An introduction to Korean skincare and makeup Part I


Beauty is one of my BEST hobbies. I enjoy the fun, creative escapism of makeup as well as the  uplifting feeling of discovering a skincare product that helps my bat-shit insane skin look and feel better.

That said I am clearly no expert and one thing I can’t get behind is the (probably small) number of beauty bloggers who regurgitate brand-lead rubbish about what is essentially chemistry. Now, I’m not a chemist – I know – but I can accurately name key ingredients and  identify anything that’s comedogenic, and that’s about as far as I’ll go.

What I can do is talk about the things that work for me, and recommend things based on my own experience. Having lived in Korea for almost 6 years now I feel like I can speak with some knowledge of Korean skincare and cosmetics, from a foreigners point-of-view. Most Korean beauty blogs are run by Koreans and GYOPOs, and are utterly fab, but not much help if you want to know how it works on oily caucasian skin, on faces with deep eye sockets and dark circles. (This is what I look like and I’m aware it is not what everyone else looks like, before anyone starts thinking this is some kind of weird, racist beauty blog.)(Imagine a weird racist beauty blog. My god.)

Korean beauty has stealthily become anecdotally lauded by proper beauty people and normos alike. People from back home ask me about miracle products they’ve heard of. ‘Can you talk to me about snail secretions?’ A friend once asked me, both curious and self-conscious in equal measure. I felt like a wizard from another time.

Honestly, I don’t totally buy this OMG YASS KOREAN BEAUTY stuff and neither should you. Yes, there are some extremely good Korean brands and some individual products that are much better than things you pay twice the price for in Europe. But there are always the duds, and I’ve tried a few. So, I’ve decided to talk about Korean skincare and makeup in general, and then give you some products that I use and really like, and tell you about some that I think are rubbish. Everything I talk about I have bought online from Gmarket or the Korean high street, but can also nearly always be found on Amazon.

Disclaimer: One thing that bothers me is when people talk about Korean women mysteriously having great skin due to some mental, time-consuming 5 step routine. Actually, the biggest reason I think Korean women have such good skin is that they never expose it to sun-damage. Sunbathing is not a thing here, if you go to the beach you will see whole families swimming in the sea, entirely clad in tracksuits. People regularly wear baseball caps, visors and sunglasses, and the dainty-as-fuck ladies use actual parasols. (I brought my mother-in-law a beautiful hand-made lace one from Venice and my husband said she won’t use it because it doesn’t provide enough sun protection. But it’s cute as hell.)

On top of this almost all Korean makeup contains very high SPF. While my UK-bought L’Oreal foundation has a paltry SPF15 content, my bogstandard Nature Republic CC Cream from Korea contains a giant SPF30. There are some drawbacks to having such strong measures of SPF – the flashback in photographs can make you look like Caspar The Friendly Ghost. It’s a look, some people like it, I don’t especially. You can counteract it with wise use of concealer and radiance boosting powders, more of which later.

To buy, and buy again… 

                      Cleansers and Tonersgrouped cleanse

I love this Banila Clean It Zero cleanser because it’s a balm that melts into an oil as you apply it. It removes all hint of makeup in one clean swoop and leaves my skin soft and normal. It’s quite a heavy cleanser, so I only use it on days when I’m wearing makeup, but there’s no need to double cleanse with this product which is good for thin and sensitive skins like mine that can only handle minimum mucking about. It contains a lot of fruit extracts but the biggest ingredient is mineral oil. Some people hate mineral oils; I think, this is a cleanser, it’s only on your face for a minute or so, It’s fine. People spend a fortune on expensive Eve Lom products that do exactly the same job.

clean it
Banila Clean It Zero

This toner is called Skin Renewal Program AHA & BHA Daily Clean Toner (why can’t things just have sensible, short names?) by Mizon. It is good for OCCASIONAL use, for example when you’ve got a giant spot as I currently have, and it just won’t leave you the hell alone. The toner contains both BHAs and AHAs, so can dissolve oil in pores as well as stimulate cell turnover but it is too drying to be used every day because it contains alcohol. I prefer Paula’s Choice 2% gel for everyday use, it’s non-drying and can be worn without moisturiser if you’re very oily. But it aint Korean.

Mizon Skin Renewal Program AHA&BHA Daily Clean Toner…. ffs 



grouped skincare

I have oily, dehydrated skin which means it needs a lot of care but I don’t like to do it during the daytime as using too many layered products causes my makeup to slip off my face. I tend to use my best skincare products at night when the skin has ample time to rest and let it get to work. In the daytime I usually just use a serum for dehydrated skin followed by makeup or nothing else.

BUT at night it is basically a satanic ritual, one that I enjoy by the way. I do feel that I should point out I do this stuff because I enjoy it, but if you don’t, well, life is short so if you don’t fancy spending a portion of it rubbing unguents into your face then don’t worry about it.

Essence vs Serum:

Quite often in Korea what I would call a ‘serum’ is called an ‘essence’ and what I would call a ‘moisturizer’ is called a ‘serum’. FFS. It’s a texture and consistency thing. My idea of serum is the fine, velvety and quickly absorbing stuff that looks a bit, well, spermy. This is what Korean essence is often like.

My idea of moisturizer is basically anything that is a cream. That is often Korean serum.

SO after cleansing I start with the thing called essence first. This is Missha Time Revolution Night Repair. It looks and, so I have been told, acts like a dupe for the much more expensive Elizabeth Arden Advanced Night Repair. What this essence does is give an easily absorbed layer of moisture and visibly improves the texture of my skin. It’s aimed at those in the market for anti-ageing and contains lactic acid for gentle exfoliation. What I like about it is that it provides very deep hydration without being oily at all. I always look better in the morning if I’ve used this product.


Missha Time Revolution Night Repair

Next up is Isa Knox Nox Lab Retinol and Moisture Lipsome Serum. Retinol is basically the only ingredient that scientists have proven to significantly improve wrinkles. While I honestly believe that the required dose of retinol is much larger than most products actually contain, this serum is quietly effective. I’m not much be-wrinkled yet, but I do have a line in my forehead after long days of frowning at the computer, which goes away after a night with this product. It also acts like polyfilla on the dry, emerging fine lines I have below my eyes.

nox lab
Isa Knox Knox Lab Retinol And Moisture Lipsome Serum


So that’s it for part one, next time I’ll be looking at eye-creams and makeup bases and some of the things I’m less mad about in the world of Korean beauty.


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