For one, it’s all about your skin.
With K-media’s worldwide explosion in recent years, people have long clued in on their stars’ beauty secrets. So much so that trips to Seoul, South Korea, tend to include not-so-quick pitstops to beauty stores.
Though adopting a Korean-inspired routine may seem daunting at first—especially after hearing the highly regimented, multi-step process—it doesn’t need to be. Plus, with a focus on innovation and affordability, amassing a number of products shouldn’t break the bank and can certainly be a fair investment. Read on for Vogue’s overview on everything you need to know about the movement.
The Age of Hallyu
Have you been pulled in by Hallyu? This is a term that roughly translates to “the Korean Wave,” and encompasses the massive momentum that Korean pop-culture has seen all over the world in the past few decades. Hallyu covers K-Pop, K-drama, and yes—K-beauty.
The obsession doesn’t end at trying to capture the looks of Korean celebs—even major players in the industry are paying attention. In 2017, Unilever acquired Carver Korea. L’Oreal bought Korean beauty and fashion brand Stylenada in 2018. A year later, industry giant Estée Lauder acquired the $500 million brand Dr. Jart+.
The move proved wise, since the Korean brand brought in a significant percentage of Estée Lauder’s sales even during the peak of the pandemic in 2020. Suffice to say, Korean Beauty or K-Beauty has fully integrated into mainstream media.
What’s It All About?
The Korean beauty market has the country pegged as the third biggest cosmetics exporter in the world as of 2020. With a following that massive, they’re definitely doing something right. K-beauty is all about innovation—especially with skincare.
From the Land of the Morning Calm, we have gotten the headline-worthy 10-step skincare routine, double-cleansing, glass skin, and face masks. For makeup, K-beauty cream has gifted us cushion foundations, BB creams, CC creams, and yes—DD creams.
Chances are, at least some of these terms are already familiar to aficionados, but K-beauty has a constant influx of innovations to explore. If you’re looking to get into the phenomenon and see all that it entails, here’s a rundown of five things to expect from K-beauty for first-timers.
Perhaps the foundation of all K-beauty is skin’s vitality, hence the infamy of the 10-step (sometimes 12) skincare routine. It may seem like a lot to those used to fewer products in their arsenal, but for Koreans, the number of steps is less crucial than understanding each product’s use and how they all build the healthiest possible epidermis based on each person’s idiosyncrasies. Think of it as a comprehensive prescription via brightening, revitalizing, and nourishing ingredients to achieve healthy-looking skin. It’s also why the dewy skin or glass skin look is so popular in Korea. It follows the philosophy that healthy skin glows from within.
K-beauty celebrates a more “natural” look and the industry has embraced the more subtle color peach, especially a monochromatic look using 3-in-1 products for both cheeks, eyelids, and lips for consistency.
The key aspects you need are tone and texture. Try to go for a color that really complements your skin and does not err towards tones that are too blue. In terms of texture, you might want to go for a nice sheer glow on the cheeks, a nice bright eyelid (maybe even some sparkle?), and glossy kissable lips.
Traditional ingredients like ginseng, lotus, honeysuckle, and the like are known as hanbang, key ingredients in K-beauty used for centuries for their anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and invigorating properties. With more and more beauty brands taking a holistic approach to beauty, more shelves are likely to see herbal serums, plant concentrates, and organic balms rich with hanbang ingredients.
The K-beauty scene doesn’t just pull from tradition, it marries historically-tested ingredients with the latest innovations, which have led to a rise ultra-high-tech beauty products. These include dry-frozen ingredients, ultrasonic extracting, LED face masks, and smart beauty tools. While some are more difficult to find globally at the moment, they will likely trickle into international markets soon.
K-beauty doesn’t leave other aspects of body care to the wayside. While there’s already a healthy focus on skin-, body-, and haircare in most locales, K-beauty takes it a step further and incorporates scalp-care into the mix. Silicone scalp scrubbers and scalp shampoos are just some of the products designed to stimulate the scalp, remove hard-to-reach oil build-up, and leave your scalp and hair collectively thicker and healthier.