Most western women that I've met in Korea have experimented gleefully with this country's beauty goodies. And yet, in all my online snooping, the only beauty blogs and product reviews of Korean cosmetics seem to be done by Asian women, speaking specifically to their skin tones and facial structure. So, I've gone in blind.
It's taken me a few years of trial and error to sample the gamut and figure out which products are best for my erratic western skin. My advice, for western women on the Korean beauty trail:
Skin Food: for the eyes
My first year in Korea, there was a Skin Food around the corner from my apartment. I hung around there a lot, reading the packages, telling myself I was practicing Korean phonics but actually just daydreaming about smooth, poreless Korean skin. Is that weird?
Pained from the experience, or perhaps too lazy to buy an eyeliner pencil sharpener, I stopped using liner for a good five years. Skin Food got me back on the wagon. It's creamy and pain-free, even when you apply it on a jolting city bus. Just saying.
The Face Shop: for BB Cream
I have the cruel cosmetic dilemma of wanting a BB with SPF something and oil-control properties for my neurotic face-pores, which like to panic with any fluctuation of temperature, mood, or comfort. Some creams have SPF a million, but are designed for heavy duty moisturizing. Talc-y, powdery creams keep you desert-matte, but give no sun protection. Many claim to do both, but don't quite hit the mark..
Innisfree: for powders
The first Korean girlfriend I made, Eun-Yong, got me into Innisfree when she gave me a red wine body scrub for Christmas. She told me it was her favourite brand because of its natural ingredients and minimal chemical additives and dyes. Boom, an Innisfree fan was born. With me, it doesn't take much.
It's light and untinted, and just mattifies my face for the day. It doesn't feel heavy or starchy as some powders do. Though initially it looks a bit kabuki, with layered BB cream and powder, the makeup oxidizes and settles down after a few minutes.
It's not too dusty-looking and the colour offsets my natural slightly-too-red complexion. It has an SPF of 25 too.
Innisfree, you know exactly how to get me.
Tony Moly: for non-ridiculous colour
I usually wear Canadian drugstore eyeshadow, but when I ran out a few weeks ago, I hunted high and low through a dozen Korean beauty stores, getting frustrated.
All the eyeshadows were high-wattage sparkly, good for a big night out or the under-16 demographic, but not for me and my relatively mild routine of going to work, dinner, sometimes the pub.
They also have a very pretty lip stain called Tony Tint, which comes in two colours and is a nice contrast to the other Korean beauty shops' pixie-shiny lip glosses. It's a close and credible knockoff of Benefit's Benetint, the lip product that holds my everlasting loyalty.