If you’re even an armchair K-Beauty enthusiast, you’ve clicked through enough donkey milk, 24k gold, and snail slime slideshows for one lifetime. You’ve been reintroduced to honey skin, glass skin, mochi skin, cloudless skin… and glanced warily at ads for products containing thousand-dollar truffles and starfish cream. You might have posted a wrinkly Hanacure mask pic or scared your family by emerging from the bathroom covered in grey carbonating Milky Piggy bubbles. Wherever you’re at in your exploration of Korean beauty products, you know that hype (and anything Charlotte Cho or Alicia Yoon says) is the law of the land, and everyone wants a piece.
I’ve had a long journey with Korean beauty — one that began with my grandmother and mother and the beauty lessons they were taught before my lifetime — and I’ve felt defeated at times by the industry’s colorism, anti-fat campaigns, and allegations of animal harm (most notoriously, snails and bees). But I, like many Koreans and non-Koreans, have succumbed to the sometimes meticulous, frequently rewarding world that is K-Beauty in the two-day-shipping era. So as the summer comes to a close, I’ve compiled a list of ten products that I feel the rookie and the seasoned vet alike can find accessible and effective.
The Next Gen of Rubber Masks
We’ll start off simple. Rubber and hydrogel masks have been my drug of choice all summer. Unlike many cloth or paper sheet masks, they offer a soothing, cooling effect without refrigeration, and they don’t slip off. I’ve even invested in reusable rubber mask covers (yes, masks for my masks) from Yesstyle to keep my old-school sheet masks in place while I walk around my apartment. Rubber masks are old news but overall mask sales are still skyrocketing; the newest major selling points are more economical multi-use masks and creative multi-ingredient packaging, so this is where rubber shines. This winter’s Dr. Jart+ Shake & Shot Rubber Mask (which comes in a movie theater-sized soda cup with a spatula straw in a baby’s mouth) was a major moment, since you basically earn an honorary mixology license after mastering it. I’m sticking with the tried-and-true Dr. Jart+ Lover Rubber Mask that comes pre-assembled with an ampoule pack that’s akin to having your salad dressing on the side: you just open the little cup and dump on as much as you want. Both of these have great results, and the more elaborate the process, the more reminiscent it is of a Korean spa experience.
The Invisible Mask
I need a sheet mask on a plane. It’s very embarrassing for my family but it simply must be done. At the beginning of summer, Glow Recipe finally released a product they’d been teasing for a while: clear sheet masks you’re supposed to be able to wear in a car, in the office, or out on the street without looking like Katy Perry and her mom in Beverly Hills. I snatched up the Whamisa Organic Flowers and Aloe Vera Fermented Hydrogel Mask while I waited for the newer Watermelon Glow Jelly Sheet Mask to come out in June. The verdict? You will not look like Glow Recipe co-founders and CEOs Sarah Lee or Christine Chang, who appear as though they’ve simply slathered on the glass skin look, in this mask. In other words, people can still definitely tell that you’re wearing a mask. But there’s no denying that it’s much more subtle and less jarring for the public than stepping out in full-face bleached bamboo, and the products are legitimately spectacular. Either way, hydrogel is still better for masking on-the-go since, unlike cloth, it doesn’t come with excess essence that spills everywhere. It’s just a two-part sticky pad that seals on like a charm, which is why I expect to see braver maskers wearing it on the streets of Koreatown any day now.
They say beauty is only skin-deep, but that is a whole millimeter or two that needs caring for. While topical treatments only scratch the surface, there are now patches with microneedles made of crystalized serum that reach deeper into the epidermis where they dissolve, disseminating the good stuff and keeping it locked in. Don’t run away yet — it’s technically noninvasive! While traditional derma rolling with microneedles has been used to create micro wounds in the skin, alerting the body to create new collagen, the next gen of microneedles don’t penetrate deep enough to cause damage or discoloration, and so an allergic reaction is much less likely. The point here is not to pierce, but to infuse skin gently with hyaluronic acid and peptides. The best reviewed microneedle product out now is Acropass’s Trouble Cure Patch with pricks thinner than ⅓ width of a hair. It doesn’t hurt to put on at all, and pulls a little like a bandaid to come off, but I’ll usually stick with the non-microneedle Corsx Acne Pimple Master Patch if I need to go out in public. Ask your dermatologist before trying, and study up on The Klog.
Natural Bar Soaps
When I shop for K-beauty products, I expect to see complicated terms like Centella asiatica, hyaluronic acid, and propolis — all of which I had to google at first — even at natural beauty shops like Nature Republic. Luxury handmade bar soaps are the biggest cleansing trend, and while they have been around forever, the emphasis on “clean beauty” is more recent in the K-beauty industry. AprilSkin’s deep cleansing soap has an excellent reputation. and Joyce Lee, founder and CEO of Talk To Her (a consulting company with clients from Olive Young to Opening Ceremony) told me that it’s a personal favorite of YouTuber Director Pi Hyunjung. Lee recommends leaving the bubbles on your face for an extra 30 seconds before rinsing to get a deeper clean. As the pendulum swings, plant-based ingredients and natural charcoal soap priced at $15 are sure to beat out chemical-heavy, luxury-in-a-bottle products that break the bank.
Tooth care is now perceived as more of a beauty experience than a health one, and it’s an easy intro into K-beauty because it’s a product you have to use anyway! Lee recommends Mongdies, which has the aesthetic of a long-trusted family brand, and Rucipello, whose fresh flavors are inspired by the ocean, for your everyday toothpaste. PETA recommends With My for an animal cruelty-free vegan Korean toothpaste with delicious green tea and pomegranate extracts. The Colgate of Korea is, of course, Perioe, and I use my Perio x Kakao Friends Lime Mojito Cocktail Edition Toothpaste just for fun. A big selling point for me is the fun and cute packaging that K-beauty products are known for, which isn’t limited to makeup and doesn’t have to be for kids only!
K-Pop Hair Tinsel
Hair color trends on both sides of the Pacific exhaust me. When you are a Korean girl with black hair, bleaching, toning, and slathering on color trial-and-error is a huge turnoff, and a horrible flashback to when the rose-gold to-match-your-iPhone hair was an edgy Korean trend. I stumbled upon an alternative earlier this summer when catching up on KCON NY 2018. K-pop star Heize made her KCON debut with tinsel in her hair, which is easily woven in like some pseudo extensions. Everyone was talking about it, and it was even one of Billboard’s five highlights of the night. Although it seems all-too 2000s, I’m stocking up for Halloween and beyond, and I expect it to become a going-out look for non-K-pop stars this fall.
Truthfully, I bought my first Tonymoly Red Wine Sheet Mask at H-Mart as a gag gift for a friend’s birthday. I’d heard of fancy sake bath spas but I’d also been warned that alcohol was dehydrating for your skin, so I didn’t think I was doing her any major favors by tossing down $3 (I figured the mask and the alcohol would balance each other out? She was fine). Fast forward a few years and I’ve seen both this mask and Tonymoly’s Makgeolli (rice wine) Sheet Mask blow up in the US. Alcohol is making a huge comeback as a skincare ingredient, its main selling point being that it is highly acidic and can slough away dead skin cells. The antioxidants from grapes combined with the alcohol’s ability to eat up skin waste have also made Neogen’s Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine pads ultra popular over the past two years. What we’ve learned in the interim, however, is that you should rinse after use because the alcohol acts fast (as an exfoliant, I mean!).
Makeup Application Devices
While I haven’t yet tried this for myself, Lee put me on to the AmorePacific Makeon application device. While the Makeon line includes a cleansing tool and light therapy tool, I found the makeup enhancer most intriguing, and it’s the safest choice I’ve found on the market since AmorePacific owns pretty much all of Korea’s leading beauty brands, and the device is well-reviewed. As clean beauty and scaling back on heavy skincare regimens comes more into style, the idea of wearing your makeup “air-fit” is more compelling than ever. Beauty devices that advertise a “perfect” application have grown in demand by 92% in the past year, according to Lee. This particular air puff spreads makeup evenly and thinly to a science, while also massaging the face to increase blood circulation better than your grandma’s jade roller. As the no-makeup makeup look swings around for another summer, it may be an investment — and think of the excess foundation you’ll be saving!
I recently got into veil serum when Peach and Lily dropped the Miwaji Serum Veil as part of the bran’s first original collection in June. All-in-one beauty products are especially enticing for busy city-dwellers like me. The basic concept of a veil serum is that some hyaluronic acid molecules sink deeper into the skin and some stay on its surface, offering two types of moisture. The hyaluronic acid (a super common ingredient in K-beauty) is not only hydrating, but also skin-binding to promote firmness, and ultimately mixed with peptides for a brightening effect. Now, I’m operating off of 10th grade chemistry so I’m just judging by my own results here. I use the cucumber-infused Amarte Aqua Veil Pure Hydration Serum (and Lee personally uses Ges Gep's One Veil 1ster) as the first step after cleansing — especially when I don’t have time to apply my Cicapair, SPF, moisturizer, peptides, essence, and makeup separately. I love the velvety smooth finish (I also noticed that I don’t need to apply an oil-absorbing rice primer like I normally do since my skin doesn’t produce as much of its own oil and moisture when wearing a veil serum). Amarte’s serum turns into little droplets of water upon application, similarly to the uber-popular Dr. Jart+ Water Drop Hydrating Moisturizer, and other than the refreshing scent, you won’t be able to tell that you’re wearing it. Veil serum is one of the best examples of my prediction that transparent, undetectable skincare will eventually make foundation obsolete.
When I sheet mask (yes, it’s a verb), I use every. last. drop. After my face takes 20 minutes to shine, the rest of the essence goes to my neck or chest, but I have been known to put it on my arms and legs because I hate to waste. Aside from masks for your face, lips, and hair, the concept can be applied to basically every other body part. My mom raved about the Line Friends Mediheal Paraffin Foot Mask I bought at Olive Young and I love a good elbow mask (Tonymoly’s Skin Clinic 3 Step Micro Peel Elbow Patch Kit is temporarily sold out, as is their My Little Pet Body Patch, but Etude House ships their Bebe Elbow Mask to the US). You can go down the Reddit rabbit hole for butt, nipple, and full body masks (I realized I was getting too comfortable in K-beauty when I thought this Diamond V Fit Mask was for something else), or you can get creative with what you’ve got like The Klog’s writers. Now, I release you back out onto the Internet with some words of wisdom: always have your Korean friend check the packaging for “whitening” because that’s not cool in my book, give yourself a budget and stick to it, but most importantly, be open to trying new things!
This article originally appeared on VICE US.