Korea is arguably the beauty capital of Asia. For years now, K-Beauty brands have been pumping out innovative, fun and affordable products. They are famous for setting global beauty trends: the sleeping mask, the compact cushion and the sheet mask all originated in Korea. Their speed of new product output has not been matched anywhere and as a results Korea is a mecca for beauty addicts worldwide.
Skipcare Is The New Skincare
As the industry matures, K-Beauty is moving away from the complex 10 step routines and skip-care is the new buzz word. K-beauty has always been ultra-innovative and now part of that is increased efficiency. Skip-care refers to a shortened skincare routine using products that multi-task. Skip-care proponents still maintain that you are still giving your skin with the best possible ingredients what it needs but by using hybrid products.
Skip-care sounds good to me as I just don’t have the patience for so many steps anymore. #MomLife
So, What About Clean Beauty?
Actually, Korea has a thriving natural beauty scene – more and more brands are changing their formulations or producing new products that have natural ingredients. This doesn’t mean they are all clean as many still include questionable chemicals. Having said that there is a fair few that are.
The US NGO Environmental Working Group, which rates products and ingredients based on their safety, is surprisingly well known in Korea so there are many brands who promote themselves as only using ingredients that are green (the safest level of rating).
Here is a selection of clean K-Beauty products- note that the selection is for specific products or ranges rather than entire brands, as most of the K-Beauty brands have some non-clean product ranges. While some are not available directly in Hong Kong, most will happily ship here.
Too Cool For School
Retro, playful and innovative skincare
A well-established Korean brand with bold packaging, Too Cool For School is retro-modern bordering on kitsch with playful products. The heart of their formulations are natural ingredients like rice water and pumpkin seed extract.
Their Caviar Lime range is certified vegan and is also their strictest range in terms of ingredient selection- they only use ingredients rated green (the lowest level) on the EWG safety scale.
GET IT: Available at various locations including Sasa, Bonjour and Look Fantastic HK.
Affordable, fresh and healthy skincare
Benton is a natural K-beauty brand that has been around for quite some time now (since 2010, practically ancient in K Beauty terms). Their products are free from PEGs, silicone oils, artificial colours and synthetic fragrances and they use Ecocert-certified natural preservatives. They are also a PETA recognised cruelty-free brand.
Benton sits at a very affordable price point and has a wide range of products. In true K-Beauty style they are pushing boundaries of innovation. Not all their products are vegan (skip the snail products) but they do have a decent animal-free assortment.
Their new eye cream has been getting rave reviews in Korea. It uses fermented ingredients which are well-known in Korean skin care as they help to repair damaged skin; it also has strong hydrating ingredients like ceramides, hyaluronic acid and aloe, which is what you want from a good eye cream.
Serious organic skincare using Korean traditional herbs
WHAMISA is a natural and organic Korean beauty brand that is EWG verified as well as certified by German natural cosmetics body BDIH. They focus on skincare fermentation technology, natural preservation techniques and botanical formulations with a very high content of organic ingredients.
The organic flower toners are their most famous products. They also have a number of sun care products using zinc oxide as their active SPF ingredient. Their range for babies and kids includes a handy sun compact that is oh-so easy to apply on wriggly toddlers.
To get it in Hong Kong, try ALAND in Causeway Bay
The Pure Lotus
Jeju Island-inspired independent skincare brand
The Pure Lotus is a small, relatively new independent brand. It is rare in Korea to find independent brands because most brands, even the newer ones, are backed by a big conglomerate or manufacturer. Whilst this makes for good products, it does mean there is often a lack of the inspiring founder story that you get with so many Western clean beauty brands today. This brand is inspired and based on the Korea’s pristine Jeju Island, and the line’s star ingredient is White Lotus Leaf extract.
Pure Lotus offers skincare and herbal teas in keeping with their wellbeing mantra. It is a lovely brand with real attention to detail, of note are the artistic collaborations on their packaging.
One problem: not all the brand’s products are that clean – some products include Propylene Glycol, which I would always avoid. A star product which is clean is the Essence with lotus leaf.
GET IT: It is not currently available locally in Hong Kong but will ship from the US
In Conclusion: Some Hope But A Ways To Go For Clean K-Beauty
There is so much choice out there when it comes to K-Beauty products but while there is definitely a move towards cleaner ingredients and more natural formulations, few brands are rigorous about it which means the onus is on the consumer (ie; you) to check individual product labelling.
Further, sustainability is not yet high on the agenda of many of these brands, even the clean ones. I am sure this will change soon but for now there is a lot of plastic and serious over-packaging (think several unnecessary layers of wrapping) to ensure products are not damaged, but the result is unfortunately pretty damaging for our environment.
Lead image courtesy of The Pure Lotus.