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A Beginner's Guide to Korean Beauty and Style

Start your K-beauty journey here.

by Nicole M. Arcano | Dec 15, 2018

Stumped on why all things K-beauty and style are trending? Let us show you the ropes, and you'll inevitably fall in the rabbit hole, too.

If you're reading this, you're probably wondering what the hype around Korean beauty is all about and finally decided to look it up. Well, let us tell you in advance that there's a lot to learn. Our friends over in SoKor have their own ways when it comes to beauty and style, but don't fret—we've got you covered. Below, we have the ultimate primer for all things K-style: from skin, makeup, hair, and of course, fashion. Keep scrolling to learn more!

Korean Skincare

Kinds of Korean Skincare Routines

There's more than one way to adopt a Korean skincare routine, as proven by the multiple methods that become popular over the years. Check out some of them below to see what will fit your style:

1. The 10-Step Skincare Routine

This is arguably the concept that prompted the large-scale conversation about Korean beauty. A skincare routine with 10 steps was almost unheard of in many countries, with the norm being three (cleanse, tone, moisturize). Nevertheless, it created buzz around K-beauty in general, and beauty enthusiasts from around the world delved into the meticulous way our friends from SoKor took care of their skin. On that note, here's a quick rundown of the 10-step skin regimen everyone can't stop talking about:

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Steps 1-2: Double Cleansing

To achieve perfectly clean skin, K-beauty says you should not cleanse only once but twice. Your first cleanse is dedicated to removing your makeup with a makeup remover (cleansing oils and balms are the most commonly used in Korea), while the second cleanse is tasked with washing off all the excess impurities your initial cleanse didn't wipe out. After this, your skin will be more than ready to absorb the skincare products that come after.

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Step 3: Exfoliation

Getting rid of dead skin cells is key to maintaining smooth skin, so don't forget to exfoliate at least once or twice a week with either a physical (scrubs, cleansing brushes) or chemical (AHAs, BHAs) exfoliant.

Step 4: Toner

Toner, or skin as they typically refer to it in Korean, doesn't just get rid of any leftover dirt, it also calms down our pH level after a thorough cleanse. Swipe some on with a cotton pad or pour some on your palms and pat away!

Step 5: Essence

An essence is a toner-like liquid that'll prime your skin for the rest of your regimen. Choose one that best suits your skin type and pat it onto your face with your palms.

Step 6: Serum/Ampoule

This is probably the most serious part of your 10-step routine, because serums and ampoules are treatment products that target specific concerns. Apply an ample amount all over your skin and gently massage the product in to aid absorption.

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Step 7: Sheet Mask

For extra nourishment, pop on a sheet mask for 10 to 15 minutes. This will bump your hydration levels higher and help your serum absorb better!

Step 8: Eye Cream

Your eye area needs some TLC, too, so treat it with a moisturizing eye cream of your choice. Use a lightweight formula like a gel-based eye cream during the day and a heavier, more emollient one at night!

Step 9: Moisturizer

You all know the drill with moisturizer, but this is extra crucial in a 10-step routine as it will seal in the benefits of all the products you've previously applied.

Step 10: Sunscreen

Last but not the least, sunscreen. Wear a broad spectrum SPF every day (even when it's raining) to protect yourself from the skin-damaging effects of UV rays!

2. The Seven Skin Method

Despite how effective the 10-step routine can be, many have clamoured for a shorter, easier alternative that produces the same results—one that's more oily skin-friendly, to be exact. Layering that much skincare in the day can admittedly be too much, especially in hot and humid climes. K-beauty's answer? The Seven Skin Method. By skin, we don't mean our actual skin, of course. As mentioned above, skin is slang for toner in Korean, and this technique is all about toner. In fact, it's the only product it requires. You can't just use a regular toner, though, you need a hydrating one (alcohol-free, preferably) loaded with beneficial ingredients for your skin concerns.

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Basically, the method involves patting this hydrating product onto your skin seven times, helping you create seven light yet nourishing layers. To get the most out of this technique, however, it's recommended to directly apply the toner with your hands instead of with a cotton pad. This is obviously perfect for oily skin types because you can nourish your skin without overloading it with product. However, if seven layers of toner is still too much for your skin (and schedule) to handle, there is another alternative: the Three-Skin Method. It works practically the same way, except you trim your patting down to three layers instead of seven. Works like a charm for lazy days, or during the day when you have less time.

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3. Skip-care

Korean skincare can be minimalist, too, and a new trend called "skip-care" will allow you to jump on the K-beauty bandwagon in the easiest way possible. From its name, skip-care is a trick to reducing the number of steps in your skincare routine by skipping some. Well, you're not totally skipping them, you'll just be using products that can work like two or more! Doing this can cut your regimen in half, so choose your multi-tasking products well!

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How to Transition to a Korean Skincare Routine

Once you choose the best Korean skincare method for you, it's time to transition. While you could go cold turkey and switch your entire product lineup right away, we don't recommend it. Changing your skin routine is a process—one you should do slowly for you to see results and avoid major mishaps.

1. Point out your skin issues and edit your collection.

First, get to know your skin better, or review what are your skin concerns are. Once you figure this out, do your research and find the best products that can help. Dispose of everything that isn't working for you to make the overhaul process quicker, as well as study the ingredients that tend to cause problems for your skin, and then dispose everything that contains them or whatever else isn't working for you—this should make the overhaul process quicker.

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2. Know your K-beauty slang.

Next, since you're new to all this, you're bound to come across K-beauty lingo you haven't heard before. For example, Koreans tend to call products and skin concerns differently, which can pose issues with research and shopping. Here are a few new terms that'll get you by:

Trouble

"Trouble" is another term used for pimples or acne in Korea, and it can describe everything from an acne-prone skin type to a product that helps with breakouts.

Pack

Face masks that aren't in sheet form are called mask "packs." This includes wash-off masks, sleeping masks, and peel-off ones.

Skin

As previously mentioned, skin is another term for toner. There's really no difference between the two, so knowing all products with "skin" in the name can work for your toning step.

3. Start slow.

You need time to see if a product is working for you, so try to introduce only one new product every two weeks. Don't try all your new skincare at once, because if you do, not only will your skin be overwhelmed (you might even break out—badly), you won't be able to point out what's doing its job and what isn't. Baby steps!

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4. Stay consistent.

To get the results you want, you have to like your routine and stick to it. This could take anything from a few months to a year, but be patient and we swear it'll be worth it.

Korean Makeup

Korean Makeup Trends

Granted, everyone puts their makeup on differently, but there are a few popular techniques and trends that K-beauty is known for. Below, we break down a few of the now-classic Korean makeup trends:

1. Dewy Skin

The goal in both K-inspired skincare and makeup is to have clear, glassy skin—in makeup terms, dewy skin. Hence, you'll find a lot of skin bases that'll give you that well-moisturized look. This can be achieved not just with foundation, but with BB creams, CC creams, and cushion compacts—which became mainstream because of K-beauty—that practically all Korean brands have.

BB creams, or blemish balms, were meant to be a hybrid between skincare and makeup. They were originally meant to add coverage to skin that's sensitive (like one that's fresh from surgery) without irritating it. On the other hand, CC creams or color-correcting creams, are used to improve the tone of the face and not provide heavy coverage. Cushion compacts can either be formulated like BB/CC cream or a foundation, but the best thing about it is its convenient packaging.

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2. Straight Brows

In Korea, straight eyebrows without a strong arch are preferred because it softens the features and gives a generally youthful look. People either fill in the natural arch of their brows to achieve this shape or restructure them altogether. You may opt to do both, whichever tickles your fancy (and convenience)!

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3. Gradient Lips

The K-beauty makeup look should have no harsh lines anywhere, including the lips. Hence the popularity of the gradient lip, an application technique wherein your lip color is strongest in the center and fades out gradually to nothing. Watch the video below to see what we mean:

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Korean Makeup Products

With these trends in mind, you're probably ready to do a bit of shopping. Whether you're flying to Seoul or getting your beauty picks here, we list all the must-try products for a K-beauty beginner in the stories below:

Korean makeup vs. Japanese and American Makeup

Korean vs. Japanese Makeup

While subtle, Korean and Japanese makeup techniques do have their differences. The most obvious one being the Japanese typically prefer a semi-matte finish, one that's admittedly more forgiving in Philippine climes. Think of it as the way a mochi's outer layer looks—smooth, plump, but definitely not shiny. On the other hand, Korean makeup is known for a complexion that looks glossy and almost-wet, thanks to all that skincare.

In the brow department, thin ones with a slight arch is the norm in Japanese makeup, while K-beauty favors straight eyebrows with little to no arch at all. That said, they share similar preferences for soft, diffused arches without harsh lines. The same actually goes for lipstick, but a more Korean-inspired look usually involves a gradient lip, whereas a J-beauty face calls for a fuller application with a diffused edge. Check out the differing styles in these photos of Japanese model Kiko Mizuhara and Korean singer-designer Jessica Jung:

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Korean vs. American Makeup

Before K-beauty became the talk of the town, most of us probably did our makeup using predominantly Western techniques. Common traits of American makeup include defined brows with a high arch, full coverage foundations, heavy contouring, tons of eyeliner and eyeshadow, and fully-lined lips—a face that's always ready for the red carpet. In Korea, makeup for big events, on the other hand, is also full-coverage but there's a conscious effort to make the look appear natural. The goal for them is to bring attention to their enhanced features instead of the makeup itself. Below, beauty vlogger Tina Yong demonstrates just how different the two are:

Korean Hairstyle Trends

Because a beauty look isn't complete without well-groomed tresses, we can't do a K-beauty primer without touching on trending Korean hairstyles. Below, we list a few you might recognize:

1. Wispy bangs

A fringe is always on-trend in SoKor. For one, it's an easy way to frame the face, but it's popular mostly because it adds a youthful vibe. That said, Korean girls tend to prefer bangs that are lightweight and wispy for that effortless look.

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2. Blunt Bobs

At one point, tons of K-celebs cut their long tresses and sported blunt bobs. To name a few, there's Lee Sung Kyung, Sooyoung of Girls' Generation, Krystal Jung, and IU. Some of them even added a wispy fringe and they look absolutely adorable.

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3. Textured Curls

Big, shampoo commercial waves are without a doubt a classic, but smaller, textured curls are what's all the rage among Korean celebrities for daily looks. This goes well into their flair for looks that toe the line between effortless and glam.

Korean Celebrity Beauty Secrets

Jumping into K-beauty requires a little more than just product knowledge. It doesn't hurt to pull inspiration from celebrities who have their own beauty routines down pat, and of course, have the looks to prove it. So in case you need motivation to pat on that serum, don't hesitate to look to Korean actresses for some glass skin inspo. 

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1. Song Hye Kyo

This Descendants of the Sun star depends not just on skincare for her glowing skin. Her beauty secret is actually her healthy eating habits! Hye Kyo opts for antioxidant-rich foods like leafy greens and fruits to help slow down skin damage, while avoiding junk food that'll counteract it. No wonder she doesn't look a day over 30!

2. Jun Ji Hyun

One of Korea's prime actresses, Jun Ji Hyun (you've probably seen her on My Love from the Star and My Sassy Girl) makes proper cleansing her priority. Her cleansing routine starts with some lukewarm water, and then she massages the cleanser in—never too long, though. After a quick face massage, she rinses off the suds with cold water that also helps to calm her skin down.

3. Suzy Bae

K-Pop idol and actress Suzy Bae also swears by a solid face washing regimen, although hers is more specific compared to Ji Hyun. Suzy is said to emply a 4-2-4 method, where each number corresponds to the number of minutes that she does each step. She starts with four minutes of oil cleansing, followed by two minutes of lathering and massaging in a foam cleanser, which she then rinses off with cold water for four minutes. It sounds like a lot, but it does make sense!

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4. Shin Se Kyung

Bride of the Water God's lead actress has simple tricks up her sleeve, too. Like Song Hye Kyo, Shin Se Kyung swears by a balanced diet for a healthy body and complexion. That said, we bear bad news for coffee lovers: She avoids caffeine and carbonated drinks to achieve it, too. For skincare, she says she always applies an essence to maintain her skin's elasticity.

5. Lee Sung Kyung

What we love about Weightlifting Fairy's Lee Sung Kyung is that she doesn't just recommend products, she advocates doing your own skin research. "I can't emphasize enough how important it is to discover for yourself what works for your skin. You may find that you may require fewer or more steps than me," she once said in an interview. But if you must know what she uses, she summarizes by saying that she's a cleansing junkie and a fan of a multi-step routine. She also never leaves the house without sunscreen, a.k.a. your best tool for fighting signs of aging.

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6. Krystal Jung

The Heirs beauty and f(x) member Krystal Jung has six major beauty hacks for glowing skin. When it comes to products, she always removes her makeup before bed, moisturizes religiously, mists throughout the day, and makes sheet masking a habit. We know you always hear this, but yes, she also recommends staying hydrated by drinking tons of water. Keeping her stress levels down helps her as well, and she says it's vital for maintaining healthy skin.

Korean Fashion

Cop your favorite actresses' nd idols' styles by mastering the basics of the K-style wardrobe.

Closet Staples

First thing first: Stock up on the items every Korean style star seems to have.

1. Collared Blouses

Simple yet incredibly feminine, this is a piece that'll go well with your casual and work outfits.

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2. Denim Skirts

Denim skirts are incredibly verstatile for the unpredictable weather in SoKor, which obviously applies to Manila climes as well.

3. Jumper Dresses

Since Korea has multiple seasons, they love clothes that you can wear from summer to winter. Jumper dresses are no exception, because they're not just adorable, you can layer them in several ways, too!

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Ready to shop more staples? Read the story below!

Korean Fashion Brands

Seoul is hotspot for cool fashion finds, thanks to the up-and-coming brands that are grabbing the style-savvy's attention worldwide. Credit goes to their celebrity muses, too, who love repping their local labels. For a quick starter kit on the Korean brands making waves right now, scroll below:

1. SJYP

SJYP (formerly known as Steve J and Yoni P)'s casual cool streetwear has been seen on the torsos of everyone from Park Shin Hye, Lee Sung Kyung, girl group Red Velvet, and Aimee Song. In fact, the brand is so in-demand that you can now shop it in the Distinqt boutique in BGC!

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2. Pushbutton

If you're a fan of pieces that bridge old and new, check out Pushbutton. Shop their blazers and printed co-ords that celebs like Sandara Park, Suzy Bae, and Kong Hyo Jin are always seen in.

3. Hyein Seo

Inspired by Antwerp street style, Hyein Seo has absolutely nailed athleisure and biker chic.

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4. Playnomore

Its name might suggest otherwise, but Playnomore's accessories have the chicest quirky details that'll inspire you to add more color to your wardrobe.

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Stylish Korean Celebrities

With your wardrobe staples and brand knowledge in check, it's time to build your K-style inspo feed. Need recommendations? Don't mind if we do.

1. Park Shin Hye

Park Shin Hye's style is classy and feminine, so if you're looking for a way to mix florals and flowy silhouettes into your OOTDs, she's the one to steal tips from.

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2. Sunmi

On the other side of the spectrum is Sunmi, a K-pop star who has mastered the art of casual-cool. She'll bless your timeline with mirror selfies every day so you won't ever run out of outfits to cop.

3. Suzy Bae

Suzy is definitely both a fashion and beauty peg for us. She's never afraid to play around with color, and best of all, she has the cutest OOTD pose ideas.

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4. CL

CL is an Alexander Wang muse, which should tell you a lot about her style off the bat. She's an all-around performer that will wow you with both her stage outfits and daily 'fits.

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5. Hyuna

Grandma chic is the most accurate way we can describe this K-pop star's style. Expect lessons on layering not just clothes but color on her well-updated feed!

K-Drama Fashion

A cool bonus from watching K-dramas is that you're bound to find some style tips from the lead stars. The shows below, for example, has the cutest OOTD inspo you just have to see in motion!

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1. Shin Min Ah in Oh My Venus

Looking to add more color to your outfits? Shin Min Ah in Oh My Venus will show you subtle ways to do it. Spoiler: She wears bright-hued scarves and pastel outerwear.

2. Im Soo Hyang in My ID Is Gangnam Beauty

We couldn't help eyeing Kang Mi Rae's adorable designer pieces in this drama. We love how she mixes high and low, too, without making her outfit all about it.

3. Yon Se Jin in Something in the Rain

Something in the Rain is one moving designer bag Pinterest board thanks to Yon Se Jin. She totes structured pieces from Chanel, Fendi, Burberry, to Delvaux, and you'll probably want to shop some after binging the show. Also, she's the perfect peg for your office OOTDs.

4. Jun Ji Hyun in The Legend of the Blue Sea

You can't have Jun Ji Hyun in a drama without her donning the most screenshot-worthy ensembles. Take her wardrobe in The Legend of the Blue Sea, for one, where she dresses up in the most extravagantly-priced pieces from designer brands. Not bad for a mermaid, huh?

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