When you think of Korean beauty, an emphasis on skincare is likely what first comes to mind. Maybe you’ve seen a 10-step K-beauty regimen video on YouTube or personally tried some of these unique skin strategies—like double cleansing, for example—upon waking or before bed.
Getting that signature glowy look, though, often involves more than just toning, treating, and protecting the skin; Korean makeup plays a part in the total Korean beauty equation, too. “K-beauty is all about skincare and makeup brands that are popular in South Korea and usually made there,” says Michelle Henry, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin & Aesthetics Surgery of Manhattan. “Most often these products are made with natural ingredients and free of ingredients that can be irritating or harsh, such as parabens and fragrances.”
Therein lies the appeal of Korean makeup and cosmetics: Generally speaking, even the most pigmented products are gentle, provide excellent coverage or color, and are jam-packed with the same nourishing ingredients as their skincare counterparts, which Dr. Henry says can include turmeric, rice water, green tea extract, ginger, matcha, and antioxidants like vitamins C and E. “Look for these when buying products, since they help fight free radical damage that ages skin, brighten skin, and so on,” says Dr. Henry. That way, your makeup can actually help to correct some tone and texture issues while sitting pretty on your face.
1Best for Makeup Bag Basicsinnisfree Read More
2Best for Darker Skin TonesDr. Gio Cosmetics Read More
3Best for Luxury LoversSulwhasoo Read More
4Best for Color ConnoisseursAMUSE Read More
5Best InnovationMissha Read More
So if you’re someone who likes the no-makeup makeup look or just geeks out on the latest and greatest beauty tech, you might want to give Korean makeup a try. Ahead, you’ll find 15 reputable brands in the Korean makeup game, some of their hero products, and a bit of direction on which companies might be best for you, depending on your beauty personality or what you’re looking to buy right now or later.
Innovative beauty products infused with natural ingredients are the foundation of Innisfree. The ingredients come from Jeju Island in Korea, where they say the purest and potent ingredients thrive in a volcanic element. In the products, you'll find green tea, volcanic clusters, tangerine, and cherry blossoms, to name a few. You'll want to add the Soft Lip Balm with Green Tea to your cart. The lip balm combines Jeju green tea powder, beeswax, and other nourishing ingredients to moisturize your lips. The Pore Blur Pact (a pressed powder that absorbs excess oil while leaving the skin looking bright and refreshed) is another makeup staple.
Dr. Gio Cosmetics is a K-makeup brand specifically made for Black skin, and Dr. Henry says it’s a company to watch in 2022 and beyond. The brand got its start by adopting Korean trends to create products that work well for darker skin tones. Their debut product is the Ultra 6 Brightening Foundation Cushion. “I love natural makeup looks, so the cushion helps to give me a natural dewy and subtle makeup look,” says Grace Okafor, CEO and founder of the brand. “As an African, I incorporated an African ingredient known for moisturization—shea butter—into our brand since it was created for dark skin tones and people of color."
For a holistic beauty experience, take a journey with Sulwhasoo, which Dr. Henry refers to as a “luxury brand with natural, great-smelling ingredients.” Harmony and balance are at the center of this brand which focuses on nature's ecosystem. "Our journey to holistic beauty originates from this heritage of treasured knowledge that carefully treats the body and mind as one, an understanding that a single herb alone never suffices," Sulwhasoo's website states. The biggest must-have? The Makeup Balancer, which is a silky primer that makes your skin look naturally dewy and even.
Amuse's fun personality is seen throughout each product. Try the Sunlit Eye Palette, which is rich in pigment. The colors are vibrant and don't fade or smear after a few hours of wear. The Skin Tone Foundation is another best-seller from AMUSE. It’s a 2-in-1 product that combines concealer and foundation into one and also provides hydration.
Before a product is created, Missha says they extensively research current trends and ingredients to ensure that each product delivers the most benefits. Add the M Perfect Cover BB Cream SPF 42 PA+++ to your list of makeup to test. This BB cream adds a buildable, full coverage look while keeping your skin moisturized and protected from the sun with a dose of SPF. The Dare Tint Matte Tattoo is another favorite. It’s a sheer lip tint that stays put all day long and is very buildable, if you want to try a bolder, more pigmented look from this more subtle product.
Em Cosmetics provides you with every tool that you need to express your beauty and creativity. The brand offers a Face Cuddle Moisture Balm that prepares your skin for makeup application with a dose of moisture. The Flexibrow Clear Brow Gel keeps brows in place for the most definition. The formula has pro-vitamin B5 that helps to keep your brows nourished so that they remain natural, not stiff.
Founder Sean Lim wanted beauty to be like Disney World—the happiest experience on earth. This K-makeup brand brings happiness and joy to your makeup routine by making its brand mission to help you find your own beauty. The Metallist Sparkling Foiled Pigment adds just the right amount of shimmer. There are natural properties of diamond and pearl powders in the formula, which add intense color and shine. Meanwhile, the Pretty Filter Perfect Finish Foundation pairs nicely with the foiled pigment for a complete makeup look.
Earn those beauty insider loyalty points on Kaja, the first K-makeup brand that is co-founded with Sephora and features colorful products with inclusive ranges. The bright packaging design is hard to miss on beauty shelves, and you can also find this line in some Kohl’s stores and at kohls.com as well. The first thing you want to try is Kaja’s Cheeky Stamp Blendable Blush. It has a cushion blend formula and once you apply the stamp to your face, you’re able to blend it how you like. The Joystick Brightening Undereye Setting Powder sets your concealer under the eye so that there are no visible creases after applying your makeup.
Founded in 2006, TONYMOLY took K-beauty trends and made them a staple in beauty routines. Each product has high-quality ingredients packed with technology that they say provide effective results. You'll notice TONYMOLY by its bright and bold packaging. The brand is known for its sheet masks, but also includes a vast makeup offering too. Not sure what to try? We recommend the Double Needs Pang Pang Mascara which stays put and doesn't smudge underneath your eyes. The wand also leaves your lashes curled and looking full.
Etude offers various affordable products, ranging from mascara to body wash, as well as hand and feet care. As for makeup, the Big Cover Skin Fit Concealer is a favorite. It smoothes dark under-eye circles and blemishes, leaving a natural finish. You'll also want to try the Play 101 Stick Contour Duo. This double-sided stick contains two shades cut at angles, which makes application in the hollows of your cheeks a cinch to create the illusion of more dimension.
"Our skincare and makeup are curated, sourced, and centered on the latest Korean Beauty technology, but as individual products embrace a distinctly minimalistic approach both in their packaging and simple effectiveness," Cle Cosmetics states. The products are versatile to fit into busy schedules and the ever-changing needs of a skincare routine. Consider adding the CCC Cream to your cart. The lightweight foundation also moonlights as a primer and the end result is a moisturized complexion that practically glows.
One of the most distinguishing elements of a K-beauty brand is the amount of craftsmanship that goes into its products. AmorePacific is no exception. The brand says they craft green tea from one of South Korea's finest green tea gardens as the hero ingredient in their products. ICYMI: Green tea is a potent antioxidant that is rich in amino acids that may protect skin from environmental stressors and improve the skin’s overall appearance. Test the Age Correcting Foundation Cushion Broad Spectrum. It combines ingredients thought to be anti-aging with green tea to provide lightweight, yet buildable coverage. There is also SPF 25 for added protection.
If you’re looking for a natural base that’ll do more for your skin than just provide coverage, then Erborian might be your best K-makeup match. Created in 2007, the company is known for its skincare and array of complexion products that run the gamut from crayon-like concealers and primer products to BB creams (the first of its kind in Europe, according to their site) and CC creams. “This cc crème founded by a Korean cosmetic scientist is very popular,” says Dr. Debra Jaliman, a board-certified dermatologist, assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and author of the book, Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist. “This can take the place of a foundation. It not only covers flaws but soothes the skin and reduces redness and puffiness.” That’s likely in part due to its hero ingredient, Centella Asiatica, aka tiger grass. An iconic plant in traditional Korean medicine, it's known for its calming properties.
Focusing on skincare, Joah centers around the mission that beauty starts with the skin, which is why the company is dedicated to formulating their products with the highest quality ingredients. Make sure to add the Escapades Eyeshadow Palette and the Crystal Glow Tinted Luminizer Stick to your beauty arsenal. The palette gives you six shades to build a distinguished eye-look with soft lavender and nude shimmering tones. The luminizer stick highlights, contours, and leaves your skin with a nice glow. On top of all the latest trends in beauty, Joah recently released a line of vibrant, limited-edition Line UP Pastel Felt Tip Liquid Eyeliners that have total ‘90s, springtime retro vibes.
Dr. Henry says Banila Co. is best known for their cleansing balm, but they also offer a lineup of high-performing makeup products that reduce the need for a lengthy skincare routine. Try the Truetrack Brow Auto Pencil. The triangular-tipped pencil defines the brows by softly filling them in. The Curly Studio All Day Rise Mascara is long-lasting and smudge-proof.