What I learned on the ultimate beauty pilgrimage. (Photo: Getty Images) Black beauty makeup tips.
At the end of 2015, I took a trip to South Korea to visit friends and to finally satiate my curiosity about Korean beauty culture. (It’s a beauty editor pilgrimage.) I got a cosmetic surgery consultation, attended a performance by my favorite K-Pop star, and spoke to many Korean women about beauty, both behind the makeup counter and on the streets. While I have been using sheet masks and BB creams for years and consider myself fairly proficient in the language of Korean beauty, I actually didn’t know the difference between an essence and a serum before landing in Seoul.
“I didn’t know anything about Korean beauty until I moved to South Korea,” Soko Glam co-founder Charlotte Cho told me before my trip. “Learning about Korean beauty culture completely changed the way I took care of my skin and most importantly, I saw results.” Since returning home from Seoul, I’ve been testing the beauty tips and techniques I learned — and slowly plowing through my new products — in attempts to replicate the dewy-skinned, glossy-haired, ombré-colored beauty looks of my Korean sisters. Here is what I’ve learned in Seoul about beauty:
Here in America, we’re taught to prefer matte skin over dewy skin — just look at the number of pressed powders, finishing powders, and mattifying sprays on the market. Ever since I hit puberty, I’ve been using oil blotting papers to keep my shine at bay. But in South Korea, it’s okay to shine from moisture — as a matter of fact, it’s preferable to matte skin. “Your skin is so dry,” a sales associate at Aritaum, a Korean beauty emporium told me, catching me off-guard because in the past, dermatologists in both Europe and America have told me that my skin is well hydrated. But it turns out that in Korea, if you’re not glistening like a morning glory, your skin is not hydrated enough. “In the ‘90s, the matte was actually popular in Korea,” Peach & Lily founder Alicia Yoon explained to me. “But Kowonhye, a very famous makeup artist here, said, ‘We don’t need to be so matte.’” Dewy skin became the ideal, especially with the advent of HDTV, not forgiving to cracked skin.
Bright lipstick and translucent skin go together
As a darker-skinned Asian, I’m partial to berry colors for my lipstick. But in South Korea, I could only find peach- and apricot-toned lipsticks, blushes, and even eye makeup. Yes, everyone — not just teenage girls — was wearing pink or red eye shadow and some sort of pink lipstick with their dewy, translucent, pale skin. I ended up buying some red jelly pots, a gel-like eye shadow, at Moonshot Cosmetics, thanks to a persuasive sales associate who also rocked ombré pink lips. Glow Recipe co-founder Christine Chang wears fuchsia lips with minimal makeup, and it works.
Cushion compacts cover more than you think
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I was faintly aware of cushion compacts here in America, primarily from trying Dr. Jart’s BB Bounce Beauty Balm and 100% Pure’s Maracuja Air Cushion Foundation, but these space-age beauty products are a source of national pride in South Korea. I visited the annual Lantern Festival and there were lanterns, shaped like Amorepacific cushion compacts, floating over the Cheonggyecheon creek, while lovers held hands and took selfies together. “It’s a very layerable product,” Yoon explained. “Unlike most foundation products, you can keep layering it without caking.” This is especially useful knowing that you have to re-apply SPF throughout the day (and you do, right?). Iope, a brand owned by Amorepacific, is known for inventing the cushion compact — it’s not a surprise that one is sold every six seconds. For those of us who can’t go to Aritaum in Seoul, Soko Glam sells the Iope Air Cushion Sunblock XP ($38).
Don’t forget about the glistening hair, too
“I’m trying to figure out how everyone here has shiny hair,” my Korean American friend told me in Seoul. You’d think that South Koreans’ penchant for digital perms and highlights would result in dryer, duller hair — but everyone I saw on the streets could have given Kate Middleton, aka Princess Shinylocks, a run for her money. I also attended an Unpretty Rapstar concert, consisting of Korea’s best female K-Pop rappers — and some of the shiniest hair I’ve ever seen from a stage. “There’s a mask for everything,” Elina Hsueh, founder of Beauteque, told me. And while the South Korean haircare industry is not as all encompassing as the skincare industry, you can still learn a thing or two about shiny hair from them. Hsueh recommends using hair masks on a regular basis — just as often as you’d incorporate sheet masks into your beauty routine. Korean nail artist Park Eun Kyung of Unistella Salon, which is doing the manicures at the Creatures of Comfort Fall 2016 show, is currently rocking unicorn hair. “[Model] Irene [Kim] and I use hair masks to keep our hair soft!” she told Yahoo Beauty. “The secret is hair serum!” Cho added. I immediately started using gratuitous amounts of Sachajuan Shine Serum ($33) and Dove Regenerative Nourishment Serum in Oil ($6) on a daily basis, in hopes of getting some of that K-Pop star shine.
Apply your skincare products by patting instead of rubbing
“You’re slapping yourself!” I gasped at my Korean friend every morning and evening, applying her serums and lotions and toners with audible pats on the face. But later, when we visited the Hera makeup counter at the Lotte Department Store, I, too, was patted down with a “hydration water.” The sales associate behind the counter told me that this was a better technique for absorption. “It’s the Korean way,” she told me proudly. When I later told Chang and her Glow Recipe co-founder Sarah Lee, they laughed. “Yes, I suppose it is a Korean method,” Lee said. They introduced me to Blithe Patting Splash Masks ($48), just in time for my newfound appreciation of slap applications. You add water to the concentrated formulas, splash it onto your cleansed face, and then pat it for extra absorption.
Eat an earthy, seasonal diet
For a week, I stayed with my friend at her grandmother’s house in Seoul, where every morning we ate a traditional Korean breakfast of dark purple multigrain rice, sautéed vegetables, tofu soup, and seasonal melon. “You’ll never find vegetables out of season here,” my friend told me. “Unless it’s kimchi.” Traditional Korean cuisine is heavy in sweet potatoes, multigrain rice, fermented vegetables called kimchi, seasonal vegetables, mung beans, and all kinds of meats, from locally-caught seafood to grilled pork belly. Even the novelty desserts have an earthy theme — I had soft serve ice cream in a cone made of sweet potatoes, for example. There are a lot of benefits to the everyday Korean foods you eat: Kimchi is heavy with probiotic bacteria, ginseng chicken soup contains both the medicinal root and ample amounts of healthy Perilla leaves, and mung beans can even be used to make chewy noodles.
The double-cleanse method isn’t just a gimmick
First, massage your dry face with an oil-based cleanser. (Senior editor Joanna Douglas changed my life with Shu Uemera Cleansing Oil.) Do as you usually do: wet your face to emulsify the oil, and then rinse it off. But that’s not the end of your face wash. You need to wash your face, again — this time with a gel or foam cleanser. In Seoul, I bought my first SU:M37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick ($28), a cult favorite with bits of rose petals pounded one-by-one into the portable container. All you have to do is swipe the light pink stick over your wet skin. It will instantly lather up for a gentle final wash. Why would you bother washing your face twice? “Because oil and water don’t mix — so you need an oil-based cleanser to get rid of sebum and other oil-based debris, and you need a water-based cleanser to get rid of sweat and dirt. Do this every morning and evening and your skin will see the difference. Use fun products like the Cleansing Stick to make it more exciting if you’re an impatient person.
Up until my trip to Seoul, I thought essence was the same thing as toner, especially since both are watery solutions that you apply after cleansing your face. Not so. “Essence comes after cleansing and toning,” Yoon explained to me. “Unlike a toner, it helps with balancing your pH level.” Essence hydrates your skin by filling it up like a sponge, especially if you’ve been using a salicylic acid toner on your skin beforehand. My two favorite essences are the Shiseido Eudermine Revitalizing Essence ($56), which was launched in 1897, and the SK-II Facial Treatment Essence ($165), one of the brand’s bestselling products of all time.
Nail stickers are for all ages
Here in America, nail stickers and nail wraps are sometimes seen as juvenile alternatives to fancy manicures that Real Adults get in salons, but the nail stickers from South Korea come in a variety of designs, from playful cartoon prints to on-trend patterns. Park and her salon Unistella are famous in South Korea for the shattered glass design, made with iridescent film carefully applied by hand, but she is teaming up with New York City’s Glow Recipe to make nail stickers with the same glass designs. You still need to use a bottom and topcoat, but now you don’t have to worry about painting the designs — especially if you have an unsteady hand like me. And even before I visited Seoul, I was into Jamberry Nail Wraps, which actually have a variety of on-trend designs if you look past the sorority letters prints.
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Save your winter-worn skin with ceramide
“Ceramide is the next hyaluronic acid,” my Korean friend told me. Ever since I returned from Seoul, I’ve been using Elizabeth Arden Daily Youth Restoring Serum Ceramide Capsules ($76), which are these tiny Capsules that you open by twisting off the tip. The serum is thick and hydrating without feeling greasy at all. Ceramide is a type of lipid that protects the moisture on your skin — like trendy ingredient hyaluronic acid, it’s naturally present in your skin. Seoul-based brand Dr. Jart+ is highly regarded in South Korea, so I’ve also been using Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Lipair ($15), which is contains ceramide for lip repair.
Make sleeping packs the last skincare step of your time
I had never heard of sleeping packs before. While you can buy them in the United States, you can only find them from Korean brands. Sleeping packs are a gel-like substance that you apply as the very last step before bed, after all your serums and creams. Think of it as a sealant for keeping all the good stuff on your skin all night, while also acting as a moisturizer if you decide to wear it alone. Two of my favorite sleeping packs are Dr. Jart+ Water Fuse Water-Max Sleeping Mask ($48) and the Too Cool for School Fresh Gore Sleeping Pack, made with dragon’s blood — the latter of which you, unfortunately, cannot purchase in the United States yet. (But you can buy select products from the brand at Sephora.)