K-beauty Translations: What are “Tone-Up” Products?

By July 7, 2017

What exactly are Korean “Tone-Up” products? If you’re a K-beauty lover, you know that sometimes it can be a bit tricky shopping the Korean market, because there are words and phrases that don’t always translate perfectly, or just aren’t used at all in Western skin care. Here, we break down the lingo you see on some K-beauty products that may have you scratching your head.

I remember when I went to Seoul for the first time, an unfamiliar phrase I saw all the time was “tone-up”. Of course, I knew what a toner was, and at first I thought they were the same thing. However, they certainly aren’t, and there are lots of benefits to tone-up products that I realized I was missing out on! So, let me break down exactly what tone-up means, how it’s different from regular toning, and some of the tone-up products I love.

So what exactly are Korean tone-up products?

When I was shopping around Myeongdong, I kept seeing “tone-up” appearing on lotions, emulsions, eye creams, and cushions. I thought it had something to do with toner, but with a toner, you are balancing your skin’s pH, lifting off surface impurities, and prepping your skin for the rest of your routine. Tone-up, on the other hand, is actually a kind of treatment step.

The phrase “tone-up” actually makes perfect sense, because it describes exactly what the product does: clarify your skin tone. Tone-up products are specifically made to balance and brighten skin tone as well as fight hyperpigmentation and discoloration.

Oftentimes, tone-up products are found in whitening and brightening lines, as the effects are similar on the skin. In other cases, sunscreens, primers, and other makeup bases will have light tints to even out skin tone, and be referenced as tone-up products. Whether they’re eye creams, serums, lotions, or sunscreens, tone-up products all have the same general effect: evening out and brightening skin tone. For reference, I’ve chosen a few tone-up products that exemplify exactly what this term means.

Klavuu City Defense Tone-Change Sun Cushion SPF 50

korean tone up products

This is the best visual example of a tone-up product. The Klavuu Tone Change Sun Cushion was made to help Koreans block the prominent fine dust in Seoul from damaging their skin. As you can see above, the cushion doesn’t offer any real coverage that a traditional foundation would provide, but instead shows up as a light peach/white liquid that blends clear into skin.

The purpose of this cushion is to brighten (tone-up) complexion with pearl extract, minimize the appearance of wrinkles with adenosine, and calm redness with lavender oil. The result is a perked up complexion with the protection of SPF 50. You can use this cushion on top of your entire makeup look without ruining anything.

Missha Time Revolution White Cure Blanc Tone-Up Lotion

This tone-up product is a lightweight, milky lotion that both moisturizes and brightens the skin. Formulated with powerful brightening ingredients like niacinamide and white flower extract, this lotion will not only moisturize your skin, but also leave your skin tone even and radiant.

Innisfree White Tone Up Eye Serum

Tone-up products are especially helpful for the area around the eyes. They ensure that you’re not only moisturizing and nourishing the eyes, but also combating dark circles and other discoloration. This eye serum is phenomenal, as it is also formulated with brightening niacinamide, as well as orchid, blueberry, and camellia leaf extracts. These ingredients provide lasting hydration and anti-aging benefits, as well as helping to brighten skin tone to combat the appearance of dull, tired eyes.

Bottom line:

Once I figured out exactly what toning up was and some of the great products that fall under that category, I realized just how beneficial it can be! So, don’t make the mistake of thinking tone-up and toner are the same—they certainly aren’t. And if you’re looking for products that brighten and even out skin tone, you should make sure to keep this term in mind for future products.

+ Do you like using any Korean tone-up products? Share your picks below!

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