ISOI Bulgarian Rose Blemish Care Serum Review and Ingredients Analysis

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

ISOI is a Korean skincare brand that touts itself as using natural products and "no harmful chemicals" (quote directly from the front page of the website). ISOI stands for "I SO Intelligent", and the main page of the ISOI site also encourages people to "Be an Intelligent Customer, and use isoi" and its "speed-effective natural skin care". And, the bestselling product from ISOI is its Bulgarian Rose Blemish Care Serum, which I'm reviewing today.

ISOI Bulgarian Rose Blemish Care Serum: The best-selling product from ISOI

Let me first say, the irony of encouraging people to be intelligent consumers while trashing "harmful chemicals" and promoting "natural skin care" in general is not lost on me. The fact is, as far as skincare is concerned, chemicals are not inherently bad, and not everything natural is automatically good. This is particularly the case for skincare, where the application is topical, as opposed to ingested, so while certain ingredients are good for the body when eaten, they might not have the same effect on skin. For example, even simple, natural things like lemon juice can be bad when applied to skin, because they are phototoxic could trigger skin reactions when exposed to sunlight after application, while certain "chemicals" like retinols, are good for skin.

ISOI Bulgarian Rose Blemish Care Serum Bottle Open
ISOI Bulgarian Rose Blemish Care Serum: ISOI bills itself as a natural skincare brand with no harmful chemicals

But that's just the marketing, and in a highly competitive market, brands will market themselves in whatever way sells best to the customer and gets their attention. And, the natural skincare trend has been blooming for awhile (as we've recently seen at BeautyAsia 2015 and other trade shows), and shows no signs of abating. And since I'm the kind of consumer who pays more attention to the ingredients list of the product than who the spokesperson for the brand is, I'm pretty much indifferent to how the product is marketed. So, marketing aside, how does the product fare?

To answer that question, we'll start at my very favourite (and my very usual) place to begin a product review - the ingredients list!

ISOI Bulgarian Rose Blemish Care Serum Ingredients
ISOI Bulgarian Rose Blemish Care Serum ingredients: Contains humectants, arbutin, and alcohol as the main ingredients

As you can tell from the ingredients list, the bulk of the product consists of water, humectants (Gycerin, Trehalose), Arbutin, which is the main active ingredient, and is found quite commonly in a lot of whitening ingredients, as well as Alcohol, which is there as a penetration enhancer, presumably for the Arbutin. Now I know alcohol is in there in a fairly high amount, being third on the ingredients list, and this might be a concern to some people. However, alcohol per se isn't necessarily bad depending on your skin, and as I've written in a previous blogpost for the Juju Aquamoist Moisture Lotion, another product with alcohol:

"Alcohol will be drying to your skin if a product is formulated with very high levels of it and not much else, but in most products I've seen, the alcohol serves a useful purpose. Because alcohol is a good penetration enhancer, it often is used in skincare products to deliver the active ingredients to the skin, which would otherwise sit on top of the skin and not yield much benefit. A notable example is the gold standard for Vitamin C serums, Skinceuticals, which uses alcohol to enhance penetration of the Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in the product. A second use of alcohol that is beneficial in skincare is to thin out products. So if you have a product that is formulated with a lot of oils or waxes or heavy-feeling ingredients, you can add in some alcohol to thin out the product and make it easier to apply on the skin."

So, it really depends on your own skin. Generally, the oilier and thicker the formulation, the less a concern alcohol is, and the oilier your own skin, the less likely it will react to alcohol. I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone douse their skin in alcohol alone, but I feel the alcohol-is-bad scare on the Internetz isn't fully warranted, either. In this particular product, the alcohol is there as a penetration enhancer. But since the alcohol content appears to be fairly high, and since the product itself is not formulated to be very thick (mostly water and humectants and Arbutin), it is possible that for some skintypes that lean towards the dry, sensitive side, the alcohol in the product may be a concern.

ISOI Bulgarian Rose Blemish Care Serum Bottle
ISOI Bulgarian Rose Blemish Care Serum: Contains a variety of plant extracts, which have mostly anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects

Other than that, there are a bunch of plant-derived extracts, most of which seem beneficial. Some of the plant extracts have anti-oxidant or anti-inflammatory effect to varying degrees (Scutellaria Baicalensis Root Extract, Paeonia Suffruticosa Root Extract, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Castanea Crenata (Chestnut) Shell Extract, Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Extract), some have anti-bacterial effects (Centella Asiatica Extract), but some of them are more questionable, and might pose sources of irritation (Rosa Damascena Flower Oil, which is fragrant but could be irritating). There are also some other functional ingredients like thickeners (Xanthan gum). On the whole, this product seems to be fairly straightforward in terms of formulation - primarily the humectants, Glycerin and Trehalose, and the actives Arbutin, and Alcohol the penetration enhancer, as well as various plant extracts, most of which seem to be helpful in one way or another. All in all, I'd say this is a fairly decently formulated serum, if you don't mind the alcohol, and it will probably be very light and weightless on the skin.

ISOI Bulgarian Rose Blemish Care Serum Swatch
ISOI Bulgarian Rose Blemish Care Serum: A light-textured gel that absorbs very cleanly with no residue

My experiences with the ISOI Bulgarian Rose Blemish Care Serum were borne out by the ingredients list. The product smells very strongly of roses (I'm guessing from the Rosa Damascena Flower Oil), although the smell dissipates upon use. And the gel texture of the product, as expected, is very light and watery. And since it is formulated mostly with humectants, Arbutin and Alcohol, with very little emollient ingredients, it sinks into skin very fast and absorbs cleanly, and leaves behind no residue, making this ideal for layering under another moisturizer, or sunscreen, or makeup.

When I used it, I found it to be somewhat helpful in managing my pimples - it seemed to help moderately, but then again, with blemish products, I never expect any miracles. I also found it more helpful at fading blemish marks and generally evening skintone than at managing active pimples, although it seems to help somewhat at preventing them from exploding on my face like they usually do. And I didn't find this particularly drying, despite the alcohol content. I also liked that the product was generally fuss free in terms of layering with other products - there aren't any polymers to interact with the next product you put on and ball up and peel off your face in little balls and bits, so generally, I found that the Bulgarian Rose Blemish Care Serum layered nicely under whatever moisturizer I chose to use it with. That's a little detail, but a very useful one - I get so annoyed when my skincare products don't play nice with each other and start peeling off my face, so it was nice to not have to worry with this.

ISOI Bulgarian Rose Blemish Care Serum 1
ISOI Bulgarian Rose Blemish Care Serum: If you don't mind the alcohol, and want to even out your skintone and reduce inflammation, this might help

So, overall, would I recommend it? My main gripe with the product (other than the brand's marketing, which is a minor point for me) is probably the price - at SGD$92 for a 35ml bottle, this isn't the cheapest option around. In terms of value-for-money, I'll be frank and say that in my opinion, the ratio isn't the best, and $92 is a lot to pay for what you are getting. That said, I think this is best for those with oily skin, who have blemish concerns and want to fade some of their blemish marks or even out the skintone around that area, and are looking for a light, weightless serum to address that. This would also be worth checking out for those who are looking for a serum with arbutin that would layer under virtually any moisturizer or sunscreen (you can certainly use this even if you don't have blemishes for general whitening/brightening effects, too). However, those with dry or sensitive skins may find the product a bit harsh for them to use alone.
Recommended? Formulation Packaging Ease of Use Effectiveness
Maybe, for oily skin 6/10 8/10 9/10 7/10
The Bottom Line: The ISOI Bulgarian Blemish Care Serum contains Arbutin as the main active ingredient, absorbs fast into skin, and feels light and weightless, although it is rather pricey for what you get.

(Product was sent for review. Review is my complete and honest opinion. I am not affiliated with/compensated by the company.)


  1. AFAIK alcohol is in Skinceuticals as a siluent for the ferulic acid. As a penetration enhancer or carrier for certain plant extracts the amount needed is not high, and there are many other non drying penetration enhancers.

    Penetration enhancers tend to work by disrupting the skin barrier: too much alcohol messes with structural lipids and sometimes structural proteins and is a known irritant, that is not healthy for any skin type whether you can see the effects or not.

    1. @Fire Fox: Yup, alcohol is a great penetration enhancer precisely because it's quite disruptive to the skin barrier, so there's a bit of a trade off that the consumer has to make. Some consumers will avoid alcohol at all costs, while others seem to be fine with large amounts of alcohol in a product. For this particular product the alcohol content does seem rather high, which is why I flagged it out, but I didn't want to write off the product entirely, since not everyone is bothered by the alcohol content. But I do hope that my review helps people make a more informed choice as to what they are using on their face! :)

  2. Do you recommend any alternative similar to this but with a cheaper price range that also does not include much harmful chemicals? Thank you.


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