As the founder of Peach & Lily, the leading online supplier of South Korean skincare to the U.S., New York–based Seoul native Alicia Yoon knows the landscape of her beauty-obsessed country better than just about anyone. Here are her tips to navigating its offerings.
The historical use of fermented ingredients like rice and certain alcohols in Korean skincare is “having a resurgence,” says Yoon, with new technological processes fermenting products more effectively than ever. As she explains, fermentation breaks down enzymes, creating bacteria that are highly skin-compatible and packed with antioxidants; and because fermentation creates its own preservatives, parabens and other chemicals aren’t needed to keep products fresh. For botanical and herb-based products, Yoon recommends trying those with ginseng, a powerful anti-inflammatory that helps skin stay strong. Snail secretion filtrate is also “an oldie but a goodie, and a great multitasker” that hydrates, firms, and refines lines while keeping bacteria at bay. Also, in the beauty-supplement sections found in just about every South Korean drugstore, look for collagen pills containing hyaluronic acid.
The Myeongdong district is Seoul’s beauty capital, home to more than 120 beauty stores and spas including Shangpree and a wide array of premium brands at the Lohb’s and Lotte department stores. The neighborhood of Samcheong-dong is “very East-meets-West, with boutiques, natural beauty stores, and concept beauty stores” such as Lyanature and Innisfree, while the fashion-centric Garosugil area is where you’ll find outlets of beauty brands like Espoir and Aritaum.
Created by its namesake spa in Seoul, Shangpree is a line of “unbelievable products, and each takes about four years to formulate by master aestheticians.” Yoon recommends the S-Energy Long Lasting Concentrated Serum (US$120). For products rich in rare minerals, try Cremorlab, which was created by a pharmaceutical company with exclusive rights to a thermal spring in the country’s Geumjin area, whose unique waters are used in hydrotherapy for cancer patients. “I have a lot of favorites from Cremorlab, including all of the sheet masks [from US$6] and the Smooth Pudding [US$48], an extremely hydrating cream good for all skin types.”
In-flight skincare is crucial to keeping skin hydrated on long-haul flights, says Yoon, who flies back to Seoul every six weeks. “I board bare-faced, then mid-flight I use cleansing wipes, followed by Be the Skin’s Botanical Nutrition Power Toner (US$29), a couple Cremorlab sheet masks in a row, and then a light oil and heavy cream,” such as Be the Skin’s Botanical Nutrition Power Cream (US$39) or Cremorlab’s Snow Falls Melting Cream (US$42). “That night, I use a heavy facial mask—usually Rose by Dr. Dream’s Dream Age Sleeping Pack [US$95]—and the next day, I’m fully recovered.”
This article originally appeared in the February/March print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Seoul Sister”).