Korean makeup follows in the footsteps of Korean skin care to help us all look youthful and glowy in that Korean, skin-comes-first kind of way. Whereas there is an attitude of “more is more” when it comes to layering on the skin care products, the exact opposite is true for Korean makeup products.
Korean cosmetics are often thin, gentle, and not overly pigmented, and they are best applied minimally in soft washes. The techniques themselves are just as important as the products, as they are meant to be subtle yet impactful. This combination of lots of skin care and just a bit of very carefully applied makeup leads to a very natural look that is a little ethereal.
Beyond that, Korean cosmetics also stand out because of a certain fun factor. Innovative textures and packaging make the Korean makeup purchasing process feel exciting and experimental, as the products are crafted not only to function but also to surprise.
In this article, we’ve profiled the very best Korean makeup products that you can get easily anywhere in the world. We also go into detail about the Korean makeup categories, which are a little bit different from the Western ones.
Then we break down the full Korean makeup routine so that you can transform yourself into your favorite K-pop idol. We end with a few tips and tricks to help you achieve that youthful look!
Korean Makeup Guide: Contents
From lip tints to BB creams, find the best Korean makeup products in the industry below!
1. Laneige BB Cushion Hydra Radiance SPF 50
Perfect, glowy skin is easy to achieve when you have this super-popular cushion BB cream on hand. As should always be the case for cushion foundations, it comes with a 50 SPF and lots of skin-nourishing ingredients. It hydrates the skin and gives it a dewy finish that is perfect for those with dry skin. It is sold at Sephora in 6 colors.
2. Eyeko Yoga Waterproof Mascara
One of the best things about Korean makeup products is that their packaging is always innovative. This mascara from Eyeko comes in a fun squeeze tube that makes the application particularly unique. The formula itself is waterproof and tubing, so it gives length and holds a curl well. The curvy brush also helps boost the curling effect, and it is dense enough to help with volume. You can order it from Net-a-Porter.
3. Touch In Sol No Poreblem Primer
“Chok chok” skin has to be hydrated and moist, but it also has to be smooth – invisible pores are a must, while the mattifying effect should be subtle! That’s exactly what this silicone-based makeup primer delivers. It fills in the pores and keeps makeup looking fresh all day long, for blurred skin that is impossibly smooth. It works well for both oily and dry skin types. Find it at Sephora!
4. Too Cool For School Milk Tint
Korean makeup products give us a variety of innovative textures to work with, with these milky, sheer lip tints as a perfect example! They give a subtle, glossy wash of color to the lips, and they have a wonderful moisturizing effect. They can be built up to have a stronger color, but that’s not really the point – they are meant to look soft and natural. You can also apply them to your cheeks for a gentle flush. You can choose your favorite color or simply buy all 4 at Ulta.
5. Kaja Cheeky Stamp Blendable Blush
This might be the cutest blush we’ve ever seen. It’s a cream blush with a semi-matte, velvety finish that goes on light but can be built up easily. It comes in the form of a cushion compact with a heart-shaped stamp application – you just stamp on an adorable heart, and then blend it in for a perfect wash of color. It is available at Sephora in 4 super wearable shades.
6. Sulwhasoo ‘Perfecting Cushion’ Foundation Compact
Glass skin has to be flawless and glowy – something that is hard to achieve with Western foundations. This cushion compact foundation gives significant coverage with that highly coveted dewy, glowy finish that is wonderful for those with dry or dull skin. It has a 50 SPF and a ton of antioxidants, and the package also includes a refill. Our only critique is that the color range skews light. It is available in 6 shades at Nordstrom.
7. the SAEM Cover Perfection Tip Concealer SPF28 PA++
This little concealer offers some serious coverage. It is perfect for brightening the area under the eyes or for concealing blemishes and redness. It has a velvety matte finish, and it stays put without creasing or cracking, even without a setting powder. It comes in 9 colors on YesStyle, including a highlighter and contour shade.
8. Peripera Ink Airy Velvet in Elf Light Rose
These liquid lip tints are surprisingly pigmented and long-lasting. This particular shade gives a pinky wash of color to the lips that brightens them up without being overly dramatic. It has a nourishing, velvety finish that feels beautiful on the lips but doesn’t look too glossy. It is available via Amazon.
9. Clio Waterproof Pen Liner in Kill Black
Whether you’re into puppy eyes or cat eyes, this black eyeliner will give you that perfect flick that will not budge. It’s a waterproof liquid eyeliner that comes in pen form, so it is really easy to apply. It has won a lot of awards both in Korea and the West, so give it a try! You can order it online from Soko Glam.
10. Erborian Pink Perfect Creme 4-in-1 Primer
This primer gives instant illumination to the skin. It smooths out the skin, fills in and blurs pores, and extends the longevity of foundation as well. However, what makes it unique is its pearly finish, which gives the skin a glow and its pink tone, which helps cancel out yellowness and sallowness from the skin. You can buy it through Revolve.
11. Innisfree Auto Eyebrow Pencil
Shading in brows in the Korean style is a little bit different from the Western style, so you might as well opt for a Korean eyebrow pencil. These pencils from Innisfree have a long and thin applicator perfect for sketching hairs, and they roll up so no sharpener is required. They are really easy to apply since the color builds up slowly, but once the color is on it does not move. They come in 7 colors, so you are guaranteed to find a match to your hair color on YesStyle.
Korean cosmetics are one of the most innovative and freshest in the world, which is why we have seen many other Western beauty brands launch the products Korean makeup brands first came up with. Here you’ll find the most popular Korean makeup products both ends of the world love wearing.
Much like in the West, Korean makeup primers come with all kinds of intended purposes, with the main one being to improve the look and longevity of foundation applied above them. While there are pore-blurring and mattifying primers, however, there are a lot more primers that are meant to brighten and color correct the skin, to give that “chok chok” glass skin glow.
Korean primers will also come in a brightening shade like lavender or pink to counter sallowness, and might also contain light-reflecting pigments to illuminate the skin.
I’ve talked about BB creams and CC creams in a lot of detail in the past, so I’ll just give you a super quick summary. BB creams (which stand for either beauty balms or blemish balms) and CC creams (color correctors) are multiple-in-one foundation and skincare products. They can have either high or low coverage, a variety of skincare benefits, and they often also have high sun protection ratings. For many Korean makeup aficionados, they are complete replacements for foundation.
These days, almost any Korean makeup product can come in a cushion compact, although traditionally cushion compacts are filled with foundation or BB cream. These are compacts with a sponge-bottom layer that is soaked with makeup, and then an applicator sponge on the top layer that is malleable and antibacterial.
Because of the aerating effect of the cushion the products tend to be super light and dewy, while the ingredients themselves are super good for the skin as is common in Korean makeup.
Korean concealers are very different from foundations and BB creams. Whereas most Korean complexion products are meant to be dewy and glowy, the concealers are self-setting and high-coverage.
This is because setting powders are not a common part of the Korean makeup routine, so that concealers have to stay in place all on their own. Like most other Korean complexion products, the concealers also tend to have high SPF.
Low-Pigment Eyeshadows and Blushes
While we’re slowly starting to see powder products out of Korea being more pigmented, for the most part Korean cosmetics aren’t meant to be opaque or heavy-duty. In particular, powder blushes give a soft flush of color rather than a heavy, pigmented finish.
Eyeshadows also tend to be less pigmented, but not in a patchy or chalky way – they just deposit a little less color on the eye, and are better for subtler looks.
Cream blushes are a bit more popular in Korean makeup than they are in the West. This is because they give the most natural wash of color, and they also don’t take away from the coveted “glass skin” look the way that powder blushes do. Cream blushes can come in the form of a mousse, a liquid tint, and even a cushion!
Korean lip tints, much like Western ones, have a liquid texture that stains the lips rather than covers them. However, unlike Western ones, they tend to be ultra-hydrating and very sheer. They give the lips a lot of moisture along with a light wash of color, so they are easy to apply quickly and they don’t look too opaque on first application. Tinted lip balms are also super popular in South Korea.
There is no one Korean beauty look or one Korean makeup technique, but there are a few trends that stand out in Korean makeup that are different from what you would see in the West. You can absolutely use Korean makeup products to achieve a more “Western” beauty look, but where’s the fun in that?
This is a great chance to expand your horizons and to embrace a slightly different style. Korean makeup style is all about making the skin look bright and glowy, and softening other features so that the face looks young and feminine.
• Start your Korean makeup routine by smoothing a primer on your skin. Ideally, opt for a skin-brightening primer – if you really need a mattifying or pore-blurring primer, use it sparingly and only on the parts of your face that get very oily, rather than all over the face.
• Apply foundation, BB cream, or cushion foundation to your skin. Apply it in downward motions, and use a very thin layer, using either a damp makeup sponge, an applicator, or even fingers to blend. Apply a second layer only to the parts of your skin that need a little more coverage.
• If necessary, spot-conceal any blemishes or dark marks or apply a bit of concealer under the eyes to hide any redness.
• Instead of using powder all over the face, only apply it to the areas of your face that get oily – for most people, that would be the T-zone. Use a small, fluffy brush, and load it up with the smallest amount of powder. Tap the excess off on a tissue. Use a tapping potion to apply the powder to your skin.
• Use a blotting sheet or a tissue to absorb excess moisture from the other parts of your face instead of powdering.
• A soft wash of blush is very important for getting that youthful glow! Start your blush application at the high point of your cheek, and lightly blend it out downwards and towards the temples. A cream blush is preferred, but you can also use a powder blush with a small, soft brush.
• Contouring can be done with either cream or powder products – it’s totally up to you. Your contouring shade should be as natural as can be, without any red or orange undertones to it.
• The purpose of contouring is to soften the face, so rather than applying dark, visible contouring, opt for lighter, more blended contouring. You can still contour under the cheekbones and along the sides of the nose, albeit softly, since you don’t want an overly angular face. Also apply a bit of contouring along the jawline, to soften and round it out.
• Highlighting is not a huge part of the Korean makeup routine, since the skin should glow from the start, but you can absolutely go for it if you’d like the extra brightness! Opt for a cream-based highlighter, and apply it down the bridge of your nose, at the center of your forehead, above the Cupid’s bow, and down the center of your chin. You can also dab a bit above your blush. Make sure it’s well blended, of course!
• Apply a bit of foundation or concealer to the eyelids, to act as an eyeshadow primer. Since eyeshadow looks don’t tend to be too heavy or pigmented, there is often no need for a dedicated eye primer. If you are going for a more pigmented look, however, then definitely opt for an eyeshadow primer instead.
• The most popular eyeshadow looks only use a single shade applied over the lid. Using your fingers for a cream eyeshadow or a brush for a powder eyeshadow, tap a medium-toned shadow over your eyelids, covering the lid and going slightly up into the crease. The eyeshadow applied to your lid can have a metallic finish if you’d prefer a more glamorous look, with peaches and pinks being the most popular shades for an everyday look.
• With a smaller brush, sweep that same eyeshadow under the center of the lower lash line, which will give a sultry look that is not dark.
• Use a brighter shade in the inner corner of the eye to open it up.
• You can blend a bit of that same color out under the eye to enhance the “aegyo sal”. “Aegyo sal” is Korean for “charming fat” and it refers to a bit of puffiness under the eyes – not quite an eye bag, which looks puffy where the under-eye area meets the cheekbones, but just under the lower lash line. This bit of puffiness can make the eyes look bigger in a way that is more youthful than applying a darker eyeliner to the under-eye area.
• To deepen your crease, don’t use a dark eyeshadow – use your contour powder or cream instead, and apply it in a very blended manner from the outer corner of the eyes, over the lower part of the brow bone and around to the side of the bridge of the nose, in a rounded shape.
• To really deepen the whole look, you may apply a little bit of a darker eyeshadow to the outer corner of the eye, but make sure to blend it out well!
• The brows are meant to have a straight or rounded, slightly thickened shape, without too much of an arch (or without an arch at all). They need to look soft and fluffy – nothing like the sharp brows popular in Western beauty these days. These days, skinny pencils are also popular for filling in brows with thin strokes meant to mimic the hair, especially towards the front of the brow.
• Tightlining is the best way to apply eyeliner, even if you’re going for a super soft look. It will open up the eyes and make the lashes look darker and lusher. You can use a gel liner on a small brush or a pencil eyeliner. You can use black, dark gray, dark brown, or dark purple. To tightline, apply eyeliner from below the lashes, and try to really get your eyeliner in between each individual lash. You can use vertical, dotting motions to apply your eyeliner in between the lashes.
• For a more prominent eyeliner look, you have two options. Puppy eyes and angled-up winged liner are both acceptable in the Korean makeup routine.
• For a younger, cutesier look, draw on “puppy eyeliner” by extending your liquid, gel, or pencil liner from the outer half of the upper lash line outwards following the natural curve of the eye, which will bring you straight out or slightly downwards. This will make the eyes seem a little rounder, which will also make you look a little younger.
• Apply eyeliner only to the outer half of your lower lash line, in order to make the eyes look bigger and rounder but without making them look too dark.
• For a bonus eye-enlarging effect, apply beige or white eyeliner in the waterline.
• Choose a lip tint or lipstick in the same color family as your blush, so if your blush is peachy opt for a warm-toned lip, while if your blush is pinky choose a cool-toned lip instead.
• Start by applying the lip tint to the center of your lower lip. With a brush or fingers, blend the color outwards towards the top lip and the ends of bottom lip.
• The final result should be a blooming lip, where the color is more saturated at the center of the lips and it sort of fades out at the lip line.
• Forget about intended purposes. Korean makeup techniques often ignore intended purposes of products, and focus on just getting the effect you want through any means necessary. For example, you can use a lip tint like a cream blush, apply your contour powder as an eyeshadow, or use your eyebrow pencil to contour your nose. As long as the color and texture are a good fit, it doesn’t matter what the name of a product is.
• Fingers are awesome applicators. While brushes and sponges are great, using fingers is perfectly acceptable for applying Korean cosmetics – especially cream products. Don’t be afraid of using your fingers to smooth out foundation, dab on cream blush, or smudge out lip tint.
• Get as much hydration as you can. The more hydrated your skin is, the glowier and healthier it will look. This means that before applying your makeup, make sure your skin is as hydrated as can be (a Korean skin care routine can definitely help with that), and follow it up with hydrating makeup products that have skin care benefits.
• Start light and build things up. With Korean makeup, it’s better to apply things in super thin layers and only add more if necessary. This is true for everything, including foundation, blush, shadow, contour, and anything else you might have in mind.
Photos via @lalalove33, @sae.byul, @ponysmakeup, @3.48kg