The alphabet K can bring to mind many things – of course, there’s the inevitable Kardashian, Kylie, Kendall, but there’s also Korean beauty (or Kbeauty for short). Whether it’s skincare or make-up products, Kbeauty has arguably risen very quickly to become one of Korea’s most renowned exports (besides Kpop and kimchi, that is). If you have yet to hop aboard the K-bandwagon, here’s a short intro to some of the country’s most popular brands.
Laneige’s eternally youthful brand ambassador Song Hye Gyo (star of Full House and Descendants of The Sun fame) attributes her good skin to the brand’s highly hydrating products such as its Water Bank Essence_EX, that keeps your skin hydrated for up to 24 hours, as well the Water Sleeping Mask (which reportedly sells one every 15 seconds). In fact, Ms Song loves the mask so much that she’s even ‘fessed up to dishing out money from her own pocket to buy them as gifts for her loved ones.
The brand is also famous for its BB Cushion, which has sold more than a million pieces worldwide, while its Two Tone Lip Bar and Two Tone Shadow Bar are not just eye candy for any beauty junkie; they’re a godsend for make-up amateurs who want to easily achieve the perfect ombre gradient lips sported by many a Korean celebrity.
Sulwhasoo is a luxury brand that incorporates modern skin science with traditional herbal ingredients to treat your skin from inside to out. A key ingredient in their products is the prized ginseng – the brand carries out research and development on this pricey root, which has given rise to a JAUM Balancing Complex. Formulated with five precious ingredients carefully selected from more than 3,000 medicinal herbs, this helps replenish the skin’s yin deficiency. Its star product First Care Activating Serum EX (a skincare booster) was tested on 400 women across four countries who used it for a week, with 93-100% of the respondents claiming their skin looked revitalised, firmer and healthier.
This underrated skincare brand is similar to Sulwhasoo, as it incorporates herbs such as chamomile, bergamot, soapwart and others using a 150-year traditional herbal extraction and processing method. Belif’s products are labelled (very) clearly with all the ingredients, bringing forth the brand’s motto in being committed to bringing good skin to its customers. In need of some serious hydration? Try their True Cream Aqua Bomb, which has been clinically proven to increase your skin’s moisture by 18%. It contains Lady’s Mantle, a herb that helps soften dry, scaly and flaky skin while controlling excess sebum.
3 Concept Eyes / 3CE
This is the Cinderella story of an online brand that made it really big – StyleNanda was previously a fashion retailer that was only available in Korea. But since then, it’s grown to relatively epic proportions, with its own beauty brand 3 Concept Eyes (3CE) and international shipping to over 100 countries. The cult brand has colour products that are intensely pigmented (check out their huge range of lip products), and also boasts products that’ll give that Korean dewy finish.
This brand is AmorePacific Group’s first naturalism brand – after all, when you think of innisfree, the first thing that comes to mind is “green tea”. The brand continues to launch products incorporating natural ingredients such as Jeju volcanic clay, Jeju tangerine peel, Jeju lava seawater, green persimmon, soybean and more, clad in eco-friendly packagings. The brand achieved more than KRW100 billion (US$87 million) in sales in just six years after its inception, and grew to have more than 1,000 stores worldwide as of January 2015.
10 million bottles of its star product, The Green Tea Seed Serum, have been sold worldwide. The moisturising serum contains organic Jeju green tea (rich in amino acids) which hydrates your skin while creating a moisture barrier to keep your skin moisturised for longer. Its Super Volcanic Clay masks are also known for helping purge the skin of impurities and declogging it.
Indulge your inner princess with Etude House, a brand whose products are all about sugar, spice and everything nice, and feature predominantly sweet pink packagings. What makes this brand stand out is its affordably priced make-up items that perform surprisingly well – whether it’s a lipstick, eyeliner, eyeshadows or even nail colours. The leading Kbeauty make-up brand is constantly churning out limited edition products every season, with the current Wonder Fun Park collection of pastel unicorn colours eliciting squeals of “I must have them!” from beauty junkies all around.
The History of Whoo
This ultra-luxe brand is based on an imperial concept – “whoo” is derived from the Korean word for ’empress’. It’s been said that a special set of Whoo products, complete with elaborately handcrafted ornate mother-of-pearl inlaid wood box, is used as gifts for high-ranking VIPs who visit Korea. And there’s no wonder why – the National Government of Korea had commissioned LG Household & Healthcare to develop a national skincare brand that fully embodies Korean traditions. The products feature herbal ingredients and revolve around the concept of skin regeneration and recuperation.
The Face Shop
Arguably one of the first few Korean brands to gain popularity outside of Korea, the brand is known for its association with nature – natural ingredients such as chia seed rice, red ginseng, green tea and more. Of course, its brand ambassadors (past and present) such as Suzy from MissA, Kim Hyun Joong (Boys Over Flowers), Kim Soo Hyun (You Who Came From The Stars), Won Bin and more have done their fair share in generating fans of both genders for the brand. Its Chia Seed range of products work wonders for all skin types – improved clarity and radiance amidst boosted hydration levels.
This brand is extremely strong in its colour make-up offerings – the smouldering bold eye make-up and strong lip you usually see on Kpop stars can be easily recreated with this mass market brand without burning a hole in your pocket. Its lip products – be they tints or lipsticks – are amazingly pigmented, while their eyeliners are known to be intensely black and long lasting.
Now these brands may not have as strong a global presence as the aforementioned brands as yet, but if you’re in Korea, it’s worth checking them out. Most of them are under either the AmorePacific or LG H&H umbrella of brands.
Mamonde, IOPE, Dr. Jart+Primera, Holika Holika, Hanyul, Hera, Lirikos, Nature Republic, Leader’s, Espoir, Banila Co, Tony Moly, Too Cool For School, PeriPera.