole)
- SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate) = SLES (Sodium laureth sulfate)
- Sorbic acid
- Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane = Avobenzone = Parsol 1789
- Benzophenone-3 = Oxybenzone
- Imidazolidinyl urea, diazolidinyl ureadiem, DMDM Hydantoin
- O-CYMEN-5-OL = Isopropyl methylphenol = Isopropyl Cresols
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Parfum (a.k.a. fragrance)
- Polyethylene glycol (PEG)
- Composite pigment
Parameter 3: 25 Allergens
Hwahae is using the list of 25 allergens announced by Korea Ministry Food and Drug Safety (KMFDS). KMFDS regulated that from Jan. 1, 2020, all the cosmetics shall label fragrance allergens’ names on the packaging. Before, they used to be grouped and shown as one ingredient “fragrance”.
- Amyl cinnamal
- Benzyl alcohol
- Cinnamyl alcohol
- Amylcinnamyl alcohol
- Benzyl salicylate
- Anise ethanol
- Benzyl cinnamate
- Butylphenyl methyl propional
- Benzyl benzoate
- Methyl 2-octinoate
- Evernia prunastri (oakmoss) extract; and
- Evernia furfuracea (treemoss) extract.
Parameter 4: Helpful Ingredients by Skin Type
Hwahae adopted the ingredient list by skin type from a guideline called “Cosmetics Selection Guide by Skin Type” that was published by Korean Dermatological Association in October 2008. This document suggests the helpful ingredients and the ones to watch out by skin types – oily, dry, and sensitive. I personally think there might be room for improvement since the list was created over 10 years ago.
Glycolic acid (reduce keratin, increase water absorption), salicylic acid, nonoxynol-9, chlorophyll (sebum control), green tea, witch hazel, lemon, camphor, menthol, allantoin (converging and soothing), tea tree, Licorice, zinc oxide, calendula extract, sulfur (sterilization and anti-inflammatory), titanium dioxide (ultraviolet blocking)
Ingredients to Watch Out
Triglyceride, palmitic acid, myristic acid, stearic acid (components that block pores), coconut oil, shea butter (causing acne), oxybenzone, and ethylhexylmethoxycinnamate (chemical sunscreen ingredients that cause skin irritation with )
Hyaluronic acid, glycerin, propylene glycol, butylene glycol, shea butter, sodium PCA (increase moisturization), vitamin E (supply nutrition), vitamin A (cell regeneration), vitamin C, oatmeal protein, soybean extract (increase elasticity), collagen, Elastin (increase water retention), avocado oil, evening primrose oil (inhibits moisture evaporation), chamomile, cucumber, peach, seaweed extract (increase shine), extract of epidermis, kojic acid, arbutin (brightening), grape seed extract (antioxidant), Beta-carotene, pilewort extract, vitamin B complex (anti-wrinkle), panthenol (skinsoftening)
Ingredients to watch out
Alcohol (evaporate moisture), mud (cause skin dryness by absorbing sebum), surfactant (cleansing ingredient that causes skin dryness and sensitivity), menthol, peppermint
Vitamin K, vitamin P, host chestnut extract (strengthen blood vessels in the skin), chamomile, aloe, cornflower, allantoin (skin soothing), seaweed extract (supplying nutrients), titanium dioxide (block ultraviolet)
Ingredients to Watch Out
Alcohol (evaporates moisture), surfactant (causes skin dryness and irritation as a cleansing agent), menthol, peppermint, eucalyptus, aroma oil, retinol (skin irritation), AHA, BHA, Lemon, orange, and strawberry extracts (high concentrations might cause skin irritation), oxybenzone, and ethylhexylmethoxycinnamate (causes skin irritation as chemical sunscreen ingredient)
Parameter 5: Functional Ingredients
KMFDS defines functional cosmetics as products that aid in brightening, improving wrinkles, or protecting skin from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Based on the definition, three categories are confirmed as functional cosmetics in Korea: brightening (Korea uses the term “whitening”) products, anti-aging products, and sunscreens. Hwahae reflects this definition into its service and shows if each product contains any ingredient that falls under each category.
- Mulberry extract
- Ethyl ascorbyl ether
- Oil-soluble licorice extract
- Ascorbyl glucoside
- Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate
- Retinyl palmitate
- Polyethoxylated Retinamide
- Digalloyl trioleate
- 4-methylbenzylidene camper
- Menthyl anthranilate
- Benzophenone-3 (oxybenzone)
- Benzophenone-8 (dioxybenzone)
- Ethylhexyl dimethylparba
- Ethylhexyl salicylate
- Phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid
- Zinc oxide
- Titanium dioxide
- Disodium phenyldibenzimidazole tetrasulfonate
- Polysilicon-15 (dimethycodiethyl benzalmalonate)
- Terephthalylidene dicamphor sulfonic acid
Hwahae is still in controversy since some of the parameters – especially, parameter 1 (EWG’s Skin Deep ratings) and 2 (20 ingredients to avoid) – are considered not reliable. For example, some experts criticize that EWG has a highly biased perspective on chemical ingredients. Some also point out that Hwahae fails to show how much toxic ingredient is contained in any product but just the fact whether it is contained or not – which cannot accurately tell if the product is safe or not. Here’s a takeaway – Hwahae can be a great reference but can’t be an absolute source of truth.
Feature #2: Reviews
Alongside with the ingredient “interpretation” Hwahae is a go-to platform to check customer reviews of literally all the beauty products available in Korea. It has over 5 million accumulated reviews and they are organized in user friendly way. If you know which product you want to search, you can directly search for it. If you don’t and want to browse from scratch, you can customize your search by product, by brand, review keyword, or even by ingredient.
Every product review follows the same template.
- User’s age/skin type
- Overall Score (out of 5 stars)
Each review goes through 4 times of filter system to exclude promotional reviews and the ones without any information. About 4% of the reviews get declined and blinded in the platform. It also has a reporting system where users can flag any promotional or low-quality reviews that lack information.
Feature #3: Ranking
Based on the product reviews, scores, and its algorithm (they keep confidential how it is built), Hwahae updates the product ranking every week. Only the customer reviews and scores are reflected in the ranking. No other components (e.g., ingredients, price) are included. Rankings are available by product type, by skin type, by brand, and by age group. *In this blog, I will start from posting the ranking by category regardless of skin type or age.
It has started “Hwahae Beauty Award” every half-year and full year since 2015. I will post this award list as well so please stay tuned!
Feature #4: Shopping & Content
Hwahae launched its shopping feature back in 2017 so that customers can straight buy a product from the app. It runs discount promotions and the point system where 1% of the purchase price gets saved for future purchases. Hwahae also provides beauty/health content in the menu called “Beauty On”. Content varies from product reviews, skincare/makeup tips to work out ideas.
Hope it was helpful to understand (almost) everything about Hwahae app and feel free to ask me any further questions or feedback!