South Korea is fast becoming a makeup and beauty mecca, and it’s about more than the BB cream boom. For a peek into the cosmetic crystal ball, go east…

Any products in this article have been selected editorially however if you buy something we mention, we may earn commission

Technology trends emerging from Asia are nothing new, but do you associate Seoul with chic, innovative developments in the makeup arena? For la maquillage à la mode we traditionally look to Paris, or one of the other three “fashion” cities, but western consumers, and by proxy brands, are increasingly taking their cue from South Korea when it comes to making up. Fierce competition between brands, demanding customers, large-scale investment in skincare and cosmetics science, not to mention a lack of squeamishness around ingredients such as pig collagen and starfish extract, has resulted in a booming beauty market that now exports more than it imports and is the 12th largest producer of cosmetics in the world, according to the Korea Tourism Office. With streets, nay, neighbourhoods, devoted to blushers (HEAVEN), mascaras and all manner of makeup and skincare, it’s product paradise, as makeup artist Kenneth Soh  confirms:

“You don’t even need to leave the airport to spend hours perusing all the products available. Packs of sheet masks with every ingredient you can imagine from snail secretion to charcoal, makeup products that do everything you might want or even things you didn’t know you wanted. I had a few hours to kill at Incheon Airport and I spent all of it browsing and topping up my kit! You can find everything there. The real problem is trying to decipher which is a gimmick and which ones actually work for you.”

On that note, we’ve done the hard work for you. Here are the eight Korean beauty trends to buy into:


Not the kind you scatter all over the lounge, but a soft, springy sponge that’s soaked in a light, cooling and protective base within a portable compact. A cushion base is almost always saturated with high SPF sunscreen, to appeal to Korean women who both take care of their skin scrupulously (this is the country that invented the 10 step skincare regime after all) and also aim to maintain an even, pigmentation-free complexion. The finish is almost always dewy and veil like; Kenneth emphasises that that’s how our Seoul sisters roll:

“The typical Korean aesthetic is all about youth, not the schoolgirl youth of Japan but a slightly more sophisticated version that doesn’t alienate and come across as ageist. It’s near impossible to see a matte finish in any Korean campaign; every model, celebrity and spokesmodel have radiant and glowing complexions.”

Get one for yourself with Lancôme’s newly launched  Miracle Cushion liquid cushion compact , £29.50. Applied with fingers or the enclosed ‘pad’ applicator, it glides on seamlessly, has a featherlight texture and offers skincare benefits such as SPF 23 (niche), glycerin and ester oil to hydrate and anti-ageing adenosine to fight cellular damage. While similar cushion compacts make up 40% of the cosmetics market in Korea, you’re unlikely to find the shade range that Lancôme brings to our western dressing tables. For a more budget option (Koreans more often than not refuse to pay premium prices; healthy competition keeps K-beauty prices down),  Kiko CC Cream Cushion System , £15.50, boasts SPF 25 and imparts a healthy looking layer of coverage, although it only caters for caucasian skin.

Facial massage

Not technically a makeup trend, but Kenneth considers it a key factor in flawless makeup application. A cushion may allow for lightening-speed touch ups, but your foundation builds on the foundations you begin with…

“I’ve really taken on the facial massaging and face mask culture that’s part of the Korean skincare regime into my work as I find that it helps clients and models relax and helps to promote a clear, nourished complexion that receives makeup better. Smooth, well tended skin, makes makeup last longer and stay fresher, especially on the red carpet, and I need much less product to create a radiant and dynamic result.”

For tips on giving yourself a dreamy facial massage,  follow expert facialist Teresa Tarmey’s lead .

Jelly textures

Are you ready for this jelly? Good, because makeup with a jelly texture is huge on streets of Seoul. With formulas that are light, bright and long-lasting, not to mention cooling, a jelly lip, cheek or eye product is as fresh as new season makeup could get.  Topshop Cheek Jelly in Beep , £7, may look like it could stop traffic (never a bad thing), but is sheer and blendable with that oh-so-desirable mul-kwang-pi-bu (watery glow) finish. Other than good old Vaseline, our high street hasn’t quite caught up with the jelly textures otherwise, but you can stock up on all things wobbly in the beauty world at  KoKo , an online store specialising in and supplying the most popular Korean products and brand names to the European market.  Holika Holika Aqua Petit Jelly Eye Shadow , £10, is satisfyingly wibbly, with a water-based texture that brings down puffiness and colours that would delight your inner five year old. A nice change up from a smokey eye, speaking of which…

Low-key eye makeup

There’s very little smoke to speak of in Seoul, in the eye makeup stakes at least. According to Soh, eye makeup is ‘minimal’; light shades of shadow, tight liner that hugs the upper lid and a few coats of mascara are about as far as definition goes. Mainly because the focus is on the following…

A gutsy, gradiated lip

Put the nude lip gloss down; Korean women let their mouths do the talking in more ways than one. The array of lip colours available on the average K-beauty counter is both blinding and extensive, and can be seen on the the street worn by teenagers and thirty-somethings alike. South Korean beauties don’t just stop at a bright lip either; one of the most popular ways to wear lip colour is in a ‘gradiated’ style, with a strong shade applied to the centre of lip fading out to a paler colour at the edges. If you’re feeling brave and inspired, smudge suitably strong red-orange  MAC Sheen Supreme lipstick in Korean Candy , £16.50, at the centre of lips, blending into a lighter coral toned lipstick at the edges (try the also aptly named Fashion City).


Lavender blusher anyone? The Korean crowd go crazy for Disney princess pastels. Colours that can be tricky to acquire in the west, possibly for good reason at times, storm the shelves in South Korea, and peach, apricot and even lilac cheek tones often outsell the more traditional rose, according to the legendary makeup oracle that is Lisa Eldridge. For a nod to both the pastel and dewy complexion trend, experiment with  Daniel Sandler Watercolour Liquid Blusher in Icing , £15.50. It ticks the sheer box and is appropriately sweet without swerving into teenybopper territory.

Playful packaging

I take it back, it’s time to embrace the teenybopper thing. South Korean women may take their beauty regimes seriously, but they also appreciate their beauty staples with an accompanying GSOH and cute component. Just a quick browse of KoKo showcases typical zany Korean kitsch- it’s ‘never want to grow up’, Peter Pan packaging at it’s best.  Benefit  or  Paul & Joe Beauty  are about as close as you could come on our shores; Korean brands to covet are Etude House, Tony Moly and aptly named Too Cool for School.

SPF everything

Unlike on our shores, Korean women rarely hanker for a tan. Pigmentation and sun damage are K-beauty’s biggest enemies, quite sensibly, and most women will go to great lengths to shade themselves from the sun. It’s a belt and braces approach; many women carry umbrellas to block out the sun’s rays and SPF in everything from eye shadow to face powder to lip gloss adds both a sun safety net and market value. Follow suit with  Bare Minerals 5-in-1 BB Cream Eyeshadow , £17. It has all the BB benefits you’d expect from a face base in miniature. Crow’s feet can hop along.

Do K-beauty trends appeal to you? Do you have a favourite K-beauty haul? Checked out the Seoul scene for yourself? Tweet me  @AnnaMaryHunter  or send me a picture of your stash on  Instagram