The increasing popularity of Korean beauty here in the U.S. is undeniable, and by now many of us are familiar with the basic features of the trending Korean makeup look: luminously dewy skin, straight eyebrows, a soft eye, and lips that manage to be both vivid and natural, with the deep sheer tint you might get after eating a handful of juicy berries. It's the girl next door but turned up to 11, and it is gorgeous. We've seen tons of articles about skin care, but how does one go about getting that fresh, dreamy face?
To find out, I turned to the YouTube channels of two of South Korea's best-known makeup artists. Active since 1991, renowned makeup artist Jung Saem Mool takes a precise and methodical approach to beauty. Meanwhile, makeup artist and vlogger Pony has gained so much recognition for her own methodical videos that she now has her own makeup line in partnership with K-beauty retailer Memebox. There are few experts better qualified than Pony and Jung to demonstrate that distinctive K-beauty look.
Ask anyone who follows K-beauty what the most important feature in a Korean makeup look is, and they'll tell you, "Dewy skin." It has a youthful plumpness and an inner glow. It's moist but not oily (for the love of God, don't start slathering Vaseline on your cheeks for daytime). It begins with great skincare, but it's the makeup that really brings it out. Here, the best tutorials to take you step-by-step through the process. (Note: We tell you exactly where to start in each video to see the specific steps.)
Cleanse and Blot
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Dewy skin starts with deeply hydrated skin, but as anyone with oily skin knows, if you want your makeup to stick around, you'll need a clean canvas. Jung Saem Mool's simple solution to excess sebum and too-rich moisturizers is a pre-makeup blotting session. Choose the largest blotting papers you can find so you don't use up an entire pack in a single week!
My favorite blotting papers are these jumbo-sized Japanese oil blotting papers, which come 200 to a pack and are made of thin, gentle natural hemp paper.
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To amp up the dewy glow, apply a luminizing makeup primer or liquid illuminator under your base makeup. A little will go a long way, and since you'll be blending your base makeup on top, Pony recommends that you don't worry too much about perfect blending.
For everyday, I love Too Cool for School's Dinoplatz Pearl Bay Invasion luminizer, which imparts a soft, multidimensional shimmer under (or over!) base makeup.
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Once your skin is prepped, primed, and luminized, it's time for a sheer, skin tone-evening layer of BB or CC cream or liquid foundation. Korean cushion makeup, which comes in a compact that holds an antibacterial applicator puff and a cushion soaked with thin liquid foundation, is perfect for achieving the dewy skin look. The foundation goes on perfectly sheer every time, and the applicator sponge makes building in extra coverage a snap. Just be sure you're applying it correctly. Don't swipe or wipe the sponge on your face. Use a delicate patting motion to dab the makeup on, like Pony in the video above. As a bonus, the patting is much gentler on your skin than endless rubbing and massaging!
I've been using my Hera UV Mist Cushion nonstop since the day I got it. No BB cream, CC cream, or foundation I've ever tried has come close to the flawless, dewy finish of this cushion. It looks exactly like skin, but moist and perfect.
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If you need more coverage than cushion makeup can provide, you can still make regular BB cream or liquid foundation work. What you'll need to avoid is the flat, cakey look that heavier-coverage base makeup can impart. Jung Saem Mool teaches a multi-zone approach to foundation. Apply it more thickly on the outer edges of your face, where the skin is naturally thicker, and thinner on the inner section of your face, where skin is naturally thinner, to mimic the dimensionality of natural skin.
Missha M Signature Real Complete BB Cream is a fantastic, buildable medium-coverage BB cream that moisturizes and protects skin with a combination of SPF and antioxidant-rich botanical ingredients.
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When you're going for a natural but vibrant K-beauty look, the way you apply your cheek color is critical. Powder blushes can be too chalky, cream blushes too thick. Pony has an interesting hack. She uses dabs of lip tint or lipstick instead of blush, applying and blending the tint before foundation to prevent it from being too bright.
The watery texture and intensely saturated color of Peripera Peri's Tint Water make them a fantastic choice for this cheek trick. They'll last all day without adding any extra weight—an added bonus in hot, humid summer weather.
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If you're used to Western-style highlighting and contouring, you'll find yourself having to relearn some basics to get the K-beauty look. Asian highlighting isn't about creating the angular, sculpted look that Western highlighting aims to create. Instead, Asian-style highlighting is all about adding subtle dimension and radiance to the face without losing any of its youthful softness. Apply your highlighter under your eyes and down the center of your face, and if you contour, contour the outside edges of your face to further bring the middle forward, as Pony demonstrates.
Etude House Secret Beam Highlighter offers the prismatic shimmer of Guerlain's Meteorites at a fraction of the price.
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Smokey eyes and dramatic wings do have their place in K-beauty — they're all over the Kpop girl group videos, for example — but for everyday, you'll see paler hues and softer looks around the eye. Though, even barely-there nudes and sheer champagnes demand a bit of contour to make the eyes stand out. Using matte neutrals just a shade or so darker than your overall lid color, the way Jung Saem Mool does, will enhance eye shape without looking too done-up.
The Pony Shine Easy Glam Palette 1 provides a nice selection of options for easy daytime eye looks, with a couple of darker pans to transition into night.
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Of course, it wouldn't be a K-beauty look without some shimmer. You already know about inner corner highlights, but what about undereye highlights? Pony's looks show that a little judiciously placed shimmer under the eyes can create a dreamy, serene expression.
Try the neutral and not too scarily sparkly Clio Gelpresso Waterproof Pencil in Beige Shine.
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Finally, when eyes are muted, lips can pop. My favorite K-beauty makeup looks pair that bare-looking skin and those minimal eyes with strong lip colors that let the natural texture of the lips come through. Lip tints, like the one Pony uses in the video above, achieve the look with little effort, and the best thing about them is that you can layer a lip balm right over them without smudging or removing the color. They're the best of both worlds: bright color and whatever moisture you need.
My go-to lip tint is Etude House Fresh Cherry Lip Tint, which provides a juicy jolt of color that never looks over the top.
If you're used to Western makeup styles, the soft and sweet K-beauty look may require an adjustment in your methods and your products. We think you'll find the results are well worth the effort.