You don’t have to be a beauty editor to know that Korean beauty products have turned the U.S. beauty market upside down. Here we were, so proud of ourselves for finally incorporating a toner and serum into our skin routines, only to find out Korean women have been following a 10-step system this entire time (and have the glowing skin to prove it). Suddenly, a whole new world emerged. A light-as-a-feather cream that protects, conceals, and delivers skin benefits? (Hi, BB!) A liquid you pat onto your face that hydrates, balances, and brightens? (That would be an essence, by the way.) We want more.
We know we’re not the only ones fascinated by Korean beauty, which is why we’re so excited to introduce our first-ever Korean beauty correspondent, Alicia Yoon. She heads up Peach & Lily, an e-commerce site where she carefully curates the best beauty products from Korea and beyond, and is a fount of all things Korean beauty-related—the kind of person who’ll happily talk about the pros and cons of various types of sheet masks for hours at a time (a.k.a. our kind of girl). A few times each month, she’ll be giving us the latest updates on all the latest and greatest from the land of essences and ampoules, which means you’ll be in the loop when the next BB Cream comes around. Keep scrolling to get to know Alicia Yoon (and find out her current product obsessions!)
So—tell us about your background. How did you first get interested in beauty?
Yoon: I was born in Seoul and then moved to the US when I was one. We lived all over the U.S. and then my whole family ultimately moved back to Korea when I was 12. I grew up in Seoul until college, and feel pretty lucky to have had this bicultural experience.
I was a tomboy growing up—platform diving was my whole life from the age of nine until halfway through high school. I had really bad eczema growing up, and being in and out of a pool exacerbated my skin problems to no end. After years of intensive training as a diver, I ended up hurting my legs badly and was in a wheelchair and physical therapy for a year. This effectively ended my diving career, and while it was devastating at the time, it changed the trajectory of my life. The experience gave me the courage to try new things and go for goals that might have seemed too big or daunting at first. This time right after I stopped diving was also when I found a passion for beauty.
So what happened next?
Yoon: I got a scholarship to study at a beauty school where I first learned about makeup and skincare. I gravitated towards the skincare teachers because of my bad eczema—I saw my itchy, flaky and dry skin transform into more hydrated and supple skin. I became addicted to skincare after that! I moved back to New York City and went to Columbia, and after that went onto do finance and consulting, but stayed really passionate about skincare as a hobby. I gave friends and family beauty tips and facials and always brought back beauty products from Korea for everyone to try.
How did this lead to the founding Peach and Lily?
Yoon: After I went to Harvard Business School, I finally decided to pursue my skincare and Korean beauty passion full-time and launched Peach and Lily. The goal with Peach and Lily is to bring Korean beauty innovations real-time to the U.S.—and share more about the Korean beauty philosophy. The curation process is the cornerstone to what Peach and Lily stand for. We're not shy about saying we’re super picky! Beyond product formulations and packaging, we’ll look at who created the brand and I’ll usually head to Korea every few weeks to interview the executive and Research & Development teams of these brands. Ultimately, we're seeing that about 5% of products that we look at make the cut onto our site.
Tell us more about these trips to Korea—what’s a typical trip like?
Yoon: I go to Korea every four to eight weeks. I cherish these trips because there's so much newness I get to see every time I go back. One of the goals of each trip is to curate, so I start by asking all the experts about what's trending and what's currently buzzed about. Before I head over, the first point of research is the Internet and scouring over the beauty blogs and magazines, and poring over product reviews. Once I arrive in Korea, I interview top dermatologists, estheticians, beauty houses, beauty editors, celebrities and makeup artists; this is then followed by discussions with various beauty R&D labs, manufacturers and product developers. I then do all my regular pitstops at beauty stores and speak to the store directors about what's popular and not and why.
What’s your favorite part about these trips back?
Yoon: My favorite part is interviewing your everyday beauty consumer. I actually stop women off the street before they're about to head into a beauty store and will do consumer shop-along and street interviews to get the raw scoop.
Amazing. (You can check out one of Yoon’s street beauty interviews here.) So, we’re assuming you get to test out a ton of new products.
Yoon: Yes! While all this is happening, I'm securing the newest and best products to try out either through brands or buying them directly in the stores. And then the testing begins! If I have time, I'm also testing and discovering new spas and treatments to understand what's the best in the beauty that's happening alongside products.
What are some of the newest trends you discovered on your last trip back?
Yoon: I think there's a trend of bringing the spa home—we first saw it in sheet masks, and now there are these amazing rubber masks that are starting to be retailed. I'm obsessed with these! They really lock in hydration and other beneficial ingredients because the rubber material creates a very occlusive barrier, helping to force everything gently into the skin. Although it's a bit of a process going onto your skin (powder and liquid are mixed together in a bowl and then sort of basted onto the face), coming off is so easy. The goop turns into rubber and then the whole thing peels right off in one mess-free go.
We'll keep our fingers crossed that makes it over to the U.S.! Anything else?
Yoon: I also love the really amped up packaging innovations, like cushion compacts that are small and chic but contain a concealer, highlighter, and blush that pull out from underneath the compact. Or, there are these cotton swabs where you twist the bottom and a remover gently soaks the cotton tip, and eye shadows that come in stick form so that you don't need to carry around a separate brush, or worry about powders breaking and spilling.
Your current favorite products? We’re dying to know.
Yoon: I have super dry skin and with the really intense travel schedule, constant jetlag and long work hours, I’ll be excited about anything that keeps my skin hydrated. So, for that, I really can’t be without an essence—I feel the difference immediately when I don’t use one! My current favorite is the Cremorlab Aqua Essence Water Fluid ($40) because it’s so lightweight and layers well with other products, but just moisturizes really, really well. I’m also loving my fermented skincare products because they absorb well and work well for sensitive skin. Bitgoa’s Hue Essence Toner ($57) is one of my beauty staples lately; I switch between that and Be The Skin’s Botanical Nutrition Power Toner ($29). I really do think using a great hydrating toner makes a huge difference in a skincare routine.
Finally, I'm a big sheet mask user. I like them because they're a bit like à la carte serums; I don't need to commit to a whole bottle of a serum that has a particular active ingredient that I might not always be reaching for. With sheet masks, I’ll have about 20 that I keep in a box at any given time. Anytime my skin is feeling a little bit less than optimal (which is often, given my schedule), I like looking through the box and figuring out what sheet mask would fit the bill. It makes skincare fun for me and also empowering because I can really be thoughtful and hyper-customize what I should be doing day-to-day.
What do you think makes Korean and Asian beauty products and trends different from their American counterparts?
Yoon: The biggest difference that I see in Korean beauty versus American beauty is the philosophy. Korean beauty focuses on holistic beauty from the inside out—beautiful skin is often equated with healthy skin. To achieve this radiant glow, it doesn't come from superficial solutions, but from creating a healthy skin environment from the inside. For example, in the U.S., sunspots are noticed and addressed after they become visible. In Korea, people worry about sunspots even before they are visible (like when you shine a UV light on your face, and you can see the damage underneath) because the sunspots in the inner layers can create a more clouded appearance, resulting in less translucent skin. So SPF is huge for keeping your skin healthy, even deep within where you can't see what's going on. The Korean skincare regimen really addresses skin holistically—ensuring that it's gently cleansed, well-hydrated, and well-nourished with antioxidants and nutrients, and even massaged well to help with circulation.
And, because the industry is hyper-competitive with some of the most demanding and skincare-savvy consumers, products tend to have better value and delight in so many ways—scents are mesmerizing, textures are surprising and evocative, and packaging is so chic and convenient.
Well, we’re thrilled to have you onboard to be our official eyes and ears on the next big thing! Anything last words?
Yoon: It's really such a joy to be able to join on as Byrdie's official Korean beauty correspondent. It's really wonderful to know that I can share more about everything I'm seeing and discovering real-time with you all!