K-Beauty Lovers Spill Their Favorite Skincare Game-Changers

Photo credit: Rebekah Harding

Photo credit: Rebekah Harding

By Rebekah Harding

Snail slime face creams, bee venom serums, and carbonated face masks—all staples of the Korean beauty industry. It’s no secret that this country is home to innovative (and sometimes strange) beauty products. But where do you even begin when so many products are flooding the U.S. market?

Katherine Spowart, known as Katherine of SkinfullofSeoul in the beauty community, became a huge fan of Korean skincare products after moving to Seoul, South Korea, in 2014 to teach English. With no knowledge of K-Beauty products before arriving in Seoul, Spowart immersed herself into the wide selection of beauty stores and the buzz of shopping. Spowart started her Instagram to talk about her newest skincare discoveries with friends and family in England. 

“My skin had really improved and I wanted to share the Korean skincare that was working for me,” Spowart explained. “My blog naturally followed from there as the interest in what I was doing grew. I think a lot of my initial followers were from the U.S. and Europe, where Korean beauty was still relatively unknown and only followed by a niche community.”

Since the inception of her blog and Instagram page, the once small and niche community of international K-Beauty fans exploded into a worldwide frenzy. With Korean products available all over North America and Europe, brands like TONYMOLY and Dr. Jart+ are no longer rare-finds in chain-beauty stores.

However, even though K-Beauty is everywhere, it doesn’t mean that everyone is formally acquainted with the lifestyle. For those dipping their toes into Korean skincare for the first time, Spowart recommends the COSRX and PURITO—affordable brands found at Ulta or Walmart, and online retailers respectively.

COSRX Snail Essence is one of my all-time favorite products, and PURITO sunscreens are just so good and not greasy at all,” she said. “I swear by the majority of both of their products, and they’re affordable if you’re not really sure of what your skin needs yet.”

Photo credit: Katherine Spowart,  SkinfullofSeoul

Photo credit: Katherine Spowart, SkinfullofSeoul

Hafeezat Bishi, a sophomore communication and social influence major, frequently treats herself to a Korean sheet mask for an extra dose of self-care.

“You can never go wrong with a basic sheet mask,” Bishi said. “Mainly due to its affordability, sheet masks are my go-to when it comes to Korean skincare. They’re also just fun to put on and they feel nice and cooling to the skin.

When needing a skin pick-me-up, Bishi usually reaches for her go-to sheet mask: the “I’m Real” mask line from TONYMOLY. If your skin needs some extra love, a smart way to add something extra without doing the rigorous 10-step routine is to incorporate sheet masks. But, if the results from your current products still frustrate you, Korean skincare might just be the answer.

Julie Tran, a sophomore biology major, discovered K-Beauty products while searching for a solution to her acne-prone and extremely sensitive skin.

“For me, the defining characteristic of Korean beauty products is the little to no fragrance added,” Tran said. “On top of this, Korean skincare tends to focus more on skin nourishment and approaches skin issues from a more holistic perspective than western beauty.”

Much like Spowart, Tran lives for the coveted COSRX Snail Essence. She adores the texture and gentleness—the best quality for anyone with an overly sensitive skin type. 

“I love [the snail essence] because it locks moisture into the skin, feels incredibly smooth on the skin, and it has no scent,” Tran said.

Tran usually shops for her K-Beauty products at shops in Chinatown, Philadelphia such as Ga-in BeautyZone on N. 11th Street and S. Mart on N. 10th Street.

“I usually just go to both of these stores for face masks, but [Ga-in BeautyZone and S. Mart] carry other Korean skincare products there as well. Each one just carries a different selection of face masks, which is why I like to go to both.”

If you’re searching for that magic product people have been raving about on your Instagram feed but can’t find it in stores, hundreds of online K-Beauty suppliers ship to the U.S. Tran typically shops on the sites Soko Glam and Yesstyle for hard-find-products.

At Soko Glam, employers test each product before it becomes available for purchase so that only the most effective and loved products are put on the site. If you’re stuck on what to buy, Soko Glam offers over twenty skincare sets based on skin concerns, such as their Dewy Skin Set and 5-Step Combination Skin Care Set, for you to start with.

Kate Nguyen, a Brandeis University student from Philadelphia, chooses Korean products over American counterparts because of its ability to soothe her dry skin type while still providing textural preference. 

“I like using Korean masks and moisturizers since they fit my skin really well,” Nguyen said. “Some of the American products I’ve used before can be too heavy for my skin. Korean products usually have a more refreshing feel to it.”

She typically buys her products at her local Sephora or Urban Outfitters, but requests specific products from her international friends when they come back from Korea for the school year.

Nguyen recommends the Nature Republic Super Aqua Max Watery Cream; its light texture and deep moisturizing abilities put a smile on anyone’s face. Here’s the kicker… it comes in three varieties: Fresh Watery (oily skin), Moisture Watery (dry skin), and Combination Watery (combo), so one can customize how much moisture their skin type needs without sacrificing other benefits.

And if you’re looking to dive deeper into the vast world that is K-Beauty? Nguyen suggests to hit the beauty books and watch videos online before taking the plunge.

“If possible, try out various kinds of products from different brands at different prices to learn more aspects of Korean beauty and see amazing changes.”

REFINE Magazine