As you know by now, we’re big fans of all things South Korea. We’ve given you a solid foundation on everything you need to know about Korean beauty, from essences to the top brands to mastering the multi-step skincare routine with ease. So instead of reporting the best of SoKo beauty from this side of the world, I decided to take my obsession to the next level, so I packed my bags for Seoul Fashion Week (read my dispatch here) and headed to the latest beauty capital for the ultimate K-beauty immersion, including endless masks, essences and CC cushion compacts.
As a first-time Seoul traveller, I needed an experienced guide to show me around. If there’s one thing I learned from my trip, it’s that Seoul is a metropolis and can be very overwhelming with plenty of shopping districts, salons, and beauty boutiques. So I enlisted none other than South Korean beauty guru Alicia Yoon of Peach & Lily for reccos on the hottest spots for all things SoKo makeup and skincare.
First stop: Beauty central. Myeongdong’s “Orchard Road” is infamously known as the Times Square of K-beauty. It’s made up of multiple identical streets with the same beauty skincare shops (I counted five The FaceShops, three Tony Molys, two Holika Holikas, and so on). It’s the best place to do your beauty souvenir shopping with two-for-one deals, warehouse-style packaging and an abundance of samples. For tourists, it’s beauty heaven. But for locals, it’s quite the nightmare with sales assistants yelling and teasing you with samples to lure you in. For less tourist-y areas that still carry Seoul’s charm, Yoon recommended Garosu-gil and Samcheongdong, two beauty-filled districts where locals enjoy shopping for their everyday needs.
Products aside, nail salons, spas and bathhouses are other important facets part of the South Korean beauty tradition, and I would not be a responsible beauty writer if I didn’t check out all of the above. Getting your nails done is as much of a trend in South Korea as it is for us here, but what I did notice was that SoKo women love their elaborate and fancy nails (read: #glassnails) and they’re readily available in local nail salons. For this trip, I took Yoon’s advice and checked out Shangpree, which is most known for their custom facials (rubber mask, anyone?), but their nail salon in its Cheongdam location is just as well-known. Apparently many celebs stop by regularly.
Facials still make up a big part of the beauty regimen. According to Yoon, there are different kinds that range from intimate and personal family facial treatments to “maintenance clinics” that have payment plans like gym memberships to fancy spas. For my trip, I headed to SK-II. Yes, the brand is Japan-based, but with Seoul hosting one of the few spas in Asia, I had to check it out.
But probably the most interesting and memorable part of my adventure was my trip to a jjimjilbang (aka a traditional Korean spa/bathhouse).”It’s a place where there are various rooms that help with wellness,” says Yoon. “The idea is to help optimize circulation and overall balance within the body for wellness from the inside out.” Yoon recommended I head to one of her go-to locations, Spa Lei. Though I hear it varies, Spa Lei offers both dry or wet saunas in rooms that are heated with health-enhancing elements like charcoal, clay, stone, herbs and even LED lights. While a common area with attendees resting in front of a TV and snacking on boiled eggs and sweet rice herbal drinks took up one section of the spa, the other was an all-female bathing room where you can soak in baths of different temperatures and walk around naked (#freethenipple! #freeeverything). One of the biggest traditions at a jjimjilbang is to get a full-body scrub down administered by meticulously working ahjummas (translation: middle-aged South Korean women) dressed in nothing but black lace bras and panties. Unlike my pampered experience at SK-II where my whole body was gently taken care of, these ladies showed no mercy. Let’s just say there wasn’t a part of my body that wasn’t exfoliated by a rough rag. Warning: do not be alarmed by the grey rice-sized lumps scattered around your body. It’s just your dead skin the ahjummas so thoroughly scrubbed off for you.
From beauty trends I saw on the streets to the coolest products I picked up, take a virtual vacation and browse through my Seoul beauty diary.