Get ready to take notes, because this is K-Beauty 101.
(@erborian_usa / Instagram)
It seems like only recently that Americans have finally began recognizing and appreciating all the ways that Korea is killing the game.
From the South Korean film Parasite making history with its Best Picture win at the Oscars to the infamous 10-step Korean skincare routine that took the world by storm – it’s safe to say that all the wonderful things Korean culture has to offer will continue to make their way Westward.
Like all new things, navigating the K-Beauty world can seem impossible at first – but it doesn’t have to be! K-Beauty has a very different philosophy from American skincare, so if that’s what you’re used to, there’s probably going to be a learning curve.
Don’t worry, though, with this guide, you’ll be versed in the art of Korean beauty (or, at least, know the basics).
Makeup that puts skincare first
The K-Beauty philosophy is all about prevention, rather than solution after the fact. That being said, some of the best complexion products I’ve seen are from Korea because of their skin benefits.
Did you know that your beloved BB and CC creams were popularized by South Korea? The all-in-one coverage-meets-protection products wouldn’t exist today without the innovation of Korean dermatologists.
These are a few of my favorite K-Beauty makeup-skincare hybrids (and one of them even changes color to your face)!
Missha's M Perfect Cover BB Cream SPF 42 PA+++(50ml) for $22
Erborian's CC CREAM DORÉ/GOLDEN 1.5 oz for $44
Let’s get down to the essence of it all
For the longest time, essence was just one of those skincare products that I just. Didn’t. Get. The Korean-born skincare product remained an enigma to me – why do I need another step? Isn’t it just a toner?
As with most things in life, I was wrong. So, let’s break it down.
In an interview for Elle Magazine, a COSRX UK Representative described essence as “a primer for your moisturizer” that “penetrate[s] the skin much deeper than your average moisturizer.”
Essentially (no pun intended), it’s a powerhouse elixir of your typical toner, serum, and moisturizer — but on steroids. If you’re looking to balance your skin while amping up hydration, you might want to invest in a good essence.
Essence is also a key product in creating that dewy, “I just got out of the bath” hydrated skin look. Which, you know, is never a bad thing.
There are a few key ingredients to keep an eye out for when browsing the digital shelves of Korean essences: black tea, hyaluronic acid, and snail mucin. Yes, it comes from actual snails and no, it’s not as gross as it sounds.
COSRX's Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence on sale for $21
SK-II's PITERA™ Essence for crystal clear skin for $99
If you’ve ever wanted to look like Jason from Friday the 13th while simultaneously hydrating your skin, look no further than the Korean skincare craze, also known as the sheet mask.
You don’t have to wear a sheet mask every day to get that “glass skin” glow, although some choose to, but it is a great way to infuse a little extra moisture into your life. Sheet masks contain a hybrid of serums and essences, but the cloth allows the products to sink even deeper into the skin instead of just evaporating.
There are thousands of sheet masks for every single skin type, condition, and concern – but here’s just a few that I find are equal parts fun and powerful.
Mamonde's Flower Lab Essence Masks for $3 each
Mediheal's N.M.F Intensive Hydrating Mask for $15
Not your mother’s sunscreen
So long, Coppertone! There's a new sunscreen in town, and it’s coming straight from the other side of the globe.
Korea is infamous for it’s innovative, effective, lighter-than-air sunscreen formulas. After discovering Korean sunscreens, I looked forward to applying my daily SPF (which is saying something).
With an emphasis on preventing skin issues, the cornerstone of K-Beauty is protection from the sun – which means powerhouse SPFs like you’ve never seen. From formulas that feel like water, to sensitive skin safe ingredients, K-Beauty truly revolutionized the way we think about sun protection.
PURITO's Centella Green Level Safe Sun for $18.90
Klairs' Soft Airy UV Essence SPF 50 PA ++++ for $23
Even though K-Beauty could seem like an intimidating new realm of beauty products, it’s important to look at it like a whole new world just waiting for you to discover it.
At the end of the day, I’m glad that Korean culture is finally getting the love and attention it deserves, and beauty is a fantastic medium to bring people together, no matter their background.
Maya Lang is an Online Writer at Rowdy Magazine. She enjoys playing guitar, staying up far too late, and daydreaming about living in the '80s. You can reach her on Instagram at @mayaxlang for more info and movie recommendations.