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 skincare 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.
Below, 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!
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Korean Makeup Routine Steps
There is no one Korean makeup look or 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 @3.48kg, Instagram