Korean skincare is lauded for being light-years apart from its international counterparts, in terms of scientific technology, and the efficacy of the product. Whatever Korea puts out on that faction sets the tone for the global market, to a large extent, and its devotees are growing.
The same worldwide impact doesn’t apply to makeup as much, though, as Korea has a very distinct style that largely deviates from the trends in the West — the latter largely driven by Instagram and influencers. Still, it can’t be denied that a lot of Korean makeup is exceptional, and they do trump the West when it comes to a number of product categories, like lip tints or compact BB cushions. Their nation’s reach is growing as well, so be prepared to see more and more options popping up as time progresses.
If you want to jump on the bandwagon and try out Korean makeup, don’t let the choices overwhelm you. This is most important if your first time trying these products out is when you’re actually in Seoul, shopping around the cosmetics fairground that is Myeongdong because you can’t resist the cutthroat deals or determined sales staff. You’re going to be way in over your head without proper research and a shopping list.
Which is why we’ve created this list. We’ve curated some of the products you can’t miss out from the best Korean makeup brands (in our humble opinions). Use this as a starting point or a guide, if you will, and discover a whole other side to the beauty world you’ve been missing out on.
IPKN (pronounced “eep-kin”), is a brand that marries the best of East and West skincare technologies to get highly effective products. Its Moist and Firm Beauty Balm with SP45 protection has long been a top-seller because of its multitasking properties — it hydrates like a moisturiser, protects like a sunscreen, and delivers flawless coverage you’d expect from a BB cream. Many of IPKN’s products also run in a similar vein. Just be aware that, like most Korean brands right now, it doesn’t have the largest shade range, but we’re really hoping it expands as IPKN grows abroad.
The competition for the best lip tint in Korea is seriously steep, but we’re going to put our money on Peripera anyway. The cutesy brand has a lip tint in every possible finish you can think of, from glossy to matte, and each one is as comfortable and durable as the last. Our favourite has to be the Ink Velvet Lip Tint. It delivers a matte finish without being too drying, and doesn’t have an instant dry-down time, so you can dab it on to get a blotted effect instead.
Too Cool For School is best known for its Egg Mousse skincare packs that promise pore minimisation and hydration, but its makeup products are also winners. We are fans of its Dinoplatz Escalator Mascara, with a wand that can be twisted to various angles to shape and curl your lashes. The formula is long-lasting and lengthening, and can also help make your lashes look thicker.
Clio is a full-fledged makeup brand, but if there’s anything you should purchase from it, it is its eyeliners, whether pencil or liquid. The latter is a gem, ticking all the boxes one needs in a tropical climate. It is waterproof, extremely long-wearing, and smudge-proof. The colour is a deep black and the thin applicator allows for a smooth cat-eye. If you’re looking to purchase more, its creamy lipsticks are perfect for daily wear, while its Kill Cover concealer is a seriously full coverage product that doesn’t crease or settle into fine lines. Just note that it only (unfortunately) has a selection for lighter skin tones at the moment.
Laneige is a household name best known for its skincare, the cult Water Sleeping Mask, for one, but the brand has plenty to offer to makeup lovers as well. BB cushions and lip tints are its forte, and Laneige’s versions of those products count among the global bestsellers. Its Pore Control BB cushion is a serious gamechanger thanks to its hydrating properties and a finish so naturally dewy, you won’t look like you have any product on your skin.
Korean eyeshadows are rather glittery, and if you’re all about that, Aritaum makes some of the best ones. Its Mono Eyes line features eyeshadows in an extensive array of shades, with a sparkly hue for every fancy. Also, do note that aside from some signature products, Aritaum is actually a massive multi-brand chain store in Korea, with a focus on products from AmorePacific — think Mamonde, Iope, Laniege and more.
Hye-Min Park, better known as Pony, has a certain aesthetic and approach to makeup that breaks away from the cookie-cutter model of Korean beauty. You can see that quite easily on her social media pages, her growing YouTube platform, and the products she puts out under her brand, Pony Effect. The established makeup artist has designed an edgy label, packed with products that are always right on trend, like sparkly lip glosses. A particularly good product from Pony Effect is its trio of Ultimate Prep Primers, each catering to a different skin type. The one designed for combination skin both hydrates and minimises pores, so you don’t have to bother with using two targeted primers again.
3CE, an acronym for 3 Concept Eyes, is a brand launched by famed fashion brand, Style Nanda. It is renowned for intensely pigmented products. No matter if it’s a blush, eyeshadow or lip pencil, the colour pay-off is there. 3CE’s blushes get a lot of love, but they come in so many different formulas, it’s hard to choose. Personal preference aside, those gunning for “naturally” flushed cheeks ought to try the Chubby Cheek Stick, which comes in a cream to powder formula that gives your face a hint of life without making you look too doll-like.