Drugstore Beauty, Korean Style

Photo: Courtesy of Espoir.
Although not as readily available as it should be, Korean drugstore makeup is starting to have its time in the spotlight. You probably already know Etude House and Tony Moly from the so-twee-they'd-make-this-kitten-jealous princess packaging. But, these aren't the only road-shop brands (so called by Koreans because many drugstore brands tend to have stores by popular streets) worth knowing.
Here, we've rounded up three more notable Korean drugstore lines — VDL, Espoir, and Innisfree — plus the top-notch buys from each you definitely should start stocking up on as well as a few items to avoid. Our pro tip for shopping drugstore, Korean style? Go for the lip products, and run away from the blushers.
Keep clicking to learn the secret to scoring the best products at a Korean drugstore.
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Photo: Courtesy of Her World Plus.
At first glance, VDL stores could be mistaken for a MAC shop, with its sleek interior design and black product packaging. But, what really makes this new kid on the block comparable to American makeup-artist brands is its focus on artistry. Unlike most road-shop brands that set their sights on following precarious trends like flavored lip tints in fruit packaging, VDL aims to create products that will become modern classics, with equal emphasis on standbys like the brand's satin-finish lipsticks as well as groundbreaking, new-age functional makeup that includes the best-selling "beauty finisher" (a setting lotion) and metal cushion compact.

The company's dedication to delivering pigmented products is apparent in the lip and complexion departments, which offer color ranges unseen in most Korean brands. However, like many other Korean lines, VDL’s colorful powder wares — think blushes and eyeshadows — fall short in pigmentation and rely heavily on glitter, so they don't perform quite as well.
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Photo: Courtesy of VDL.
Buy: Satin-Finish Lipsticks
Make a note to pick up those in the fuchsia-red family. They perform exceptionally well because the formula is similar to MAC’s own satin-finish lipsticks.
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Photo: Courtesy of VDL.
Buy: Metal Cushion Foundation
A cushion compact that deposits the product from a metal container for a more hygienic and cooling application. The formula of the foundation inside is thin but buildable, making this a perfect touch-up product for all skin types.
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Photo: Courtesy of VDL.
Buy: Beauty Finisher
This is a flexible lotion that can be used as a hydrating primer or a luminizing moisturizer to set foundation or to highlight high points of the face. It has a serum-like texture that isn’t greasy, which makes it perfect for personalizing to individual skin types.
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Photo: Courtesy of VDL.
Buy: Tint Bar
A hydrating lip tint that stays in place and fades away evenly.
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Photo: Courtesy of VDL.
Skip: Eyeshadows
In this case, avoid the pink-red family, as these shadows are the worst offenders and lack the richness necessary for these hues to be flattering on the eye. The taupe-browns tend to perform better, but they still blend out poorly.
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Photo: Courtesy of VDL.
Skip: Blushers
Many contain large glitter particles that fail to look flattering on pretty much anyone.
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Photo: Courtesy of VDL.
Skip: Eye Brushes
The bristles are hard and do not pick up enough product. VDL's cheek brush, however, is a standout synthetic brush, comparable in quality to the Real Techniques Stippling tool.
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Photo: Courtesy of Seoul Sale.
If you're ever in Korea, make it a point to swing by an Espoir store. Unlike VDL, where there's a sense of commitment to carving out a unique brand aesthetic, Espoir is a store dedicated to reproducing the best sellers of all the high-end brands. Is that Shiseido’s legendary foundation brush we see before our eyes? Nope, it’s an Espoir copy — at half the price. Sign us up.

Its Nude Liquid Powder Foundation is a near-identical copy of the Giorgio Armani Maestro foundation, while its Gradient-Finish Powder Tone Correct is considered by some to rival its original inspiration, Stila's Set & Correct Baked Powder Trio. The brand's fearless plagiarism of products may be brazen, but its goal to recreate the best of the best also means Espoir is a perfect place to try fairly high-quality dupes of your Sephora-wish-list wares.
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Photo: Courtesy of Espoir.
Buy: Nude Liquid Powder Foundation
This Giorgio Armani Maestro foundation clone comes in a set with an application brush that also looks exactly like the limited-edition MAC face brush, giving you double the dupe in one purchase. Although the liquid powder is startlingly similar in quality, Espoir has created a formula that may even be more workable for novices than the high-tech original, making it a beloved staple for many Korean women.
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Photo: Courtesy of Espoir.
Buy: Grinding Finish Powder Tone-Correct
Although it's a copy of Stila's color-correcting powder, this reimagined version also contains hydrating particles to not only correct skin tone but also texture.
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Photo: Courtesy of Espoir.
Buy: Makeup Tools
Espoir offers up dupes of a beauty blender, a Shiseido buffing brush, and a MAC face brush. Fun fact: The MAC brush in question is also a replica, as the original was created under a Korean makeup artist’s line called Mule Cosmetics.
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Photo: Courtesy of Espoir.
Buy: Lip Stain Waterglow
A direct double of Shiseido’s stain, but it's considered by some to actually trump the original. It is somehow hydrating without any slippage.
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Photo: Courtesy of Espoir.
Skip: Naked Eyeshadow Line
This eyeshadow range is clearly a rip-off of the ever-popular Urban Decay line, but Espoir’s versions are more glittery than buttery. For more dependable eyeshadows, try the brand’s Sensual Colors collection.
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Photo: Courtesy of Espoir.
Skip: Nail Polish
They never quite dry down, and the lacquers chip very easily.
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Photo: Courtesy of Espoir.
Skip: Clear Line Pen Liner
Liquid liners from Espoir tend to be diluted in pigment and never look crisp and clean when they set.
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Photo: Courtesy of Korean Clicks.
Innisfree is largely a skin-care brand, as its best-selling products tend to be its eco-friendly, gentle cleansers and moisturizers. However, its makeup line is growing, and the results are impressive, especially with its boldly pigmented products. The company's strong skin-care background means its complexion products are dependable staples in many a Korean woman’s handbag, especially its Serum CC cream line.

The best thing about Innisfree is that its dedication to "ethical consumption" means it constantly produces high-quality organic products at prices ladies of all budgets can afford, while much of its profits go to environmental organizations. Plus, many dermatologists recommend Innisfree as a makeup brand that won’t irritate sensitive-skinned women.
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Photo: Courtesy of Innisfree.
Buy: Green Tea Pure Moist Base
This has the makeup-adhering powers of a primer without the silicone feel of most. Its quality is most obvious after you take off your makeup, as the primer seems to keep your primpers from clogging your pores throughout the day.
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Photo: Courtesy of Innisfree.
Buy: Serum CC Cream
The brightening version of this CC cream yields a stain finish, while the cover version appears slightly matte, but both are excellent products that let you see the color correction. In swatches the cream looks yellow in tone, but it applies with a pinker finish on most to neutralize yellow undertones. It also wears well, as the cream lets the skin’s natural oils seep in over the course of the day. The result? A natural look that still manages to conceal hyperpigmentation.
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Photo: Courtesy of Innisfree.
Buy: Gel Liners
This is, hands down, the best eyeliner we have ever used, in both pot and pencil form. The potted version feels a little wet on first use, but when it dries down after a couple of months, it becomes perfect as a long-wearing product for tightlining. The pencil liner is so pigmented that it doesn't fade over the course of the day, but it's still so soft that it can be smudged out in the first minute after application. For the true standout performers, pick up the black potted gel liner and the bronze pencil liner.
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Photo: Courtesy of Innisfree.
Skip: Tools
Innisfree has a large range of tools with eco-friendly handles, from eyelash curlers to makeup brushes. But, its brushes tend not to pick up or distribute pigment well. Bummer.
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Photo: Courtesy of Innisfree.
Skip: Blushes
For unknown reasons, many Korean brands seem to think women want to walk around with super-sparkly cheekbones, and Innisfree is one of the worst offenders of labeling glitter dust as blushers. Its bronzers, on the other hand, are mediocre but workable.
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Photo: Courtesy of Innisfree.
Skip: Eyeshadow Singles
Some swatch with decent pigmentation, but the real nightmare of Innisfree eyeshadow happens when you try to blend the shadows, as the color disappears and the glitter lingers.
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