Korean beauty isn't new to the US anymore, and it's constantly getting easier to find K-beauty brands here — particularly the popular ones like Tony Moly. We're betting you're already familiar with the infamous multistep regimen and all the product categories; in fact, Sephora featured a K-beauty animation during the month of October and it was reportedly one of the most successful the retailer has ever done. (Animation = the displays you see all over the store focusing on a single theme.)
This fall, it's time to go next-level with your K-beauty addiction if you have one, or to merely discover some fantastic new brands if you don't. I'm here to be your enabler. All of my favorite Korean beauty e-commerce entrepreneurs here in the States, along with a few mainstream retailers, have outdone themselves in terms of finding the best and most innovative products this season.
Here, everything you need to know about eight under-the-radar and newly available Korean beauty brands, and my picks for the products to try.
ABOUT: Of all the brands I visited and learned about when I visited Seoul, this one excited me the most. It's currently listed as a "rising star" brand at Olive & Young (the Sephora of Korea) and is carried in all 500 of its stores. The brand performs pretty serious clinical testing, and the products are both innovative and effective. (Some K-beauty brands are too cute or gimmicky for me to take seriously. Not so with Neogen.)
TRY: Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine, $27, available at Sokoglam. These alpha hydroxy acid and resveratrol-soaked pads exfoliate in two ways. Use the rough side of the pad for mechanical exfoliation and flip it over to smooth and soften.
Neogen Cranberry Real Fresh Foam Cleanser, $19, available at Sokoglam. These "brewed" cleansers contain actual bits of fruit to harness the natural antioxidants and other beneficial compounds. In addition to this seasonally appropriate cranberry one, there is also a cereal and a green tea version.
Bonus: In addition to Neogen's main line, you should also check out the natural-skewing brand Re:p which is made by Neogen labs. The toning pads are a must-try.
ABOUT: Jeju Island is known as the "Hawaii of South Korea." The lush, gorgeous island is popular with tourists, and beauty brands look to it for its tropical vibes and natural resources. This gorgeous brand features oil from the camellia flower, which is packed with antioxidants, but still light and not too strongly scented.
TRY: Blossom Jeju 100% Camellia Seed Dry Oil, $30, available at Glow Recipe. A tiny bit goes a long way, and it absorbs instantly without oiliness. I've been mixing a drop or two into my sleeping mask at night for extra hydration.
Blossom Jeju Pink Camellia Soombi Blooming Flowers Toner, $45, available at Glow Recipe. You will make time for a multistep regimen with this beautiful, luxurious toner, which comes in a hefty glass bottle and smells divinely of jasmine.
ABOUT: First, a quick shout-out to K-beauty e-commerce newcomer, Insider Beauty, which was launched by founder Angela Kim in June of this year. Kim has curated some of the most popular products from well-known and mainstream Korean brands. In other words, you can get what all the girls in Seoul are buying in droves.
Primera is owned by K-beauty giant Amore Pacific, but it's one of the lesser known brands — at least here in the US. It's a "natural" brand that eschews ingredients like mineral oil and parabens, and it uses lots of botanical extracts. If you're familiar with Innisfree, Primera is a more high-end version.
TRY: Primera Miracle Seed Essence, $59, available at Insider Beauty. A perennial best seller for the brand, it features 93% lotus seed extract, which protects your skin and preps it for the next product you apply. Bonus: It comes with cotton pads for application.
Primera Massage Cream Essential, $34, available at Insider Beauty. While I love K-beauty, I never really embraced the facial massage that many Korean women swear by. So I just ignore the "massage" part of this, and use the rich, sunflower oil-laden cream on days when my skin is particularly dry and flaky. I've also been using it as a hand cream.
ABOUT: Shangpree is a spa brand started by an esthetician in Korea who went on to get a Ph.D. The spa, which has been around for 25 years, has one of the most rigorously trained staffs in the country. There's also a full product line, from cleansers to masks.
TRY: Shangpree Gold Premium Modeling "Rubber" Mask, $20, available at Peach and Lily. If you follow beauty websites at all, you know that rubber masking is all the rage. You apply a mixture which dries to a rubbery texture, then you peel it off. Very satisfying. This luxe version provides hydration and antiaging benefits.
Shangpree Gold Black Pearl Hydrogel Eye Mask, $60, available at Peach and Lily. These brilliant hydrogel eye masks are stored in a tub, which you fish out with a spatula. I slap them on when I'm sitting in front of my computer at home working.
ABOUT: By rights, this brand should be breaking the beauty Internet because its DNA is a combination of two viral concepts: Korean beauty and French beauty. This is what you get when a Korean cosmetic chemist meets a self-described "beauty globe-trotter." This line uses traditional Korean herbs like ginseng with a luxury sensibility. The result is pretty unique — and Sephora just recently added the brand to its roster.
TRY: Erborian Perfect Morning BB Mask, $32, available at Sephora. This clever product is both a mask and cleanser in one, while also being travel-friendly. One box comes with eight pouches of powder. You mix with water in your hands to make a paste, leave it on your face for a minute, then rinse off.
Erborian Bamboo Waterlock Mask, $43, available at Sephora. Just in time for winter, this mask/moisturizer is flexible depending how much moisture you need. Put on a thick layer for 10 minutes and rinse off, or leave a thin layer on to lock in your other skin care.
ABOUT: No roundup about K-beauty would be complete without sheet masks. Leaders, which has freestanding mask stores all over Seoul, just got picked up by Ulta here in the US. The brand offers cotton, biocellulose, and coconut gel (which have an amazing texture and fit well) masks for pretty much any skin issue that ails you.
TRY: Leaders Caribbean Coconut Calming Mask, $6, available at Ulta. This is a perfect formula to have around for when dry, red, chapped winter skin hits.
Leaders What Happened Last Night? Revitalizing Mask, $4, available at Ulta. It's party season. Here is your hangover mask option.
ABOUT: Blithe is sort of bucking the idea of a long, multiproduct K-beauty routine with a line that is geared for busy urban women who want multitasking capabilities out of their products.
TRY: Blithe Soothing and Healing Green Tea Patting Splash Mask, $48, available at Glow Recipe. You mix a splash of this thin, concentrated liquid with some water, or bring it in the shower with you and mix with water in your hands. Pat on your face for about 15 seconds, then rinse. I was skeptical, but my skin felt soft and plumped up without any residue. If you're in a big hurry to get out of the house, you could skip the toner/essence steps (I can't believe I just said that) before putting moisturizer on.
Blithe Tundra Chaga Pressed Serum, $49, available at Glow Recipe. Don't let the weird, raw cookie dough color scare you away. The texture of this, which falls somewhere between a firm pudding and a gel moisturizer, is fantastic and melts into your skin. It also features mushroom extracts and fermented oils.
ABOUT: Dermatologist skin care brands are few and far between in Korea, but Acwell is well-respected there. I pick up acne products whenever I run across them. They're gentle and effective.
TRY: Acwell Bubble Free pH-Balancing Cleanser, $24, available at Insider Beauty. K-beauty aficionados are super-vigilant about the pH of their cleansers, even going so far as to test them with pH strips. This one hits the pH (i.e. non-stripping) sweet spot of 5.5 and is a best seller at Olive Young.