Like tech in Silicon Valley or fashion in New York, one simply cannot visit Seoul without feeling totally consumed by beauty. Beauty has sunken its claws into every facet of Korean life. Seoul lives, eats, breathes and believes – deeply – in beauty.
Plastic surgery ads litter the streets and subways. The shops line up one by one on the main streets of Seoul.
“Oh look! Vaginoplasty!” Katherine chuckled and pointed as we walked passed a small surgeon’s office on the streets of Sinsa, near Gangnam district in Seoul.
Today I was beauty shopping with Katherine – also known as SkinfullofSeoul – one of the most prominent foreign beauty bloggers in Korea.
Prompted by her previous night’s instagram story, I probed as to whether or not she would in fact accept the free Botox or other myriad of free plastic surgery offered to her by local surgeons.
“I don’t think so,” she laughed. “My mum would kill me!”
Boasting over 15,000 followers on Instagram, SkinfullofSeoul has garnered an extremely attentive audience.
Interest in K-Beauty has been growing exponentially in the US, with retailers like Peachy & Lily, MishiBox (a monthly subscription box of K-beauty), 0.8L (which introduces US consumers to Korean beauty products through free campaigns) and others popping up – what seems like – every month, Korean skincare is set to be the next big trend in beauty – globally. As one of the top – and only – foreign beauty bloggers in Korea blogging about Korean beauty, that positions Katherine in a particularly auspicious place.
Earlier this month, a few hours before Farm to Face launched in the US, I was lucky enough to sit down for a late morning cold brew iced coffee with Katherine before hitting the beauty store strip.
Megan: So Katherine, tell me about SkinfullofSeoul. How did it come about? Do you work in the beauty industry? Why did you decide to start your blog?
Katherine: I came to South Korea 3 years ago for my job – no, I don’t work in beauty – and immediately became interested in skincare. It was all new to me. My friends told me I should start an Instagram account– it was all new to them too. I started a blog a few months later, and it’s been about 2 years now. I’ve been amazed at the growth.
M: Are there many other foreign Korean beauty bloggers in Korea?
K: No, there really aren’t too many that are specifically only focused on K-beauty. At least not IN Korea. There is a great K-beauty community abroad, including 50 Shades Of Snail, The Snail Cast (podcast), Snow White and the Asian Pear, Fanserviced-B, as well as a huge number of popular Asian beauty-focused Instablogs. They’re fantastic, but the international K-beauty scene is very different to IN Korea. I’m fortunate to have access to everything here as it’s made, and I try to present that different angle. I mean, there’s over 1000 beauty shops in the single district of Myeongdong alone. You don’t see all the popular brands here represented abroad, and vice versa actually- brands that are popular abroad aren’t a big deal here.
M: What are some of your favorite K-beauty ingredients? Any that really stick out to you?
K: Obviously, snail. I thought it was gross at first, but it really works. I do think it’s a really good skincare ingredient with benefits across the board.. It’s totally changed my skin with it’s calming, soothing and repairing properties.
M: Oh yes, snail mucin. Anything else that sticks out?
K: Yes, honey – propolis – milk extract, green tea..
M: Besides ingredients, what else is different about the K beauty philosophy?
K: Well, in general, Korean skincare is very proactive and the education starts very young. Even my young students have talked to me about the importance of SPF.
Back in the UK, skincare is very reactive. You don’t even think about it until there’s a serious problem.
M: Yes! Skincare is very reactive in the US, too. Many people also think skincare is all marketing BS. I used to believe that, before I got into the research. Did you?
K: I did, yes. I thought skincare was BS.
Of course if you already have wrinkles, nothing short of plastic surgery is going to completely reverse those wrinkles back to normal. But skincare can certainly help, and even more so if you’re proactive.
Plus, people often use harsh astringents, which totally strip your skin of moisture, they think moisturizer makes their face greasy, then – above all – they use those awful facial scrubs which just tear up your skin! I was one of these people, by the way.
Skincare is NOT b.s., though, if you do it properly. It takes time and a consistent routine to see results. There is research behind all of this, it’s not BS. It’s only BS if you wait until it’s too late or don’t do your research/don’t know your skin. I can tell a huge difference in my skin over the past 3 years, since I started my Korean skincare routine.
M: Do people tell you that you look younger now? People always say I look years younger since I started living in Asia!
K: Yes! My skin is so much dewier and just.. hydrated, plump. Also, Korean beauty is much less heavy on makeup. I mean, I follow Western Youtube videos for makeup tutorials, but it’s so much different than what women wear here. For example, I’ve lightened my approach to foundation, and I think my whole approach makes me look younger.
M: From all that I’ve read, Korean skincare routines are always very over the top – 7 or 10 steps, double cleansing and all. How many steps does your skincare routine have?
K: It’s going to sound like a lot, but it really doesn’t take that long! I don’t even think about it. Ok, here we go:
In the morning:
• Toner (both hydrating and exfoliating)
• Essence or serum
• Emulsion cream
In the evening:
• Makeup remover – micellar water
• Double cleanse – oil cleanse, regular cleanse
• Vitamin C
• Treatment – sheet mask
• Essence or serum
• Eye cream*
• Sleeping pack
*I am not sure I believe in eye creams, but I use one anyway.
M: So that’s like.. 6 steps in the morning before makeup and 10 at night?
K: It sounds like a lot but it’s really fast, I swear! It takes about 10 minutes for my morning routine. In the morning, I’m doing steps between other things, like getting my bag prepared for the day, so I don’t even think about it. It’s all just part of my routine. And there are no rules, it’s a common misconception that you have to include all the steps, but it’s about tailoring a routine to your needs.
M: By the way, what is a sleeping mask? I’ve seen them in China – one of my sisters-in-law has one by Laneige – but I have never bothered to look it up.
K: Oh, I love sleeping masks. They’re a thicker cream or gel that you apply after everything else to really lock the moisture in. It sits on your face the entire night – you don’t wash it off – and it seals your skin overnight, preventing moisture loss. You might wake up with a slight film on your face, – some people don’t like that – but just rinse it off.
M: Let’s get one later when we go shopping!
K: Yes, we will. I don’t know if we’ll have time to get this exact one, but the Biotherm life plankton mask is really great. Also, the True Water Deep Cream by Thank You Farmer is fantastic. It’s not marketed as a sleeping mask, but you can use it that way.
Oh, by the way, are you lips always dry?
M: *licks lips* Um.. yes.
K: They have lip masks, too.
M: Awesome! So, I have to ask: What rituals, cultural quirks, routines or otherwise – perhaps, things! – do you intend to bring back with you to the UK?
K: All of it!
As for skincare, I’m bringing everything back with me. That’s not going to change.
I also have insomnia, so for me, the skincare rituals are a great way to wind down and prepare myself to go to sleep. It’s the same ritual every night.
In terms of rituals, I really admire the different ways Koreans show respect to their friends and others. For example, holding one arm when you pour a drink for a friend, and you – the receiver – holding your arm in the same way as you receive the drink.
M: Anything else that you loved about Korea?
K: I love Seoul. It’s just so.. romantic! I don’t know, I’m a romantic. I love that you can go out at midnight and find something to do or eat. Places stay open until 4am. Time flies. The city goes to bed late and wakes up late. There’s just something so romantic about Seoul to me.
M: I know what you mean! I couldn’t find a bite to eat until lunchtime.
K: I’ll be sad to leave.
M: What’s next – for you, for SkinfullofSeoul?
K: To be honest, I’m not totally sure yet. I would love to work in K-Beauty, whether that’s in Korea, the UK or even the US. I have learned so much in 3 years; this is practically all that I do outside of work. You’d be amazed. I might decide to earn another degree or certificate to solidify what I’ve learned in terms of marketing, so that I could have something to show for myself.
M: I would say your instagram and blog are your living, breathing CV! It’s obvious you know a lot about K-beauty.
K: That’s true! I’m not totally sure yet what’s next, but I would love to continue in K-Beauty.
M: I know what’s next! Let’s go beauty shopping.
One simply does not know what heaven is until they have walked – not briskly, but at a snail’s pace (pun intended!) – from Sinsa to Apgujeong Station in the Gangnam district of Seoul.
Beauty stores came one after the next: bam, bam, BAM!
Allure was having an event, so the streets were filled to the brink with people.
Although Katherine and I didn’t have enough time to stop in every store, she did give me some great tips about where to stop next time I came shopping – especially for makeup. Korean makeup is a whole new ballgame for me, and I personally felt that I couldn’t master makeup and skincare in a single day.
Some noted to-visit-at-a-later-date stores along the way included the History of Whoo, Jung Saem Mool, and the 3CE stores – each of which has a different theme (the one we passed was set up like a movie theatre!).
After picking up a sleeping mask and lip mask at Laneige, we stopped at A-Land – a popular store that carries dozens of beauty brands where I picked up several bee venom and propolis (bee pollen) products, CosRx acne patches, and a 99% mucin product to boot!
As a skincare manufacturer, the prices, quality of ingredients, transparency, marketing, packaging, use of ingredients – all of it blew my mind. Competition is fiercely tight in Korea, and Seoul is on its skincare game.
I’ll report back as I try each product, but from my first impressions, all I can say is that I severely underestimated Seoul.
If you love beauty and haven’t been to Seoul yet, what’s stopping you?!
In the mean time, let Katherine be your guide to everything K-Beauty.