But ladies, take a big, deep breath, and put on your big-girl panties, because here's the most amazing news about living in Korea:
Korean cosmetics are not only everywhere, but are vastly superior to American cosmetics!
|You thought all Korean women were just naturally porcelain? Dude, gtfo.|
Here are the lessons you need to learn about Korean Cosmetics:
#1 Cosmetic Stores
Ok, so this is strictly from an American perspective, but all my red, white, and blue bleeding ladies out there, what is the first thing that pops into your head when you see a stand-alone cosmetics shop?
|I'm gonna buy my make-up at the grocery store, like any REAL person does!|
Here's something you're gonna need to know: most grocery stores in Korea do NOT sell cosmetics. I'll give you a second to pull yourself back together after this news... No, you will not be able to go to the store just for mascara and Lean Pockets (you can't find those here either). Koreans buy all their make-up from stand-alone cosmetics shops and these stores are EVERYWHERE! If it's an even semi-busy pedestrian street there will probably be at least three cosmetics shops.
You'll have to experiment to find out which ones are your favorite, but here's my break-down. I go to Face Shop for BB Cream, Eyeliner, and Bronzer; Holika Holika for Blush, Compact, and Eyebrow Pencil; Laneige for Eye Shadow; Etude House for Cleansers; and I still haven't found a lipstick here that I like, but I'm absurdly picky when it comes to lipstick, even though I never use it. Holika Holika just released a new BB Cream compact that I am becoming obsessed with for touch-ups during the day (they market it as the only foundation, powder, and compact you'll need, but I've found it doesn't feel nice as a base).
I know that the fact that I go to so many different stores for different products might sound like a hassel, but because cosmetics stores are so omni-present in Seoul it's really just a matter of seeing one of these stores when I'm out doing something else and thinking "oh yeah, I needed that thingie."
The stores range from cheap (Etude House) and expensive (Laneige), but if you go to Myeongdong you can easily just wander around trying things from al of the different shops until you find what works best for you. Seriously, Myeongdong is mostly cosmetics stores and every major store has at least 2 if not 3 or 4 locations within the three-block radius of the Myeongdong Shopping Street. Myeongdong is also a very touristy area, so they'll frequently have sales that other branches of the store around the city wont have (like buy 2 get 1 free of BB Cream!!!).
For more recommendations I found an awesome blog post by The Wanderlust Project and I agree with/ am dying to try some of her recommendations.
#2 BB Cream
After moving here I waited as long as I possibly could before going out and testing Korean cosmetics. I even contemplated having my mom ship me my go-to foundation from America. I didn't know if Korean stores would have my color, the right products, or if I'd even understand how to use the products the had (the directions are written in Korean, after all). Finally one day I strapped on my adventure pants and went into the Face Shop in my neighborhood. Most Korean cosmetic names for products are in both Korean and English, so I easily found the foundations, but then I discovered that all of the foundation had this weird title of "BB Cream." WHAT THE HELL IS BB CREAM?!
The BB in BB Cream stands for "blemish balm." The product was originally developed in Korea to treat blemishes and sensitive skin after facial treatments. The major difference that I've found between BB Cream and foundation is that BB Cream is extremely lightweight, breathable, and provides medium coverage with the added benefit of spf 15+. I have a moderate amount of acne scaring and mild rosacea (curse my super-white skin!) and BB cream covers this up easily. BB Cream also has various other skin benefits. Though I stick with one that has long-lasting coverage, you can buy ones with whitening, higher spfs, anti-wrinkle, and anything else you can think of.
Typically BB creams come in only 2-3 different shades, but the coverage is so light that as long as your skin is either Caucasian or Asian skin tones you should be fine. If you have darker skin you can find BB creams in your shades in larger tourist areas (like Myeongdong!) or most department stores will carry darker shades.
I now far prefer BB crea to foundation and have even converted some of my friends and relatives over to the ways of the BB cream. Seriously, this stuff is crazy good, stock up before moving back to your home country!
#3 Additional Stages
Koreans, for the most part. have amazing skin, and it's not all due to BB cream (though guys wearing BB cream is perfectly socially acceptable, if not encouraged). They are a lot more serious about skin care in general. The products that they use are numerous and have varying benefits. Before I allowed Mr. Y to hijack my skin care I would use moisturizer and, from time to time, a nuclear weapon of a spot treatment (aka pure tea tree oil). Now that he has taken it over my skin care consists of cleansing, eye-makeup remover, toner, spot treatment, eye cream, moisturizer, and another moisturizer. And that's light for a Korean!
Your most masculine of masculine Korean men wouldn't think of leaving the house without toner, moisturizer and some kind of sunblock (warning to guys, most sunblocks have at least a little pigment added to them). Toners here go by a LOT of different names, and no matter how many times I have a Korean try to explain the differences to me I can't really see a point. There's toner, skin, and essence. And then there's serum! Here's a little timeline for the Korean skincare product usage order: cleanser, toner, skin (which is almost the same as toner, but sometimes has some moisturizing qualities), essence (which is getting closer to moisturizer), serum (getting warmer to moisturizer, but normally has a specific trouble it's trying to address, like anti-aging or whitening), moisturizer, and then a BB cream primer. Yeah... that's a lot.
However, committing to this skin-care regimen doesn't necessarily have to bankrupt you, as long as you're ok with not being extremely loyal to a brand or product. You can collect an massive amount of these products as free samples that you will get for either just walking into a cosmetics store or from buying other products. I've lost my make-up bag twice since moving to Korea (once on the subway and once in a hostel in Thailand) and just from replacing my makeup collection I have a shoe-box full of free samples.
#4 The World = Make-Up Studio
I have never seen a place more accepting of using every reflective surface as a mirror. There are mirrors everywhere! In elevators, on stairways, in classrooms, everywhere! Korean's are a little obsessed with looking perfect all the time. You will see, at least once a month, a woman get on the subway wearing no make-up, sit down, and apply ALL of her make-up. Not the simple "I don't have a lot of time to fuck around with colors" amount of make-up, the "momma's goanna get LAID TONIGHT" amount of make-up. Watching these free make-up tutorials is actually an easy way to learn how to use different Korean products. Free make-up lessons with your morning commute!
This also reveals another useful lesson about Seoul. The subway ride is so smooth here that women can apply liquid eyeliner while riding and not have it look like this: