Korean cosmetics are firmly entrenched in American beauty, but the selection stateside pales in connection to what you’ll find in South Korea. Think adorable animal-printed sheet face masks and face scrubs in cappuccino cups.
Before we get started, a tip: arrive early at the airport and do your cosmetics shopping then. Not only are the options at Seoul’s Incheon airport ample enough to rival what you find in the center of the city, but the discounts are INSANE. At duty free you’ll find noticeable discounts, while branded stores will sell their own lines with hefty reductions.
That being said, if you can’t resist a little browsing during your time in Seoul (and we totally get that), check out Olive Young. It’s like the Korean version of Sephora, but it’s full of cutting edge cosmetics that have yet to hit the states.
Here’s your essential list of must-buy Korean cosmetics to help you sort through the astonishing variety you’ll find.
Berrisom Lip Stain
Most lip stains give you a garish dose of vivid color, before all too quickly fading into your dinner, but Berrisom’s lip stain is different thanks to one distinctive feature: it peels off. Spread a thick layer of the gooey gloss over your lips and let it sit for twenty minutes. During this time it will harden into a glue like layer, which you’ll ever so gently peel off. If you can’t wait for your trip to Korea to try this hardcore lip color, you can pick from a limited range of colors on Amazon.
3M Nexcare’s Blemish Patches
While you might be familiar with 3M Nexcare as a producer of tape and bandages, you’ll need to head to Korea to purchase their ethereally thin and oh-so-effective anti-acne patches (or snag them marked up at Amazon). Simply stick one on your face before heading to bed and wake up to find your blemish significantly reduced. In fact, they’re so thin that you can leave them on during the day if you need an extra dose of acne-busting power.
Banila Co Cushion Compact
Koreans clamor for products that make their skin appear fresh and dewy, which is why cushion compacts are the top sellers for foundation. While you’ll find an astonishing array of them at every cosmetics counter, not all of them are created equal. One of the most popular is Banila Co.’s melting foundation, which gently blends into skin and protects your peaches and cream complexion with SPF. You can find it at online Korean beauty emporium, Soko Glam.
Innisfree Fermented Soybean Bio Cellulose Mask
Innisfree is famous for their all-natural skincare products, and one of the most popular is this refreshing fermented soybean sheet mask. In particular, the face mask uses antioxidant rich jeju soybeans that have been fermented for just over two weeks to enhance their anti-aging properties. We’ll leave it up to you to decide if the relaxing cool also beats fine lines—get your face mask at Innisfree's website, which ships to the US.
Skinfood Hand Gel
Not only is the gummi bear packaging cuter than cute, but the luscious Skinfood hand gel it contains within is the perfect blend of refreshing and not-sticky. The not-so-secret ingredient is gelatin, which forms a thin protective layer of the skin and banishes wrinkles at the same time. If you’re anything like us, you’ll also fall hard for the fun, fruity scents like raspberry, kiwi and pineapple. Good thing Skinfood has a US website where you can purchase the whole range.
Moonshot's Moonbright Cream
If layers of foundation leave you scratching at your face, grab a jar of Moonshot’s Moonbright cream to achieve dreamy dewy skin without the heft. This light face cream boasts pearl extract and white plum concentrate to ensure unparalleled radiance. While Moonbright ships internationally, the shipping prices are steep—save this one to pick up at Incheon.
Dr Jart+ Bright Lover Rubber Mask
While Dr. Jart+ products can be found in the US at Sephora, they’re cheaper to pick up at the source in Korea. There’s a reason these products were some of the first to make it to the states, and also why they’ve stuck around: they’re effective. For a fun twist on the typical mask experience, unroll one of their rubber face masks. They come in brightening, anti-aging, anti-acne and hydration varieties, but what doesn’t change is how fun they are to use. And they’re refreshingly free of all nasty chemicals, parabens and the like.
Tony Moly’s Latte Art Cappuccino Cream Scrub
Adorable packaging is a hallmark of Korean beauty and this coffee mug shaped face wash certainly fits the bill. Not only will Tony Moly’s coffee-scented scrub keep flaky, dry skin at bay, but you’ll also make your medicine cabinet a little bit livelier. Since launching in 2006, the company has become a global name in Korean beauty with stores throughout Europe, Asia and even a few stateside.
3CE Liquid Eyeliner
As anyone who’s ever experienced raccoon eyes from easily smudged eyeliner knows, staying power is of the utmost importance. And thank goodness the Korean beauty pioneers agree. This liquid eyeliner from 3CE is remarkably smudge-free and even comes with a just tiny enough brush that help create the perfect subtle flick. Order it from their website.