Last time I wrote about some of the reasons I think Korean women are oft-proclaimed to have the best skin in the world, and – spoiler alert – it generally aint cos they are slathering snail cream and horse oil (yes it’s a thing) on their faces. More likely it has a lot to do with fastidious sunlessness, to the point where one lady I knew had to get vitamin D injections, so committed was she to keeping out of the sun.
However, the Korean skincare business does offer a better range of ingredients in products affordable to all, unlike in Europe where good quality acids and such are the preserve of the well-moneyed.
In addition, Korea was one of the forerunners of the BB and CC Cream boom, and while these strange products midway between a tinted moisturiser and a foundation are still a bit of a mystery to people back home (DO WE NEED THEM, WHY ARE THEY SO CHALKY, IS THIS BB, CC, DD, THING JUST THE BIGGEST GIMMICK EVER) here they are the staple, and in my opinion it’s because they serve a look that is more popular in Korea than in Europe.
While girls and women all over England are busy carving out their faces in shades of brown and cream, hunting for new cheekbones and different-shaped noses, Koreans tend to go the opposite way. Generally speaking, they don’t want an angled, chiselled mug with bronzed temples and HD arched brows. The preferred look here is more of a uniform, flat whiteness, a completely even canvas without emphasis of dimension. The overall look should be soft and dominated by eyes as large as it is possible to make them, with tattooed eyeliner being quite a common thing as well as iris enhancing contact lenses. Lips stained but rarely painted, in soft, smudgy girlish shades of pink and peachy orange. Blusher is the merest hint of the palest pink in iridescent shimmer, and brows are drawn in straight, short lines with black or brown crayons.
I have to be honest, it’s a look that works better on Korean women than it does on me. SO great is the Korean love of erasing the 3D face, that every time I get my picture taken here for a school event or – god help me, a passport photo – it is airbrushed to fuck and whitened up so much that I look like a paper plate with a face drawn on it. A happy plate, mind.
If all of this sounds like an indictment, it’s not meant to. I find it quite spiriting that all over the world makeup is this weirdly tribal thing and women will follow the most insane trends because fuck you for not thinking it is what you consider beautiful. They like their Kardashian contours or their orange stained lips and that is none of your business.
Now, onto the products I like.
While Korean BB creams are perhaps too uniform and flat for some people, if you have redness or scarring on your face they really do smooth the texture of your skin quite beautifully and as someone who has very reactive red skin, I like a welcome blanket of actual face-colour to cover it up every now and then.
One of the BB creams that really delivers and is not too white for my skin is the Face Shop’s extremely affordable Power Protection BB Cream, which manages to stay on my oily skin even in the extreme humidity of Korean Summer. It blends beautifully, covers redness and blemishes without appearing mask-like and the rarest of things – doesn’t need setting powder. Oily ladies rejoice.
Of course the country that pioneered BB and CC creams was among the first to introduce ‘cushions’. I haven’t seen these taking off hugely yet in Europe but they will. Some large beauty houses like Lancome have released their first cushions, for silly prices compared to what you can find in Korea where they are a few bucks and EVERYWHERE.
Cushions are small compacts with BB or CC cream inside, kept neatly beneath a sponge which allows you to apply your base using an applicator or your fingers without making a mess or using too much product. Innisfree have three different cushions, two if which I own. There’s the WaterGlow which gives a very dewy finish, not best for an oily skin but still pretty for a fresh day look and excellent in Winter when even my oily skin turns dry and craves water.
The Longwear Cushion is better for a day when you need your makeup to stay in place and keep you hydrated. What I like about Korean makeup is that products designed for oily skin are never drying or matifying, they just seem to cling better to your skin.
The third one that Innisfree does is anti-ageing, I’ve not tried it yet but I expect good things.
Snail secretions are big news in Korea, and you can buy ‘snail gel’ in many forms from saturated sheet masks to moisturiser and toner sets and even in BB or CC creams.
Snail gel is odourless and does not look like the silvery slime you used to see in your back garden on an Autumn morning after the snails had been at it all over the place. The collection of snail gel is harmless to the snails, and it’s properties are claimed to include the healing of scar tissue and inflammation as well as extreme hydration.
I love a sheet mask of the stuff, these are grim-looking cut out faces saturated in goo to be unfurled and placed on your skin so that you look like Leather Face for twenty minutes while your face absorbs all the good stuff. I was less crazy about the snail gel moisturiser I bought. Which leads me to think that if a product is fun, I will always prefer it.
However, I bought this Nature Republic Snail CC Brightening Cream one weekend away when I forgot to pack any foundation, and it’s something I come back to time and again. This has an enormous SPF30 as I explained in the previous post, and this was the main reason I bought it as it was the height of summer and I wanted something to protect my skin and make me look a bit less like an angry red-faced baby.
Although the high SPF does leave me looking whiter than I ideally like, the coverage is good, the staying power is excellent, and it feels gentle and cooling on a hot, irritated face. It comes out as an interesting green colour to counteract redness, but soon changes upon contact with your skin. Anything that says ‘brightening’ in Korea does often mean it has a whitening effect. This is desirable for some women, but not for me. I was born with celtic blue skin, but I look better a few shades warmer. Pale skin is so beautiful on other people, but on me it just shows up all the veins, all the scars, all the red spots, and so I prefer a nice peachy wash which is much more forgiving.
This can be achieved with one of the best concealers I have ever used, bought the very same weekend, when I basically forgot all my makeup. This Nature Republic Botanical Concealer covers anything, and has a proper colour, not white in the least. When I dab it on the back of my hand to apply to my face, the swatch on my hand stays put until I scrub it off with several rounds of soap. This is a brilliant, heavy duty concealer and this one tube has lasted me a year because such a little goes a very long way.
Another way to counteract the whiteness and sometimes flatness of BB and CC creams is to use a radiance-giving setting powder. The Face Shop has an excellent one which does the same job, if not better, as some of the most expensive brands. I set it aside a few times, my head turned by the likes of Laura Mercier and Bobbi Brown, but The Face Shop Radiance Powder really, really works. It gives a beautiful, peachy glow, sets makeup, is finely milled and so doesn’t cake, and comes in a satisfyingly enormous sturdy pot with a good quality chenille powder puff.
There are still plenty of things that I don’t love about the Korean beauty industry, and there are some products that people swear by that I can’t stand. In Korea people still love a foam cleanser even though it’s like soaping your face with washing up liquid. I can feel my skin tightening up just thinking about it.
And I prefer a proper blush and lipstick, not just some swipe of pearly highlighter on my cheeks, and stain on my lips that looks like I’ve been gnawing berries, because I don’t want to look like a little kid forever, I don’t mind looking like an adult woman with cheekbones and a mouth that is often filthy. As someone recently pointed out, I didn’t look like a little kid even when I was a little kid. And I do think makeup is at it’s peak when it enhances your personality, says something about who you are.
I do miss the beauty diversity of home, of seeing girls in full-on Rockabilly makeup, complete with Bettie Page fringes and beauty spots, or the expertly, heavily made-up eyes of the Muslim ladies at my old college who matched their eyeshadow to their headscarves. When I got married, I had my makeup done professionally at a Korean salon against my better judgement and I’ve never looked less like myself. Korean beauty is prettifying, but I would like to see more Korean women using it to express themselves, rather than to make themselves more generically attractive.
My mother-in-law always compliments me if I wear my makeup in a more Korean style, i.e extremely fair base, pinkish something on lips, a little mascara and some drawn on eyebrows. Light, pretty, girly. But I always feel more immediately like myself if I put on my black felt-tip eyeliner wings and wipe my eyebrows off.