Almost two years ago I nervously walked into Skylake on 32nd Street in Manhattan while on my lunch break (I documented my visit in a post and later mini reviewed some of the products I bought, including this shampoo). At that point, I had no idea what “hanbang” (traditional East Asian medicine/beauty) meant, but somehow I knew that this was a really different approach to kbeauty than the glossiness of Su:m 37 and Sulwhasoo. At that time the shop was filled with bags of herbs, handmade soaps, and ingredient mix-ins. It was much closer to a traditional Chinese medicine shop than Sephora.
The shop has since changed enormously from when I first saw it; it now has just a few shelves of Skylake products and instead has more space for mainstream kbeauty brands. Still worth a visit, but not nearly the same transportative experience completely centered on this unique brand.
So much has changed in two years. I shouldn’t be surprised about that given that Skylake on 32nd Street is located in ever-changing NYC and selling constantly evolving kbeauty. When I took those photos I had just started fan-b and Skylake was literally the only kbeauty shop aside from The Face Shop on 32nd Street. Since then, the street gained TonyMoly which has since moved into a larger flagship location and Mask Bar, a sheet mask-only shop. The Face Shop has moved three times according to my count. Bb creams have been somewhat displaced by cushions and walking up to Sephora on 34th yields a surprising number of kbeauty skincare and makeup items. My personal beauty stash has ballooned wildly. My eyes are just as wide but far more open.
The thing that hasn’t changed after all this time and all these products is that I freaking love Skylake Oriental Herb Cool Shampoo.
What it is: It’s an aromatic, cooling shampoo. Even better, it’s a kbeauty shampoo with a cool-looking root in it! Not sure that the root is there to do anything other than remind you how hanbanging your haircare is, but I’m always up for some skincaretainment.
Consistency/Foam Texture: One of the most distinctive things about this shampoo is the sap-like consistency. When I pump this into my hand, I don’t get the sense that the manufacturer added a bunch of extra water to the formula to cut corners. This feels like a potent fuckton of herby goodness and my bottles (I can’t even count how many I’ve bought) last for a very long time relative to other shampoos. I find that this doesn’t lather as boisterously as other shampoos with harsher surfactants, so I sometimes flip my head upside down to make sure that I’m really getting the bottom of my hair and scalp clean.
How to use it: This is just a normal shampoo, so slap it into your wet hair and lather it up before rinsing it out and following with a conditioner or treatment (a conditioner with special hair-helping qualities–honestly, I feel like they’re one and the same, but whatevs). One thing that makes this shampoo a bit different from others is the consistency–you’ll need to do some work to distribute it through your hair.
Scent: this smells extremely minty/menthol-y. There are some herb notes, but it really smells like a shampoo meant to treat something and not like a field of roses or anything like that.
Scalp feel: this feels super cooling when I massage it into my scalp, which is a lifesaver for when I’ve used another shampoo that has irritated it. My skin HATES most surfactants, the ingredients that clean hair and skin, and anything but the most gentle stuff causes scalp rage. This not only feels good as I’m washing my hair, but also long after due to the gentle formulation, as I mentioned in my original mini review almost two years ago.
Hair feel: my hair feels amazing after using this–it’s very slightly moisturized, but not heavy at all. I currently have very fakeass blonde hair again, and this is the shampoo that I can count on to not fry my battered strands. I never wash my hair without using a conditioner just because I have so much hair and it would never get untangled without one btw, so keep that in mind as you read my take.
Wtf is up with the claims that it will keep your hair black? At one point (the English descriptions seem to have been updated to avoid confusion) the descriptions of this product mentioned that Wilfordi Root will help keep hair black. Now, I used this product on both my bottle blonde hair and my naturally mousy brown hair for ages and it never went black, so wtf? After watching the hair episode of Get It Beauty it dawned on me: the description was a translation of a text meant for a largely-black-haired Korean audience and what it was referring to was not depositing black color on one’s strands, but preventing naturally black hair from turning gray due to improved scalp health. Korean haircare focuses not just on the strands of hair, but really on the scalp as a means of preventing grays and hair loss. No oily build-up –> no gray hair, no hair loss, according to the kbeauty philosophy that I’ve encountered.
It was a really mind-blowing revelation to me, which set me off on a haircare buying frenzy. Before that, I just assumed that my hair would age due to genetics and nothing short of a prescription treatment to maybe undo serious hair loss could stop it. I bought more than 30 kbeauty haircare products and I’ve been testing them for ages–I’ll review them in the coming months. For more info on the science of hair and kbeauty hair theory check out this awesome /r/AsianBeauty haircare post. I’ve bought a lot of hair products including a bunch of shampoos, but this Skylake first love still takes the cake for me.
I’ve been using this product for two years and I certainly have gray hairs, but I’m 33 and apparently getting them later than most people in my family. I haven’t had major hair loss aside from an episode of alopecia areata where my hair straight up fell out in two crop circles and refused to grow again until I got steroid injections from my in-person dermatologist (as opposed to my actual dermatologist at Curology lol). That whole mess was likely triggered by mega stress (the nurse who took my vitals shared that it happened to his brother when he was falsely incarcerated, so that should pretty much tell you what you need to know about my stress level in late-summer 2015 ahahahaha). Overall, I feel like this shampoo is most useful for making my scalp and strands feel nice, but it’s not like I’ve managed to halt the hair and scalp aging process or anything. That said, I have no control self that hasn’t used this shampoo and I have used other shampoos along the way, so who knows, perhaps without this I would be wholly gray-haired as my great great great grandmother was at 30.
pH Level: 6.5-7.0. I had hoped that this shampoo would have a lower pH level since scalps and strands are naturally weakly acidic and like more acidic products, but I have to admit that for my skin, the ingredients and formulation are more important than pH. This shampoo is simply more gentle on my scalp and hair than La’dor’s 4.5 pH shampoo, for example.
Ingredients: Angelica Gigas Extract, Peppermint Leaf Extract, Morus Bombycis Leaf Extract, Cnidium Officinale Root Extract, Licorice Root Extract, Morus Alba Bark Extract, Artemisia Absinthium Extract, Angelica Dahurica Root Extract, Scutellaria Baicalensis Root Extract, Pueraria Lobata Root Extract, Inula Helenium Extract, Laminaria Japonica Extract, Phellodendron Amurense Bark Extract, Clove Flower Extract, Disodium cocoamphodiacetate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, TEA-Cocoyl Glutamate, Disodium laureth sulfosuccinate, Glycerin, Cocamide DEA, Polyquaternium-7, Scutellaria Baicalensis Root Powder, Polyquaternium-10, Peppermint Oil, PEG-12 Dimethicone, Menthol, Phellodendron Amurense Bark, Allantoin, Panthenol, Amodimethicone, Caprylhydroxamic acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Glycerin, Salicylic Acid, Citric Acid, Disodium EDTA, Polygonatum Multiflorum Root. (from Hwahae)
My original ingredient list from May 2014 must have come from an English label on the bottle from the Skylake shop because I don’t think I was translating Korean yet at that point well enough to do 39 ingredients without whining for ages. The actual ingredient lists aren’t that different (the main difference is the inclusion of water in the English list, which is just assumed to be part of the extracts in the Korean list). I guess the English ingredient list is intended to be US FDA compliant? The reordering doesn’t look quite right to me, so I’m going to mark it down as an attempt to reshuffle the list.
No matter the actual order by concentration (I have honestly thrown up my hands as far as this is concerned for most kbeauty products), CosDNA analysis shows that this is free of any common acne and sensitive skin triggers. When I think about the products that I really love, many of them fit into this category of no or few triggers. Why is that? My skin can handle some triggers.
It’s possible that it’s something like skincare universal design. In disability studies (something I learned about as a college teacher), universal design refers to adaptations meant to help people with physical, learning, and psychiatric disabilities that often end up helping people who don’t have disabilities, too. A good example would be cuts in sidewalks for wheelchairs–they help people avoid falling off the sidewalk accidentally, people pushing carts, people pushing strollers, etc. My thought is that I’ve been surprised by how much my skin loves products with no triggers at all even though it can tolerate many of them–what if no-trigger products, when possible, are just a best practice and they end up allowing my skin to thrive more than products with triggers by which my skin might end up microscopically stressed? Trigger-free products aren’t a guarantee that something will work for me or that the formulation will be any good, but I’ve noticed that some of the products I’ve used the longest and will buy no matter what don’t have any or will have just a minor trigger.
In the event you’re wondering why I’m thinking so much about ingredients in a shampoo…well it’s because it impacts a much larger amount of skin than my face! I currently have a weirdly dry, irritated patch of skin on my back from testing another shampoo, which reminds me yet again that hair products touch a lot more than just one’s scalp and strands. If my scalp ends up irritated thanks to certain shampoo ingredients, it stands to reason that any skin touched by the product might also have some irritation.
I wanted to know more about why I love this shampoo, so I asked my friend Chel from Holy Snails (she’s a blogger and the formulator at the Holy Snails Shop) what’s up with these ingredients. She told me that the shampoo actually uses a combination of gentler surfactants, which means that rather than a big dose of something heavier that results in more bubbles and more irritation for me, I’m getting a less bubbly, less irritating formula. It makes so much sense now. Skylake has a very traditional medicine image with pretty…let’s just say not-slick packaging, but it turns out that this shampoo is actually quite sophisticated in terms of the formula.
Is It Good?
For me, this is The One. I was in school for ages to finish my degrees and research, so I was still used to buying whatever was on sale at the local drugstore when I first discovered this shampoo. The fact that I kept buying this shampoo even while paying my student loan bills and when my husband was out of work at one point demonstrates just how much I like this product.
Should you buy the Skylake conditioner?
Skylake also makes a conditioner called Silk Cocoon Hair Conditioner. I also own this conditioner and I’ve been using it for at least six months (I tried to shake up the bottle to disguise how little is left ahahha). It’s really not my favorite for my hair and scalp. It feels something like putting a bunch of lotion in my hair–it’s great when my hair is on the verge of crawling into a hole and dying from chemical and heat treatment abuse, but it certainly weighs it down and and feels like it coats my hair, not in an entirely pleasant way. Occasionally it’s what I want to use, but mostly naw. I have a favorite conditioner that I’ll review soon (La’dor Hydro LPP Treatment)–I like that much, much more. The great thing is that Skylake makes deluxe samples of both the conditioner and shampoo, so you can always try it before committing to a full bottle. Seriously, try the sample before buying the full-size conditioner–I’ve only seen a few people who liked the feeling of it.
This ranges from $17 plus shipping (which is high due to the weight) to about $28 when buying from places in the US that offer free shipping over a certain minimum. One thing to keep in mind is that the bottle is 500ml and this product is concentrated. You can also find 40ml deluxe sample bottles for about $2.50 to 5.
Where to Buy It
Skylake in NYC’s Koreatown (find it on my NYC kbeauty store map) | SkylakeShop (US-based) | Mishibox (US-based) | TesterKorea (Korea-based) | KoreaDepart (Korea-based) | eBay | Amazon | 11ST (Korea-based)
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Clicking those links before you shop means that fan-b receives a small commission, which helps to support the blog. Please see my full disclosure for more information.