The world of K-beauty can be overwhelming. Do you know your sheet mask from your molding mask? Your BHA from your toner? With Korean beauty booming and entering brick and mortar stores in the U.S., it’s fairly safe to say it’s here to stay. And that’s a good thing for anyone who cares about skincare.
“K-beauty is geared toward making the canvas you already have beautiful—enhancing your beauty not just temporarily but for the long-term,” says Sarah Oh, an Instagram influencer who runs the popular blog Oh My Gloss.
But are K-beauty products better than American offerings? “I find that Western brands tend to smell too much like alcohol and their effects are harsh on the skin,” says Amanda Melody, who reviews K-beauty on Instagram and YouTube. “K-beauty is more about nourishing and pampering the skin.”
Sarah, Amanda, and other product experts know the ingredients that make K-beauty innovative, as well as where to find the latest adorable packaging. If you have a question about Korean beauty, you probably can find the answer on one of their Instagram accounts. Here, we’ve rounded up the best of the best. Click through the gallery below for their advice, favorite brands and newbie tips.
Dr. Michelle Wong // @labmuffinbeautyscience
The science of beauty, explained simply. That’s the goal of Lab Muffin, a blog dedicated to breaking down the details of beauty products.
“I had to read scientific articles to find the information I wanted about [the ingredients in] my beauty products,” Dr. Michelle Wong, who has her PhD in chemistry, tells Grok Nation. “I thought other people must be wondering the same things, so I decided to start a blog to share what I found and bust marketing myths.”
Dr. Wong’s Instagram is an extension of her blog, reviewing the products she’s using, testing, and dissecting. Posts are often devoted to busting a beauty myth and keeping you informed of new research in a fun, whimsical way. Along with the information, she’ll link you to related scientific articles and studies so you’ll know her sources.
“The great thing about K-beauty is that it embraces the natural you,” Sarah Oh, a resident of K-beauty hub Seoul, says.
Her advice for those just entering the world of K-beauty? “Start slow—you don’t have to get a complete set. Just start with a cleansing product and then add serum or eye cream as a part of your skincare routine. You don’t have to do a full blown 10-step routine the first time around.”
After living in Seoul for eight years, Amanda Melody fell in love with South Korea’s beauty products. She really preferred them to what she found at home, in the U.S. On Instagram, she educates her followers about ingredients and product results through posts and a continually updated Story.
As for advice to the uninitiated: “Take it slow, learn as you glow!”
Young Yuh, a Korean-American living in Los Angeles, hopes to bring more awareness to male beauty and destigmatize men taking care of their skin through his Instagram.
“My no. 1 goal in life is to help men understand that cosmetics and skincare is completely normal for anyone,” he tells us. “I don’t know why Westerners think skincare and cosmetics for men are weird. … People of all genders take care of our bodies internally such as eating organic, whole foods, grains & fibers, multi-vitamins, etc. What’s so strange about taking care of your body externally?”
On his grid, you’ll find hilarious and colorful reviews of products—especially face masks and creams—that aren’t marketed toward a particular gender, and “good for everyone.”
Favorite Product: “I’ve said this 10 million times and I’ll say it 100 million times more. Klairs Supple Preparation Toner. This is the bread and butter of my skincare routine. It is the foundation of my routine. It is my Holy Grail of all Holy Grails.”
K-Beauty Newbie Advice: “Once you try it and experiment, you’ll naturally learn what works best for your face and adjust accordingly. Plus, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get quality products.”
Heezy Yang, a South Korean activist and drag performer known as Hurricane Kimchi, says the stigma around male cosmetics isn’t as prolific in the East. “Toxic masculinity was never really a thing in Korea, unlike some Western societies,” he explains. “Men could always be touchy and friendly with other men, and be fashionable. So, in that sense, it seems quite normal that male cosmetics are big here now.”
But while he finds K-beauty to be a welcoming space for men, Heezy finds there’s a major ignorance of LGBTQ+ in South Korea and hopes to spread awareness through his work. “I host fundraisers for some of the most vulnerable LGBTQ+ people in Korea such as homeless youth. Also, in hope of bringing LGBTQ+ visibility to conservative Korean society, I protest, and perform pieces in the streets.”
While he says the drag world in Korea tends to favor Western products, “Korean brands are very affordable and good, quality-wise… I think, if you are East Asian and doing drag, you could use Korean brands’ basic items such as foundation, contour, and subtle colored products.”
Favorite Product: “I love Nature Republic’s Aloe Soothing Gel. It’s very nice for soothing your troubled skin, or just keeping your skin moisturised and calm in general. I use it every day, after every time I wash my face and after using a face mask.”
For Dot Moore, it’s all about how you approach K-beauty. “Free your mind and the rest will follow.” That’s her manta. She says, “Seriously, let go of the basic skincare steps you were probably taught like…wash, tone, moisturize and open up to words like essence… ampoule… double-cleanse.”
“K-beauty has set the stage for contemporary skincare as far as I’m concerned,” she says. And she would know. Moore is always trying out new products and reviewing them for her Instagram followers. Chances are, if something is the next best seller, she’ll know about it.
K-Beauty Newbie Buy: “COSRX Oil-Free Moisturizing Lotion with Birch Sap! Even cystic acne sufferers can use this without causing more breakouts and it provides the much-needed moisture so many people suffering from acne or oily skin actually lack!”
Home of amazing flat lays and great reviews, Soko Beauty is always one of the first K-beauty Instagrammers to feature new products. Based in The Netherlands, Elisa Lee started to get interested in K-beauty after doing an internship in Shanghai.
“I bought my very first BB cream, which was the Missha M Perfect Cover BB cream, and was so surprised how it was on my skin. As I live in Europe, it is very hard to find a matching foundation that suits my Asian skin tone. The Missha BB cream opened the Korean beauty world for me, and I started to discover and test more K-beauty products.” The rest is history.
K-Beauty Newbie Buy: “The COSRX advanced 96 snail mucin essence. This essence has a texture that would be new for you, and I find it the perfect product to introduce newbies to K-beauty. It contains 96 percent of snail mucin and it has a thicker texture than a liquid toner. It is scentless and it immediately adds moisture into the skin. It is loaded with replenishing and revitalizing nutrients to help prevent and repair damage. Snail mucin has many benefits and helps with dry patches, acne breakouts while evening out the skin tone.”
Like many others on this list, Katherine moved to South Korea and became obsessed with the beauty world. She showcases her experiences on Instagram and, even though she’s returned to England, she continues to review K-beauty products.
“I’m seeing a lot more focus on at-home tools and spa products,” she says of what’s new on the market. “People frequently indulge in dermatology and spa treatments in Korea, and making those more affordable by creating at-home options [is a new trend].”
K-Beauty Newbie Buy: “For me the COSRX Snail Essence helped my overall skin health, in terms of clarity and moisture. It nourished my dehydrated skin and helped soothe my redness, as well as healing any pimples much more quickly.”