The first thing I noticed about Magic Stone Original was the smell, which is surprisingly elegant — an unexpected delight from what the campy packaging would suggest. I felt like I was sitting in a garden in Provence, butterflies and everything. The aroma is so potent, I was leaving the bar on my coffee table to scent the area. The bar is also super-hard, like a hockey puck. It's a far cry from many other natural soaps, which are soft and melt away at the mere suggestion of water.
01. April Skin, Magic Stone, $6
April Skin, the brand that makes Magic Stone, recommends using Magic Stone Black in the morning and Original at night. There are minor differences in formula, but I preferred just using Magic Stone Original to get a really deep cleanse. Rubbing the bar in your hands works up a surprisingly rich lather, which, when rinsed off, leaves the skin feeling super clean — but not tight and uncomfortable.
02. Koh Gen Do, Oriental Plants Soap, $55
Being a Japanese product in a story about Korean soaps and carrying a price tag of $55, this soap really had to work it to make me believe. And boy, did it: 36 botanical extracts are squeezed into this circular bar, which lend maximum moisturizing-while-cleansing benefits. My skin was like, “What soap?”
But the real magic? It's frothing power courtesy the included whipping net, which whips up the most luxurious lather imaginable. Just watch this video of how quickly it works up a rich, dense foam opposed to lathering without one. I wore the resulting fluff frosting on my visage like Mrs. Doubtfire’s cake face. It’s such a marvelously rewarding experience for the skin; it’s hard to just call it just cleansing.
03. Gounjae Green Farm Handcrafted Soap, $12
Gounjae is a revered Korean traditional soap brand originating from Korea’s botanical-rich Jeju Island. It approaches soapmaking with the same obsession as vintners do winemaking. Using time-honored techniques, Gounjae obsesses over optimal temperature and timing to unlock ingredients at their most optimal state. Soaps are steamed three times and then aged 500 days to ripen before being wrapped in traditional Korean hanji paper that allows the soaps to “breathe."
The soaps are egg-shaped and I can almost see the wizened old hands that crafted each single bar. The brand's Green Farm soap contains persimmon leaves to lighten freckles and pigmentation, pine leaves to purge pores, and nutrient-rich mulberry leaves for amino acids.
Because it’s a natural soap, it doesn’t have abundant lather, but the soap works more effectively when applied directly to the face. The texture is gently exfoliating and the shape makes it effective as a facial massager as you cleanse.
04. Sulwhasoo Herbal Soap, $40 for 2
Sulwhasoo’s Herbal Soap is the antithesis of everything a bar soap used to be denounced for. Cleansers, particularly bar soaps, are commonly judged foremost on their ability to clean and remove makeup, which skews their formulas towards heavy detergents. This type of washing strips the face of natural oils, damages the skin barrier, and wreaks havoc on its pH levels. Sulwhasoo’s Herbal Soap is the exact opposite: gentle, effective, and proof that bar soap doesn’t have to be a lump of face-desiccating detergent.
The bar centers around powerful (and expensive) ginseng, which most beauty brands would say is a complete waste to dump into a bar of soap. But in Korea, cleansing involves a facial massage routine that justifies and honors ginseng’s existence as a powerful anti-ager in this bar of soap. The ginseng scent is pretty potent and may be too medicinal and off-putting to some, but to me, it was reminiscent of an old Korean apothecary.