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On Puppy Eyes and V-Lines: A Korean Beauty Guide

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If you think that Korean beauty is limited to the world of K-dramas and K-pop stars, think again: its influences run deeper than you might initially think. This East Asian industry singlehandedly created a new makeup category in the form of BB creams, redefined the ideal eyebrow shape to exclude the arch, and has not yet run out of ideas for the cutest packaging in the world. You may have never sneakily used your hands to form a V-shaped jawline in pictures, but if you’ve used any beauty product at all in the last couple of years, you’ve experienced the rise of Korean beauty firsthand.

There was a time you had to decipher local magazines or navigate clunky forums to find all the latest products and trends, but that time has gone the way of cake mascara. Now, the products and trends are everywhere you turn. Blogs and websites post tutorial after tutorial for Korean makeup. International retailers place Korean brands that were once considered niche at the forefront of their displays.

When you read about a new cosmetic procedure or the discovery of a powerful skincare ingredient (“Wait, this extract comes from what?!”), look to see who developed it. The answer is very likely a South Korean laboratory, but they’re already busy working on the next big innovation.

Why Is Korean beauty so popular? 

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We’re in for the long hallyu

 

The surge in popularity of Korean beauty is part of a larger global movement involving South Korean culture. This hallyu, or Korean wave, includes the proliferation of K-dramas, K-pop music, and Korean culture across the world. As these became widespread and very popular, people began to recognize – idolize – the beautiful personas who lit up their screens. Their desire to emulate Korean stars no doubt led to greater interest in adapting their own beauty habits.

Blogging up a storm

Of course, the rise of beauty blogs also contributed to wider dissemination of Korean beauty knowledge. Bloggers from the United States to the UKSpain, and South Korea itself review Korean products, make tutorials, and break the latest fads. Since one reason girls follow beauty blogs is to find products that work well for their skin tone or skin types, beauty bloggers can create strong demand for a new product.

Twelve steps ahead in skincare

According to Marie Claire, Korea is approximately 12 years ahead of the United States when it comes to cosmetic research and development. Korea popularized BB cream as a cosmetic category (though it was invented in Germany) several years before US brands made their own versions. Korean researchers also prioritize studies on “herbs, botanicals, and natural ingredients” rather than chemicals in their efforts to make healthier, more effective products. They also lead the way in anti-aging research by delving into collagen production and stem cell regeneration treatments.

The importance of being ulzzang

“ulzzang” literally means “best face”. It is an exclusive status symbol for those deemed the most beautiful by online peers. However, the term is now often used to describe someone who is emulating the ulzzang look, or it describes the subculture as a whole.

Ulzzang is different from other popular Asian subcultures in that it is (relatively) more natural. While makeup looks in Japan may include flashy false lashes, elaborate eye makeup, and glitter, ulzzang beauty prizes a minimal look and clean makeup.

The most popular ulzzang can go on to become celebrities in their own right, leveraging their fame into magazine features and TV shows. Actress, singer, and filmmaker Ku Hye-sun can trace the beginnings of her fame to the early 2000s, when she earned ulzzang status. She is currently directing a new movie. Singer Q-ri from the K-pop group TARA also began as an ulzzang.

Ulzzang and their poses - note the placement of hands, hair, and props to create the "V-line" illusion

Ulzzang and their poses – note the placement of hands, hair, and props to create the “V-line” illusion

A quick summary of popular ulzzang faces reveals common characteristics that many Koreans deem “best”. The whole ulzzang movement therefore plays a significant role in the modern concepts of Korean beauty. If those who have the “best face” are deemed worthy enough to become pop stars and actresses, then there may be a strongly implied link between a certain type of beauty and prosperity?

So what do Koreans consider beautiful? 

These ideals of Korean beauty are heavily perpetrated by the media, cosmetic advertisements, and the ulzzang movement. These generalizations do not reflect what every Korean thinks, of course, and they can eventually change as overall tastes change. But, perhaps aided in part by the relative homogeneity of Korean society, these are traits are commonly agreed to be beautiful:

Fair, dewy skin

Light skin has historically indicated a life of comfort. Higher-class Koreans did not have to toil outside in the sun and work, so their skin remained soft and fair. Today’s Korean women tend to avoid tanning and ensure they are adequately protected from the sun. Since they are also particular about aging, keeping away from the sun also helps prevent extrinsic aging.

V-line face shape 

The current trend is to have a V-line-shaped face, wherein the lines from the end of your jaw to the chin form a “V”. The illusion of a V-shaped jaw can be created for photos using hands, hair, or whatever prop is on hand to conceal the sides of the face. This is often employed in advertisements and ulzzang photos. Getting a permanent slimmer jaw, though, requires a major surgical procedure in which the jaw is relocated, shaved, or possibly supplemented with an implant.

Big eyes with double eyelids

Large irises and a double fold in the lid are considered beautiful, and typically associated with brightness and innocence. As a result, circle lens – contact lenses that make the iris appear larger, which may contain a lighting effect – are often used in ulzzang photos and celebrity photo shoots. Everything from tape to makeup is used to create a temporary ssang ka peul, or double fold, but this can be surgically created too.

Small facial features

A delicate face, small lips, and a straight nose are prized as the most beautiful. In fact, Koreans may even pay attention to the head size – a smaller head is considered more attractive than a large one. Women with large faces often get blunt bangs to shrink down their face. Subtle makeup effects can also make features smaller, such as contouring and the popular gradient lip look.

Now, with the basics covered, let’s look into some of the popular Korean makeup techniques of today. Korean makeup is all about enhancing your most youthful, vibrant qualities, and fulfilling the ideals of beauty listed above.

Korean Makeup: Base

Korean makeup is centered around a dewy, glowy complexion, which is a big reason why a good skincare routine is highly prized. The type of makeup to apply depends on your skin type and skin condition. If you go overboard with the moisture, you may end up looking greasy instead of dewy!

BB creams and CC creams

These products are the multitasking forces behind the dewy Korean complexion. Korean BB creams formulated for a dewy complexion are labeled “watery” or “moist”, and may contain micro-shimmer particles for an illuminating effect. Mixing highlighters into BB creams is also a common technique, especially for those who don’t want too much of a shine.

Read more about BB Creams and CC creams in our published guides!

Contouring

Typically only light contouring is used in Korean makeup. The purpose of contouring is not really to add warmth to the face but to slim the features features, narrowing the jaw line to fit more into the desired “V” shape. Light contouring is also applied on the tops of the forehead and alongside the bride of the nose.

For dry skin

If your complexion is relatively good, you can get a dewy look by applying several layers of moisture-packing products as part of your morning routine. Use concealer and a CC cream for an even finish. If you need a bit more coverage, apply a layer of radiant primer and BB cream on top of your completed skin care. Highlight the high points of your face with a liquid or cream highlighter.

For oily or acne-prone skin

You want to mattify your base and control oil production before you can create a dewy effect. Use a pore refining primer followed by one or two layers of BB cream patted thoroughly into the skin. If the “watery” creams are too greasy, opt for one with a matte finish.

Since too much highlighter can make you look shiny, reduce the shimmer by mixing highlighter in with BB cream. Set with a light dusting of translucent powder, preferably one containing light reflecting particles.

For combination skin

A routine that balances out the needs of your oily and dry areas works best. Use CC cream for your pre-base, which will send needed moisture to the drier areas of the skin and help control oil production. Use a pore refining primer on areas prone to oiliness before patting a BB cream over the face.

Use a shimmering highlighting powder over the face – though feel free use a cream or liquid highlighter around the cheek area. Set just the oiliness-prone areas with light reflecting powder, using a fan brush to sweep excess powder from the face.

Korean Makeup: Eyes

Big eyes are considered beautiful, so a lot of time is spent making eyes look perfect. This includes everything from the shaping of the brow to doing eyeliner a certain way. In the quintessential Korean look, usually only shimmery or neutral eyeshadows are used, with a few dark or gray shades for an added smokey effect.

Straight eyebrows

This shape is meant to give a youthful and innocent appearance. While it is a very natural shape, it does require some careful outlining, especially if your brows are quite arched or sparse.

To get the look: 

Use a hard, angled brow pencils or felt tip brow liner to get the precision need to fill out the brow. The shade should be one to two shades lighter than your brow color.

Outline the shape of the brow in small, short strokes that mimc natural hair – you want the bottom of the brow to be as straight as possible. Fill in the remainder of the brow with brow gel or a pencil, using a light touch.

Finish by brushing the brows outward with a spoolie to smoothen it out and lighten the brow. You don’t want to make the eyebrows too dark, as a strong frame will overpower the delicate aspects of the rest of the look.

If you have a prominent arch and don’t want to commit to this shape via threading or shaving, you can use also use a heavy-duty concealer to create the illusion of a straight brow. Pat at the crux of your arch and at the extended ends of the brows.

Puppy eyes

Unlike its sexier, and more established older sister the cat eye, the puppy eye is a lot more wholesome. Instead of the eyeliner flicking upwards at the edge of the edge, the line is extended downwards following the natural slope of the eye, then filled in and drawn back towards the lower lashes. The result? Rounder, fresher, and cuter eyes. It’s also known as ulzzang eye makeup.

To get the look:

Look no further than beauty blogger Emily Quak’s tutorial for Luxola to master the perfect Korean Puppy Eye:

Strong, yet natural lashes

Lashes can go a long way in accentuating big, wide eyes. False lashes are used if a girl has short or stubby lashes (or she wants a more dramatic look), but they aren’t necessary. In fact, the more natural the better.

To get the look:

asian-eyelash

Opt for mascara that lengthens and defines for that bright awake look. You want lashes to be long and separated, not clumped together! If using false lashes, choose to apply individual lashes spaced out around the lash line, or subdued lashes with a lot of separation.

Circle lenses

Circle lenses are cosmetic contact lenses that are popular throughout Asia, not just Korea. They help to bring more attention to the eye area because they are larger in diameter, so the irises appear larger. They may also be colored, or have certain dramatic effects that lend an ever-present sparkle to the eye.

As with all other things that you stick into your eye, be safe and sanitary when using circle lens. There’s quite a lot to consider, to check this guide for all the information needed to care for your lenses.

Aegyo-sal

Do you have eyebags? If so, rejoice, for the puffy layer of fat underneath the eyes are currently in fashion!

Well, sort of. There’s a difference between aegyo-sal puffiness and the puffiness that comes from lack of sleep/energy. Dark circles that hang under the eyes continue to be out of fashion, unfortunately. Aegyo-sal occurs right at the lower lid, usually above where the dark circles occur.

Popularized by K-pop stars, aegyo-sal is interpreted as “cute fat”, “charming fat” or “eye smiles” depending on who you ask. The puffy eyebags result in a more youthful and charming look. At the very least, they make each smile seem more genuine, don’t you think? While some are lucky enough to have natural aegyo-sal, many more have to achieve them through other means. Luckily, there are plenty of options!

With makeup: Use a highlighter, light contour powder, and a small flat brush to create a faux aegyo-sal, then blend out the edges so it looks natural. Etude House has a product just for creating aegyo-sal, using this concept.

With tape: Apply a special tape designed for creating eyebags (or any tape, really) underneath the lid, being sure to cut in enough that the pocket of fat Is visible. Cut away the excess.

With surgery: Cosmetic surgery is the only way to get a permanent aegyo-sal effect.

Korean Makeup: Cheeks

Because so much of the focus is on a flawless base and big eyes, there is actually minimal makeup involved for cheeks. Usually a sheer wash of color, just enough to bring out a glow, will do.

For a more natural and sophisticated look, sweep blush across the top of your cheekbones, angled up towards the edges of your face. Peachy pink, apricot, and other natural shades go well with this look.

For a younger “dolly” look, apply blush to the apples of your cheeks, more towards the front of your face. Opt for brighter colors like light pink or coral to emphasize that youthful flush.

Cream blushes, cheek tints, and gels work best for this look because of their sheer coverage and ability to enhance a dewy complexion. If you applied highlighter as part of the base routine, that will also help make your cheeks shine!

Korean Makeup: Lips


The most prominent lip technique for Korean makeup is the gradient lip (also known as the ulzzang style lip). The gradient lip is a sheer lip color applied only to the center of the lip for a just bitten effect. Aside from creating a natural flush, it also makes the lips appear smaller, as is the ideal.

To get the look: 

Pat BB cream or concealer over the lips to conceal their natural pigment. You can leave this out for a more natural look.

Apply lip tint or matte lipstick in the very center of the lips, blending outward (but not completely to the edges). Layer the product, concentrating on the center, until you’ve reached the desired opacity. You can finish off with a pink lip gloss, which will help blend the layers, or a layer of sheer lipstick, or leave the look as is.

Any lip color works fine, though popular choices are pink, berry, red, and orange. If you use a lipstick, make sure it is easily blendable so there are no harsh lines. Once you’re familiar with the technique you can mix and match lip products and colors!

What’s so great about Korean makeup and skincare?

Multipurpose

A single product may offer the following benefits: anti-aging, whitening, sun protection, color correction, and moisturizing. Of course, this makes it more challenging for the product to live up to the claims it makes, so it’s best not to take the descriptions at face value.

Emphasis on skincare

Maintaining a youthful, dewy look is an integral part of the Korean beauty regime. It’s quite common to find base makeup that is at least SPF 15++ or 30++ to protect skin from the aging effects of the sun. Sheet masks, facial oils, and serums are especially popular. Skincare benefits of makeup products are also heavily advertised.

Innovative products and experimentation

From a cream to powder foundation to weird and wonderful slime, Koreans are not afraid to try anything once! Snail extract is currently enjoying a moment in the spotlight. Touted as a powerful acne-fighter and anti-aging solution, it has been added in many new skincare and BB cream products. Not to be outdone, cosmetic company Mizon uses a mysterious starfish extract in its renewal hydrating cream. Perhaps there is something that very small and slow creatures can teach us about being forever young!

Korea also leads the way in herbal research, using ingredients found in traditional Chinese medicine.

Technique is everything

In Korea, skincare is not just what you use, but how you use it. The layering method can involve applying between 5-10 products on the face, depending on the time of day and if there is makeup involved. Face brushing is another popular practice, a form of buffing that brings to mind the Clarisonic Mia.

A layering guide for Asian skincare. Source

A layering guide for Asian skincare. Source

Finally, there is the slap method to apply products, starting from the chin moving up. Briskly patting your skin this way encourages circulation in the skin and the upward movement pulls up sagging skin. You can also lightly tap the products into the skin to ensure adequate penetration.

Scratch that: the packaging is everything!

We’ll let the pictures do the talking here. What better way to encourage women to work on their youthful glow than to bring on a natural smile with so many cute products?

Even the products targeted for older women have sophisticated packaging. Some products are so iconic that they were understood just by mentioning their packaging: for example, the much acclaimed MISSHA Night Repair Science Activator Ampoule is simply just “the purple bottle.”

Quintessentially Korean products

These types of products are already very familiar to fans of Korean beauty, though these days they are certainly not limited to Korean companies. While not an exhaustive list, it’s a good indication of products that help achieve the characteristics of Korean beauty above – and thus, an indication of what sells best!

  • Water-based gel moisturizers
  • Sheet masks
  • Jeju volcanic cleansers and masks
  • Snail creams
  • Stick eye creams
  • Illuminators
  • BB Creams – some of the more popular ones are: Etude House Precious Mineral, Dr. Jart, Missha M Perfect Cover, and Skin79 Super Plus Triple Functions BB Cream
  • Lip/cheek tints and jellies
  • Liquid liner
  • Eyebrow gel
  • Hard angled eyebrow pencils

Popular Korean Brands

The following list is a sample of mainstream Korean brands that have international recognition and/or distribution. They each have their own market – for example, Etude House targets teenagers and young women with their princess packaging while Skin Food has all natural cosmetics derived from fruits and vegetables.

Drugstore

  • Clio
  • Dr. Jart
  • Skin79
  • Hanskin

Retail

  • The Face Shop
  • Skin Food
  • Nature Republic
  • Etude House
  • Too Cool for School
  • Tony Moly

High End/Department Store

  • Hera
  • Laneige
  • Sulwhasoo
  • Belif

More brands and their iconic products can be found in this useful guide.


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