The Korean Beauty Products You Need To Try In 2015

The Korean beauty craze has gone past the point of being a novelty here in the U.S. to becoming a regular part of the beauty conversation. As American retailers snatch up Korean brands left and right, products are becoming easier to find. Slowly but surely, consumers are starting to figure out how the regimen and products work, and how to adapt them into an existing skin-care routine.

Are you ready to take it to the next level? Here, the five trends that should be on your K-beauty radar this spring.

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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Mask Technology
We already gave you Korean sheet masks 101, but this is the category that probably has the most innovation within it, simply because it’s one of the most popular K-beauty products. According to data provided by Christine Chang of Glow Recipe, there was a 200% increase in mask sales in Korea between 2013 and 2014. While the standard cotton sheet mask is still the crowd-pleasing favorite, manufacturers are experimenting with new materials. Both Chang and Peach and Lily’s Alicia Yoon say to expect future mask materials to help increase absorption and delivery of ingredients to the skin. Also popular: Masks for body parts other than your face.
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Masks are migrating down from the face. (Check out this hilarious picture SokoGlam’s Charlotte Cho took. It’s definitely an in-the-privacy-of-your-own-home thing.) According to Yoon, Chinese women have made chin, neck, and chest masks popular, so expect more innovation here. “The trends that take off in China also contribute to the pace of innovation and lots of evolution in the mask market, and more broadly speaking, in the overall beauty market in Korea,” Yoon says. These masks make a lot of sense, since they’re for areas that get a lot of sun damage and, if you’re anything like me, you’re stingy about using expensive facial creams on them.
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According to Chang, Leaders is one of the best-selling mask brands in Korea. This mask is made out of fermented coconut juice that is hardened, rolled out, and cut out with the equivalent of mask-shaped cookie cutters. In addition to the brightening ingredients in this particular “flavor,” its material offers softening benefits to the skin.
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Because there are so many different masks, it can be overwhelming to figure out which ones you need. K-beauty e-commerce sites have taken some of the guesswork out of this by offering bundles for specific issues, as well as variety packs.
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You can’t get much more natural than slapping a piece of seaweed on your face. This mask is made out of a piece of sea kelp, drenched with a mineral-rich essence, oils, and niacinamide. Bonus: It smells like you’re at the beach.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Makeup Technology
Korean skin-care products currently get all the glory, but the makeup is also definitely worth a look — after all, this is the country that brought us BB cream. While skin care is the longer-term solution, makeup is the other part of the equation. Color cosmetics are gaining traction, thanks to brands like TonyMoly, which are adorably packaged and have proven popular with American shoppers. Sephora and Urban Outfitters both carry the brand, and we wouldn’t be surprised if more freestanding TonyMoly stores open outside of the one in Koreatown in NYC. In addition to superhero-level lip stains, ahead are the other new-to-the-U.S. makeup brands you should be checking out.
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We’re always searching for the next BB cream, and in this case, the next BB cream may actually be a foundation. While cushion compacts have traditionally supplied a sheer finish, this one is a true full-coverage foundation with the ease and portability of a cushion. Plus, it comes with an extra bottle of foundation as a refill.
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We raved about this one already, but it’s worth raving about again because you can now get it at Target. It’s available in stores now, and the brand tells us it will hit Target’s website in the next few weeks.
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Sephora just snagged this brand of colorful, yet serious cosmetics, and is kicking off the launch with this mascara, which is — for lack of a more nuanced descriptor — pretty freaking incredible. The brush and formula, which features a “high-viscoelasticity polymer,” work their magic synergistically to give you long, non-clumpy lashes with one swipe, and the volume is buildable. Lip crayons and a liquid-to-powder cheek-and-lip stain from the brand are coming to Sephora soon.
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The goofy name notwithstanding, this is Korea’s answer to YSL’s Rouge Pur Couture Glossy Stains, at a third of the price.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Hair Products
Hair care is still a mere drop in the large and varied bucket that is K-beauty, but a fellow K-beauty enthusiast recommended that I check out Korean hair products, and I haven’t been disappointed. Chang says it’s a growing sector, and notes that companies approach hair the same way they do skin — you’ll see essences, ampoules, and masks.
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Sheet masks are a thing for hair, too. I’ve tried a few products like this, including this slightly creepy-looking one from Etude House. Think glorified shower cap, except filled with all sorts of nourishing, gooey goodness. You wash your hair in the shower, wring out the excess water, and then pop on this cap for 15 minutes for a steam/conditioning treatment. Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, and Glossybox all carry this product, too, so watch for more of these types of hair masks to trend soon. My one concern is wasting all that water and time in the shower, so try this one next time you’re taking a hot bath.
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This is a perfect product for the upcoming summer (read: beach and pool) months. I brought it with me on a recent spring-break beach trip and used it as a leave-in conditioner. You can also use it as a regular conditioner or on dry hair as a nighttime mask.
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This one's a great example of the skin/hair crossover. Ampoules for the skin are basically boosters to treat what ails you — same concept here. Apply a few drops of this camellia-oil rich serum to your destroyed ends.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Multitasking Products
Korean products may have gained popularity because of the 10+-step process, but Korean beauty buyers increasingly want each one of those steps to do more. This is a trend that works well for Americans, since we’re always in such a damn big hurry. According to Chang, Korean women are demanding that their moisturizers do more than just moisturize. Not a surprising request from the country that brought us the hard-working BB cream.
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As the name suggests, this ampoule contains manuka honey, propolis, and royal jelly. Chang recommends using it as a one-step (gasp!) product under makeup.
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This magical little dropper bottle claims to regulate oily skin, smooth fine lines, promote elasticity, and brighten. It feels silky and non-greasy.
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One would hope that when committing to slathering a product containing 92% snail slime (okay, "snail extract") on your face, it'll be well worth it. This is one of Yoon’s best-sellers, and it’s quickly gaining cult status. It fights wrinkles, moisturizes, and can even reportedly help reduce blemishes and acne scars.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Western Copycats
Okay, so this next batch of products isn’t really Korean at all. These are western brands that have taken inspiration from some innovative Korean formulas and ideas, and run with them. I think these brands have done a pretty good job, and if you’re nervous to try products with packaging you can’t read (a reasonable concern), these might do the trick.
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Much like the Clio cushion mentioned previously, this foundation is more full-coverage than a typical CC cushion. You can reliably expect a fabulous finish with a Lancôme product, and this doesn’t disappoint. It’s not full-coverage with the first swipe, but it’s buildable.

Lancôme Miracle Cushion, available April 29 at Lancôme.
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Many Korean products tout “water” as the ostensible miracle ingredient (Laneige is a good example), but Glow Recipe’s Sarah Lee points out: “The interesting twist is that not all of these ‘water creams’ necessarily contain water as the main ingredient, and in fact, some claim that water-free formulas are more hydrating and effective as opposed to those with a high concentration of water that may dilute the formulation. This contradicting, yet catchy, trend of the product names ‘water cream’ and ‘water gel’ that is now rising in the U.S. seems to be coming from a direct English translation of ‘hydrating creams’ in Korean.”
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This product takes on two of Korea’s trends, mixing the now-ubiquitous sleep mask with the so-called “bouncy,” Jell-O-like products that are all the rage. It’s a fun, tactile experience.
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While it’s not specifically called an essence lotion, it definitely looks and feels like a traditional essence (though Korean essences are now becoming more serum-like). If toner and lotion had a baby, this would be it. It’s meant to be used prior to more concentrated serums and moisturizers to help aid absorption and provide an initial hit of hydration. This is a particularly luxe version that absorbs beautifully with some gentle patting.
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