As a Korean, you’re often asked whether you spend half your income on skincare products. How else do you maintain K-drama glass skin sans K-drama boyfriend (think tall, brooding CEO’s son)? The truth is that in Korea, proper skincare has always been a necessity, not a luxury, and the pricing reflects this mentality. Of course, you can also indulge in creams that cost an arm and a leg, but take it from a Seoulite who lives for glass skin—whether you’re looking for a bargain or a bank-buster, not all products are created equal. On that note, we’ve rounded up the best K-beauty buys for every budget.
Cleansers are the very basic of skincare, so it’s important to get one that works for you. And sometimes, that could mean paying a bit more just because your skin asks for it.
Try: Cosrx Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser, $14.90, Guardian
The cult cleanser loved by Koreans and non-Koreans alike. Anyone who suffers from acne should get acquainted with Cosrx’s cleanser and the rest of their range.
Try: Innisfree Green Tea Cleansing Water, $21
Innisfree is a staple of the budget-conscious, beauty-conscious Seoulite. This gentle green tea cleanser is suitable for all skin types. It’s part of the brand’s well-known Green tea range and has 3.5 times more 16 amino acids than normal green tea to keep skin hydrated.
Try: SRB Enzyme Powder Wash, US$25 ($34.06)
Based on the centuries-old tradition of using rice bran to brighten skin, this cleanser saves Koreans the process of washing a mound of rice and diligently extracting the creamy white foam from the water. This little bottle of powder gently exfoliates and can be used twice daily. It’s perfect for anyone looking to even out their skin or remove their acne.
Try: Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Oil EX, $50
For a touch of luxury when you remove your makeup, Sulwhasoo’s Gentle Cleansing Oil Ex delivers the silkiest experience.
Toner may be one of the “basic three” steps of a skincare regime, but you can choose to skip this if you think your skin doesn’t need this step. That said, toners have evolved from the alcohol-packed astringents to exfoliating and moisturising ones. Depending on your skin condition, you might need to alternate between different types of toners.
Tony Moly is another mainstay of the frugal skincare-lover. This is a richer toner packed full of wonderful ingredients that belie its low price point. One reviewer even jokes ‘is it Mochi or Gucci?’
Fruit and flower extracts are the star ingredients of this toner. For sensitive types, this is the perfect concoction to restore your skin health. It also received a Hwahae Beauty award in 2018.
Nobody had heard of Isntree until this toner landed and became the darling of the Naversphere with Koreans raving about its hydrating properties.
As part of the Amorepacific family, Primera is as luxurious as it is effective. With plenty of traditional Korean ingredients, Organience Water has a deep, rich texture. While toners aren’t usually the most sensuous part of your skincare routine, this one offers enough excitement to make you rethink your preconceptions.
Anyone who tells you that you don’t need moisturiser is lying—even the oiliest of skins need moisturisers, not to add on more oil, but to keep the oil-water balance in check. If you have oily skin, opt for hydrating moisturisers or oil-free formulae.
With multiple Hwahae awards and glowing reviews, this cheap and cheerful moisturiser can do no wrong.
Need a moisturiser that hydrates but won’t break you out? Then this cream is the one for you!
Like its name, the gel-cream floods your face with hydration without making you look like an oil slick. Perfect for those with oily or combination skin types!
A fluffy cream that absorbs right into your skin so it can deliver actual hydration. This Hera cream is a favourite with the well-heeled crowd in Seoul and is highly recommended if you can get your hands on it!
Text: Kelly Im