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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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.