When beauty editors are on the lookout for new up-and-coming trends, we draw from Korea and Korean women. Think about it: Korea gave us BB creams, sheet masks, and cushion compacts. The reason we hold these women in such high regard when it comes to beauty is that they have the flawless sort of skin we can only dream of. Seriously, we’re talking real-life complexions that look like they have been Photoshopped with expert precision and without a ton of makeup. In fact, Korean women are big fans of the no-makeup makeup look.
So, we set about trying to uncover the skincare and makeup secrets that Korean women rely on for that sheeny glow, or as they call it, mul-gwang. To get the inside scoop, we called on three beauty bloggers who know more about Korean beauty than most. Keep scrolling for a Korean guide to getting the best skin of your life…
“Korean women are more susceptible to pigmentation, so they take extra care to protect their skin from harmful UVA/UVB rays. They wouldn’t leave the house without applying sunscreen,” says Charlotte Cho, founder of Soko Glam, a website that sells the best of Western and Korean beauty products, and author of The Little Book of Skin Care ($18). “They’re careful to avoid direct sunlight by using hats, umbrellas, and gloves whenever necessary!”
When it comes to skincare, Cho says Korean women use “natural skin brighteners such as rice extracts, vitamin C, and licorice, as well as exfoliators. For stubborn brown spots, they will visit the dermatologist to lighten the brown spots using lasers.”
As for blemishes, U.S.-born Sheryll Donerson, who spent two years living in South Korea and is the founder of the blog The Wanderlust Project, tells Byrdie, “When I taught at a middle school in Korea, all my girls would wear these pimple patches on their skin to help with their spots. They are absolutely genius! I only wear them at night, but if you’re looking for a way to get rid of a blemish fast, I swear by them. I love the COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patch ($5) and the Missha Speedy Solution Acne Patch ($5).”
For Cho, cleansing is the cornerstone of a better-than-great complexion. “Cleansing is important because it’s the excess oil, dirt, and bacteria on your skin that can lead to premature aging, dark spots, and breakouts,” she says. “It’s incredibly important to be proactive and keep your skin clean. Without a clean base, makeup will also not look good!”
Cho triple-cleanses daily and she shared her step-by-step guide with us.
First cleanse: Use a cleansing tissue to gently remove stubborn impurities on your skin, paying close attention to the sensitive eye area and neck.
Second cleanse: Massage an oil cleanser into your skin to remove oil-based impurities. Rinse.
Third Cleanse: On a wet face, add a cleansing foam to remove water-based impurities. Rinse and pat dry.
Donerson reveals that powder cleansers are a big trend in Korea at the moment. “I love them! They are great to travel with or throw in your gym bag, as you don’t have to worry about it spilling everywhere or any liquid restrictions at the airport.”
For a different take on this trend, try Bare Minerals Skinsorials. Mix. Exfoliate. Smooth. ($18).
“[Mul-gwang] is all about hydration! Using mists, sheet masks, and layering your moisturizer will help you achieve that radiant, dewy, glow,” Cho says. “There are also several eye creams and primers out there infused with pearl extracts that will diffuse imperfections and catch the light to get your skin looking luminous which definitely helps.”
Morgan Stewart, a Korean-American and founder of the website and vlog The Beauty Breakdown, says, “If you have dry skin, try mixing a face oil or serum in with your foundation.”
“I know it’s intimidating and can seem a bit pricey, but it’s worth the investment in both time and money! Layering is the biggest game-changer in my opinion,” says Stewart. “Most people just stick to a face wash and moisturizer. However, never overlook the importance of steps like exfoliating, toning, essence, and sleeping packs!”
Not sure how to layer? Watch Stewart’s daily skincare routine below:
“I’m a big fan of gently tapping, rather than rubbing my skincare in. Not only is it more gentle, it feels like a ritual of sorts. I also recommend putting your sheet masks into the fridge for an extra refreshing treat at night!” suggests Donerson. Lightweight, water-like skin products such as essences can be tapped into the skin, as well as the more familiar serums and moisturizers.
“If I had to choose a Korean product, it would be the COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence ($15),” says Donerson. “It’s literally 96% snail mucin, and it does an amazing job of getting rid of any skin irritation, while being extremely hydrating. It makes my skin glow like no other.”
For the uninitiated, mucin is the slime excreted by snails when they are stressed (so not one for vegans). “There is anecdotal evidence that proteins in snail slime have anti-aging benefits, and clinical trials have looked at that, as well as reversal of sun damage, and shown improvement,” New York plastic surgeon Matthew Schulman told the The New York Times. “Snail slime is not going to help deep folds, but it will improve skin texture and quality.”
“The Korean dewy skin look is one of my favorite Korean trends,” Donerson says. “Dewy skin is youthful and more realistic.”
To achieve the Korean dewy glow, Cho suggests starting with a radiance-boosting primer like IPKN Flash Cream Radiant Primer ($28).
To keep things dewy, Donerson recommends a BB cream, BB cushion, or any lightweight foundation. The key is to use something lightweight, so your skin still looks natural.
Makeup is a great way to enhance gwang, especially if you have oily skin that can’t handle too much skincare. “Add the glow with a light liquid highlight,” Stewart says. “Son & Park has this cube highlighter that is excellent!”
To boost the dewy look even further, Donerson suggests applying a shimmery highlight to eyelids and cheeks. It may not be Korean, but we love the Bobbi Brown Shimmer Brick Compact in Beige ($48) for adding a highlight to the face.
Next up! How to beat your blemishes forever.