"In the U.S., it takes years before a product hits the shelves," says Charlotte Cho, founder of SokoGlam.com and author of The Little Book of Skincare. "In Korea, it takes months." The industry is quick to deliver what customers need and want while staying on top of the most effective developments. You know your beloved BB cream? Or that sheet mask you've been wearing weekly? Both concepts started in Korea.
"Korea puts skin care first -- ahead of makeup or any other beauty treatment," Cho says. It's all about preventive care, rather than treating issues (like wrinkles or breakouts) after they appear. While the products are highly effective, they're also gentle. The most common skin type in Korea is sensitive, so these products typically won't irritate even the most delicate complexions.
No bank-breaking here. K Beauty products tend to be priced lower than comparable prestige products. "Because the beauty industry is so competitive in South Korea, price is one way they can set themselves apart," Cho says. We've found lip glosses for under $10 and facial masks for less than $5.
We'll admit, at first glance, it's hard to take some of the products seriously – the adorable panda bear jars and fruit-shape pots look like they belong more in a toy store than a beauty boutique. The whimsical packaging sends the message that skin care doesn't have to be so cold and clinical. "At the end of the day, it's about beauty, and that's something to be enjoyed," Cho says.
So, you're ready to get into the K Beauty game? We rounded up seven of our favorite products.
Most K Beauty makeup products have a skin care slant: combining tint with a treatment. This stick foundation has a moisturizing core that hydrates skin as it covers. Plus, it has a built-in brush for easy application.
Son & Park Glow Ring Foundation ($37, sokoglam.com)
Exfoliants usually come in one of two varieties: chemical acids, which dissolve away the stuff that holds dead skin cells on skin's surface, or manual, which uses gritty ingredients to buff away dull skin. With a textured pad soaked in lactic acid and alpha hydroxy acid-containing red wine, these pads combine the best of both worlds.
Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine ($27, sokoglam.com)
Snail slime is big news. Turns out, the goop is chock-full of proteins, elastin, and acids – all things that are good for aging skin. This cream contains 92 percent snail extract to hydrate, soften fine lines, and banish breakouts and acne scars – and it doesn't feel icky, we promise.
Mizon All-In-One Snail Repair Cream ($38, peachandlily.com)
This frothy, egg-base mask feels like whipped meringue that bubbles on your skin. After five minutes, skin is hydrated and looks more radiant. Eggs-cellent! (Sorry, we couldn't resist.)
Too Cool For School Egg Mousse Pack ($20, sephora.com)
Inside this cute panda bear jar is a super-hydrating hand cream infused with sun-spot fading niacinamide.
Tony Moly Panda's Dream White Hand Cream ($17, sephora.com)
This cleansing balm goes on solid, but quickly melts into oil as it dissolves away your makeup.
Clean It Zero Purity ($25, sokoglam.com)
The built-in sponge dabs on sheer, creamy color, giving skin a pretty-in-pink flush.
Chosungah 22 Real Cheek Smoother Blush ($22, sephora.com)