Korean beauty is world-famous. With the rising popularity of Korean music and cosmetics brands, many of the country’s iconic beauty trends and “looks” have taken the Internet by storm. Idol groups such as BTS and BLACKPINK appeal to teenagers from around the world, with every member sporting the trifecta of dewy skin, iridescent hair, and wide, innocent eyes.
Having lived in Korea for some time, I’ve become familiar with the local ideas and understandings of beauty. However, as a bilingual and rather Americanized student at an international school, I don’t think I personally embraced these ideals as much did the rest of the Korean population, or even the rest of the world. Truth be told, I was initially disillusioned by what I saw as Korea’s unhealthy obsession with physical perfection. Its beauty standards, predominated by a love for pale skin, slim noses, and double eyelids, seemed narrow, exclusionary, and Eurocentric. After arriving at the verdict that my slightly darker, monolidded self did not meet these criteria, I distanced myself from this facet of my own culture and never looked back.
That is, until now. It’s become a fact of both my shame and defiant pride that I, a full-blooded Korean, know so little about the K-beauty craze that everyone from the Taiwanese girl at my church to the German exchange student in my political science class seems to have taken to. I think that maybe I never truly gave Korean beauty a chance. And maybe, just maybe, there’s something more to it than all its problematic aspects, something that people of many different ethnicities and nationalities can relate to and enjoy. Writing this article was part of a personal endeavor to be more open-minded and actively curious about K-beauty, and to hear what the people more familiar with its different attributes had to say.
Jeena Chong, @jeenachong, 18 (fashion model in Korea)
I think that some of the general Korean beauty standards include pale skin, large eyes, double eyelids, sharp facial features, and a petite figure. They emphasize flawless and dewy skin, large and youthful eyes, and vivid lips.
I think the classic Korean look involves gradient lips, flawless pale skin (achieved using a foundation compact or cushion), and under-eye or waterline glitter. I personally recommend the following beauty products:
- Peripera Sugar Glow Tint ($9) is my favorite, and creates a dewy look on the lips.
- 3CE Eye Switch ($16) adds glitter to the eyes.
- HERA Black Cushion ($49.41) is popular in Korea, but my personal favorite is the Diorskin Forever Perfect Cushion Foundation ($57). It gives high coverage and a semi-matte finish.
- Glossier Haloscope Highlighter ($22) helps achieve a youthful and glowy look.
My beauty routine or “look” has been influenced by both Korean and American trends. However, it leans more towards the American side, as most of the media and pop culture I consume are American. Some Korean influences on my beauty look include the use of lip tints and tinted lip balms, and the use of highlighter sticks for a dewy and natural finish. I also occasionally use glitter eyeshadow. Some American influences include the use of bronzers, contour kits (e.g. Too Cool for School Art Class By Rodin Blusher ($27)), and highlighter sticks, as well as my love for tanning. I also like applying neutral eyeshadow colors. Sometimes, I use concealer instead of foundation and cushions, and use mild or all-natural skincare products (moisturizers and toners). While this doesn’t imitate the American full-coverage glam look, it does follow the increasing prevalence of “natural” beauty looks on teenage Instagrammers.
I only try to do the bare minimum when it comes to skincare because using a variety of products containing complex substances seems to do more harm than good to my skin. I tend to use products from brands that have simple and natural ingredients, such as Kiehl’s and Isoi. I also try to wear as little foundation and cushion as I can, and rely on concealer to cover my blemishes. My lifestyle choices play into my skincare routine. I eat as little dairy as possible because it seems to cause skin problems for me. I also try to get enough sleep, because I believe that getting more than eight hours of sleep leads to glowy skin. I try (emphasis on “try”) to eat healthy and exercise at least once a week–I can clearly feel the difference this makes in my skin.
I do not support a majority of the general beauty standards of Korea, and hope that in the future the Korean beauty industry will become more cognizant and accepting of diverse facial features and body shapes, normalize acne and blemishes, and become more supportive of the idea of natural beauty (i.e. enhancing your natural features instead of covering up and altering them).
Elizabeth Ho, @elizabuhao, 16 (keeps up with Korean pop culture)
The first Korean beauty standards that come to mind are pale skin and small faces. I think they emphasize things like flawless skin, soft features, and big eyes.
I think the most important components of the classic Korean look are dewy skin, soft pink-ish or apricot-colored eye looks, highlights in the inner corners and inner waterline of the eyes, straight-winged eyeliner, and soft-colored lips. I personally recommend the following beauty products:
- I occasionally use the Etude House Play Color Eyes #Wine Party eyeshadow palette ($26.40). The ColourPop Ooh La La! and Sol Pressed Powder Eyeshadow Palettes ($12) can also be used to give the same effect.
- I like using any kind of dewy foundation and/or concealer for my skin.
- My eyelids fold over and my mascara often transfers, but Glossier Lash Slick ($16) works really well as a mascara for me.
My eyeshadow tends not to be too pigmented, and I do that on purpose! I almost exclusively use pink and orange eyeshadow colors, and they’ve become a staple look for me.
My makeup look is a mixture of the American and Korean styles of beauty, but it leans more towards K-beauty. The parts of my makeup that stand out (e.g. eyeshadow, eyeliner, lashes, lips) tend to fall on the K-beauty side as that complements my features more. The base makeup portion (e.g. brows, foundation, concealer, highlight) tends to fall towards a more Americanized version of the Asian beauty look.
Haley Sengsavanh, @haleysengsavanh, 16
Some general Korean beauty standards include pale and clear skin, soft and ombré lips, natural-looking highlighter, thin eyeliner to elongate and enlarge the eyes, and straight-shaped brows. They emphasize clear, flawless skin, big eyes, double eyelids, and plump lips.
I think the most important components of the classic Korean look are shimmery neutral-color eyeshadow, thin black or dark brown eyeliner, bright lip tint (usually orange, pink, or red), and circle lenses. I personally recommend the following beauty products:
- 3CE Shimmer Stick in Peach ($16)
- TONYMOLY LIPTONE Get It Tint Mini Trio ($17)
- Eyeshadow from Etude House
My makeup and beauty routines are pretty typical of a Korean or Asian person, but I achieve the look using a mixture of American and Asian products. I like to layer on multiple lipsticks and tints to get a natural-looking ombré lip color (which is part of an Asian beauty trend). But I also like strong, bold brows, which is more of a Western beauty trend. One American product I use to achieve an Asian beauty look is the Maybelline Fit Me Hydrate + Smooth Foundation ($10.99), which gives you a glowy, “glass-skin” look.
I always double-cleanse to make sure I remove all of my makeup from my face. I tend to use face masks fairly regularly, and I alternate between American and Korean masks. I use peel-off masks from Freeman and sheet masks from Korean brands like Innisfree. Before I sleep, I use the Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment ($6.49) to treat any blemishes I may have.
I think that it’s really interesting to examine the differences between beauty trends in the East and West. Their cultures are different, which leads the various beauty trends to emphasize different facial features and rely on different colors. Korean makeup has really gained popularity overseas, and led more and more people in North America and Europe to become interested in Asian beauty trends.
Serena, @serenajzhao, 19 (not Korean but East Asian)
Some general Korean beauty standards include “glass” or glowing skin, large eyes, and soft but tidy brows. They also emphasize double eyelids. I personally recommend the following beauty products for clearing up your skin:
I like Korean skincare, but I like American makeup looks. I’m big on contour, bronzer, and highlighter, which you rarely see in Korean looks.
These are the components of my 7-step skincare routine:
- An oil-based cleanser that has scrubbing microbeads. I usually use Neutrogena Pink Grapefruit Acne Prone Skin Activated Cream-to-Foam Facial Cleanser ($8.49) to prevent breakouts.
- Micellar water (but once a week, I use Skinfood Black Sugar Strawberry Mask Wash Off at this step)
- Mario Badescu Facial Spray with Aloe, Herbs and Rosewater ($7)
- A witch hazel toner
- Skinfood Peach Sake Pore Serum
- Eye cream (for day- or night-time protection)
- Clinique Dramatically Different Hydrating Jelly ($28)
Monica Lin, 20 (is Chinese, but has many Korean friends and knows some things about Korean culture)
Some general Korean beauty standards include a small and V-shaped face, higher nose bridges, pale skin, square-shaped or natural-looking brows, large eyes (double eyelids), and skinnier bodies. They emphasize face shape, “glass” skin, eyes, and the nose.
I think the most important components of the classic Korean look are a bright lip tint and dewy skin. I personally recommend the following beauty products:
- Cushion foundations from Sulwhasoo and LANEIGE
- LANEIGE Two Tone Tint Lip Bar ($15.56)
In terms of my beauty routine, I go for more natural looks. I usually wear concealer, mascara, and blush. When I put on more makeup, I usually do it in styles that are a lot more American than Korean. However, I do like paler skin and am obsessed with skincare.
For my skincare routine, I use a face wash from Aesop, LANEIGE Essential Power Skin Toner for normal to dry skin ($28), SK-II Facial Treatment Essence ($99), and LANEIGE Water Bank Hydrating Gel ($35). I use a Drunk Elephant TLC Sukari Babyfacial Mask with AHA and BHA ($80) every three days, a sheet mask every two days, TATCHA Violet-C Brightening Serum ($88), Dior Diorsnow Essence of Light Pure Concentrate of Light Brightening Milk Serum ($140) at night, and REN Clean Skincare Evercalm Anti-Redness Serum ($50) every day and night.