Most of my readers will know that apart from anything Korean, I’m a huge fan of anything beauty-related. Well then, welcome to the one country in the world most focused on beauty. In the course of the almost three weeks that I’ve been here in Korea, people have commented on my appearance probably more times than over the past three years combined. Comments from “you look so young” (I corrected someone who mistook me for a student), “I like your outfit”, “cute skirt”, to “nice lipstick”, and “your skin looks radiant” are just samples of what Koreans seem fit to throw at you without warning. Granted, these things are not exactly hard to hear, but bear in mind – they would likely tell me if they thought the opposite was true too, as this is just what Koreans do. Brutal. Korean. Honesty.
This fixation on appearance has spurred two major industries in Korea. The cosmetic industry, and on the more radical cosmetic surgery industry. I even walked past a place which offered to take passport and resume photos, and then photoshop them to make people unrecognizably prettier. The ad claimed that it would increase people’s chances of getting hired. Well… Another subway ad has taught me that if I’m young and unemployed, it may be because I have acne. Better do something about that, shall we?
While this is certainly the flipside of the medal for Korean society, the quest for beauty has resulted in what may be the world’s most developed industry within beauty products and skin care. When you live in Korea, you have access to a variety of places to shop for skin care products. The fact that I’m almost a next door neighbor to Ehwa Women’s University gives me even better shopping options as most of the major beauty shops are within a ten minute walk from my home. Many of them are brandname shops, where you can only buy that particular brand. Among the most well-known are Nature Republic (actually good, but there’s a shop on EVERY subway station, that I’m worried they’re slowly watering out their brand), Innisfree (organic and natural – one of my faves), Tony Moly (very cute if you like pandas – they put many of their products in panda shaped jars), The Face Shop (another good one), Etude House (too pink/bubblegum/cotton candy for my taste), and others like Banila, Too Cool for School, Skinfood etc. I don’t know these three brands all that well.
On the higher end, there’s a beauty chain called Aritaum (an old Korean word meaning Beauty). This store carries a range of more up-scale (pricey) brands such as Laneige, Mamonde, IOPE, and Hanyul. I’m a huge fan of IOPE, but I’ll get back to that in a bit. Finally, there’s your go-to shop Olive Young. This shop reminds me of an American drugstore like Wallgreens or CVS. They carry all the things you may need for beauty/personal hygiene and vitamins, plus a selection of snacks and sundries.
Hopefully now you should feel a bit more at home in the Korean beautysphere (if that’s not a word, it is now!). But what do I buy in these awesome shops, and how do I use the products?
Korean women are renowned for having the most complicated skin care routine, often covering up to 15 steps of applying different products. No wonder people in this country don’t get enough sleep. On the other hand, they take so good care of their complexion that their lack of sleep doesn’t show, haha.
While I haven’t reached 15 steps of products yet, I find my routine expanding with every visit to one of the above mentioned stores. One thing I almost always buy are Korean face masks. They are usually cotton sheets soaked in essence that you take out of a separate packet and apply over your face for about 20 mins. They have holes for eyes and mouth, so you can easily read or watch tv while letting the magic work. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The most important step is cleansing. Washing any makeup or dirt/sweat off of your face is crucial before starting on the skin care program. Once a week I also like to use a good scrub – if your skin’s not too dry, I recommend Innisfree’s Jeju Volcanic Pore Scrub. It also works wonders with the clay mask from the same brand. One of my recent purchases was actually a Konjac Sponge (a traditional Asian beauty tool), which really deep-cleanses the skin. Something that is otherwise quite difficult with the highly chlorinated tap water. I’ve posted a picture of these three products here below.
So what’s next? Now it’s time to apply toner and then maybe follow up with a sheet mask (usually use one every 2-3 days). Otherwise I proceed to my new IOPE ritual. My Instagram followers will know that I had an “incident” in Aritaum two weeks ago. I originally went inside to buy an eye cream, and somehow (still don’t know how, but I’m sure there’s an investigation team on the case) came out with a bag full of IOPE products. Aside from an awesome IOPE anti-wrinkle eye cream the very cute sales girl, who called me 선생님 (teacher), assured me that I would absolutely love the IOPE skin conditioner. In fact so much that I might as well get two, while I was at it. Just kidding, there was a 2 for 1 promotion. I was tempted and needed a feel-good “self giftie”, so I rolled with it and earned two travel sets with IOPE products for being such an agreeable customer. I’ve now been using this IOPE conditioner for two weeks, and I’m actually amazed at the results. My marketing teacher in college once told us: “When you buy cosmetics – you buy hope. Hope that the products work. Usually they don’t.” Well, this does! My skin feels smoother, fresher, more balanced, and most importantly red marks from the occasional pimple have completely faded. Just love this stuff, but it does come with a hefty price tag of 60,000 won – just around 60 dollars. One bottle is supposed to last one month, but I’ll easily make mine last two.
After this magic toner has soaked in, I top off with a moisturizing lotion from Japanese brand Hada Labo. I’ve wanted to try this brand for ages, and I recently found it on sale in Olive Young. Score! This is also a super neat product, which leaves my skin feeling nourished and moisturized.
I actually also wanted to tell you all about Korean BB-creams and cushions, but that I’ll have to save for another day. Instead, I’ll post a picture of my IOPE/Hada Labo haul.
Disclaimer: I did not write this post to try to lure my favorite eonni Tine over here. She already booked her tickets and will be spending a week in Seoul in mid-October. Yay!