Want to Try Korean Beauty Products? Here’s Where to Start

From fermentation to snail mucin, these exotic ingredients are about to be mainstream.

korean-beauty.jpgImage via Soko Glam

If you’ve ever used a BB cream, guess what? You might not have realized it, but you’ve gotten caught up in the wave of Korean beauty products that have slowly made their way across the world and onto American bathroom countertops. But there’s much more to this beauty philosophy than a simple (albeit life-changing) tube of foundation-meets-moisturizer.

“Beautiful, radiant, healthy skin has long been held as a beauty ideal in Korea,” says Alicia Yoon, founder of Peach & Lily, an online Korean beauty boutique. “So there’s a big focus on achieving healthy skin and a lot of effort goes into it. Skin care is seen as a form of self-care.”

As a nation, South Korea really invests in their skincare products: According to the BBC, South Korean women spend twice as much of their income on beauty products and makeup than American women, while South Korean men spend more on skincare than men anywhere else in the world. And because Koreans are so into taking care of their skin, researchers have to keep up with their customers’ ever-increasing standard — and that pushes Korean companies to make some of the most powerful beauty products on the market. “Korean beauty companies are constantly innovating to compete,” says Yoon.

But getting your skin up to Korean beauty standards can take dedication. Proof: The typical Korean beauty regimen is at least a 10-step process. If that seems overwhelming (not to mention time-consuming and pricey), fear not. We consulted with Yoon and fellow Korean beauty expert Charlotte Cho, founder of online Korean beauty boutique Soko Glam, to get the inside scoop on how to get started.

What are some of the ingredients that make Korean beauty products so powerful?

“The Korean skincare routine is all about layering products from lighter to richer,” says Cho. “This is an important element of Korean skincare because it improves absorption of the products and seals in moisture and nutrients.” Here are three examples of the special ingredients that make Korean products so powerful.

Fermentation. Think: kimchee for your skin! “When it comes to Korean skincare ingredients, I’m personally a big fan of fermented ingredients,” says Yoon. “They are action-packed and brighten, nourish, and firm skin while still typically being gentle.”

Snail mucin. Yep, you read that right. But if you can get over being grossed out by the idea of putting snail slime on your skin, you could be in for some hefty benefits. “It hydrates, firms, combats acne, and helps with hyperpigmentation, all in one unusually lightweight texture,” says Yoon. “This was the ingredient I went on QVC with for the first-ever Asian beauty show!”

Neroli oil. This oil, which comes from the bitter orange tree, brightens skin without drying it out. “I use it often when I need to fight sunspots but don’t want to use something drying,” says Yoon.

What products should be at the top of the must-try list for newbies to Korean beauty?

“Korean beauty is for everyone!” says Cho, although she cautions that just like with any cosmetics, it’s important to seek out formulas that work well with your skin type. Here are the top five must-try products recommended by Cho and Yoon (in no particular order).

Oil cleanser. “Oil-based cleansers are essential to the Korean skincare routine,” says Cho. “They cling to makeup and oil-based impurities, like sebum, and thoroughly cleanse skin without drying it. We recommend double cleansing, which involves using an oil-based cleanser first and then following up with a water-based cleanser for fresh, clean skin.”

Essence. “For those who are new to Korean beauty, we recommend incorporating an essence into your skincare routine,” says Cho. “Essences don’t really have a Western equivalent, and are pretty unique to Asian beauty. They often contain fermented ingredients in very light, easily absorbed formulas.” Yoon is a fan, too, recommending this Mineral Treatment Essence, which is great for all skin types.

Sheet mask. “Sheet masks are a crowd favorite that no Korean beauty enthusiast would be without!” says Cho. “Korean sheet masks are single-use masks that have been soaked in essence. Sheet masks are an easy and relaxing way to see healthier, more hydrated skin. And — for you lazy girls — you don’t have to wash your face after using them!

Sleeping mask. “A sleeping mask goes to work for your skin while you sleep,” says Yoon. “ That's another reason why I love Korean skincare; the products are thoughtful. Here's my favorite sleeping mask for how much I'm glowing when I wake up — pat on as last step of skincare routine in the evening, sleep, and wake up glowing. So easy!”

Cushion compact. “Cushion compacts are really popular in Korea,” says Cho. “They make makeup application convenient and easy, and generally include high SPF as well as an array of skin-benefiting ingredients.”
Have you tried Korean beauty products? Share your favorite finds in the comments!

Written by Aleigh Acerni
Based in Charlotte, NC, Aleigh Acerni is a writer and editor who has covered everything from green living and beauty to food and travel for Breathe, The Charlotte Observer, and Zagat, to name a few. When she's not meeting deadlines or chasing around her toddler daughter, she writes about natural and organic beauty on her blog, Indigo + Canary.