Monday, March 30, 2015

Korean Beauty Brands: An Overview and List

Understanding Korean beauty brands isn’t exactly simple if only due to the sheer number of brands at widely varying price points.  To further confuse things, much of the actual manufacturing of most of the products, and regardless of price, is done by two very large manufacturers.  Thus the most expensive Amore Pacific cream might be manufactured next to one by another line that retails for under five dollars.

I actually went to Korea and met with a number of brands and distributors before setting up a website ( selling high quality branded Korean beauty products.

While I personally believe that the Korean brands do an excellent job quality wise I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there is no difference between higher and lower end lines.  The obvious difference is price but the relative ratios of expensive to cheaper ingredients is noticeable.  Reading ingredients lists I personally can see wide variances in the quality and amount of ingredients.  Overall, you often, but not always, do get what you pay for.

Koreans tend to focus more on skin care than on color cosmetics and their skin care utilizes always-new cutting edge technologies with a strong focus on traditional and natural ingredients.  They include the exotic such as snail slime and donkey milk but also utilize extensive essences, oils, flowers, legumes, ash, herbs, vegetables and other such beneficial additions.  Ingredients lists can top fifty items with all or almost all being such ingredients drawn from nature.  They also mix in fermented additions, which lose potency with too many artificial additives yet power heal skin.

BB cream, bright lips, semi sheer eye shadow and lovely matte pastel blushes are currently (when I last went in early 2015) popular in Korea.  But so are sunscreen and an extensive skin care routine.  Horse Oil is the new trend.  Men’s lines make up an estimated 40 percent of the market in Korea and over 90% of men there use BB cream.

And Korean brands are very popular throughout Asia, which might be part of the reason they haven’t expanded quicker in the United States.  Tastes vary, and the brands have had such strong demand regionally they have sometimes stayed focused on what will work there.  Tourists from China in particular are known to take suitcases full of Korean beauty products home with them.

But knowing which brands to buy can be confusing, especially as many of them have only recently begun to become available in the United States and many others are hard or impossible to get.
Overall, I would say that Korean brands tend to have excellent products, are on the forefront of industry innovation and are packed with amazing ingredients.

The first place to start is with the big two, Amore Pacific and LG (a division within the same firm that does the electronics).  These two brands dominate the market and each houses a number of brands from the most to least expensive.  Some have been internally developed while others were bought after they’d reached a certain size. 

Amore is the leader, and they’ve also to date put more emphasis on international expansion.  Their flagship brand, Amore Pacific, is one of the better known Korean brands in the United States and has excellent but very expensive products.  Sulwhasoo is Amore’s premium skincare line focusing on oriental medicine.  It’s the best selling Korean brand ever.  Other high end lines include HERA (western style high end brand), Lirikos (similar to La Mer) and VB Program (dietary supplements).   In the mid-range they have IOPE (plant stem cells and botanical extracts with modern science), Hannule (mid-range oriental herbal skin care), Hyosiah (new fermented beans based line), Mirepa and Odyssey (men’s), Laneige (in Target), western perfume brands (Annick Goutal, Lolita Lempika and eSpoir), Verite and Primera (nature based), Mise En Scene (western style shampoo brand) and Ryeol (Oriental shampoo brand).

Amore’s cheaper brands include Innisfree (Jeju Island and nature based), Etude House (makeup and skin care for the younger market with shockingly good quality products), Happy Bath (body), Mamonde (younger skin care) and Aritaum (drugstore).

LG has also put major effort into building a strong stable of varied brands across all price points.  On the higher end are The History of Whoo (Oriental medicine to compete with Sulwhasoo), Su:m37 (fermented skincare), OHUI (western and advanced science based).  On the mid-range end LG has Belif (collaboration with UK Herbalist Duncan Napiers and now carried by Sephora), Beyond (naturalism), Isa Knox (cheaper OHUI), Sooryehan (cheaper History of Whoo), Mirepa and Vonin (the latter two are men’s lines).

LG’s lower end lines include The Face Shop (all over Asia with skin care and color cosmetics), Lacvert (younger), Carezone (younger skin care), Cathycat (makeup), VoV (makeup) and Re-en (Oriental medicine based skin care).

Many of these brands remain focused on the Asian market and are huge sellers in China.

But the beauty market in Asia is more complex than just a few large companies in control.  Tony Moly is the fourth largest seller and has built its business quickly with great marketing and quirky packaging, such as fruit plastic casing.  Their product quality doesn’t rival the high-end brands but is consistently strong.  And they’re one of the better-known brands in the US, being already in Sephora and Urban Outfitters.

Dr. Jart+ is a very big seller in the United States and has excellent skin care and BB creams.

Then there are the younger, aggressive brands, of which there are many.  Korea really is at the forefront of beauty innovation.   New brands are growing quickly, fueled by the demand throughout Asia.  Some  companies are completely independent while others are part of billion dollar conglomerates (chaebols).
Banila is high quality, mid to low priced brand that mixes great design with high quality skin care and makeup. Too Cool for School is similar, but with a more minimalist feel.  VDL and Moonshot also offer mid to higher range cosmetics and skin care.  Recipe makes wonderful, nature based skin care.

Mid-range brands can be excellent, given the competitive marketplace and demanding clientele.
NoTS was started by a beauty industry marketer whose son had skin issues.  Struggling to find products that worked among her contact base she, frustrated, created her own and the high-end brand took off very quickly.  Finco, with their A and J line, is another similar brand that quickly developed a celebrity and successful following, using essences and melon.  Original Raw is part of Sammi Corporation and mixes science with traditional herbs.

Missha is a very high quality brand with an excellent essence among other skin care products, though I find their color cosmetics less than exciting.

Klairs is part of a portfolio of companies and offers natural but powerful essences for perfect skin, including vegetable essences.  Label Young was able to grow its Shocking line almost exclusively using social networks and specializes in products that reduce steps in a skincare routine, but show results.

It’s on the lower price point end where I feel the number of brands gets overwhelming.  Many of them do cater to a younger audience.  Beauty is very important in Korea and it’s a leader not just in beauty products but plastic surgery as well.

SkinFood has lovely packaging but also very high performing products.  Holikka Holikka does something similar, as does Shara Shara whose packaging has a  more Asian in feel.  Privia was started by someone who had a long career working for major beauty brands who decided to start his own complete, high quality but still affordable line that has become popular in Japan.

Nature Republic is similar to Innisfree and is known for their aloe line.  Mizon, and Benton are two other less expensive lines.  Mizon has a wide range of products.  Club Clio, Goodal and PeriPera have a collective US website and freestanding stores that carry all of the brands’ products in the US and Korea.  They have some lovely makeup/color products.

Boutique brands from the Jeju (Volcanic Island similar to Hawaii) Island area offer nutrient rich and very distinctive higher quality lines, focused on skin care.

The list of brands could go on for pages and included here are only some of the better-known ones.  Later, I’ll list more of the (of which there are so many) smaller but often quickly growing brands.  And I didn’t even touch on the spa quality or boutique higher end brands.

Walking shop to shop in Seoul I was overwhelmed with the selection of both brands and products.  They vary widely in quality in price point and quality, but overall they are excellent and really do lead the beauty industry in innovation. 

            And in the United States, their products are growing quickly in popularity and demand because they work.  Unfortunately, some or most can be hard to get in outside Asia.  That’s why I started

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Loot Crate March 2015 Unboxing and Review

Great box...especially the watch!

Original Raw Fantastick Lip Crayon in Pink, Red and Orange Review and Swatches

Gorgeous color and beautiful wear...

Lancome Hypnose Drama Instant Full Body Volume Mascara Review

Lovely for that false eyelashes look.  Just watch the clumping.

No under eye shadows or flaking...

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Friday, March 20, 2015

Illamasqua Katie Powder Blusher Review and Swatches

Gorgeous matte pink...cooler...lighter...but the formula is amazing.

Giorgio Armani Si Perfume Review and Swatches

I'm a sucker for Black Current scents...this one keeps it complex and sophisticated with musk, chypre, florals and wood.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Shiseido Veiled Rouge Lipstick in 302 Rosalie and 707 Mischief Review and Swatches

A very pretty formula with a high sheen and barely metallic finish.  Long lasting?  Not in the way I think but they do last for a good almost three hours which given the lightness of the formula is actually impressive.  And they fade as opposed to wear, meaning after about two hours they start looking more like a stain than a lipstick.

Rosalie is a medium warm pink with just a touch of coral.  This one wears less well for me.  Mischief is a vibrant light red, with a pink and blue undertone.  Lovely shade.

These are unique and I don't own any formula quite like them.  But not everyone will like them as the seem more of a gel or gellee lipsticks as opposed to a traditional one.  They are very pigmented though Rosalie is light.

Shu Uemura Sixteen Shades of Nude Eyeshadow Palette and Swatches

Shadows range from mattes, to metallics, to subtle shimmers.  Even most mattes have a few micro shimmers in them.  And the shades are all complex, with shifting changes in color.  Lovely textured shadows, that apply and blend beautifully.  A lot of lighter shades in the palette though you get plenty of darker and mid toned ones.

This palette is big!  And limited edition.

The different finishes and color gradients make creating illusions of depth on the eye lid easier.

Finco A and J Anti Wrinkle Skincare Line Review and Swatches

Beautiful brand with powerful and natural anti aging ingredients.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

DSB BB Cushions in 21 Light Pink and 21 Natural Beige

A lovely and luminous BB cushion that blends with a lush and natural finish.

Pink and beige...

Pink and beige...not blended...

And somewhat blended (the pink less so)...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Monday, March 9, 2015

Belif The True Cream Moisturizing Bomb Review

Love…really love…

Nars Dual Intensity Blush in Panic and Jubilation Review and Swatches

Stunning…but very metallic and this wet concept doesn't work for me.  Chose your shades carefully and be prepared for shimmer…

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Mac Disney Cinderella Mystery Princess and Coupe D'Chic Face Powders Review and Swatches

I like the packaging!  Simple and almost elegant (it is an ad, really).  The powders are so shimmery and very light pigmentation wise.  But I like them…princessy…

Shu Uemura Metallic Bouquet Platinum Plumeria Eyeshadow Review and Swatches Spring 2015

Shimmery…and not my favorite Shu.  But lovely nonetheless (for a soft wash of color…).

Belif The True Creme Aqua Bomb Review

A very nice lighter gel cream.  So rich in amazing herbal and plant ingredients.  Especially for troubled or oily skin but we can all use it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review of Blood Drenched Beard by Daniel Galera

Blood Drenched Beard by Daniel Galera is very atmospheric.  Our narrator can't remember faces, ever, so needs to identify other qualities of people if he is to recognize them, which he only sometimes does.  The woman he loves marries his brother, a writer, while he drifts, teaching swimming and doing triathlons.  His parents are divorced and his father is attached only to his dog.

Then his father tells him that he will be committing suicide and asks our narrator to euthanize his dog after.  And he tells him that his grandfather, long missing, was murdered in a fishing/vacation village not so far away from their town in Brazil.

And our narrator moves there, with the dog, to find out what happened to the grandfather he never knew.  But he's looking for so much more as are the people around him.  But the plot isn't the story.

Galera translates as well as writes.  He lives in a small vacation and fishing village on the water in Brasil.  This book is both a light and enjoyable narrative and a deeper symbolic novel about life.  It's absolutely wonderful.

Book Review Bred to Kill by Franck Thilliez

Bred to Kill is the follow up to Franck Thilliez' earlier murder-mystery Syndrome E.  Both of them are dark mysteries full of double dealing and sophisticated science.  Syndrome E introduced us to police Lucie Henebelle and Inspector Franck Sharko, her ex-lover.

I really don't want to give too much away as the book has it's twists.  But essentially a sign language speaking chimp seems to have murdered a graduate student.  Except of course, the chimp is innocent so who did it?  Something having to do with the violence which some left handed men seem unable to control.

The story goes back decades, as did Syndrome E, and crosses continents.  The story can get predictable and fall into cliche but it's just so fun.  I really enjoyed this book and Syndrome E.  You can see where the story is going, and it's a traditional hard boiled detective story.  But Thilleiz does such a good job developing the premise the book is both hard to put down and thoroughly enjoyable.

Thilleiz is a bestseller in his native France.

Book Review Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey

I love Downton Abbey and I love the books Catherine Bailey writes about that timeframe.  Bailey's books mix in history with personal history creating well crafted stories which grab my attention.  Black Diamond is no exception and I really loved this book.  I even had a hard time putting it down, but it wasn't always easy reading.

Unlike Downton Abbey which glamorizes the England of the British aristocracy heading into the 20th century Bailey is willing to touch on the harsher realities of the inequity and, frankly, selfishness, of the rich which led to them losing their place (in the world).  And the lesson is a powerful one in today's world, in which the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow.

Black Diamonds tells the story of the downfall of a great family, the Earl Fitzwilliams, mixed in with the crushing brutality of the British coal industry.  Bailey is hindered by the family's destruction of a great stretch of documentation by them and about them which covers the period she describes.  But her sympathies clearly rarely lie with any family member as the whole lot seem selfish, self preoccupied and quite entitled.  Instead she creates a nuanced narrative of their world around them, which they touched but also largely ignored.

And this book is so good, not to taste the glamour of the period but rather the exploitation and privilege  which characterized too many like families.  This one even has a Kennedy twist along with epilepsy, addiction, insanity, abuse and self destructiveness.  It's a great story, though more about the time period than the family.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Serum Giveaway: Joy and Karma Vitamin C Serum or Hyaluronic Serum

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway is for US or Canada only.  I will give away one of each serum, so there will be two winners.

59% off on Amazon for these products Code below.  Instructions on how to use it:


Tom Ford 02 Raw Jade Eyeshadow Palette Spring 2015 Review and Swatches

Very pretty…but a little stiffer and harder to build up than my other Tom Ford shadows.

Etude House Dear My Wish Lipstick in Or203 Review and Swatches

Gorgeous vivid orange coral…very pigmented…

Spring Sultry Smokey Pink, Purple and Grey Eye Look With Viseart Cool Mattes

Instead of standard pastels this spring I've been doing more muted smoky yet soft looks…like this one using the Viseart Cool Mattes palette.