Korean beauty products are so much more than cutesy packaging. Many of these brands offer high-performance, innovative products not always available in American drugstores and department stores. But now, thanks to the global Korean beauty phenomenon, an ever-growing market makes them more accessible than ever. Luckily, newbies and experts alike can elevate their K-beauty routine at these online and brick-and-mortar favorites.
Photo by: Joshua Scott/Soko Glam
Joshua Scott/Soko Glam
It’s impossible to discuss K-beauty without mentioning Soko Glam, an online heavyweight in this arena, and a great place to start if you’re new to this world. Founder Charlotte Cho spearheads the effort to review and recommend the best products, cover trends and provide tips. If you happen to be in NYC, stop by its brand-new mini shop inside Bloomingdale’s SoHo location for bestsellers such as the Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine, Klavuu White Pearlsation Pearl Serum Mask, and the super-cute Etude House Etti Headband. Otherwise, don’t worry, you can find all those and so much more online.
What to Buy: Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine
The Face Shop, worldwide
K-beauty obsessives can find this leading retailer everywhere from Australia to across the U.S. It launched in South Korea back in 2003, and has since become the Sephora of Korean beauty products. Expect to find an assortment of skincare and makeup with an emphasis on natural ingredients. Disney fans take note that the brands recently collaborated to bring you mouse-eared lip balms and princess sheet masks — making all of your skincare dreams come true.
What to Buy: Rice Water Bright Cleansing Foam
Choc Choc Cosmetic, Chicago
Unlike some stores whose stock is more gimmicky than quality, Choc Choc (which means well-moisturized in Korean) carefully curates its skincare, haircare and makeup offerings. The popular Mizon brand, best known for its snail creams, is a new addition. This is also the place to find Etude House, Missha, Skinfood and more. Of course, it’s also key that the staff is helpful and knowledgeable when it comes to upping your beauty game.
What to Buy: Mizon Snail Recovery Gel Cream
Olive Young, Seoul, South Korea
Serious aficionados pilgrimage to the motherland for products that aren’t sold in the U.S. Olive Young is a prolific health and beauty chain that sells the full gamut of favorite brands, such as Neogen and Goodal, plus scores more of popular and lesser-known products. The Myeong-dong branch is the best of the best, as it holds the largest selection on two floors. Expect it to be mobbed.
What to Buy: Mise en Scene Perfect Repair Hair Serum
Photo by: Too Cool For School
Too Cool For School
Sephora has upped the number of K-beauty brands it carries beyond Dr. Jart +, Amore Pacific and Belif. Beauty junkies can now find Neogen, Erborian and Too Cool For School. (The latter’s egg cream line is immensely popular; you can also shop at Too Cool For School’s flagship store in NYC.) While you may not discover the latest cult products at Sephora, you will be able to sample away in a super-accessible environment.
What to Buy: Too Cool For School Egg Mellow Cream
Peach & Lily
This online go-to for the best K-products has a selection process worthy of Harvard admissions. “An extremely rigorous curation process means that only 5% of the products we test make it onto our site,” the homepage proclaims, and judging by the reviews, it’s hard to disagree. Whether it’s the Caolion Bubble Mask or the Holika Holika Aqua Petit Jelly BB Starter, know it wasn’t chosen for the cuteness factor alone. For those who enjoy the in-store experience, Peach & Lily has teamed up with CVS to sell accessible products under the Peach Slices label.
What to Buy: Shangpree Gold Black Pearl Hydrogel Eye Mask
Aritaum (beauty in Korean) is another leading chain that recently exploded in the States with more than 60 North American locations — and more than 1,300 in Asia. It’s owned by Amore Pacific (a popular brand in the U.S.), but sells a curated line of products from Laneige to Sulwhasoo. It’s also one of the better chains to discover Korean makeup brands like Iope, whose cushion compacts are a K-beauty must.
What to Buy: IOPE Air Cushion Compact
Those longing for all-natural Korean beauty products will find them at this online site, along with helpful articles and videos. Beloved brands include Whamisa, Huxley and Blossom Jeju, but it’s the Glow Recipe’s Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask that both the site and Sephora have trouble keeping in stock. You might even be able to nab it at Glow Recipe’s temporary Saks Fifth Avenue space in NYC, along with other cult loves. Get there before it closes on Oct. 31, 2017, for free skin consultations, events and classes.
What to Buy: Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask
Photo by: Mishibox
If you find the endless amount of product options paralyzing, online retailer Mishibox facilitates the process by offering a monthly subscription service. Similar to the more mainsteam Birchbox, Mishibox curates a monthly roundup of the best in K-beauty. Enjoy both sample and full-size versions, with the added benefit of English-language instructions, product info and more. The service is also a great way to explore new brands; recent boxes have included the Tosowoong Blackhead Nose Pack, Skin Watchers UV Success Sunscreen and Daycell Animal Hand Cream (pictured).
What to Buy: Subscription Box
On the other end of the spectrum, Amazon is a must shop for K-beauty experts seeking harder-to-obtain items at the best prices. Recent finds include Goodal Waterest First Essence, Banila Clean It Zero Purity and Laneige Water Sleeping Mask.
What to Buy: Goodal Waterest First Essence