Korean skincare differs from western skincare in many ways – from the ingredients in the products, to the formulations, designs, approach and purpose. Even the pricing sets Korean skincare apart!


So how exactly are Korean and western products different and why?


STYLE STORY investigates:


Skincare vs Makeup 

Whereas western cosmetics tend to focus on using makeup and application techniques to cover flaws, the Korean philosophy is that beauty begins with great skin. Korean beauty products therefore focus on skincare to fix any underlying skin problems rather than covering them up.

Consumer spending in Korea also reflects this preference, with an estimated 89% of Korean girls and women spending their money on skincare products rather than makeup.

Even Korean makeup products tend to focus on repairing skin issues (while covering up), and often contain ingredients to make skin healthier.


Layering Products 

Korean skincare focuses on soothing and nourishing the skin and making sure it is properly hydrated. Whereas western skincare often focuses on exfoliating to reveal new skin, Korean skincare is all about putting nutrients back into the skin and gently caring for it.

Each product in a Korean beauty routine serves a specific purpose and is designed to be softly applied, patted, tapped or massaged into the skin.

Another reason for Korea’s obsession with layering?

The Korean weather, which is much more extreme than many western countries. Korea has four very distinct seasons, featuring everything from scorching hot, humid summers (with a proper rainy season) to snowy winters where temperatures drop below 20C.

These extreme weather conditions reak havoc on skin, which is why the typical Korean skincare regime involves a variety of hydrating products and steps to counteract the harsh environment.



Koreans take UV protection very seriously.

From their religious use of sunscreen and covering up when outdoors, to carrying umbrellas to keep out of the sun, Koreans highly prize fair skin. This is a historical preference that reflected the distinctions between the classes; whereas poorer women in the old days worked outdoors, the wealthy were able to avoid work and stay indoors, avoiding a tan.

The Korean preference for fairer skin is also evident in their beauty products, which are designed to make skin as clear and radiant as possible (known as “whitening”). Although “whitening” products do not contain bleaches, they do contain ingredients like niacinamide, which is designed to even out skin tone and get rid of sunspots.


Deep Hydration

Koreans are obsessed with hydration.

They aim to make the skin look “chok chok” (which loosely translates to bouncy and soft). This serves a practical purpose as well – when skin is properly hydrated, it makes wrinkles and fine lines look less visible. This is also why there are so many layers of hydrating products in the Korean beauty routine.

The keys to the Korean Beauty Routine are hydration and layering products.


Double Cleansing 

Koreans believe in cleansing twice at night – once with an oil based cleanser, which is designed to get rid of the day’s makeup and once with a foam cleanser that is designed to remove any leftover impurities.


Ingredients and Formulas  

Korean skincare focuses on using innovative and original ingredients and techniques, so that new products stand out amongst a sea of competition. Recent trends have included snail mucin, galactomyces (yeast extract), bee venom, donkey milk, Yuja (a type of Korean citrus fruit), ginseng, fermented ingredients, sparkling water and even placenta!



Korean products are much cheaper to buy than their western counterparts because manufacturing costs are much lower in Korea.

There is also stiff competition between the various Korean cosmetic companies to offer the best for less as beauty-obsessed Koreans are always on the lookout for the next “Big Thing” in skincare. In order to stay competitive, most brands keep their marketing costs low and products competitively priced.



Innovation is key for Korean beauty labels, as there are thousands of companies competing against each other.

It is said that Korea is 10 years ahead of western skincare technology. There are multiple reasons for this, but a big reason is that there is less red tape when it comes to bringing new skincare products and ingredients to the market. This has led to the introduction of new ingredients like bee venom, synthetic snake venom (“Syn-ake”) and snail mucin.


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