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"Koreans talk about skincare the way Vancouverites talk about real estate."
Juicy teen dramas aren’t the only thing being exported en masse from South Korea these days—the country’s skincare routines have been inspiring beauty buffs around the world. Koreans spend twice as much per person as their U.S. counterparts right now, but as trends like “honey skin” and “glass skin” make their way west, that may soon change.
“It’s about holistic beauty, a connection with nature, and looking into both herbs and science,” says Mandy Siu. Siu would know: she represents AmorePacific, parent company for some of the biggest heritage beauty brands in Korea (“It’s like Korea’s L’Oreal,” says Siu). The CEO’s grandmother invented the first product recipe 60 years ago as a personal beauty remedy, and the company’s offerings have grown from there…though the principle ingredients stay the same. Green tea (grown on a farm owned by the brand) is used for its anti-oxidant properties; bamboo sap hydrates intensively. Ginseng, meanwhile, is used heavily in the Sulwhasoo-branded products, for its anti-aging, energizing and revitalizing properties.
“Someone once said to me, ‘the way Koreans talk about skincare is like how Vancouverites talk about real estate.’ It’s dinner party talk, for men and women,” says Siu. “They’ll see a movie star and say things like, ‘I wish my face looked like her legs.'”
But, Siu argues, the success of Korean beauty brands isn’t just about the product itself…or even the result. The culture around skincare is heavily focused on the process of self-care. Sulwahsoo’s First Care Activating Serum, for example, should be applied via multiple steps that highlight mindfulness: first, warm it up with your hands to feel the texture in your palm, before taking a moment to smell it and enjoy the thereputic scent, and then pat it gently into your skin (never rub!), touching forehard and chin, then cheeks, then forehead and chin once more. Sold in pretty porcelain containers (a subtle nod to traditional kimchi pots) and often accompanied by tools like 24-karat plated-gold eye massagers, each product “has a ritual,” says Sui. “It’s not just the application, it’s about taking time for yourself.”
Elaborate, perhaps, but a practice that speaks to our Western culture’s newfound obsession with slowing down. And if the side effect of this is great skin? All the better.
Amore Pacific and Sulwahsoo are available at Nordstrom and Holt Renfrew.