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Three Korean Beauty Brands To Try

Time to get familiar.

Japan has long had a reputation for producing amazing cosmetics and skin care lines ((Shiseido and Shu Uemura, anyone?) but another Asian country has been quietly infiltrating the US market lately. Look to Korea for new beauty innovations coming down the pipeline.

I was talking to a friend who’s a veteran marketer in the beauty industry. She thinks Americans have this idea that Asians have perfect, flawless skin. Now, this friend also happens to be Korean-American…and she has perfect, flawless skin. I’m not stereotyping here. Just saying.

You can’t find Korean brands on every drugstore shelf yet, but it may be headed that way. Amore Pacific, a company based in Seoul, owns about 15 different makeup and skincare brands, a few of which have some exposure here in the US. If you’ve not heard of Amore Pacific, you will soon.

WWD recently listed them as number 20 in their list of 100 top beauty companies. Most of the company’s business right now is in Korea and China, but in 2009 the company’s US business increased by 25%.

The Amore Pacific brand offers skincare under the Amore Pacific label and a very high end line called Sulwhasoo. Etude is a younger, cheaper makeup and skincare line. Oddly, the company also owns the Lolita Lempicka fragrance brand.

Scroll below to learn more about some of these brands:

Amore Pacific: You can find the line at Sephora and Neiman Marcus. They also have a spa and store in NYC. Amore Pacific contains traditional Asian ingredients like green tea, bamboo, and Korean red ginseng, but this brand is all about high tech and modern. The packaging is sleek and aside from the ingredient list on the back, they aren’t loud about their Asian heritage. The line has a huge range of products, from lip balm to peeling serum, to $400 face cream.

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The Contour Lift Extreme Eye Creme is a standout. I was at a fancy cosmetics shop in Aspen recently and the salesgirl insisted I try it. “We use it on all our photo shoots. It immediately makes crow’s feet fade and will get rid of your dark circles,” she told me. I was so freaked out that she noticed my dark circles that I didn’t think to ask who they were doing photo shoots with. But I tried it right then and there. Instant tightening and lightening. Miraculous.

Sulwhasoo: Found exclusively at Bergdorf Goodman in the US, this high end line wants you to know it’s an Asian brand. From the name, to the packaging adorned with graceful Korean characters, to the descriptions of the ingredients, you know you’re getting “ancient herbal remedies” to solve your skincare problems.

Sulwhasoo wants to foster harmony between body and mind, so the scents and textures of the products are equally as important as the efficacy. For example, the Skin Clarifying Mask is a translucent brown color, and has a sticky honey consistency (and does indeed contain honey), which feels oddly good on your face. There’s a strong herbal scent, but it’s not flowery like a lot of American and European brands. It produced a tingle and when I washed it off I had a pink glow for a few hours, which then faded and left my skin soft for three days. So there are definitely active ingredients in there. The Concentrated Ginseng Cream is their signature product, and at $220 a pop, it’s worth hoarding.

Etude House: This reasonably priced color cosmetics and skincare line is still only available online in the US, but hopefully not for long. While slightly wacky, there’s a lot of originality here. There are $7.99 Missing U lip balms which are packaged in adorable animal tins (harp seal, fairy penguin, panda, or pink dolphin). The skin care products are big on black head removal and aren’t afraid to let you know. At least someone is talking about this menace to pores everywhere.

They also carry an array of BB creams. There are at least 100 different brands in Korea and Asia that carry some sort of BB--Blemish Balm--cream. It’s the trendiest product in Asia right now. It was originally invented in Germany as a post skin procedure soother. Then Korean soap opera actresses got their hands on it a few years ago and it took off in popularity.

Depending on the formula, BB creams offer UV protection, can fight acne, can lighten skin, hydrate, and act like a primer or light foundation. On Etude’s site, you can get BB gels and creams, and there’s even a version for guys and Hello Kitty lovers, all less than $30.