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 we've been longtime fans of in the U.S. like Amore Pacific to smaller indie companies, we've rounded up some of the best Korean makeup brands to get on your radar.
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 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.
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 and a buildable, lightweight foundation that also hydrates, brightens, and protects the skin.
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 cushion compact and powder-to-cream matte lip tint.
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.
Etude House is like the Korean version of Benefit: It's big on brows, has fun, 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, similar to a professional brow tint.
If Etude House is Korea's Benefit, then Moonshot is Glossier. From a mousse-like blush called Cream Paint to Brow Shaper Mascara (Boy Brow vibes), it's clear that Emily Weiss is a big fan of the brand.
Peripera is a colorful, vibrant brand best known for its innovative lip products. Faith loves the hugely popular Ink Velvet lip color, saying, "It feels like a light mousse and doesn't leave your lips feeling dry. Plus, it lasts forever."
Son & Park
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.
IOPE is a popular K-beauty brand that offers relatively affordable products, especially compared to the likes of AmorePacific. The brand's skin care and makeup offerings are formulated with highly effective, mainly plant-derived ingredients that focus on results.
Too Cool for School
This hip brand is probably best known for its deliciously-scented egg cream skin care, but don't sleep on the makeup offerings. Beyond the super cute packaging you'll find buttery powders and lightweight creams.
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. Whether you prefer cushion application or a 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 eyeshadow palettes and foiled shadows.
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 that gives you an instant 10-step skin care routine glow with just one product.
Up next, take a look at the Korean baby powder trick for flawless makeup.