Any K-Beauty junkie worth her pink Himalayan salt is well-versed in her Laneige lip sleeping masks, Belif moisture bombs and Innisfree green tea seed serums. But in 2018, the tides have turned and the land of glass skin is going for smaller, boutique brands that align with its social and environmental values. Without big marketing budgets to spur on sales, these indie companies rely on the efficacy of their product and word of mouth. Thankfully, the girls of Gangnam love to talk and here are five brands that are on everyone’s lips.


Although it’s one of the pioneers of artificial fragrance-free skincare in Korea, Aromatica’s skincare smells surprisingly delicious. That’s because founder Jerry Kim is the leading expert on producing organic, scented cosmetics that are safe to use. According to Jerry, artificial fragrances are “far more dangerous than paraben preservatives” and can create hormonal disturbances, which is why he was motivated to produce skincare that has the same pleasurable experience for users without the hidden dangers.

Aromatica’s bestselling items are the Tea Tree Balancing Toner, Tea Tree Balancing Foaming Cleanser and 95% Organic Aloe Vera Gel.


If there is an Aesop equivalent in K-Beauty, it’s Simplistic. The ingredient list is packed full of natural, high quality substances that are even gentle for sensitive skin. Their star ingredient is Hinoki cypress water, which is painstakingly collected droplet by droplet in their laboratory. Cypress water is perfect for sensitive, irritated skin and even minimises the appearance of large pores. This allows Simplistic to use more potent ingredients without aggravating user’s skin. According to founder Im Jun Beom, Simplistic’s point of difference is its dedication to using only essential ingredients and its rigour. Compared to the average skincare company, Simplistic conducts over four times the number of tests before products reach completion.

Their bestsellers are the Begin Cleanser, Essence Wonder and Sun Cream Must.

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While Olivarrier is a younger brand, it has developed a cult following especially among sensitive and drier-skinned women. Like most other indie brands, Olivarrier is cruelty- and paraben-free, but its major differentiating trait is its unique blend of natural ingredients with scientific method, using the latter to get the most of the former.

Their bestselling Dual Moist Toning Lotion and Dual Moist Hyaluron Essence are testaments to this guiding principle. Both products use a special kind of hyaluronic acid called micro hyaluronic acid, which is smaller, allowing it to penetrate pores and hydrate deeper. Founder Lee Seung Jong notes that the molecular size of normal hyaluronic acid tends to sit on top of the skin, giving a tacky feeling without really hydrating. Another highly rated Olivarrier product that is flying off shelves is their Fluid Oil, which uses only a single ingredient – squalene – derived from the highest quality olives.

Ground Plan

Ground Plan derives its name from its use of ingredients that are literally from the ground that we walk on. Founder Yun Kyung Kim envisioned the brand as one safe enough for the entire family to use. In fact, it has proven to be particularly popular among girls who desire a low-touch yet personalised form of skincare, with skin experts guiding and advising on each individual skincare regimen.

Their bestselling 24 Hour Secret Mist, which recharges dull lifeless skin, and cools irritated complexions, has been ubiquitous of late given Korea’s scorching summer. Groundplan’s other bestsellers include their Secret Mist Cushion and Cell Power Essence.

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As one of the first K-Beauty brands developed by a former skincare blogger, Isntree knows how to engage with its base and listen to their needs. However, they are far from one of those ephemeral, 15 seconds of Insta-fame brands to which we’ve become accustomed. Isntree is a principles-first brand with 10 commandments that guide the company’s activity along with a cardinal list of ingredients they do not dare touch based on both rigorous scientific research and customer preferences.

Without a doubt, their bestseller is their famous Hyaluronic Acid Toner, which has won numerous awards on Korea’s top beauty app Hwahae. Other hit products include their Hyaluronic Aqua Gel Cream and their Hyaluronic Acid Deep Moisture Water Mask.

Text: Kelly Im