The Korean Guide To Gorgeously Glowing Skin

Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The hand-on-face photo pose is the South Korean version of arm-on-hip. A hand (or wine glass, or whatever’s around) strategically placed along the jawline creates the illusion of a smaller face. And, if you don’t already know, having an adorably little oval face with a V-shaped chin is an obsession here — being complimented on it is tantamount to being told you have beautiful eyes or a gorgeous smile. It can also double as a pickup line. Plus, many celebrities show off how small their faces are by holding objects next to them for scale.
Face sculpting is a worldwide phenomenon, but in Korea, it goes beyond makeup. To achieve the coveted V-line, Korean women regularly get facial massages to try to alter their face shapes. Another super popular method for achieving a small face is Botox, which you can use to atrophy bulgy jaw muscles for a more streamlined chin. Recently, some women have taken destiny into their own hands by (cringe) hacking up their jawbones.
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However, when it comes to contouring for East Asian visages, Korea is onto something. It took me several attempts to realize that Kim Kardashian-style contouring doesn’t work on my features. Trying to add shadows that don’t naturally blend into the face’s landscape just ends up looking like war paint.
If you’re looking for a softer, more natural look than the chiseled fierceness of Kimmy K & Ko. — no matter your face type — read on for a breakdown on how to contour, Gangnam-style.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Korean Kontouring 101
Contouring requires a good understanding of shadows and light, and an even better understanding of how your facial features relate to each other. Instead of working to accentuate bone structure, Korean contouring seeks to shrink the face by minimizing its outer perimeter, kind of like pulling the drawstring tight on a hoodie. Highlighting the center of the face brings attention to its features, while shadowing the edges helps counter the optical illusion that flatter features create of making the face appear larger. The effect is subtle, but it works.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Prep Work
To start, prep the skin with facial oil. It moisturizes, but more importantly, the sheen catches light and highlights protruding features like your nose and chin. Don’t freak out if your face looks way too shiny. This is just the first step.

I love SanDaWha’s version, 'cause it packs so much motherland flavor. It’s made from camellia oil harvested in Jeju, which is Korea’s little treasure island because it’s so rich in botanicals. This is basically like glorious face glitter (in a good way) and is so moisturizing, foundation just glides on beautifully.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Luminize It
Using your finger, a highlighter stick, or a flat brush dipped in luminizer, sweep vertically down the middle of your face so that you hit the center of your forehead, ridge of the nose, Cupid’s bow, and point of the chin. It should look like you ran a paintbrush down the front of your face and only hit the bits that stuck out.

I recommend Neogen Moisture Active Aurora Dual Stick, which contains jojoba and argan oils. You can use the handy sponge tip to blend.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Triangle Pose
Color in the two triangles between cheek, nose, and eyes with the same highlighter.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Blend, Blend, Blend
Using a foundation brush, take some BB cream and blend in all the highlighted areas. Be careful not to go outside the inner circle of the face, or “halo area.” Reserve the outer perimeter for shading.

Everyone has a favorite BB, but don’t settle without trying SKIN79’s version. It goes on ghoulishly grayish-white, but after a few minutes, it magically adjusts to your skin in a flawlessly natural veil.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Smooth It Out
Using a foundation that is two shades darker than your skin tone, shade the outer areas of the face: sides of forehead, sides of cheeks, and jawline. With the jawline, try to imagine a heart shape, shading away any squareness. Blend outer areas with the “halo.” Make sure not to hollow out or accentuate the cheekbones. Most Korean women prefer a smoother look and see jutting cheekbones as a sign of aging. (Sorry, Angelina Jolie.)
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Eyes On The Prize
Defining the eye sockets and creating a “higher” nose helps it look like there's more dimension in the face. Using fingers and a cream, brown shadow (or a fluffy blending brush and a pressed, brown shadow), draw a curved line from under the inner tip of the eyebrow down the side of the nose that resembles a lowercase “r.” Repeat on the other side of the nose, and then gently blend.

I love using Make Up For Ever’s 5 Camouflage Cream Palette #4 for darker complexions. The highly pigmented browns work beautifully for contouring, and, in a pinch, they can double as eyeshadows. (I originally started buying this palette for the apricot shade to color-correct my dark circles, and it’s so good at its job that I always run out of it!)
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
Blushing Beauty
Finally, a touch of blush adds color and dimension. But, don’t apply it on the outer apples of the cheeks using the smiling trick! This would place the color on the border of the halo section and ruin the whole subtle effect. Instead, concentrate on the inner cheekbones. Be sure to blend, and make the color as soft and natural as possible.

Espoir is known for its beautifully pigmented blushes, and the Cream Pan for Lip & Cheek is no exception. It delivers a subtle bloom of color that blends easily for a natural effect.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
The Final Look
Touch up the highlighted areas to your liking, depending on how much you want to embrace the Korean dewy look. Sure, Korean kontouring is all about whittling down the face to resemble a heart shape — but this shouldn’t stop you from adapting the tutorial to fit your face. For example, you could taper down a longer nose with a bit of brown shadow at the tip.

Kontour on, friends.
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Illustrated by Elliot Salazar.
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