There are two very contrasting makeup trends continuing to dominate the Instagram and YouTube accounts of beauty vloggers and aficionados: One is exaggerated facial contouring; the other is a very minimal, no-makeup makeup look.
The Kardashian sisters are responsible for the internet's obsession with face and eyebrow sculpting (though legendary makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin is the original). Makeup brands like Anastasia Beverly Hills and NARS have released contouring kits. Last September, Kim Kardashian hosted a $500 master class with her makeup artist, Mario Dedivanovic. Extreme before-contouring photos are popping up on social media accounts—a visual representation of just how much work it takes to create the illusion of perfectly-chiseled cheekbones.
But the no-makeup look is gaining in popularity. The growing influence of Korean beauty—from their intensive skincare routines to BB creams and cushion compacts—on Western culture is the culprit for the internet's fascination with wanting to look like they "woke up like this." Last year, an article about the growth of Korean beauty on The Cut revealed:
So far, in the first half of 2015, according to the Korea Customs Service, the total export value of Korean beauty products to the U.S. was $52 million, a 60 percent increase from last year. America is the third biggest export market for Korean cosmetics companies, after China and Hong Kong.
American women are opting out of noticeable makeup and instead coveting dewy skin, bushy brows, and natural-looking flushed cheeks, and Instagramming #shelfies of all of the skincare products they use (popularized by beauty blog Into The Gloss).
In 2011, Korean brand Dr. Jart introduced its BB cream to Sephora, claiming to cover blemishes and uneven skin tone while also working to erase them and protect the skin from sun damage—and the K-beauty craze began. Then came CC creams, which are more color-correcting and used to diminish the appearance of redness. Most recently, cushion compacts have hit the market, functioning like BB and CC creams, but with SPF over 50 and small, compact packaging for easier application. All of these are lightweight creams, more like a moisturizer, than a foundation, but with the benefits of coverage.
Cosmopolitan editor Jessica Matlin first noticed the influx of Korean beauty products into the American beauty market about three years ago. "This brand isn't Korean, it’s Japanese, but when SK-II came out with sheet masks like ten years ago, that was the original," Matlin told me. "And then, I started seeing other sheet masks about three years ago and everyone was like, 'oh, it’s like the SK-II mask.' Now, nobody says that anymore because there’s been so many. Everyone started making them, places like Peach and Lily started coming out, and it was just like, this explosion."
A lot of American and European skincare products lead with the promise of gradually preventing wrinkles and fine lines. While K-beauty products can come off as intimidating, because of their advanced technology and vastly unknown ingredients, the promise of immediate results is what makes them so appealing. Throw on a skin-problem specific serum-soaked sheet mask from TonyMoly or Dr. Jart for 20 minutes, massage the left-over product into your skin and instantly get more a more radiant complexion. Apply the Laneige Water Sleeping Mask overnight for eight hours and wake up with hydrated skin.
American women aren't only flocking to the beauty counters to purchase products in hopes of getting more dewy radiant skin, but they are also going to conferences and panels for more information. Last year, indie e-commerce retailer Glow Recipe held a K-beauty panel at KCON, a conference about all things Korean culture held in New York and Los Angeles, with plans to showcase even more K-beauty vendors at the event this summer. Most recently, The Korea Society—a group based in New York that organizes events about Korean affairs—held a conference on everything K-beauty, where panels of experts dished on their skincare routines, favorite products, and what they think is next. The audience was made up of mostly non-Korean women (including me).
During a K-beauty makeup tutorial at the Korea society event, Seong Hee Park did something I've never seen a make-up artist do: Before she applied any foundation, she did a 20-minute sheet mask and then applied toner, eye cream, and an argan oil serum on her model. "Korean makeup needs dewy skin, so you definitely need to hydrate your skin," said Park. "Most of Korean beauty is for the skin products, not the makeup products."
"If Westerners have a skin problem, usually they go to see the doctor, or they are looking for something to cover it up. But, if Koreans have a skin problem, they are looking for a good skin product first, to recover and heal their skin, because they understand how [skincare ingredients] work there," said Park.
The Korean way of skincare is thorough, affordable, innovative, and seemingly effective—it's no wonder why Americans are hopping on board to change the way they approach their skin. Korean-inspired regimens usually consist of ten steps or more, including double cleansing, toning, an essence, two or three serums, and sheet masks with ingredients like sea kelp, snail mucin, maple tree sap and starfish extract. That leaves very little to do once makeup application comes into play. And even then, the makeup is often also working to fix the skin, with blushes, foundations and creams that not only help with radiance and evenness, but also hydrate and protect with SPF.
Alicia Yoon and Cindy Kim launched their e-commerce site Peach and Lily in 2012. Since then, the American beauty market has been introduced to things like snail cream and rubber masks. Peach and Lily, along with SokoGlam, are the leading beauty sellers and influencers of K-beauty products in the US. Last year, Sephora teamed up with Peach and Lily, introducing a beauty campaign promoting only Korean beauty products, which now have their own sections, both on the websites and in-store.
"[Sephora's] image with Ji-Hye Park as the model–her look was this dewy face, and it actually said, 'get dewy skin' on the poster. I think when people saw that, [the influence of Korean beauty] really resonated," said Yoon. "And you see that on runways now—people are doing glossy lids and radiant faces. The really matte, powdery look isn’t really in with fashionistas right now."
Of course, the Korean beauty routine doesn't have to be achieved by using solely Korean products. An increasing number of American brands, like Peter Roth Thomas, L'Oreal, and Clinique are adopting the "skin first" idea by creating their own versions of these scientifically-advanced products, from toners to sheet masks to cushion compacts. And, in the past year, two American beauty brands launched with the sole selling point of getting a radiant, flawless complexion through routine skincare and minimal makeup, taking an obvious cue from the K-beauty craze.
In 2015, Emily Weiss launched her beauty brand Glossier with the mottos "skincare as makeup" and "skin is in." Instead of making stuff to hide blemishes, the line includes products like a Skin Perfecting Tint, which works to make the skin look more dewy, and the Boy Brow, meant to make your eyebrows look fuller and slightly untamed. Glossier offered two masks, cleansers, and a priming moisturizer before they ever launched concealers or lipsticks.
Milk Makeup launched in February 2016, and while the brand offers fun makeup products, like bright red lip color and blue eyeliners, the appearance of radiant, dewy, youthful skin is still the starting point. Like K-beauty products, there are multitaskers—like a Blush Oil that creates flushed cheeks while also hydrating the skin, and a Cooling Water that hydrates the skin while also giving it an immediate glow. Like Glossier, Milk Makeup launched with skincare products for the face—Charcoal Cleanser and Sunshine Oil.
Innovation and change are constant factors in Korean beauty products. This year's cushion compacts may be packaged differently and offer even more benefits in the next year. But having a flawless complexion through the use of various skincare products is a part of the culture. In the United States, beauty trends come and go, and only time will tell if the K-beauty craze is just a fad or an new standard. But, who knew "started wearing less and going out more" could also apply to your makeup routine?
Tahirah Hairston is a style writer from Detroit who likes Susan Miller, Rihanna's friend's Instagram accounts, ramen and ugly-but cute shoes.