An Introduction to Korean Skincare and general chat part II

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.

face shop bb cream
The Face Shop Power Protection BB Cream


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.

innisfree cushion waterglow
Innisfree Water Glow Cushion
innisfree cushion longwear
Innisfree Long Wear Cusion

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.

snail cc
Nature Republic Snail CC Brightening Cream

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.

nature republic
Nature Republic Botanical Concealer

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.

radiance powder
The Face Shop Face It Radiance Loose Powder

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.

Go figure.


Because my face is literally the only part of me that I still make an effort with.

face effortEvery year I seem to care less and less about what I am wearing until I have basically found myself in the Nirvana of only ever wearing leggings with baggy jumpers and fluffy socks made of fleece that, if I pick up a good charge on the rug, can enable me to deliver a mild electric shock to the cat. So, I recommend this style of dress for its versatile mix of being both comfortable and amusing. My only worry is that Korean Summer is coming and soon it will be too hot for my preferred attire.

The idea of wearing leggings and jumpers out of the house used to be quite off-brand for me, a person who until recently always dressed as though I was off to a  business meeting, followed by a wake.

I still think black is the best clothing choice you can make and am inherently suspicious of people who wear ‘fun’ clothes and bright colours, even though I have learned the ways of some such people and would even call some of them ‘friends’.

My face is increasingly the only part of myself that I bother to make any effort with, which means I frequently go out for dinner with my husband wearing a full contour, highlight and Winehouse eyeliner package on my face, and some leggings with holes in the bum, paired with  a jumper just long enough to cover the holes, which I like to think adds a daring, fresh element.

I think my ongoing attention to my face is because, unlike the rest of me, it has stayed more or less the same over the years and is the facial equivalent of a small child’s reading book with big letters and a simple, reassuring story. All the features are spaced well-apart and are large enough so as not to make any mistakes.

Also, and probably more importantly,  I haven’t had a job for six months and so haven’t had money to buy yet more black dresses that all look exactly the same. This is something I like about makeup. You can spend silly money on it if you like, but in a pinch, all you really need is anything pinkish to put on your lips and cheeks if you’re feeling a bit meh, and some kind of black thing to draw on your eyelashes if so inclined.

There is something joyful about it, like colouring in, which I hear grown ups are currently paying money to do in ‘adult’ colouring books. Incidentally I find this so silly, because why use a template book when you can go off-road and do your own, fucking weird drawings to horrify pets and children?

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.