Korea has become a mecca for all things beauty. In fact, it’s become the 12th largest cosmetic producer in the world. So when my good friend and nail artist, Julie Kandalec asked if I wanted to join her on a trip to Korea this month –I of course – said yes!
Between the creative packaging, high quality products, and multipurpose skincare masks, it’s not hard to see why Korean brands are now crossing over to the states. They have everything from creams that promise glowing, poreless complexions to innovative beauty tools, and paper face masks that leave you looking like you spent a week at a luxury spa.
During my one week stay in Korea, my friend and I rented an Airbnb at the Seoul Station stop that wound up becoming the crossing point for our daily beauty trotting adventures. Fortunately, their metro system is more advanced than in NYC, so getting around was a breeze. A lot of the street signs were in English too –such a plus! Here are some of the beauty highlights I experienced while in Korea.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
- Most places accept credit cards –yas! But make sure to have a no-fee travel card because those fees eventually add up.
- The best months to go are March, May, September and November
- Sol is the main city you want to visit. People watching will become your favorite thing to do – trust me!
- Less makeup is more, but always add a pop of color.
- Bundle is the way to go. Most products are sold in large quantities so just ask for one.
- You’ll find some quirky beauty goods, but be open minded and explore like you never have before.
- Store associates will follow you. Warning: They tend to be a bit aggressive here.
- Free face masks are the norm when shopping around – score!
Gangham District:($$$) Known as the fifth avenue of NYC, this area has a unique style that really sets it apart. It’s especially popular among tourists due to the quantity of fancy stores. If you like shopping, this area is worth the stroll.
Myeong-dong Neighborhood: ($-$$) Get ready for the Mecca of Beauty. Every store you could ever imagine (especially beauty related) is located here. It’s said to have over 2 million shoppers daily. The streets are packed by self-proclaimed beauty gurus eager to share with you their newest on-trend products. So get ready to bring on the shopping! There’s a little bit of everything here, from high-end to even street stalls of your favorite face masks and local brands.
Garosu-gil: ($$) From makeup artist schools, to little cafes, this area is calmer but still has its own edge. What sets it apart from other cities are the unique clothing shops. It’s a great place for trendy and affordable fashion finds
Itaewon ($) Let’s just say I got a manicure walking along the street. See the image above ( hehe) You’ll spot more of a diverse crowd in this area, since it’s a very military-based place. There’s everything from restaurants, lash boutiques, and small nail salons. The places here are a tad pricey but very much worth it.
CONTACTS: Lens Story ($) How fun is the picture below of my much bigger-looking eyes? There are literally stores in Korea specifically for contact lenses. One of my favorites: Lens Story. You can find them anywhere, from subway stops to high end malls. The lenses are offered in a variety of colors, shapes, and designs. Girl, I have to admit, there’s something about wearing these lenses that just makes you feel so beautiful. If our eyes really are the key to our souls – I want mine bigger. Best part is, you don’t need a prescription. You can buy them at any of these shops and they cost anywhere from $8 to $45. Talk about dirt cheap!
INNIS FREE: ($) I’m a makeup artist so of course I loved all the beauty finds I found at this shop. Everything here is green, sustainable and made with natural ingredients. Did I mention it’s Korea’s number one natural brand?
Korean Grocery Stores: ($-$$) Inside any Korean Grocery Store you’ll find a beauty paradise scene. How cool is that? There’s everything, from your favorite K-Brands like Etude to more indie brands.
You’ll find every major face mask the world has to offer at this skincare maven, from brightening to hydrogel, and even broccoli vitality formulas. One of the oddest beauty products I found was a body taping patch. What exactly is that you ask? It’s actually the latest beauty craze in Korea that works to stretch and hold certain muscles in place to adjust the body proportion – nuts I know!
Other ones to visit: Tony Moly, The Face Shop, The Saem, Etude House
Jung Saem Mool Academy: ($$) Of course one of my favorite activities was taking a makeup course at Jung Saem Mool Academy ( Click here for a full article of my time there) . I had the pleasure of making friends from all over the world that came to take this two day Korean Beauty Workshop. We learned about the latest trends and how to do the perfect beauty look on Korean features. If you’re a beauty junkie like me, you would love this spot.
No trip to Korea is complete without a visit to the Jimjilbang (Korean bathhouse). Girl, this is a must-visit for anyone looking for a traditional spa day experience. I’m talking full body deep exfoliation and relaxing in pools of all temperatures. I was able to face one of my fears ( see more here of my experience) and literally GOT NAKED! Sure, I’ve been completely naked before but NOT in front of 40+ Korean women. It was such a liberating and freeing experience and hands down better than any spa I’ve ever visited in the states.
Another activity I really enjoyed was the Imperial Oriental Medicine Sitz Bath at Dragon Hill Spa in Seoul, Korea. I wound up sitting on a potty-like box filled with herbs meant to relax and detox my inner self, a.k.a vagina. You know like the vaginal steam Tia and Tamera Mowry tried.
The temperature starts rising after 10 minutes and I have to warn you, it gets pretty darn hot. I’m talking so hot I found myself having to cover my face and ask for air. The benefits are so worth it though. It does everything from detoxifying your skin to restoring vaginal moisture. You are even given a special Korean tea at the end of the treatment, that’s meant to keep you relaxed. I felt so cleansed and fresh after this.
Witch Nails: ($$) This super cute salon offers all kinds of cool designs and gel manis . I got a full manicure with two nail designs for $55.00. Pricey but so worth it.
Not to mention, you’ll find all the coolest nail salons at the above shopping districts. There are shops almost on every block, and you’ll have so much fun finding one that is so your style. In Korea decor is life, and finding your sanctuary is the funniest part of #BeautyExploring
Food Truck Street Vendors; located throughout Korea; ($)
I promise next time I’ll ask for a translation. We ate at some incredible restaurants and food trucks but everything was in Korean, so I apologize in advance for not getting any of the names of the places we visited. It’s fair to stay Korean BBQ is a must and you absolutely have to try the local street food. I really enjoyed caramelized pancakes, and soup dishes. You won’t be disappointed – I promise!
(Look into my eyes, notice anything different?)
(Korean BBQ! Yes Please with Nail Guru Julie Kandalec)
(It’s Getting Hot in Here, The Sitz Bath)
(My Beauty Haul. Do you Blame me?)
(Korean Kpop nail art along the streets of Itaewon. Why not?)