This is, by no means, a perfect, definitive, bible-type post about the cosmetic brands hailing from South Korea. It is merely a collection of my own musings about what each brand, in my opinion, does well or badly, in the vast ocean of Korean Cosmetics. I’m also not trying to promote one brand over others, I really have tried to be as neutral as possible in my descriptions. Additionally, I hope this little disclaimer type thing doesn’t come off as too harsh or brusque. Eep.
With that out of the way, let’s get started then.
I’ve mentioned before – ok, really glossed over – how overwhelming the amount of choice available here in South Korea is, seeing as these brands aren’t displayed as a counter in a drugstore or a bigger retail outlet, they all have their own stores. Multiple stores. You literally cannot walk down a street without seeing at least three brands in close proximity. The choice is great, but it can be incredibly frustrating when you want something specific, but don’t know where is good to go.
And that is where I’m going to try and help, or, at the very least, make a valiant attempt at trying to help, seeing as diving into the world of asian-brand cosmetics from the western brands can be really daunting.
I tend to categorise the brands into three main groups: ‘sophisticated’, ‘transitional’ and ‘bubblegum’. Brands under ‘sophisticated’ tend to carry more muted, neutral and dark tones, and are generally targeted at a slightly older market without being too ‘high-end’ expensive. ‘Transitional’ brands are the in-between, aimed at girls that want high pigmentation but not in childish colours. ‘Bubblegum’ brands are the stores that a lot of girls who enjoy the ‘ulzzang/eoljjang/best face’ look shop at – products generally come in super cute packaging, and the target market is generally a smidge younger too. For those stores that focus less on the makeup and more on the skincare, I categorise them really imaginatively as ‘skincare’.
I know that there are probably much better ways to categorise the brands, but seeing as a lot of the them have a varying price range within their own product lines, and the distribution of brands per post would be too uneven, it seemed a little silly. So I’ll take the chance to apologise now if the categories seem a little odd.
So on to the brands. As there are so many brands available in South Korea I’ve decided to focus on one ‘category’ per post. (I was making a list of all the stores I’ve seen regularly or knew of as I was preparing to write this, and hit 30 easily… and there are still more.)
Probably the most famous Korean cosmetic brand – the distinct pink and white princess themed dollhouse style stores are instantly recognisable and it’s endorsed by high-profile actors and idols, (Lee MinHo and 2ne1 as past examples). Their product range is very pink, to put it bluntly, but they stock a wide range of products from lipstick to collagen eye packs.
One of the most popular Etude House products has to be the ‘precious mineral bright-fit bb cream’ it comes in four shades and I’ve always been totally underwhelmed by it. I’ve been underwhelmed by a lot of their blemish-covering type products really – they tend to be more expensive than other brands but the performance I’d expect to come from being more expensive is just not there. Also the colour-fit tends to be quite bad if you are at either end of the skin-tone scale (aka I have super pale ghost skin). I also really, really really dislike the mascara’s. The formula just enjoys sticking my lashes together into weird spider-legs with only one coat – no matter how I lightly I use the brush and scrape off all excess.
However, Etude does some products really incredibly well. I use their ‘drawing show creamy liner‘ (apologies for links to the Korean product page but the global site is terrible) almost every day. The ‘oh m’eye line’ liquid liner is rather nice too – it has immense staying power – and Etude has a nice trio of inexpensive pencil liners, in brown, black and white. Anything with colour and the price does hike quite drastically. Nail polish is next on the list of things that Etude House Does Really Well, they have a ridiculously huge selection of colours to choose from, and all are really quite pretty. Lastly, if you ever want to try every shade of pink lipstick fathomable in South Korea, Etude is the store to go to. I’ve also shoved a few additional things in the ‘too long; didn’t read (Tl;dr)’ below.
Shara Shara is a lot less princessy, but loses none of the cuteness. Despite the incredibly girly aesthetic, the sole face of the brand is a boy, (L of Korean boyband Infinite, for those wondering) which definitely works in the brands favour among the teenage girls. The tagline of Shara Shara is ‘the romantic lounge for ladies’, and their promise being a ‘girl and clear face’, which is generally upheld thanks to it’s parent brand Cover Korea/A.H.C Brand, which primarily focuses on skincare technology. It’s a useful trickle-down effect, teaching younger girls the importance of knowing what you’re putting on your face and also the importance of good ingredients.
They have a wide range of products from your everyday makeup to ‘Beauty Food‘, (which I’m never going to understand, but ok) and the prices do vary quite a bit, but most items fall into ‘easily affordable’. There’s also a lot less glitter present than at Etude House, but a lot more character design. Shara Shara really does go all out on packaging.
The only Shara Shara product I have is the green tea cooling stick, just one in their range of spot treatment sticks. I whack this out if my skin decides to have a bad day, dab a bit on and let it sink in. I’m not too familiar with their other products – in all honesty I see it as a store aimed at 14/15 year olds as they first venture into makeup (also there isn’t one especially close to me) – and at 20, despite looking 15 I feel more drawn to the stores I class under Transitional. However there are some reviewsfloatingaroundbyother bloggers testing different products, if you’d like to check them out.
I honestly thought this was a Japanese brand for the longest time (it’s not, it’s Korean) and I’m not even sure why. Maybe because of the ‘magic girl’ emphasis – Holika Holika is supposed to be the magic phrase to realise your wish of wanting to be beautiful – helping you find your ‘hidden attractions that you didn’t know before’. How sweet.
The most famous product in Holika Holika’s range is the Magic Pole mascara. It promises no panda eyes, and the usual lengthen, define, volume, curl and separate with a vivid black mascara. The ball shape on the edge of the brush allows you to ‘design’ your mascara after application (no I have no idea what they were intending to describe with ‘design’ either – I just apply a little more to the tips rather than the roots, or do nothing at all. If anyone wants to enlighten me in the comments, please do!), and you can apply multiple coats if you so wish. Personally, I do like this mascara, though I don’t use it all the time it’s nice to have in my collection and quite inexpensive.
Next in Holika Holika’s best sellers is their range of ‘Smooth Egg Skin Egg Soap’ facial soaps, of which there are four. The original soap, which contains egg whites and claims to clean pores of sebum and remove blackheads, the charcoal soap, which contains hardwood charcoal and an egg white, claiming to clear up your skin and keep it balanced, the green tea soap, which adds the properties of green tea to the egg white formula, claiming to moisturise and remove dead skin cells, and the red clay soap, which removes pore waste and leaves your skin soft. You can also get these in a handy pack of four.
Personally I think Holika Holika isn’t all that great for general skin care type things, I much prefer their BB creams (all contain SPF20 at a minimum). Their Naked Face range is really quite nice (if a little pricey for this type of store), as well as the Aqua Petit Jelly BB cream and their Petit BB cream range – there’s a choice of five: watery, moisture, essential, shimmering and clearing. I also really like their neon nail polish range and their gonyak soft cleansing cream is highly effective, I’ve heard. Which I know is basically contradicting what I said about Holika Holika not being ace at the whole skincare thing; and a cleanser is technically skin care. But they do that cream quite well. Apparently. (It smells a bit.)
Holika Holika also have quite an attractively packaged men’s range.
If we overlook the fact that this brand believes ‘Tony’ means ‘a nice appearance in english’ (since when…?), TonyMoly is probably best known for it’s BB creams. Most notably the Aqua Luminous Goddess Aura BB Cream, which I haven’t tried myself, but most people who buy it seem to rave about it.
A lot of the TonyMoly packaging is also incredibly cute, if you’re wanting something pretty to sit on your dresser or in your makeup bag. The Petit Bunny Gloss Bar, which comes in six ‘juicy’ tints and three ‘neon’, has the tube cap designed with little bunny ears and different bunny faces on each bar. The Peach, Red Apple and Tangerine hand creams come in pots in the shape of each respective fruit. The Hello Bunny Perfume Bar , which is a solid perfume stick, continues with the cutesy bunny theme, with a different colour and face for each scent. The Fruit Princess Gloss lipglosses are also cute, but a little too childish for my own tastes.
I only own a few TonyMoly products – and they’re all for the lips. The Mini Peach Lip balm smells absolutely amazing, the Mini Berry Lip balm in cherry which contains SPF15, and the Delight Lip Gloss in Orange Caramel, which I don’t wear as much, but I intend to get more in the set because the wear is good.
On the whole, TonyMoly is a fairly inexpensive brand that does some really nice products. For some of the more expensive items, the packaging does take a more sleek, less cute design.
As a sub-brand of Club Clio, peripera focuses on the more ‘feminine design and romantic style’. It has a very distinct brand design, since the revamp and collaboration with Mari Kim, whose instantly-recognisable cartoon style was used in 2NE1’s completely animated music video: ‘Hate You‘.
The colours of peripera’s products fit with the ‘romantic style’, lots of light pastels and glossy or tinted products. Personally, I’ve heard mixed things about the nail polishes from the brand, but Club Clio usually has their nail products on a 1+1 (buy one get one free) offer and the pastels in the peripera range are really cute. The Heart Glow Stick highlighter is also something I am definitely glad I picked up. It’s also really cute (and helpful) how they explain ways to contour for your face shape at the bottom of the page. The eyeshadows are a bit too shimmery for my own tastes, but are pigmented, as are most products under the Club Clio label.
The price range for this brand is firmly in ‘incredibly affordable’, with most of the products being under 20,000w (about £12-£13). Seeing as it’s only a sub-brand it has a rather small line of products compared to brands like Etude House, but it’s available to buy at Club Clio stores and at Watsons and Olive Young.
Another company that greatly appreciates the colour pink, Banilla co. sits at the more expensive end of the bubblegum category. Products are rarely under 10,000w (£6) unless they’re on sale, but with the added expense comes a touch more quality. They too have a wide product range, from your general makeup products to a foot-styling line. Banilla Co. also have probably the most comprehensive collection of brushes.
Of the Banilla Co. range, I own the Prime Primer Pact in its lightest shade (vanilla), and two lipsticks, Kiss Collector Colour Fix Glaze in GRD322 and De La Luz in RG05 Rouge. The lipsticks are long-lasting and don’t dry out my lips at all, I’ve had my eye on a couple of the other lipstick shades, like De La Luz in RG14 April Daisy and RG28, Muse Glam Lustre Lipstick in LBE113 and LPK59. The primer pact is really lightweight and acts as a great base.
The highlighters I find to be a bit too shimmery for my liking, but the blushers come is some very complimentary tones. The nail polishes leave a little to be desired, in both colour range and quality, in my opinion.
My only real gripe with this store is the cost of the products, but generally as my luck runs, if I like a brand, or they somehow miraculously fit my skin tone, which Banilla Co. does… then the brand is more expensive than I’d like it to be.
This brand was somewhat of a pleasant surprise to me. I was dragged in by a friend who wanted to get new lip tints, seeing as she’d bought one and absolutely adored it. While she was busy swatching shades, I wandered over to the BB cream/concealer products, since it is my life’s goal in Korea to find a concealer that is not too dark for me, so my mum doesn’t have to send me Collection’s Lasting Perfection Concealer whenever I run out. In short, I found not only a concealer, but a BB cream that fit my ghost-skin perfectly.
The BB cream is Flawless Cover BB Cream, which has SPF30, and I have it in shade 13. It’s a little scented, but lightweight and provides excellent coverage with one to two pumps, and the concealer I bought is the Liquid Fitting Dial Concealer in light beige. I’m one of those people that’s never had too much luck with dial concealers – they never seem to work for me – but this one bucked that trend. Can’t say I’m all too sold on the dial aspect, but the concealer is great. I also bought A’pieu’s natural concealer brush, as I wanted to try out some new brushes and it was just… there and really inexpensive.
Since purchasing things from A’pieu, I decided to do a little research into the brand to see what other people had to say. The glow moisture multi-balm is quite popular among the Korean beauty bloggers, as it’s a multi purpose product that does live up to it’s moisturising claims. The BB creams seem to also be widely well received, as well as the lip glosses. They also have a gel (Jelly) nail polish line – Jelly Nail Touch – that is apparently a rather nice home alternative to getting your nails done, although there isn’t a particularly large colour range.
The only bad thing I have to say about this brand is that some of the packaging can look a bit cheap, as it’s all generally made of plastic, for example, the single eyeshadows are in clear plastic casing. Overall, there isn’t really a consistent cutesy aesthetic like Shara Shara or Etude House has, but I think the quality wins out, to be honest.
There are also a couple of other brands I file under ‘Bubblegum’, but I didn’t feel comfortable adding them to my ‘guide’ seeing as I don’t have any of their products, haven’t heard anything about them, or haven’t actually seen a shop for the specific brand.
Welp, super long, hopefully informative post is super long and hopefully informative. If you have any questions about any of the brands mentioned in this post, or how to order, don’t hesitate to ask! I know these aren’t particularly comprehensive overviews of the brands, but there are a lot of them, and I didn’t want to make this post horrifically unreadably long, so please bear with that.
I apologise for throwing in Korean links, but a lot of the global sites have such a small product list compared to the Korean versions – which I think is completely stupid and horribly unfair, but at the moment it is how it is. I really wish it wasn’t, since a lot of these brands really rival the performance of some of the raved about western brands, and I’d love to see Korean cosmetics getting the praise they deserve.
Anyway, you can purchase these brands from a variety of shopping services: Roserose Shop; w2beauty; f2plus1; wishtrend; kocoColor. Please be careful when buying from a reseller, some of them tend to hike up the prices, sell old products which aren’t good for the skin, or sell fakes.
If you’ve got this far, I truly commend you. Thank you for reading ~