The Ultimate Guide To Shopping For Korean Beauty Products In L.A.

It’s an understatement to say I've been bred to care about my skin: My mother goes to to her esthetician every week for two-hour facial massages (seriously), wears huge, face-covering visors in order to avoid nasty UVB and UVA rays, and made a habit of bribing me into eating my vegetables because they’re "good for your skin."

Of course, her obsessive skincare regime has had its payoffs. At 55, she’s often mistaken for my older sister. It's no surprise that my mom's routine has seeped into my medicine cabinet as well. When it comes to choosing the best beauty products this side of Seoul, she’s taught me to be scrupulous.

Luckily, I couldn’t be happier to live, work, and play in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, where I have access to some of the best products straight from the motherland (including a 500-year-old anti-aging night cream and a panda-print sheet mask). As an expert on the topic, I know all of the best haunts.

Ahead, find some of the best products for every step of the famous 10- (or, if you're really committed, 16) step Korean skin-care routine and the L.A. stores where you can find them.
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Step #1: Pre-Cleanser

Where To Go: Skinfood, 100 West Broadway (at the Glendale Galleria); 818-244-7221.

What To Ask For: Skinfood Brown Rice Oil Wipes

What To Know Before You Go: Like walking into a shabby-chic, princess-themed garden, Skinfood’s offerings may be sweetly packaged, but their products pack a major nutritional punch. All Skinfood merchandise is based on food science — that’s to say that their mantra for overall skin health is to rely on the good things we eat.

They stock eyeliner made from sweet almonds and blush made from apples, but the real draw here is their Brown Rice Oil Wipes. These tissues are soaked in an oil-based formula which help them glide over skin with minimal friction. Translation: They slick off even the most stubborn waterproof eyeliner. Finding a non water-based skin tissue is rare — so much so, that a 25-minute drive to the nearest store in Glendale won’t be in vain. (Buy in bulk — they sell out fast.)
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Step #2: Oil Cleanser

Where To Go: The Face Shop, 621 Western Avenue (near 6th Avenue); 213-389-3360.

What To Ask For: The Face Shop Rice Water Bright Cleansing Light Oil

What To Know Before You Go: While there are foams, gels, and cream face washes, it’s the oil cleanser that reigns supreme in Korean beauty regimens. Oil cleansers bind to any leftover makeup, remove impurities, and are great for a facial massage. Use this product as part of your double cleanse. Yes, you read that right: Wash your face once and then do it again with your regular foam cleanser.

Bonus tip: The Face Shop in Madang Plaza shares a space with an organic, handmade ice cream shop called Chocolate Chair, so it’s a win-win stopover for a weekend afternoon in Koreatown.
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Step #3: Toner

Where To Go:
Amore, 928 South Western Avenue Suite 213 (near James M. Wood Boulevard); 213-385-9062.

What To Ask For:
Mamonde Rose Water Toner

What To Know Before You Go: Through a tiny, three-walled storefront nestled in the entrance of a supermarket, Amore is one of the largest and most recognizable Korean beauty brands (think L'Oréal or Maybelline). One of their best selling toners is the Mamonde Rose Water Toner. It boasts a 90% damask rose water formula made from Bulgarian roses. All of a sudden, your beauty routine will feel infinitely more spa-like. While toners may be an optional step for Americans, in Korean beauty, it’s the first layer of hydration and considered just as important as moisturizer.

Pour a quarter-sized amount of rose water into your hands, then press and tap (never drag) them into the the skin. Always pour a little extra product to cover the neck and the back of the hands. Many people forget to give those areas the same attention as the face, but Korean estheticians swear they can tell someone’s real age by looking at those oft-missed spots.

Bonus tip: Try soaking a Beautyblender with Mamonde Rose Water Toner before applying foundation and makeup application will be so much smoother.
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Step #4: Ampoule

Where To Go:
Palace Beauty, 3500 West 6th Street Suite 102 (near South Alexandria Avenue); 213-385-3041.

What To Ask For: Vitalizer C-10 Ampoule Multi-Vital 10 System

What To Know Before You Go: Floor-to-ceiling shelves lined with skin, makeup, hair, and beauty tools can make Palace Beauty seem overwhelming, but step inside and make a beeline for the Vitalizer C-10 Ampoule Multi-Vital 10 System. (It's located on a precariously filled shelf behind the cash register.)

An ampoule is a highly concentrated serum (it can act as a once-a-week substitute for an everyday serum or essence) that penetrates the skin so quickly and deeply that daily application is not necessary. Ampoules are all the rage right now in Korea and it’s no wonder — just a dime-sized amount can visibly change tired skin and make fine lines appear less noticeable.

Bonus tip: Use the ampoule the same day you exfoliate, then follow with a sheet mask and your skin will look like you had a visit with an esthetician.
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Step #5: Essence/Serum

Where To Go:
O Hui/History of Whoo, 3500 West 6th Street Suite 107 (near South Alexandria Avenue); 213-385-3041.

What To Ask For: O Hui Cell Power No. 1 Essence

What To Know Before You Go: Just two storefronts over from Palace Beauty, O Hui/The History of Whoo hawks higher-end, celeb-fronted products created by mega-conglomerate LG. Swing by for an essence or serum, which can help combat specific skin woes.

Whether the thorn in your side is large pores, signs of aging, scars leftover from pimples, or even acne itself, you’re guaranteed to find an essence for you. O Hui Cell Power No. 1 Essence combats wrinkles and eliminates acne scars. Though the formula is a tiny bit tacky, its benefits far outweigh the cons. Take a pot of this essence with you when you fly, pat it onto skin every couple of hours, and you’ll touch down to your destination looking business-class rested.
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Step #6: Moisturizer/Emulsion

Where To Go:
Cosmetic World, 3250 West Olympic Boulevard Suite 220 (near Western Avenue); 323-734-0777.

What To Ask For: It’s Skin Prestige Creme D’Escargot

What To Know Before You Go: Though donkey milk may be the current outrageous beauty export via the land of morning calm, It's Skin Prestige Creme D'Escargot has solidified its spot on Korean women's beauty counters. The moisturizer, developed by dermatologists at Korea's top university, is chock-full of snail mucus filtrate (21%!) — the same secretions that keep our snail friends safe from damage, infection, and UV rays.

It promises to protect and heal acne-prone skin by regenerating and restoring skin cells. Miracle stories about this gel-like cream abound — and you can get your snail cream fix at Cosmetic World. In addition to some new-to-you Korean products, you’ll find beauty brands with a larger U.S. presence, like Clinique, 3Lab, and Shiseido.
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Step #7: Sunblock

Where To Go:
Nature Republic, 317 East 12th Street (near Maple Avenue South); 213-536-5412.

What To Ask For: Nature Republic California Aloe Daily Moisture Sun Block SPF 50+ PA+++

What To Know Before You Go: Korean women have been protecting their skin from the sun for decades with long sleeves, gloves, hats, and umbrellas (even in the dead heat of summer). So it's no surprise that sunscreen is an absolute mainstay in the multi-step beauty routine.

Head straight to Nature Republic, a quiet respite amongst the frenetic shopping stalls in Downtown’s Santee Alley, to pick up their California Aloe Daily Moisture Sun Block SPF 50+ PA+++. The thick, creamy formula leaves an initial white cast, but sinks in within five minutes with no sticky residue. Slather sunblock on every day under makeup and don’t forget the neck, tops of the ears, and the back of the hands.

Bonus tip: There's another location open in Koreatown’s Solair Plaza, too.
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Step #8: Night Cream

Where To Go:
O Hui/History of Whoo, 3500 West 6th Street Suite 107 (near South Alexandria Avenue); 213-385-3041.

What To Ask For: The History of Whoo Secret Court Cream

What To Know Before You Go: The History of Whoo's Secret Court Cream is said to be chock-full of 32 herbal medicines, following a recipe dating back to 1502, when a newly-crowned queen of the royal court found her skin damaged while living under the pressures of royal life (must be tough). The reigning queen took pity on the girl and let her have her secret face cream, et voilà: Her skin miraculously went back to its original porcelain condition.

The story may just be brilliant marketing from History of Whoo, but the company’s entire line is based on ingredients steeped in ancient eastern medicine, like 35-year-old wild ginseng and Siberian antlers. Plain and simple, Secret Court Cream works — and that’s not lore.

Warm up a tiny dollop in your hands and press it gently into the face, neck, chest, and back of hands before bed. Over time, it softens wrinkles and lightens age spots.

Bonus tip: A little goes a long way, which may help justify the steep price tag.
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Step #9: Eye Cream

Where To Go:
Aritaum; multiple locations.

What To Ask For: Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Eye Cream

What To Know Before You Go: Sulwhasoo’s Concentrated Ginseng Renewing Eye Cream is pricey, but, it’s a bonafide workhorse. The miracle-working eye cream brightens dark circles and lifts drooping skin (even on eyelids). It’s a super heavy cream, so use it sparingly by dabbing on the corners of the eyes and onto eyelids (gently!) with your ring finger. Though a total standout product, be forewarned that the smell of ginseng is very strong. But you can deal with that, right?
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Step #10: Exfoliater/Peel

Where To Go:
Iope at Vermont Galleria, 440 Vermont Avenue Suite 100 (near West 5th Street); 213-427-6266.

What To Ask For: Iope Moisture Skin Soft Peeling Gel

What To Know Before You Go: Used twice a week, Iope’s Moisture Skin Soft Peeling Gel can help brighten your overall complexion. Rub the gel in circular motions on dry skin and the product will begin to pill, sloughing off dead skin in the process — minus any irritating scratchy particles.

Hover over a sink or exfoliate in the shower and don’t be alarmed when the plaque starts to fall off your face in chunks. Though you only use this product twice a week, this important step preps the face to absorb serums and ampoules much more effectively. On a day that you use a peeling product, follow up immediately with a drop of ampoule and finish with a sheet mask for a triple whammy.
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Step #11: Sheet Mask

Where To Go: La Belle Beauty Supply, 928 South Western Avenue Suite 221 (near San Marino Street); 213-487-6788.

What To Ask For: SNP Animal Panda Whitening Mask

What To Know Before You Go: Coconut water and oil-drenched sheet masks sound hydrating enough, but it’s the printed panda face version that La Belle Beauty Supply sells that makes this mask a standout. Immensely photogenic, these sheet masks not only revitalize skin with a cooling serum, they’re just plain fun. (They really look like panda faces!)

La Belle not only stocks sheet masks in spades, they also carry loads of other beauty supplies: shampoos, tweezers, and other tools. As if that wasn’t enough to get you over there, part of the proceeds from the SNP Animal Panda Whitening Mask go to the Korea Animal Protection Society.

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Step #12: Mist

Where To Go: Aritaum; multiple locations.

What To Ask For: ARITAUM Baby Face Mist Power Hyaluronic Acid

What To Know Before You Go: If you want a super dewy complexion, hyaluronic acid is the way to go. The humectant attracts moisture into the skin, which is exactly what you want in a face mist. Baby Face Mist Power Hyaluronic Acid mist from ARITAUM comes in a small-ish aerosol spray can that’s awesomely portable. A couple of spritzes a day keeps skin hydrated.

Keep a bottle at your desk or in your purse and spray when needed. It’s not uncommon to see women in Korea spraying mist on their faces on the subway, while waiting at crosswalks, or even when they’re out at dinner. It not only is a massive moisture boost, the fine spray acts as a coffee-free pick-me-up in just a few seconds.
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