Everything You Need To Know About Beauty Shopping In South Korea

It was only a few years ago that a mention of "K-beauty" would leave you with blank stares, but now, Korean beauty has swept through the cosmetics industry like a splash-mask tidal wave. With an emphasis on natural ingredients, nourishing formulas, and whimsical packaging, K-beauty not only promises to give you dewy, healthy radiance; it also makes self-care a fun, indulgent experience.
While K-beauty sections have sprung up at countless U.S. retailers, nothing beats the authentic experience of shopping at the origin of it all: Seoul, South Korea (the city’s famed shopping district, Myeongdong, is known as the Times Square of beauty). So, with that in mind, we put together a beauty-editor-approved Seoul shopping guide.
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Of course, not all of the must-have products coming out of South Korea require touching down on the peninsula before you can bring them home; you can shop plenty of the best things K-beauty has to offer online. But should you have a visit on the horizon, or are considering booking one, our complete guide to the very best of Seoul beauty has everything you need to know. Don’t be surprised if you need an extra suitcase for the way home.
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Designed by Tristan Offit.
Innisfree Flagship

Peek inside the bathroom of any fashionable girl in Seoul, and you’re likely to find a few Innisfree products. This beloved brand’s four-story flagship store in Myeongdong isn’t just where the cool kids come to shop — it’s where they come to hang out. Browse all of Innisfree’s natural skin-care products and cosmetics on the ground floor (where you can customize your own eyeshadow palette and cushion foundation case), or get a skin analysis via a device that recommends products for your exact needs.

Upstairs, the Green Cafe offers organic snacks and drinks served in a plant-filled oasis complete with water ponds. Here, you can also embark on several virtual-reality tours of nearby Jeju Island, where the brand’s ingredients and café foods are sourced. And since you can easily spend half the day here, there’s even free luggage storage on the top floor.

Innisfree Flagship, 64-2 Myeongdong 1(il)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea; +82-2-776-0117.
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Designed by Tristan Offit.
Etude House Color Factory

Creating your own bespoke makeup will usually set you back a pretty penny. But at the new Color Factory concept shops by Etude House — a cosmetics, skin-care, and hair-care brand known for its unique formula innovations and super-cute packaging — you can create a custom lipstick shade and choose the bullet design and case (the latter of which you can engrave), all for around $23. The entire process takes about an hour; be sure to call ahead to book your appointment.

Etude House Color Factory, #64-2, Myeongdong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea; +82-2-753-3771.
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Designed by Tristan Offit.
Sulwhasoo Spa Flagship

Your mind and your complexion will find Zen at this serene store and spa that’s a work of art in its own right. Rooted in Korean herbal medicine, Sulwhasoo’s luxe, holistic skin-care line has made it one of the region’s most respected brands.

At the flagship store — where an art installation-style grid of brass structures reflects the brand’s philosophy of balance and harmony — you’ll find exclusives not sold anywhere else, including the premium Lantern skin-care products and a plum-blossom fragrance collection. When you tire from shopping, hit the spa to indulge in a heavenly facial, a red ginseng foot bath, and the signature Sulwhajeong treatment (a scented dry cloth massage).

Sulwhasoo Spa Flagship, 18 Dosan-daero 45-gil, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea; +82-2-541-9270.
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Designed by Tristan Offit.
Dr. Jart+ Filter Space

Clean beauty takes on a whole different meaning at this dazzling futuristic experience known as the Dr. Jart+ Filter Space in Seoul. The three-story structure that serves as the popular skin-care brand’s global flagship is designed to let you experience the three essentials of healthy beauty — water, air, and light — beyond simply applying products.

Entering the shop feels like going through a massive filtration device, as you make your way into an airlock that blocks outdoor pollutants. Once inside, the main floor features what’s possibly the world’s most purified drinking water and an “air shower” that cleanses you without actually getting you wet. On the second floor, you can breathe in maximum-purified air while shopping the full Dr. Jart+ product collection, including Filter Edition exclusives. And on the top floor, you can bask in all-natural light while receiving a high-tech skin analysis that identifies your specific complexion needs and delivers instant, customized product recommendations.

Dr. Jart+ Filter Space, 46, Dosan-daero 11-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea; +82-2-2135-5453.
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Designed by Tristan Offit.
Skinfood Store & Café

Long before watermelon face masks ruled #SelfCareSunday, Korean brand Skinfood (which launched in 1957) was using high-quality food ingredients and sustainable sourcing to create skin, body, hair, and makeup products that nourish and soothe. Stock up on the fan-favorite Black Sugar hydrating skin-care products and Everyday Yogurt mask — one of over 50 face masks offered — and then make your way to the café situated on top of the boutique. Decorated in the brand’s signature vibrant yellow, the café is stocked with books and motivational quotes on the walls that inspire bright moods and Instagram posts.

Skinfood Store & Café, 37 Apgujeong-ro 12-gil, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea; +82-80-012-7878.
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Designed by Tristan Offit.
Cree’mare

This beauty and lifestyle shop is a bit off the beaten track (it’s a 40-minute train ride from Myeongdong), but die-hard product mavens still flock here for its tightly edited but wide assortment of natural skin-care, cosmetic, and nail brands from both Korea and around the globe. The shop offers a taste level and curated style that makes even brands you can find at other stores suddenly seem all the more desirable (and the lush greenery doesn’t hurt, either).

Cree’mare, 200-8 Nonhyeon 1(il)-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea.
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Designed by Tristan Offit.
Lotte Duty Free

This luxury department store’s duty-free outpost offers a mecca of prestige beauty brands and Korean specialty brands. Be sure to bring your passport, as Lotte Duty Free offers tax refunds on the spot for tourists (most stores give you an invoice to claim the refund later on). The trade-off for this instant money-back perk? The Duty Free shop gets mobbed during the day, so browsing is really only enjoyable at off times.

Lotte Duty Free, 1 Sogong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea; +82-2-759-6409.
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Designed by Tristan Offit.
Tonymoly

It’s impossible to be in a bad mood once you set foot in a Tonymoly store. Now a global beauty brand, the company originated in Seoul and quickly found a spot in every millennial’s makeup bag, thanks to its bright colors, whimsical packaging, and high-quality formulas at great prices. The go-tos here are the brand’s best-selling Panda's Dream eye-care line and Tomatox and Appletox creams. You may think you’re not in the market for a lip balm shaped like a panda, but once you lay eyes on this super-cute loot, you won’t be able to resist it.

Tonymoly, 15-1 Myeongdong 4-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea.
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Designed by Tristan Offit.
The Face Shop

K-beauty devotees hail The Face Shop as a go-to source for natural and clean formulas. At numerous boutiques throughout Seoul, The Face Shop offers over 20 collections of makeup, skin-care, body-care, and men’s products, with an emphasis on organic and plant-based ingredients and eco-friendly packaging (the brand also doesn’t test on animals). Make sure to grab a Real Nature sheet mask, which practically has its own fan club.

The Face Shop, 44, Gwangbok-ro, Jung-gu, Busan, Seoul, South Korea; +82-51-245-4393.
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Designed by Tristan Offit.
Chicor Flagship

Ever been out shopping and thought to yourself, I could really use a scalp massage right about now? Well, you’re in luck, because that’s one of several unexpected bonus services offered at the giant new flagship for Korea’s Chicor beauty stores. With a whopping 250 local and global brands, the place is the mothership of beauty departments. Each floor has its own theme: The first floor is “extreme beauty,” the second is “beauty recipes,” and the basement is “beauty solutions.” The flagship is also the only Chicor with beauty specialists who can dole out product advice and one-on-one services like that scalp massage or makeup applications, and more experiential activities are rumored to be launching soon.

Chicor Flagship, 441 Seosan Building (B2F ~ 2F), Gangnam Daero Road, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea; +82-2-3495-7600.
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Designed by Tristan Offit.
Moonshot Flagship

Moonshot offers a range of richly pigmented makeup in sleek, minimalist packaging that's practically made for Instagram. But when it comes to the in-store experience, there’s simply no comparison. That’s because this cosmetics brand — which was created by YG Entertainment, the force behind some of Korea’s hottest pop stars — staffs its flagship store like it's casting a '90s boy band. Nearly all of the employees are young Korean men who just happen to be experts in the art of cosmetology. So your fantasy of having a heartthrob dab highlighter along your cheekbones can finally come true.

Moonshot Flagship, 111, Samcheong-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea.
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Designed by Tristan Offit.
Stylenanda Pink Hotel Flagship

This shrine to millennial pink is a girly fashion and beauty paradise, but it isn’t actually a hotel at all — it just looks like one. The main floor features a sprawling assortment of Stylenanda’s own cosmetics line, 3CE, a collection of bright and dewy makeup that’s popular with Korean beauty influencers. The cosmetics selection continues up on the second floor, which resembles an Old Hollywood movie star’s boudoir. Here you can try on products in front of rows of lighted vanity mirrors, snap a selfie by the bathtub filled with flower petals, and kick back on a pink velvet tufted chair.

Stylenanda Pink Hotel Flagship, 37-8, Myeongdong 8-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea; +82-2-752-4546.
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Designed by Tristan Offit.
Olive Young

This wildly popular chain of drugstore beauty pharmacies is a bargain hunter’s dream. With locations all throughout Seoul (the largest one is in Myeongdong), each store boasts clean, brightly-lit aisles and kiosks that showcase some of the best drugstore indie brands in Korea, including hard-to-find skin-care collections like Neogen and April Skin. There’s even an entire aisle dedicated to sheet masks and, at select stores, a styling bar to touch up your hair.

Olive Young, various locations throughout Seoul, South Korea.
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Designed by Tristan Offit.
LOHBs

With fewer locations and slightly higher prices than Olive Young, these beauty boutiques are tailored towards niche, cult-favorite brands and wellness items like beauty drinks and supplements. The name LOHB stands for LOve, Health, and Beauty, and while the mix of products varies somewhat from branch to branch, you should find coveted Korean brands at all locations.

LOHBs, various locations throughout Seoul, South Korea.
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Designed by Tristan Offit.
A-Land

Skin-care fanatics, take note: While A-land’s concept stores are known primarily for showcasing young, hip Korean fashion designers, this Myeongdong location is one of the select few that also carry up-and-coming Korean skin-care brands you likely won’t find anywhere else. If you want to discover new products before even some Koreans do, this is the place to go.

A-Land In Myeongdong, 30, Myeongdong 6-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea; +82-1566-7477.
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Designed by Tristan Offit.
Aritaum's My Beauty Atelier

The Aritaum stores are staples of Seoul, offering all the AmorePacific-owned skin-care and cosmetic brands (there are over 30) under one roof. But the new My Beauty Atelier concept store in Myeongdong, which opened at the end of 2017, is not your mother’s Aritaum. At this edgy, interactive space, you’re encouraged to play, swatch, and Instagram to your heart’s content. The store aims to inspire content and creativity at every turn: iPads stream video tips on the latest products, a wall with constantly changing backgrounds helps you stage your perfect selfie, and product displays are grouped by such themes as “New Crushes” and “What’s Hot.” Sensory overload never looked so good.

Aritaum's My Beauty Atelier, 34-1, Myeongdong 8-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea.
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