The Amazing Skin Secret We're Hooked On

Photographed by Moonsoyoung.
Backstage at the most recent Seoul Fashion Week, I saw everything from bejeweled lips to polka-dotted faces. But, the most consistent look was a toned-down version of dewy skin. A few years back, the trend in Korea was a full-on glossy face: Skin looked shiny and almost wet. Based on what I saw on the runway, I’m happy to see we’ve managed to dial “full gloss” back a few notches to a more natural “semi-matte.” The “lit-from-within” face halo isn’t exclusive to Korea, but the techniques used to manufacture this look are completely different from those stateside.

According to SK-II Korea’s “Skin Personal Training” manual, glowing skin has an even tone, smooth texture, elasticity, is free of wrinkles, and finally, radiates with light from within. It’s about good skin, and good skin isn’t easy to fake.

The quest for glowing skin is paved with hydration, dedication to skin care, and a healthy lifestyle. But, recreating a healthy halo of hydration demands technique. Newly launched Korean makeup brand Son&Park was behind the makeup looks for two of Seoul Fashion Week’s hottest shows, pushBUTTON and Suecomma Bonnie. I sat down with its cofounder and creative director, Taeyun Park, to get some tips on different methods used to achieve semi-matte.

Ahead, learn how you can get a semi-matte look that says “healthy,” rather than “I just bathed in a tub of Vaseline.” 
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Face Prep
Prepping the skin — a process that takes about 20 minutes — is as important as the makeup that goes on it. Even in the complete mayhem that happens backstage, I noticed that makeup artists dutifully adhered to this regimen — it makes makeup application a breeze. Because this look relies on a barely-there touch, starting out with a fully moisturized face will make it much easier to apply light, sheer layers, and skipping this step is like launching into a workout without warming up.

At the direction of Park, first, my face was swiped down with Son&Park Beauty Water. Unlike an astringent toner, which can strip the face of natural oils, moisturizing toners like Beauty Water gently cleanse and nourish. Next, I hung out for 15 minutes with the Hera Hyaluronic Mask on my face while getting a moisturizing dose of heavy-duty lip balm on my lips.
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Then, Park used two types of moisturizers from Avène, a French label that Korean makeup artists flock to. He massaged in Avène Skin Recovery Cream all over for a few minutes. As I hear, this is never optional. In Korea, how skin-care products are applied is just as important as the products themselves. Massages are it. This one’s a quickie, with circular strokes to get the blood flowing and a seven-second press on the bone hollows under each inner eye.

The heavier Avène Trixèra+ Selectiose Emollient Balm was applied to in-need areas that are line-prone (around the mouth, for me) or have dry patches. Park explained that, these days, moisturizers are made to be absorbed quickly. But, watch out for the heavy ones: They aren’t as fast-absorbing and can mix in with foundation later, making it difficult to apply. If you’re using something extra-hydrating, be sparing.
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Method #1: Spray & Go
The easiest path to semi-matte requires a facial mist and a cushion compact (like Hera's UV Mist Cushion SPF 50). Lightly spray the cushion with the facial mist, so that when it picks up the CC cream, there will be an even, minimal amount on its surface. This will make application quick and easy, and coverage dewy and sheer.

For a casual, everyday adaptation of the semi-matte look, this one will have you out the door in five. Lazy girls, rejoice.
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Method #2: Illuminator
Park says that illuminators are popular in Korea because some Korean women have a slightly tacky tendency to wear their foundation a shade (or two) lighter than their actual skin. Applying an illuminator beforehand allows for a more realistic, glowing look without the awkward different-colored neck situation.

There are two basic ways to work in an illuminator. Makeup artists at Seoul Fashion Week went next-level by mixing together different shades, depending on the model’s skin, but the most popular shade was a pearly pink. It’s better to use fingers than a brush or sponge for better control of how the product absorbs. Think small amounts on the fingertips, patted delicately on the undereye area, T-zone, C-zone (crescent-moon-shaped area that curves from the bottom of the eyebrow to the top of the cheekbone), chin, and around the corners of the mouth.

The second technique is to mix it in with foundation. The ratio depends on how much coverage you’re after, but somewhere around one part illuminator, two parts foundation is a good place to start. The Hera Magic Starter is one of the most popular luminizers in Korea with a cult following, but Park’s favorite isn’t only from the U.S., it’s a drugstore brand! He says he always stocks up on Revlon PhotoReady Skinlights in 300 Pink Light whenever he’s in the States.
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Method #3: Serum
Mixing a foundation with a few drops of serum is another way Korean women go glow-seeking. My go-to ritual is to combine an illuminator, serum, and foundation. The illuminator adds a subtle pearlescent glow, the foundation provides coverage, and the serum nourishes while diluting the foundation, giving the mixture a fluidity that glides on for maximum glow potential.
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Method #4: Oil Balm
Mixing a face oil into foundation used to be the formula du jour, but it often resulted in that too shiny look. These days, it’s popular to warm up a balm between the hands and press it lightly into the raised areas of the face post-foundation application for a final, light-lending touch.

The Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Oil Balm is one of my favorite products of the moment, and on days when I’m only wearing this, I get rave reviews on how radiant my skin looks. This balm is super-versatile, as you can use it all over the body and face. Whatever’s left on my hands, I generally rub into my hair. (Yep, it's good for your strands, too!)
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Method #5: Highlight
Using a powder highlighter can bring dimension to specific areas, unlike the previous methods, which focus on creating an overall glow. Using a brush, sweep highlighter onto the browbone, cheekbones, along the nose, around the corners of the mouth, and the tip of the chin.

Park says that even though adding definition to the cheekbones is undesirable in Korean culture, since sharp definitions in the face tend to make it look older, using a highlighter on the cheeks harnesses light to lend softness and can actually make the face appear more youthful. Park favored Laura Mercier’s Matte Radiance Baked Powder in Highlight 01 to get the job done, but another popular highlighter in Korea is Banila Co.’s The Secret Marbling Blusher. It won first place against four other best-selling highlighters in a blind test on Korea’s hit show Get It Beauty.
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