The Hanbang Set Project: Part III; 15 Flavours of Fermentation, Sketchy Science, & Mold that will Melt Your Face

Here is the third installment of My Adventures with the Mysterious Hanbang (한방) set, preceded by The Hanbang Set Project: Translations, Patch Testing, & Pictures, and The Hanbang Set Project: Part II; The Brand, Initial Thoughts, & 백수오 Vitality Cream Ingredients.

This week, I'll be exploring the plant extracts and the ingredients breakdown of the 백수오 Vitality Cream from last week, because after I had laboriously translated and posted all the ingredients, I realized it was just too much info for one post alone!

Image source from, where I purchased the set
In this post:
  • What the 15 fermented Hanbang ingredients are
  • Totally unsubstantiated claims about ingredient benefits
  • A breakdown of the 백수오 Vitality Cream ingredients, both Good & Bad
First, let's do some translation!

What the 15 fermented Hanbang ingredients are:

The full image of the above collection is part of the product advertisement, and says:
4. Excellent harmony with skin from 15 kinds of fermented herbal ingredients! 
Reduces skin irritation by minimizing the breakdown of good natural ingredients through fermentation, and turns the nutritional contents of herbal materials into ultrafine particles to help increase absorption into skin.***
Image source from, where I purchased the set
*** Note: Shout out here to a very lovely Korean woman who has been patiently fielding my incessant questions about translation, and after I stayed up all night redoing my blog layout, she kindly translated this line for me as I flailed around trying to get my coffee to kick in. <3 In return, I am helping her affordably source Korean products.  Symbiosis for the win! 

The translation of the above list of the 15 fermented traditional Hanbang ingredients is as follows:
  • Plum, Red Ginseng, Pomegranate, Green Tea, Lycium chinense
  • Portulaca extract, Cynanchum wilfordii, Rice, Puer Tea, Polygonatum (Solomon's Seal)
  • Barley, Bean, Snow-cordyceps militaris, Rehmannia glutinosa libosch (Foxglove), Phellodendron (Cork Tree)
Mmm, delicious herbal extracts. 

Totally unsubstantiated claims about ingredient benefits:

So let me first set some expectations here.  Korea is fast becoming the global leader in skincare innovation, partly because they are blending ~ancient Hanbang medicine~ with the ultra-modern advancements of science.  That means we get a combination of unsubstantiated traditional herbal medicine with proprietary scientific research.  

Well hey, you might think, science!  There should be studies and citations and substantiation galore!  Unfortunately, the key word here is proprietary; the companies are in a cosmetics arms race to produce The Next Big thing and there is no benefit for them to freely release their research as that would compromise their intellectual property, so we are stuck waiting 5-10 years for the general scientific community (such as Universities) to conduct their own studies and release their research.

So what does that mean for the information I am about to share?  Well, it's gleaned from all over, because when it comes to traditional Korean herbal medicine, most of the sources are in Korean and I can't attest to the credibility of any of it.  

A breakdown of the 백수오 Vitality Cream ingredients, both Good & Bad

The Good:
  • Glycerin - Ah, good old glycerin.  I'm pleased to see that this gentle and unthreatening moisturizing agent is doing the heavy lifting.
  • Sodium Hyaluronate - Hyaluronic Acid! O Wondrous Humectant, get thee upon my parched face and draw unto it the molecules of a thousand water droplets. 
  • Betaine - Betaine normally crops up in medical treatments, but I'm game to try it's humectant and anti-irritant properties on my skin.
  • Cynanchum wilfordii Root extract - the star of the show!
I was surprised to find a full text study on the effects of Cynanchum wilfordii, which is pretty impressive considering that it's so unknown to the West that Google Translate (which otherwise does a pretty stellar job of translating technical terms, better than Naver in my experience) reported that this translated to "Oh Unemployment".  There are also several studies out there on the effects of plants in the Cynanchum family, which vary widely in their area of study.  Many of them reference that it's a popular/important herb in Hanbang and Chinese traditional medicine, but many of them just stopped short after that sentence and carried on with the science-ing.

Normally I'd be all about the whole "let's get it on with the science" but in this case, I actually don't really care about what impact there is to the Improved Endothelial Dysfunction by Cynanchum wilfordii in Apolipoprotein E−/− Mice Fed a High Fat/Cholesterol Diet - (web), because I am not a mouse with high cholesterol, I am a woman putting on a face cream.  I actually do want to know what these mysterious traditional uses are, because it's a challenge to find that information on an English-language site.

Image source
First I want to talk about how hard it was to figure out that 백수오 was a plant, not ... whatever Google Translate was thinking.

This actually helped me develop a method I'd later use in determining if my transcribing/Naver Translate/Google Translate was correct- I would do a general google search for the term in Hangul and then take a look at the Google Image results.

In fact, that's how I found out it was a type of Cynanchum, because there was a herbal medicine product package that had both the Korean and English name for it, and helped tremendously.

As you can see see in the article above, the research that has been done (that I could find) is specifically about the medical benefits of this famously traditional Hanbang herb.  Does that translate over into any sort of topical/skincare benefit?  I have no idea.

I was able to see this tantalizing single page of an article that was behind a paywall:
C 21 Steroidal Glycosides from Cynanchum wilfordii 
by Wen-Juan Xiang a), Lei Ma*a), and Li-Hong Hu*a)b)
a) School of Pharmacy, East China University of Science and Technology, 130 Meilong Road,
Shanghai 200237, P. R. China **phone and email edited, available on the sourced link above
b) Shanghai Research Center for Modernization of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, Shanghai 201203, P. R. China

Eight new C 21 Steroidal glycosides, named wilfosides A – H (1 – 8, resp.), along with one known compound wilfoside KIN (9), were isolated from the roots of Cynanchum wilfordii. The structures of the new glycosides were determined on the basis of spectroscopic analysis, including 1D- and 2D-NMR, and ESI-MS techniques, as well as by comparison of the spectral data with those of related compounds.Introduction. – Steroidal glycosides are widely distributed in the Cynanchum Species. Medicinal plants containing steroidal glycosides are commonly used for medicinal purposes in many Asian countries. Modern biological studies have shown that the extracts and fractions of Cynanchum species have varieties of biological activities, including antitumor, antiepileptic, immunoregulation, anti-oxidation, and antiviral effects [1]. Cynanchum wilfordii (Maxim.) Hemsl. (former Asclepiadaceae,now Apocynaceae, subfamily Asclepiadoideae) is widely distributed in China and used as traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of impotency, neurasthenia, lumbago,and abscesses [2]. C 21 Steroidal glycosides have established themselves as an important class of biologically active compounds in the Cynanchum species. Previous inves-tigation on the C 21 Steroidal glycosides had shown the presence of normal and aberrant pregnane skeletons [3 – 6]. The C 21 Steroidal glycosides with a normal pregnane skeleton are sarcostin derivatives with an oligosaccharide at C(3) and acetyl, ikemaoyl,cinnamoyl, isovaleroyl, p-hydrobenzoyl, and nicotinoyl esters at C(12) or C(20) [7].Two sorts of aberrant pregnane glycosides with aglycone skeletons of the 13,14;14,15-disecopregnane type and the 14,15-secopregnane type are known from the Cynanchum Species [8][9]. In these steroidal glycosides, the linkage sites of the sugar moieties are atC(3) of their aglycones and the sugar portion is generally composed of a linear rather than a branched oligosaccharide chain. The sugar residues include 2,6-dideoxy sugar units, 6-deoxysugar units, and glucose units with the mode of 1!4 linkage [3 – 6]. As part of our phytochemical investigation of traditional Chinese medicinal plants,we describe here the isolation and structure elucidation of eight new C 21 Steroidal Glycosides, wilfosides A –H (1 – 8, resp.), along with the known compound wilfosideKIN (9) from the roots of C. wilfordii. Like many wilfosides [10], wilfosides A – F (1 – 6,resp.) are sarcostin derivatives with an oligosaccharide at C(3) and esterified at C(20).
Uh well.  How about all that ... science.  Um.  Yep, not even going to sort through all of that, but at least it gave me some background information about what Cynanchum wilfordii is supposed to be beneficial for in traditional medicine, which is all I wanted.

Let's carry on with the rest of the goodies!

Image Source
  • Nelumbium speciosum Flower Extract & Nelumbo nucifera Flower Extract - Both species of the Nelumbo lotus; Lioele's ingredient dictionary claims the extract is a skin conditioner.
I regret that I don't have room to show the awe-inspiring beauty of both types of these lotus flowers, but I urge you to google them and then have a zen moment as you bathe in the serene beauty of these gorgeous flowers.  

Of course, they're most likely dried into husks, ground into powder, and then fermented into a brown sludge by the process, but it's nice to know that something so beautiful went into my face cream.  'Brown sludge' just doesn't have the same starry-eyed effect that the flower for does, you know?

  • Allantoin - there are are a lot of anti-inflammatory and 'anti-allergic' ingredients in this cream, and this one of them.  It's certainly very soothing!
  • Tocopheryl Acetate - Ah,Vitamin E, a beauty product standby, being both an antioxidant, and a moisturizer, among other things.  Irritating for some.
Image Source
  • Aloe barbadensis Leaf Juice Powder - Aloe Vera is widely used in cosmetics and folk medicine; it's used on burns, irritation, wounds, and is also hydrating/moisturizing.  Happy to see it here!
In fact, there is a good possibility that the ultra-soothing nature of this cream (as I mentioned, applying it makes my eyes roll back in my head a bit and I let out borderline NSFW moans of appreciation) comes from the Aloe, because it's quite high up on the list of ingredients and it certainly matches the effect.

For these next items, I'm going to caution you not to freak out at the use of Mycelium and Aspergillus like I did.  (Google it.  Juuuuuust Google it, I dare you.)  For one thing, these are not direct applications of what can be very toxic and dangerous molds and bacteria, and for another, these forms are the type are used to ferment soybeans, brew sake in Japan and makgeolli in Korea, etc.  Not the necrotic type that will literally rot your skin off.  Yep, it's out there.  There's a reason that certain types of mold results in building being condemned and demolished instead of cleaned.

These days, they're used used to create the trendy fermented Saccharomyces like SK-II and Missha's First Treatment Essence.  Lactobacillus is no stranger to western audiences; we already put it in our food to bolster digestive health.

So, all of the below are Hanbang raw ingredients + the fermentation ingredient, and according to the product advertisements I translated last post, they're fermented in traditional bamboo casks using the traditional Hanbang medicinal techniques.  Fancy!

  • Image source
    Paecilomyces japonica Mycelium & Polygonum multiflorum Root Ferment Extract - Paecilomyces japonica is a type of wild mushroom, and  Polygonum multiflorum root is associated with anti-aging.
I just think these little mushrooms look so amazing, even if mushrooms can be terrifying and unsafe.
  • Image source
    Saccharomyces & Prunus mume Fruit Ferment Filtrate - An Asian plum/apricot, has preliminary studies supporting its benefit as an antimicrobial agent and endurance enhancer, but traditionally viewed as a general health tonic.
Technically I should have included a picture of the Prunus mume Fruit instead of the flower, but can you blame me?
  • Lactobacillus & Lycium chinense Fruit Extract Ferment Filtrate (Not Pictured) - Lycium Chinense is traditionally used to nourish the blood and support the kidneys and liver.

  • Saccharomyces & Green tea (Camellia sinensis) extract Ferment Filtrate - Green tea, one of my trusty skincare standbys.
Image source
The prepared leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant is a very widely used ingredient both for internal and topical health benefits, and is particularly famous for its antioxidant properties.1,2
It may also have microbial-inhibiting benefits3, so theoretically that could benefit skin troubles, but again remember this blog post is more “Yay pretty plants on my face!” and less “Serious scientific discourse about hard data” so please keep that in mind as you read.  

In skincare, Green tea extract is normally used in anti-inflammatory applications, which is an overall property it is also known for.4,5,6

  • Saccharomyces & Panax ginseng Root Ferment Filtrate - Ginseng!  Like most Hanbang and prestige Korean cosmetic, this set is rife with ginseng.

Image source
It’s one of the cornerstones of traditional herbal medicine in Asia, for it panacea-like reputation. It’s touted to help boosting energy and invigorating the body’s systems, acting as a stimulant that nourishes the body instead of creating a false boost of energy that ultimately drains the body’s resources further (i.e. caffeine, etc).  

It is said to be rich in Vitamin B, and is used for concentration, encouraging restful sleep, memory loss, blog pressure and blood circulation, and general lack of vitality.  It’s also famous for being ‘warm’, linking back to the stimulation/vitality association, and apparently Korean ginseng is even ‘hotter’ than regular ginseng.

  • Lactobacillus & Punica granatum Fruit Ferment Extract - Pomegranate is also one of the star ingredients in this set.  
Image source

To be honest, I rarely think about the benefits of Pomegranate other than the type that involved me cramming it into my face, because it’s one of my favourite fruits.  

It’s also one of the ‘superfoods’ in the West, rife with antioxidants and nutrients.  As a result, there are a fair number of studies out there exploring its antioxidant7 (and therein cancer-fighting potential8,9), anti-inflammatory (I believe this is the skincare angle), and even antimicrobial benefits11,12 which could theoretically benefit skin troubles.

  • Saccharomyces & Rehmannia glutinosa Root Ferment Extract  - Foxglove is one of the “50 fundamental herbs” in traditional Eastern herbal medicine.  

Image source
Google translated read-throughs of various sites indicate that it is a ‘cooling’ herb (to balance ginseng’s ‘warmth’ I imagine) and benefits the liver, kidneys, bladder, and blood.

  • Lactobacillus & Saccharomyces & Rehmannia glutinosa Root Ferment Extract  - Also a fermented extract of Rehmannia Glutinosa Root, but fermented with Lactobacillus as well as Saccharomyces.

  • Aspergillus & Saccharomyces & Barley Seed Ferment Extract (Not Pictured)- Although I was able to find information on barley being used as a medicine for the stomach and spleen, I believe that like the fermented Soybean extract below, it’s primary use is to create the Saccharomyces extract.  
As I mentioned earlier, Aspergillus is used in the fermentation process for making liquor, and since it was this process that birthed the fermentation frenzy that made SK-II a household name.
  • Lactobacillus & Saccharomyces & Polygonatum sibiricum Rhizome Ferment Extract  - A species of Solomon’s Seal, which benefits the spleen, lungs, and kidneys.

  • Aspergillus & Camellia sinensis Leaf Ferment Extract- Green tea fermented with Aspergillus instead of Saccharomyces.

  • Image source
    Lactobacillus & Soybean Ferment Extract - Like the barley I mentioned above, I think this is more about generating the fermented extracts than necessarily the benefits of soybeans themselves.

I think I am now cross eyed. Perhaps one day I will return to this post after the trauma has faded, and correct all the scientific names to the proper format, but today is not that day.

Have some citations, because footnotes are fun! So is benefiting from the fermentation process applied to Vitis vinifera, which has been a much-needed companion as I wrote this post. If you know what I mean. Wink, wink, nudge, nu-*falls off couch*

1. Brown, Michael D. "Green tea (Camellia sinensis) extract and its possible role in the prevention of cancer." Alternative medicine review: a journal of clinical therapeutic 4.5 (1999): 360-370
2. Yildirim, Ali, et al. "Comparison of antioxidant and antimicrobial activities of Tilia (Tilia argentea Desf ex DC), sage (Salvia triloba L.), and Black tea (Camellia sinensis) extracts." Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 48.10 (2000): 5030-5034.  
3. Yam, T. S., Saroj Shah, and J. M. T. Hamilton‐Miller. "Microbiological activity of whole and fractionated crude extracts of tea (Camellia sinensis), and of tea components." FEMS Microbiology Letters 152.1 (1997): 169-174.
4. Chattopadhyay, P., et al. "Anti-inflammatory activity of tea (Camellia sinensis) root extract." Life sciences 74.15 (2004): 1839-1849.
5. Sur, P., et al. "Antiinflammatory and antioxidant property of saponins of tea [Camellia sinensis (L) O. Kuntze] root extract." Phytotherapy research 15.2 (2001): 174-176.
6. Zvetkova, E., et al. "Aqueous extracts of Crinum latifolium (L.) and Camellia sinensis show immunomodulatory properties in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells." International immunopharmacology 1.12 (2001): 2143-2150.
7. Rajan, S et al. "Antioxidant potentials of Punica granatum fruit rind extracts." International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences 3.3 (2011): 10-15.
8. Kawaii, Satoru, and Ephraim P Lansky. "Differentiation-promoting activity of pomegranate (Punica granatum) fruit extracts in HL-60 human promyelocytic leukemia cells." Journal of medicinal food 7.1 (2004): 13-18.
9. Mehta, R, and EP Lansky. "Breast cancer chemopreventive properties of pomegranate (Punica granatum) fruit extracts in a mouse mammary organ culture." European Journal of Cancer Prevention 13.4 (2004): 345-348.
10. Lansky, Ephraim P, and Robert A Newman. "Punica granatum (pomegranate) and its potential for prevention and treatment of inflammation and cancer." Journal of ethnopharmacology 109.2 (2007): 177-206.
11. Machado, Thelma de B et al. "Antimicrobial ellagitannin of Punica granatum fruits." Journal of the Brazilian Chemical Society 13.5 (2002): 606-610.
12. Prashanth, D, MK Asha, and A Amit. "Antibacterial activity of Punica granatum." Fitoterapia 72.2 (2001): 171-173.
The Bad:
  • Butylene Glycol - Moisturizer, Solvent: Butylene Glycol has a Cosdna acne trigger of 1/5, so very low.  It's one of those things that people see and freak out about however, so I am going to repost what says about it:
Safety Information: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permits Butylene Glycol to be used as a synthetic flavoring and adjuvant for direct addition to food. Butylene Glycol, Hexylene Glycol and Dipropylene Glycol are allowed to be used as indirect food additives. For example, Butylene Glcyol may be used in polymeric coatings in contact with food, and Hexylene Glycol and Dipropylene Glycol may be used in adhesives in contact with food. 
The safety of Butylene Glycol and related ingredients has been assessed by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel. The CIR Expert Panel evaluated the scientific data and concluded that Butylene Glycol, Hexylene Glycol, Ethoxydiglycol and Dipropylene Glycol are safe for use in cosmetics and personal care products.
  • Cetearyl Alcohol - Surfactant, Emulsifier, Hydrophilic Thickener:  Some people react to fatty alcohols, but this it's one of those things that people tend to bandwagon (I'm looking at you, gluten!) without either understanding what they are, or having a genuine reaction to them. So, unless you have a confirmed reaction to fatty alcohols (which is rare), there's no substantiated reason to avoid them. This scores only a 2 on Cosdna, also quite low.  Here's the infomation:
The toxicological data for the five long-chain aliphatic alcohols included in this report (Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, Isostearyl Alcohol, Myristyl Alcohol, Behenyl Alcohol) revealed no significant toxicity. For example, Cetyl Alcohol was not mutagenic. Formulations containing these fatty alcohols were not dermal irritants or sensitizers.
CIR Review: The CIR Expert Panel noted that as a class, the Sorbitan esters, including Sorbitan Stearate, are generally mild skin irritants but nonsensitizers. Sorbitan Stearate is not a photosensitizer. Sorbitan Stearate and Sorbitan Laurate were negative in carcinongenicity studies. Based on the available information, the CIR Expert Panel concluded that Sorbitan Stearate, Sorbitan Laurate, Sorbitan Sesquioleate, Sorbitan Oleate, Sorbitan Tristearate, Sorbitan Palmitate, and Sorbitan Trioleate were safe as cosmetic ingredients.
  • Glyceryl Stearate/ PEG-100 Stearate - Emulsifier; Solvent; Viscosity Increasing Agent: Scores a 3 on Cosdna.  Here's the entry:
CIR Safety Review: The CIR Expert Panel reviewed chronic studies of Glyceryl Stearate that showed no adverse effects on reproduction, and no carcinogenic effects.
Human exposure studies of products containing Glyceryl Stearate and Glyceryl Stearate SE, as well as clinical experience have shown these compounds to be nonsensitizing, nonphototoxic and nonphotosensitizing.     
  • Triethanolamine - pH Adjuster: Already reacted, ignore it.
  • Methylparaben & Propylparaben - Preservatives: Scores a 3 on Cosdna.  Yes, Parabens.  No one freak out.  The paraben hysteria is one of the worst examples of laypeople referencing studies that they haven't read, let alone understood.  The short version of that study was that it found parabens present in cancerous tissue, and recommended that someone else research it further to see if there was any correlation to it, because that's not what the study was studying.  It's very possible that the presence of parabens had literally nothing to do with the formation of cancer. It's like getting a text while you happen to sneeze; there's no reason to jump to the conclusion that texts cause sneezing.  I recommend that you research this further if you are concerned.  You can see the debunking here.
  • Benzophenone-5 - Sunscreen: Scores a 3 on Cosdna. AGH A CHEMICAL SUNSCREEN! Thank god it's low on the list, it seems to be in a low enough quantity that it is not pissing off my skin.
  • Disodium EDTA - Chelating Agent.  Also a 3, but apparently it's not absorbed via the skin and needs to be in larger doses before there is any risk, according to
CIR Safety Review: EDTA and the related ingredients at the concentrations used in cosmetic and personal care products were not dermal irritants or sensitizers. Studies indicated that these ingredients were not carcinogens. Because these ingredients bind metals required for normal cell division, some studies that indicated that these compounds were weakly mutagenic. Some studies showed reproductive and developmental effects following oral exposure to large doses of metal chelators, likely an effect of the binding of metals required for normal reproduction and development.
The CIR Expert Panel reviewed data that indicated that EDTA and the related ingredients were not well absorbed through the skin. Therefore, dermal exposures to EDTA or HEDTA from the use of cosmetics and personal care products containing these ingredients would result in very little skin penetration and systemic levels well below those shown to produce adverse effects in oral studies.
  • Yellow No. 4 - Pigment: Well this was interesting.  It's actually banned in the US for a potential carcinogen, but it's also a "Class 3" (assigned by IARC) which is defined as "The agent is not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans." That basically means they have no clue what it does or whether it's safe.  The KFDA is hardly slacking; they won't even allow higher than 1% BHAs to be sold OTC, so between that + the fact that it's at the very end, I'm not going to freak out.  I'll keep an eye out for future products and avoid that as an ingredient, but I'm not about to set fire to my jar in a panic.
  • Yellow No. 5 - Pigment: Yes it has a score of 5, but it's at the very end and is safe for both food and cosmetics, including those for use on the lips and eyes, according to
  • The FDA has reviewed the safety of Yellow 5 and determined that it may be safely used for coloring cosmetics and personal care products, including products intended for use on the lips, and in products intended for use in the area of the eye, when these ingredients conforms to FDA specifications. Yellow 5 is also permitted as to be used as a color in food and drugs. 
Final thoughts:

I was insane to take on this task.  My metaphorical eyes were definitely larger than my stomach; the month is half over and I've only translated, and researched, one set of ingredients.  Howeer considering that the entire set is very focused around the "15 fermented Hanbang ingredients" I'm feeling pretty confident that the same extracts are in all of them, which means the only differences between the products will be the base ingredients.  I still plan on giving mini reviews of the other 5 products, so I may switch it up for the last two pots and focus on the products, or perhaps the translations of the product copy.

I also need to restock on fermented  Vitis vinifera before I can face attempting any further translations. Uh, those have er, antioxidants and stuff, right? Of course, side effects include loss of motor control, increased typing inaccuracies, and misplaced belief that one's jokes are funny.

We shall see!

**Disclaimer: All products reviewed/mentioned in my blog, are 100% purchased with my own money, with a single exception of a press sample I tested & reviewed in 2015 which swore me off of them forever.  This blog contains  both affiliate and non-affiliate links, and clicking the former before you shop means that this blog may receive a small commission to assist in this blog supporting itself.  Please see my Contact Info & Disclaimer policy for more information.


  1. so do u know what is the brand's or product's name which contains 15 or more hanbang ingredients?

    1. Hi there!

      If you check out the first installment of this series:
      You can find more info on the brand and the products:

      "The brand is Buyonghwa (부용화, a type of flower) and this is the Princess Jeonghyo (정효) line. "

      From my understanding, they all have the hanbang ingredients in them. :)

  2. Where did you buy these products online? I would definitely love to try them out one day.

    1. I purchased it from using's buying service. I am not sure I would recommend them to people, although if they are on sale and you are that curious, you will at least get some pretty jars out of the bargain. ;)