K-Beauty Explained by a Korean Girl
Want to know the secret to K-beauty?
This article covers everything you wanted to know, but were afraid to ask!
Growing up in Korea, appearances meant a lot.
If a person is attractive, they’re more likely to have an easier life here.
On the other hand, for a heavy or not-so-pretty person, Korea can be a tough place to live. People are very blunt and will criticize you to your face.
When I get skin troubles, all my relatives will point them out and ask “why is your skin so bad?”
Perhaps, this culture led Koreans to obsess over having a thin physique, flawless skin, and to look younger than they are.
- 90% of my friends are consistently dieting, even though they’re way under the average weight.
- 80% of my friends see a dermatologist and get skin treatments, such as laser or Botox.
All my friends recommend nice cosmetics to each other, which get updated all the time.
No one can argue that this leads to a stress-free life, but if you want to take a peek at what Korean girls are doing, this post is for you.
What are some K-Beauty brands Koreans use? (No ads)
There are so many K-beauty brands.
I’d like to mention some of the brands my Korean friends are talking about right now.
- d’Alba – It’s a spray serum that’s very popular as a flight attendant’s mist. Also, by hiring model Han Hye-jin as a brand ambassador, they won the hearts of many Korean women. My friends who tried the spray serum commented that this cosmetic is their favorite, especially for dry seasons or travelling.
- Dr.Jart – Dr.Jart is a reliable brand for Koreans. Its Cicapair line is especially popular for acne or skin troubles. Ceramidin is great for deep moisturizing and rebuilding the skin barrier. I personally like to use Dr.Jart because the brand invests a lot in R&D, implements new ingredients and sets trends.
- AHC – AHC is known for its eye cream. Its large-sized eye cream is affordable for everyone, and can be used all over the face. Since Koreans never skip the eye cream step in the evening, this quickly became a 국민 아이크림 (national favorite eye cream).
- Hera – Hera is a luxury beauty brand by Amorepacific. Once my friends turned 30, they started using this brand. Its best item is black cushion for quick and easy makeup. It became even more popular for younger Koreans when Jennie, a member of BLACKPINK, became its model. She brought a luxury and elegant look, while being young and pretty.
- Other 국민템 (people’s items, meaning national favorites) include Innisfree No-sebum Mineral Powder, Peripera tint, and Too Cool For School Art Class by Rodin Shading.
What’s a real K-Beauty routine?
You’ve probably heard of the 10-step Korean skincare routine.
The principle is to use a diluted/watery formula first, then a thick/rich formula.
- Examples: Makeup Remover/Cleansing Oil > Foam Cleanser > Exfoliant > Toner (skin) > Essence or Serum or Ampoule > Eye Cream > Emulsion or Lotion > Moisturizer > Nourishing Cream or Oil > Sunscreen (suncream)
In fact, this skincare regimen is more famous overseas than in Korea.
Also, 7스킨법 (7 skin method, meaning 7 layers of toner) became trendy for a while thanks to celebrities like Lee Ha-nui and Seolhyun.
It’s not recommended for everybody though, as it might trigger skin troubles when the toner includes any form of alcohol or is not suitable for your skin type.
Most Korean women use 4- or 5-step skincare routines in their daily lives, like Toner > (Serum) > Eye Cream > Moisturizer > Sunscreen
Now, skipcare or skinimalism (minimal skincare) is trendy.
Since Koreans have a habit of dieting, we diet with cosmetics too.
Why is Korean sunscreen better?
If there’s one essential skincare step that Koreans never skip, it’s sunscreen.
Even in indoors, we apply sunscreen because it’s the key to anti-aging.
There are so many types of sunscreen now, such as tube, spray, cushion, stick, gel, and so on.
For formulas, we choose carefully between organic, inorganic, and mixed sunscreen for our skin type or purpose.
Inorganic sunscreen (무기자차) is a physical sunblock that forms a thin film on skin, reflects or disperses UV rays.
It normally contains Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide.
Since it’s a physical sunblock, it has minimal irritation. But as it forms a thin film, it leaves white residue, feels thick and doesn’t spread well.
It’s great for sensitive skin, or outdoor activities.
Organic sunscreen (유기자차) is a chemical sunblock that absorbs UV rays, transforms them into heat and releases it.
It normally contains Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, Avobenzone or Oxybenzone.
It may irritate skin as it contains a large amount of chemicals.
It makes skin feel a bit heated too. But, it has soft texture and good spreadability with almost no stickiness or white residue.
It’s perfect for before makeup or indoor activities.
Mixed sunscreen (혼합자차) is literally both organic and inorganic sunscreen.
It’s designed to provide only the benefits and minimize disadvantages.
It’s good for everyone as it has a little bit of both.
Why do some Koreans have flawless skin?
Short answer: 피부과 (Dermatologists)!
I love going to see dermatologists in Korea.
When it comes to skin troubles, cosmetics are supplementary after all.
For large acne, Korean dermatologists will inject an antibiotic shot into each one, making them disappear quicker without leaving a scar.
After treatment, they normally put a modeling mask pack on your face for cooling.
Most dermatologist’s offices in Korea offer monthly events for discount treatments.
Prices usually start from 50 USD, but I can see the results immediately.
My favorite go-to is aqua peeling between seasons. The treatment exfoliates without irritation and minimizes the chance of troubles appearing.
With their focus on flawless skin, Koreans can’t stand freckles or age spots. (I personally think freckles look beautiful.)
Dermatologists remove moles or other blemishes with a laser for 10 USD a pop, or 3-5 USD during events.
What’s the deal with whitening in Korea?
Another emphasis on K-beauty is whitening.
It’s more brightening than bleaching.
Just like most Asian women, Koreans prefer to have lighter skin tones.
Koreans use a lot of whitening creams or cosmetics.
You’ve probably seen them on the beach holding an umbrella, even when it’s not raining. This is to avoid the sun.
I enjoy tanning, and I get criticized by everybody in Korea.
They even have 화이트태닝 (white tanning), which was trendy about 2-3 years ago.
Koreans believe that HyunA uses white tanning, but you didn’t hear that from me.
It doesn’t really whiten, but helps regenerate skin. So your skin returns to its original tone.
At what age do Koreans start using anti-aging products?
Koreans are obsessed with anti-aging. We start using anti-aging eye cream at 20.
I believe that this has a lot to do with Korean culture and its focus on age.
When I meet someone new, the second question they ask after my name is, “나이가 어떻게 되시나요? (how old are you?)”
Every time I see my relatives, they still ask me how old I am this year, and always say I’m old (although I think I’m still young. My relatives are super nice, it’s just the culture.)
Anyway, so Koreans love anti-aging products to look younger (동안).
Anti-aging starts with proper sunscreen, because UV rays accelerate aging.
Some of my friends in their early 30s already get Botox or fillers on a regular basis for quick results.
As someone who is averse to unnecessary surgery, I’m afraid of getting them, so I work out instead.
Not everyone in Korea gets plastic surgery or cosmetic procedures/treatments though.
Although the highest concentration will be centered in Gangnam and decreases the further you travel away.
There’s even a word for this, 강남미인 (Gangnam beauty) that means they all look the same.
We also say that god (하느님) gives good looks to some, but others have 의느님 (doctor god) to thank.
So not everyone in Korea is on board with plastic surgery.
I hope this was a fun and maybe even helpful peek at the reality of K-beauty.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to look better and more beautiful, as long as it’s not mentally or physically unhealthy.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!