They say ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. So where does K-beauty stand in the grand scheme of all things makeup?
Korean beauty. It's gotten a bit of a rep in the makeup lexicon — and its ubiquitous takeover has seemingly generated three camps: The Yay team, the Nay team, and the 'Don't-Know-Don't-Care' team. For the uninitiated, Korean beauty is the by-product of the Hallyu wave; that is, all things Korean (food, entertainment, language, and even traditions) extending its influence to every possible corner of the globe. Of course, it all boils down to preference when it comes to media consumption, and for the folks who barely bat an eye at K-everything; they're just simply not that into it — which isn't a social crime. But for those who live and breathe the Korean wave, it's by and large one of the reasons why K-beauty is so prevalent.
Appealing to the masses with its bevy of visually perfect celebrities — who are the frontline ambassadors of the Hallyu wave, be it K-pop or K-drama — the imitation game is so strong mainly due to the audience demographic. The Korean fever counts among its following primarily young adults who are social media-savvy, and whom take to trends like bees to honey. And on the topic of social media, it's the channel where everyone gets their inspirations (and memes), which further contributes to the K-frenzy even if you don't know your Lee Min Jung from your Kim Min Jung. Case in point, the ombré lip trend, which in this writer's perspective — yes, I'm a millennial whose beauty routines incorporate some Korean influences; don't judge — started off with CL of the now defunct 2NE1 in the group's infectious Can't Nobody music video. It's gained so much traction lately, big international brands like Estée Lauder and Dior are also capitalising on the trend with their own version of the two-toned lip.
Even beauty insiders who don't ascribe to the Korean aesthetic have a thing or two they've utilised from the land of kimchi. Take for instance Marie Soh, makeup artist and the founder of homegrown beauty brand Inga Cosmetics, who has adapted the infamous dewy complexion when it comes to making up her clients though she's not known to do K-beauty looks. "The glowy face makes one look more radiant and hides flaws! Mostly for brides on their special day for them to look like they have a 'Bridal Glow', and as if they slept eight hours when they only got four," she elaborates. And as much as the influx of Korean beauty is fuelled by hype — which you'll realise it is, once you cut through all the marketing spiel — there are solid brands in the industry worth adding to your makeup bag. Soh is a fan of the K-Palette series, and it was one of her first go-to for eyeliners and brow pencils. "I personally enjoy using Mamonde products as well," she chimes in.
So yes, there are a handful of Korean beauty pointers that translate well — the glowy skin, ombré lippie and to a certain extent, the full straight brows if you've got the right face shape to pull it off — which explains its speedy assimilation into mainstream makeup, but will K-beauty ever overtake Western beauty ideals? A mosey through the Sephora US website shows a growing crop of Korean brands creeping up stateside though skincare appears to take the bigger cake compared to makeup. But the influence has certainly made its way there. In fact, E! Entertainment is premiering a new show focused on K-beauty titled Beauty Crush, featuring Kim Min Jung (the actress we namedropped earlier) as its host alongside a panel of celeb beauty experts sharing Korean beauty tips, tricks and secrets.
"With Korean beauty standards, you do really need to be blessed with naturally blemish free, supple skin. However, with mainstream makeup, it really can be used as a tool to hide insecurities."
And on the homefront when it comes to E!, host and Friend of Buro Yvette King, who is half-Korean on her mother's side, provides a unique perspective on straddling the two halves: "I think Korean beauty trends and mainstream ones currently co-exist and will continue to do so. For example, people are obsessed with the looks of K-stars like Tiffany Hwang [of Girls' Generation] — the whole fresh skin, V-shape face, minimalistic no makeup vibe while equally being obsessed with the Kardashians and all the contouring, highlighting and over-drawn matte lips that come with them."
But before you get jealous of her ethnicity and see it as an all-access pass that gives King the right to K-beauty like no tomorrow, she'll have you know she practices it with discretion. "I love a straight, full brow — I have to fake it till I make it with this one though — filling them in with brow pomade. However one Korean beauty trend I'm not into is the ombré lip. I have naturally plump lips, so the last thing I want to do is make them look smaller or thinner." Indeed, on this note King brings up another point of contention, because knowing what works for your face is the best way to wear your makeup, trend or no trend.
"I think Korean beauty trends and mainstream ones currently co-exist and will continue to do so. People are equally obsessed with the looks of K-stars and the Kardashians."
You could even say experimenting with makeup is a form of individualism — a beauty concept backed by western standards — as opposed to Korea's predilection for a 'uniform' look, what with plastic surgery stats at an all-time high to achieve that doll-like big-eyed, button-nosed look (but that's a can of worms to be dissected in a separate story). King also adds, "I think with Korean beauty standards, you do really need to be blessed with naturally blemish free, supple skin — there's nowhere to hide. However, with mainstream makeup, it really can be used as a tool to hide insecurities. You can cover your pigmentation with full coverage foundation, make your eyes look wider with a bold, smokey eye and contour your way to cheekbones. There is definitely a place for both, I think."
As Korean beauty continues making the rounds with increasing globalisation and makeup tutorials on YouTube, there is the possibility that its saturation might one day come to point where we collectively decide we've had enough. There are only so many iterations of stories on K-beauty before it gets superfluous, after all. In Singapore, it's coming to the point where Korean beauty brands aren't eliciting the same fanatical response it used to — which may be a sign the trend is plateauing. Beyond Asia though is anybody's game, but I firmly believe that the K-beauty look is not 'one size fits all', not when we revel in our ethnic diversity and celebrate that which makes us different. Sure, the trend-driven nature of beauty means we'll incorporate a K-makeup look every now and then but ultimately; Korean beauty is place you'd like to visit, not to stay.
For more stories on Korean beauty, click here. Beauty Crush on E! shows every Saturday, 7pm on StarHub Channel 441, and Singtel TV Channel 328.