These Korean Makeup Brands Are Changing the Beauty Game

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Confession: I'm obsessed with Korean skincare. Call it a bold statement, but I find it to be more innovative and effective than most American brands, especially considering that so many stateside companies look to Korea for inspiration (though it's rarely matched, IMHO). And since many Korean skincare brands employ natural, innovative ingredients like yuzu, cucumber, and lotus extract with few filler ingredients, I'm often sparing my skin. And K-makeup is no different—because many Korean women and men favor dewy complexions, the makeup is often fortified with good-for-you ingredients and light formulas to show off your natural beauty. So when Byrdie's editorial director, Faith Xue, went to Seoul and discovered a ton of makeup gems through her journeys, I had her spill all the beauty dirt.

From recognized brands to smaller indie companies, we rounded up some of the best Korean makeup brands to put on your radar now.

Chosungah 22

What We Like
  • Provides sun protection

  • Innovative packaging

  • Hydrating

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

Chosungah 22 lives by the philosophy that "makeup should be simple and fun," a sentiment made clear in its easy-to-use products with bright, graphic packaging. Its original hero product is the Gong Dong Minn Brow Maker, an angled spoolie brush with a sponge tip to ensure every little crevice of your brows is covered. Though this item appears to be discontinued, the brand has a host of other incredible makeup items to stock up on, like the C&T Blend Easy Firming Foundation (shown here) or the Milky Wet Powder Peach Moolboon Cream.

Coverage: Full | Finish: Dewy | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Byrdie Clean: Yes

AmorePacific

AmorePacific Color Control Cushion Compact

Courtesy of Nordstrom

What We Like
  • Provides sun protection

  • Travel-friendly

  • Hydrating

What We Don't Like
  • Pricey

AmorePacific is a luxe skincare brand that utilizes Korean botanicals to soothe the skin while providing the luminescence and enhancement of makeup. It's best known for its Color Control Cushion Compact (shown here), a buildable, lightweight foundation that hydrates, brightens, and protects the skin. The brand's Moisture Bound Rejuvenating Serum is also a winner in our eyes.

Coverage: Buildable | Shade Range: 5 | Finish: Dewy | Size: 1.05 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Cle Cosmetics

Cle Cosmetics CCC Cream Foundation

Courtesy of Revolve

What We Like
  • Synthetic-fragrance-free

  • Lightweight

  • Provides sun protection

What We Don't Like
  • Can settle into fine lines

Yet another brand that utilizes skincare in its makeup (are you noticing a trend here?), Cle Cosmetics is best at highlighting natural beauty without compromising your skin's integrity. It's a small line, but it's beloved especially for its CCC Cream Foundation (shown here), Essence Moonlighter Cushion, and Melting Lip Powder.

Coverage: Sheer to medium | Shade Range: 10 | Finish: Satin | Size: 1 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Clio Cosmetics

What We Like
  • Dual-ended

  • Water- and sweat-resistant

  • Glides on smooth

What We Don't Like
  • Color payoff could be better

Founded by professional makeup artists, Clio Cosmetics boasts a huge collection of makeup, body products, skincare, tools, and nailcare from its own professional line, Peripera, Goodal, and Soo Ae (only sold in the U.S.). Not going to Korea anytime soon? There's a brick and mortar Club Clio store in Union Square, NYC. We especially love the brand's Kill Brow eyebrow pencil (shown here).

Type: Pencil | Shades: 7 | Size: 0.7 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes

VDL

VDL Lumilayer Primer

 Courtesy of Ulta

What We Like
  • Lightweight

  • Absorbs quickly

  • A little goes a long way

What We Don't Like
  • Contains flecks of glitter in it

For luxury makeup at not-totally-luxury prices, check out celebrity makeup artist Wendy Rowe-approved line VDL. The brand is best known for its radiant Lumilayer Primer (shown here) that gives you an instant 10-step skincare routine glow with just one product. It's no surprise that we love the brand's Expert Color Primer for Eyes, too.

Key Ingredients: Lumilayer prismatic pearls | Skin Type: Dry | Dosage: A small amount | Size: 1.01 oz. | Byrdie Clean: No

Etude House

What We Like
  • Lightweight

  • Easy to blend

  • Affordable

What We Don't Like
  • Can be drying

Etude House is like the Korean version of Benefit: It's big on brows, has colorful packaging, and performs strongly. You may have seen the brand sweeping the Internet for its Tint My Brows Gel, the viral peel-off tint that leaves behind a dark wash of color, but we're also fans of the Big Cover Concealer (shown here) and the Dear Darling Water Lip Tint.

Coverage Level: Medium to full | Finish: Natural | Shades: 9 | Size: 0.26 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Moonshot

What We Like
  • Lightweight

  • Doubles as blush

  • Works for various skin tones

What We Don't Like
  • Can be drying

If Etude House is Korea's Benefit, then Moonshot is Glossier. From lip color called Cream Paint (shown here) to Brow Shaper Mascara (Boy Brow vibes), we can see why Glossier founder Emily Weiss is a big fan of the brand.

Shades: 8 | Finish: Matte | Size: 0.35 oz. | Byrdie Clean: No

Peripera

What We Like
  • Long-lasting

  • Hydrating

  • Lightweight

What We Don't Like
  • Reviewers note it can transfer

Peripera is a colorful, vibrant brand best known for its innovative lip products. Faith loves the hugely popular Ink Velvet lip color (shown here), saying, "It feels like a light mousse and doesn't leave your lips feeling dry. Plus, it lasts forever."

Shades: 28 | Finish: Velvet matte | Size: 0.14 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Son & Park

Son & Park Lip Crayons

 Courtesy of YesStyle

What We Like
  • Hydrating

  • Buildable

  • Great color payoff

What We Don't Like
  • Not as long-lasting as other options

Created by Celebrity Makeup Artists Park Tae Yun and Son Dae Sik, Son & Park specializes in dewy, no-makeup makeup and skincare. Think your own skin, lashes, and brows, but better. We're especially big fans of the brand's lip crayons and Beauty Filter Cream Glow.

Shades: 20 | Finish: Shiny | Size: 0.1 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes

IOPE

IOPE Golden Glow Lip Oil

 Courtesy of Amazon

What We Like
  • Hydrating

  • Silicone-tip applicator

  • Plant-based ingredients

What We Don't Like
  • Small amount

IOPE is a popular K-beauty brand that offers relatively affordable products, especially compared to the likes of AmorePacific. The brand's skincare and makeup offerings are formulated with highly effective, mainly plant-derived ingredients that focus on results. Our current go-to's are the Golden Glow Lip Oil (shown here), Air Cushion Cover, and Eyebrow Auto Pencil.

Shades: 8 | Finish: Glossy | Size: 0.27 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Too Cool for School

Too Cool for School Art Class by Rodin Shading

 Courtesy of Walmart

What We Like
  • Works for all skin types

  • Travel-friendly

  • Buildable

What We Don't Like
  • Not as long-lasting as other options

This hip brand is probably best known for its deliciously-scented egg cream skincare, but don't sleep on the makeup offerings, like this Art Class By Rodin Shading contouring palette.

Number of Shades: 2 3-shade palettes | Size: 0.34 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Missha

What We Like
  • Provides sun protection

  • Lightweight

  • Hydrating

What We Don't Like
  • Can settle into fine lines

BB cream is the foundation (get it?) of the signature beauty look, and the cult-favorite brand Missha makes some of the best formulas on the market, like the Cover BB Cream SPF 42 (shown here). Whether you prefer a cushion application (like the Magic Cushion SPF 50+) or cream, there's an option for you.

Coverage: Medium to full | Shade Range: 7 | Finish: Dewy | Size: 1.7 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Holika Holika

Holika Holika Jelly Dough Blusher

Courtesy of Ulta

What We Like
  • Lightweight

  • Long-lasting

  • Includes a puff applicator

What We Don't Like
  • Color payoff could be better

Color cosmetics are not always the focus of K-beauty brands, which tend to be all about the skin, whether it's creating a beautiful base or a healthy complexion. Holika Holika has a bit of both but specializes in fun makeup, including the Jelly Dough Blusher (shown here) and the Water Drop Tint Bomb.

Shade Range: 6 | Finish: Natural | Size: 1.3 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes

What to Look For in Korean Makeup Brands

Functional Ingredients

One of the things we love most about Korean makeup brands is how often they include functional skincare ingredients in their products. Korean makeup products can hydrate and boost the skin through the use of ingredients commonly found in skincare rather than makeup. Look for Korean makeup products that offer clear descriptions of their functionality, like the ability to minimize fine lines or improve your skin’s moisture levels. 

Pigment Concentration

Any makeup product is only as useful as its color concentration. It’s important that products look similar on your face as they do in the packaging, but that isn’t always the case. Highly pigmented products are most important when it comes to ones where the color is the whole purpose, such as eyeshadow, nail color, and lipstick. The ability to test a makeup product on your hand is your best chance of ensuring that what the product looks like in the container will match how it appears on your face.

Appropriate Size

Since it can feel like a pain to run through a product in under a month, having it go to waste because you weren’t able to go through it all before it expires is an even bigger deal. Many Korean makeup products come in small packages and that’s a good thing. That’s because makeup goes bad surprisingly quickly. Professional makeup artists advise against using expired makeup as doing that can cause health problems.

FAQ
  • Why is Korean makeup so popular?

    Just like with skincare, Korean makeup is popular with people outside of Korea. That’s because Korean beauty products are known for utilizing natural ingredients and because the beauty routines of many Korean people are notorious for being multifaceted and yielding incredible results. Additionally, Korean beauty brands often include functional skincare ingredients in their makeup, which can make those makeup products more beneficial for your skin than others.

  • Are Korean makeup products really better?

    It isn’t an issue of better or worse but that Korean beauty products, which include both skincare and makeup, are known for their natural and functional ingredients. Korean beauty is known for being on or ahead of the trend for everything from multi-step skincare routines to hip nail designs. Korean beauty is often the first to use new natural ingredients, such as snail mucin, that aren’t yet found in Western beauty products.

  • Are Korean makeup products available in the U.S.?

    Korean beauty is ever-growing in popularity, but unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you can walk into any Sephora or Ulta and find lots of Korean makeup products. There are many great online sources for ordering beauty products. The products in this roundup are available on mainstream American websites like Amazon, Nordstrom, Sephora, and Ulta. You can usually save on shipping, or even score free shipping, by purchasing numerous products at once.

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