It’s Korean Beauty Week here at Byrdie HQ! Each day this week, our Korean Beauty Correspondent, Alicia Yoon, will be sharing the most interesting findings from her recent trip to Seoul. Consider this a deep dive into what’s happening over the pond—from the newest product innovations to the beauty goods real Korean women are obsessing over. For the fourth installment, Yoon is sharing her guide to the best places to buy beauty products in Korea. Feast your eyes!
The beauty paradise scene in Korea can quickly turn overwhelming when you’re beauty-shopping because there are so many options, which at the same time, makes it such an incredible experience.
To help navigate the beauty scene in Korea, here’s a list of the brick-and-mortar stores to visit to find your cleansing water of choice, or stock up on dozens of sheet masks at a time that are lined up like hallmark cards in stores.
Before getting into brick-and-mortar stores, here’s a quick note on beauty brands not available in brick-and-mortar stores: there are incredible beauty brands that only sell online like Glossier and Lalavesi, which has sold millions of their cult-loved creams (much more sales than some brands that have brick-and-mortar stores), as well as an astounding number of their uniquely formulated cushion compacts that leave the skin very natural and dewy (my cushion compact choice, lately). There’s a whole exciting world of exceptional and even very large beauty brands that are only available online or via home-shopping channels, so grab a local friend (since some sites require Korean literacy) and try shopping those channels, too! But now, onto the brick-and-mortar stores where you can touch and feel beauty!
With around 500 locations, an Olive Young store can be found in almost every neighborhood. The store carries a lot of skincare, color cosmetics, a more limited selection of hair and body, some tools, and a small selection of beauty health supplements (including beauty drinks). The store is typically organized by brand and by broad product categories (skincare, makeup, hair, body, natural, tools, etc.) and then there are multi-branded sections, like the sheet mask shelves or the beauty supplement areas. The price point is closer to the prestige section of what you might find in Duane Reade—for example, skincare products here will be around the equivalent of $5 to $50, but a big cluster of products in the $30 price range. If compared to Sephora, you might be pleasantly surprised by the lower prices. The stores in more popular neighborhoods have more selection and are physically bigger, so you might want to check out the huge store in Myeongdong for the largest assortment. This store also has a “Lifestyle Experience Center” where there are various beauty zones, including a K-pop Zone and Body Care Zone filled with products befitting the zone titles.
With hundreds of locations, you’ll see plenty of Watsons stores in Korea as well. Watsons is similar to Olive Young but can be even a tad lower in price point. There’s also a broader selection of hair and body care products, among other more drugstore-y type products. If variety is what you’re after, here you’ll find everything from recognizable western products to Watsons-exclusive brands. Sheet masks? There’s a whole wall devoted to those. Don’t bypass the beauty tools smattered about—you ‘ll find fun trinkets like body scrubbers and eyebrow razors.
LOHBS is an acronym for Love, Health, and Beauty. This chain has a smaller presence and is a bit more niche than the likes of Olive Young and Watsons, yet the products still keep within the $30-50 price range. You’ll find some amazing specialty brands that are harder to come. There’s also a selection of American and international brands scattered here and there, and you’ll often find that the price tag is higher than what you would expect to see on the same brands stateside. There’s an area in the store dedicated to beauty snacks and drinks that is quite expansive, so you can get your fill of skin-balancing waters and collagen jellies.
One of Korea’s most widely-known retail destinations, Lotte Department Store offers much more than just beauty. You could carve out a whole day just to experience this huge complex, as some locations boast everything from hair salons to even wedding venues. It’s typically more strongly associated with fashion than beauty. International luxury brands are interspersed with high-end Korean designer brands, attracting tourists and natives alike. The beauty counters stock premium cosmetic such as Sulwhasoo or Hera, but in the Sogongdong location (near Myeongdong), you can find mass beauty brands in the Duty-Free section on the upper floors. If you’re looking to treat yourself to a little bit of skincare luxury, even if just for the ornate packaging, indulge here.
Myeongdong boasts 2 million shoppers daily, serving as an epic mile-long retail center packed with shops of all kinds. In about an eight-block cluster, there are over 120 beauty stores with some brands having even nine locations in this easily walkable area. Big beauty brand names like Innisfree have their own retail stores here, benefitting from the huge waves of tourists that the area attracts. Lotte Department Store is also located within walking distance. Think of this area as the Times Square of Korea—you won’t find all the niche, indie or cult-loved brands, but you’ll find major chain stores, mass brands, lots of restaurants, bright lights, and big crowds.
This upscale food market is not your average grocery store. Fresh herbs, organic fruits and vegetables, local produce, and farm-fresh meals are all of the finest quality. Beauty and lifestyle products are also offered here, fortifying the concept that beauty is achieved both internally and externally. With trending coffee shops and a modern aesthetic, SSG Market attracts a young, discerning crowd with gourmet tastes.
Here’s a beautiful town where traditional Korean architecture remains intact with a mountainous backdrop. Beauty rituals passed down through the generations using natural and herbal ingredients are also more prominently felt somehow here than in Myeongdong. You’ll find beauty brands with beautiful standalone stores here, and an interesting juxtaposition of brands like Lya Nature, which uses only organic ingredients and has a huge focus on being toxin-free, and trendy brands like Moonshot, created by YG Entertainment using a K-pop meets high fashion esthetic to create an intriguing and trendy color brand. Beauty (and fashion) lovers shop here while enjoying traditional Korean food, gorgeous wooden cafes, and a quaint town where tradition meets new.
Don’t have a trip to Korea planned in your near future? You can still shop the best of K-beauty—like the Cremorlab’s Mineral Treatment Essence ($48)—on Yoon’s site, Peach and Lily.
What’s your favorite city for buying beauty products? Sound off below!