Beauty shopping in Seoul – the 101 on K-Beauty shopping
Seoul has to be the most exciting city for beauty junkies to visit. There’s no city (that I know of) that’s as permeated with all things beauty like Seoul. I mean, there’s a whole neighbourhood dedicated to beauty shops! You’re also getting a hint about the general beauty-crazedness when you arrive at the airport – virtually every billboard was adverting cosmetics. Every. One. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed, so here’s my Seoul K-beauty shopping for beginners!
South Korea is also the place where beauty trends and innovations are coming from. While Western beauty companies come out with one highlighter after the next and call it innovative, K-Beauty companies are the vanguard of real innovation: Who came out with BB-creams and cushions and sheet masks that are now firmly in place on every Beauty lovers’ shelves in both the West and the East?
So, when I knew I was going to Seoul, I started to research the shit out of it. And you’re going to reap the benefits of this, because I’m going to tell you where and what to shop right here.
I went totally overboard with my research. I had a plan. I had a map. I had a list. And then I realized, as soon as I stepped out of my hotel in Myeongdong that I had overplanned. Because sticking to plans, routes and maps will seriously take the fun out of the experience that’s Seoul beauty shopping. Honestly.
For research purposes, I mainly reverted to the bloggers and vloggers below who went all out and were a big help with their meticulous posts and fun vids. I learned about the city itself, the experience of beauty shopping and also a bit about different brands and stores. If you want to have a peek, here’re the best (read: most helpful) ones:
- meejmuse (youtube video): Seoul shopping tour
- Skinful of Seoul: Myeongdong shopping guide
- Orchids and Peonies: Tips for beauty shopping in Seoul
- The map of beauty: Beauty guide to Seoul
- Lisa Eldridge’s slightly older video: haul from Seoul
- Karima McKimmie’s recent haul from Seoul vid
Where to shop
But depending on the time you want to spend shopping (if you’ve only got a few hours, it totally makes sense to research first and stick to your list), for me to truly experience the Seoul shopping thing was to get totally lost in the little streets of Myeongdong and pop into every store that appealed to me. It’s a sensory onslaught anyway, so I just went with the flow – crowds of people, music blasting from every store, employees standing outside the stores handing out samples to lure you into the store…
You also don’t have to be afraid to miss something – there won’t be one Missha store, there’ll be five just in the radius of 500m. And if you want to check out the upscale brands and Western cosmetics counters? Just pop into Lotte Department Store (Nam Dai Moon Ro), and wham, everything you’d wish for, there!
I had about six hours to spend on shopping (or as I called it, research purposes!) and didn’t even bother to go to upscale shopping district Garugo-Sil or Gangnam. Honestly, I found everything I wanted. Also, I didn’t bother with the Lotte Duty Free.
I browsed the streets between metro stations Myeongdong (in the South) and Euljiro 1ga (in the North) and Myeongdong Cathedral in the East and Nam Dai Moon Ro to the West. That square is interspersed by little streets lined with beauty shops and very easy to walk – it’s not a huge area.
A word of advice
First, remember to carry your passport with you and most stores will deduct taxes right there (no need to bother with tax returns at the airport).
Second, Incheon airport shops – cosmetics aren’t cheaper there than in the city itself. I was a bit disappointed about the duty-free options.
What to shop
If you’re a newbie (if you’re a pro at shopping K-Beauty, you’re obviously not reading this), you can’t go wrong with the following items. (Being the geek I am, I naturally read a lot of blogs and made lists beforehand.)
Be it the good ol’ BB Cream, a cushion foundation, a CC Cream, or one of the new tension pacts – the Korean base products are both innovative and famous (rightly so). If you’ve a deeper skintone, try both Missha and Laneige products.
Tints, oils, glosses, liquid lipsticks, two-toned lipsticks, matte lipsticks, lipsticks in the shape of a wine bottle… Nearly every lip product I’ve seen was cool and I wanted to buy every one. No matter what lip you’ll prefer, you’ll find something you fancy. And why not go all out and try something you’ve never tried before?
The ONE product besides base products that made K-Beauty famous all over the world. Every brand has them, they’re mostly cheap as chips and a must-have for dry, aggravated skin in need of soothing. Look out for those with a low alcohol and fragrance content! (Additionally, have a look at lip masks, hand masks, foot masks, neck masks and boob masks as well!)
A bit tricky if you’re just starting out, but Koreans take their skincare seriously and their skin shows it. After all, the seven or ten step regimes have to do something, right? If you’re just dipping your toes into the water of skincare, why not go for a simple hydrating essence? Nearly all brands carry them. Also, while sunscreen mists are still novel in the West, here you can find a lot of them.
What to skip
I found powder eyeshadows rather on the weaker side (not pigmented, rather more neutral), and both the contouring and highlighting products negligible (highlighting and contouring are Western makeup trends and haven’t truly taken root in K-Beauty routines afaik).
So here’s my beauty shopping tips! Have you been to Seoul? Do you plan to go some day? Also, stay tuned for my Korean beauty haul I’ll be sharing with you really soon!