How much do you know about Korean Cosmetics? What brands come to mind? I bet you're thinking about BB Creams and cutesy packaged powders and egg soaps! You recognise instantly brands like Etude House, Skin79, Missha, Liole and Skinfood! But I'm going to tell you that these brands mentioned don't really represent what Korean cosmetics are! In fact there's LOTS of products you are missing out on and brands with pricetags that will really surprise you!
What's really in Korean Cosmetics?
Korean Cosmetics really thrive due to Korea's unique modern culture. Koreans inherently are a very image conscious culture. I've been told that over 20 years ago many Korean women would make up their face just to do a quick grocery shop and cover their body with clothing to prevent tanning! Makeup has no age barrier. The Korean media is highly saturated with beauty related advertising and with hosts and actors in lovely makeup and hair, so it's not surprising that beauty has become so important!
While one can debate whether this culture is a good or a bad thing there are many things that make Korean cosmetics a blessing to a foreigner like me!
Here are some general features of Korean makeup:
- Prices of cosmetics are very affordable especially on an exchange rate basis for most Western countries. At the moment about 1,100 Won equates to $1AUD. A BB cream could cost less than $12 at a market (bear in mind that in Korea markets proliferate).
- The quality compared to the money spent is higher than you would get in Australia. In fact I can't really say there are any bad Korean makeup brands, just good ones!
- Lots of effort is made in packaging and presentation of products. They often have high quality containers and matching boxes, cute or themed imagery and interesting methods of use.
- Products lean to promoting a pale complexion, rosy lips, doll like faces, perfect dewy skin (giving the wearer a youthful look).
- Korean cosmetics are more experimental, innovative and even strange!
- Most brands follow a standard structure to their products. They usually have at least 1 BB cream, 1 cream compact, 1 powder compact, etc.
- It's common to find that many brands are owned by the same parent company like Samsung, Hanbul, LG, Dodo, Xai.
- The industry is more technically advanced with scientific research.
In Korea generally foundations are named under 3 categories:
- BB Cream - This name doesn't just cover the BB creams that are multifunction all in one foundations. It has become the default label for liquid foundations and in a way BBs have become the default liquid foundation too!
- Skin Cover - While this may sound like a feature it's really a category that describes cream foundations in a pan that inherently gives you good coverage.
- Twin Set/Twin Use/Two Way - These names are confusing sounding like some sort of wet/dry foundation. They're not! It's actually a powder foundation in a compact and an extra refill foundation pan. This explains why the words 'twin' is used.
- Lip Tints - These are quite watery stain based lip products that often double as a blush.
- Lip Jellies - These are like lip balm, they feel a little like jelly and offer a light tint of colour and moisturising gloss.
- Lip Glosses - They're exactly what you think but shades are often very sparkly!
- Lipsticks - They don't always come opaque. Usually they have a bit of transparency and medium pigmentation which is quite trendy now!
- Peel Off Nail Polish - This is one of my favourite finds because it's such a great idea that hasn't arrived on Western shores. It's a base coat that can be peeled off without acetone and is great for glitter nail polish!
- Sunscreen - In Korea sunscreen tends to be high in SPF, up to SPF50! Why? Because Asians tend to love pale skin and are frightful of tanning!
- Eyeshadows - Tend to be shimmery or sparkly but not colourful. Neutrals, pastels and pinks are common.
- Face Masks - This is a famous Asian product. They love these and tend to claim to have ingredients that do everything! Collagen, ginseng, green tea, apple, aloe vera and more!
- Skin Care & Perfume Gift Sets - There are a lot of sets for both men and women. Sometimes they have a large and travel version of their products. Some have interesting ingredients too!
- Herbal Products - Lots of Korean cosmetics are influenced by Chinese Herbal medicine.
Here are some phrases or terms that you may come across:
- Triple effect - Usually refers to BB creams that have a mixture of 3 effects out of the following: whitening, anti-aging, acne fighting, coverage and SPF.
- Snail Extract - Oooh, this sounds so bad but it's a big trend in Korea. Snail mucous extract now comes in a lot of BB creams supposively being the magic bullet in clearing acne, with anti-aging properties and healing scars. Is it true? I don't know! But the small amount put in BB creams would make its effects limited.
- Shades 21 & 23 - Generally there are only 2 shades available for foundations. 21 tends to be more neutral and light. 23 is a light-medium shade that can pull warm sometimes. Different brands may differ in shade even if the shade number is the same.
- Watery - BB creams that are watery can feel moist or they might be moisturising and dewy.
- Shimmer - Really common finish for foundations because it gives a dewy and youthful look.
- Foundation Base - Usually refers to tinted or shimmery products that alters the shade of your foundation. Pinks, greens and lavenders are common.
So now that you know a bit about what Korean makeup is about I bet you feel like going for a shop! But before you get into that you'll need to acquaint yourself with some new brands to buy!
I'm sure you are all aware of famous brands mentioned like Etude House, Skin79, Missha, Liole, Skinfood, Hanskin, Tony Moly, Holika Holika, Dr Jart+, BRTC... I like to call these brands 'International Korean Brands'. Why? These brands have made the international market. They're not necessarily the brands that have done well in Korea (a complex question). These brands likely have their own stores selling solely their brands products. They might use overt advertising like TV commercials. Their names are easy to remember and in plain English. They're more visible to overseas buyers watching the Korean cosmetics market from the outside.
Then there's the 'Conventional Korean Brands'. These brands are just as common around Korea but don't have a huge international profile.
So what's the difference?
In my opinion, not much! International brands might be more mid priced while many of the low priced Conventional brands are actually as good as the International brands.
So what are some brands that I need to know about?
- 3W Clinic - Otherwise known as Palgantong or Dodo. This brand is by far the most comprehensive brand you can find in Korea. The products are made in Korea but are reportedly a Japan owned brand. You find this EVERYWHERE! They sell lots of skincare & perfume giftsets, face masks and various makeup. They are low to mid priced but well worth the money. I actually bought their Famous Loose Powder but found out that I actually have a similar powder from the same brand but under their old name.
- VOV/Castledew - This is a famous low priced brand that is youthful. A lot of dupes for famous Korean product are made by this brand.
- Clio - A mid priced mature brand but very famous in Korea!
- Pierre Cardin - Not a Korean brand persé however I believe they release their products especially for the Korean market and are made in Korea. This is a low to mid priced brand selling to mature buyers and are sophisticated. They tend to sell more western style cosmetics and rely on French labelling.
- Holika Holika - It might have reached international fame but it's a very affordable youthful brand with high quality makeup.
- Baviphat - Known for its "Benefit" like brand imagery, this is for young adults and are medium priced.
- Charmzone - I've seen this brand for decades and it's a famous Korean skincare brand. It's a mid to high priced brand for mature women.
- Sulhwasoo - A famous expensive medicinal skincare brand which its name translates to Snow Flower. It's a long standing innovator of Korean skincare.
- The History of Whoo - Quite similar to Sulwhasoo being an expensive traditional inspired skincare brand.
- Laneige - As expensive skincare and cosmetics brand for mature women and now men! In French the name means "snow" again calling to Korea's obsession with pale skin and French culture.
- Innisfree - This is a fairly cheap youthful cosmetics brand. They could be considered slightly upmarket than VOV and have a lot of innovative products.
- Coreana - A famous widely distributed brand that you may find in Koreatown shops! They are expensive but well established for mature women.
- 3 Concept Eyes - Otherwise known as 3CE, they are a very new brand and offshoot from the Stylenanda store. They are mid priced and for young women but have a range of products that lean to being western influenced. Their store ships internationally.
- Misaekyeon - On the packaging an Elizabethan painting and taps into the Asian desire for pale skin. It's low to mid price but honestly it's the packaging that's so attractive! Owned by Hanbul.
- Beau Skin (Misaekyeon/Hanbul/Dodo/Xai) - This brand is a bit of a mix up since it seems to be owned/manufactured under different names and companies. Some products called Beau Skin and/or Misaekeyeon owned by Hanbul has a clear brand image of a 30s style painted woman. It's quite a mature, retro but sophisticated brand. Mid priced but packaging is high quality with foundations in glass pump bottles. At other times it is owned by Dodo or Xai.
- In Y:un - A very Chinese medicine influenced brand with pretty packaging and modest price.
- Lunaris - A mature aged cosmetics and skincare brand with mid prices.
- B Happy - Made by Sewha/P&C is a hair dye/straightening/treatment brand at low prices.
- Seolgukhwa - A skincare and perfume brand at generally low prices.
- Phil Moi - A sophisticated mid priced brand with a more Western look (love it!).
- Jant Blanc - A somewhat mature brand with a French inspired name, cheap skincare and foundations! Owned by Samsung.
- Fila - It's funny that a sportswear company might produce cosmetics but Fila does!
- Christian Dean - I haven't been able to find much about this brand. Like a lot of Asian brands this brands tries to ride on the familiarity of a famous brand like Dior. It has luxurious packaging and a high price to match.
- FAMOUS BRANDS - Since I would rather cover less known brands here is a list of international brands that you may or may not know! The Face Shop, Banila Co, Etude House, Skin 79, Dr Jart+, BRTC, Tony Moly, Skinfood, Hanskin, Missha, Liole, Nature Republic.
- And of course there's probably hundreds more that I haven't covered!
But before you run off here are some buyer bewares!!!
- BIG Claims - In Korea they seem less stringent in proving the claims that they make. This is why many products have a list of wonderful benefits that sound too good to be true. Don't get sucked in and don't buy products because they list these claims!
- Imitation - There are a lot of brands that try to sound like a major cosmetics brand or hint to the fact that they somehow possess a special quality also found in another brand by making similar brand names or products. It's not against the law but is common in Asian countries.
- World Miss University Organising Committee - This is a Korean beauty contest. Some brands label their products as being affiliated with this committee. Don't mix yourself up with Miss Universe. Again, nothing sinister in this but confusing for foreigners.
- Prices - When you buy overseas whether it's online (e.g. Ebay) or in an Asian cosmetics store be wary of the jacked up prices. For example, the famous Holika Holika Cat or Owl blush is $16 in Korea. Some sellers on Ebay sell them for $25+!
- Shades - Since this is for the Korean market it's homogenised into 2 shades. If you are dark skinned there's no way you'll find a foundation match.
- Fakes - I would say these are rare but famous brands can fall victim to fakes. Just because someone online found that their product looked slightly different doesn't mean the product is a fake but it might be useful to research before you buy.
So now you're thinking "I fully prepped! Let me at them!". Ah....No!
You forgot one thing: Where do you buy these unicorns?
- Misc retail stores - These stores are usually in the town area. In Korea town retail areas are spread out evenly across the city so you're bound to find a makeup store by walking around These stores are retail price but may do sales. They contain a variety of brands (mostly unknown internationally), but mostly low to mid priced ones (3W, Pierre Cardin, VOV, etc.).
- Market stores - Korean markets are more like a lot of stores in one place! They're typically half the price of a normal retail store so these are my favourites to buy from. They contain the same brands the Misc retail stores do.
- Flagship stores - These are where the international brands sell only their brand's products. In a sense you can't be overcharged because they sell retail price.
- Airport - Duty free stores have mostly famous Korean brands but at expected prices. But there are great bargains when buying famous Western products like Guerlain, Bvlgari, Clinique...
And what if you're not in Korea? Then online is more your thing!
Unfortunately it's difficult to find the less known brands but it's still possible!
- eBay - This is the easiest way of getting your goods whatever the brand. Less known brands are sometimes nowhere to be seen. VOV and 3W have a good presence.
- Gmarket - It's the Korean version of eBay. There's an English version of the website but you have to bear in mind that though it's in English it's not intended for non Korean readers. It takes a bit of practice to figure out but the prices there are exceptional (sans overseas shipping)!
- Various BB websites - Due to the popularity of BB creams there are a lot of overseas websites that stock brands of famous BB creams. They are highly overpriced but user friendly.
- Yesstyle - It's mostly an Asian clothing store but they do have a huge cosmetics section selling both Western and Korean cosmetics. They are a little overpriced plus shipping costs.
- Chinatown/Koreatown - Of course if you rather not buy online then the last alternative is going to an Asian fashion or makeup store. They tend to stock popular brands, gift sets, BB creams and foundations, false eyelashes, mascara and eyeliner. They can be very overpriced but have testers you can try and less known brands unexpectedly! Beware of fakes though!
So now I can officially say Happy Buying!
There will be a second post coming soon about the buys I've made recently and in the past!
So what are some of your favourite Korean brands and what's your best buy?
(More brands may be added in the future.)