Is K-Beauty for Everyone? Perspectives on Appropriation and Marketing


I have a confession: I've been in a bit of a skincare funk.  For a long time, I've blamed it on overwork-- working 60 hours a week has left me little time for luxuries like brushing my hair showering daily sleeping more than a few hours a night an elaborate skincare routine, but I've come to realize that it's much more than that.  I'm in a K-Beauty funk, meaning that I've been feeling conflicted and troubled every time I go to wash my face.  It's time for some soul-searching.

As K-Beauty has become more and more mainstream in the west, it's gone from being an ignored niche interest to a widely-marketed source of $$$ from all levels of the beauty industry, shifting from hipster-y hobbyists to an oversaturation of US-based resellers cannibalizing ideas while mega retailers like Sephora and Target stock sheet masks and snail creams.

You might think this is another one of those tired tropes of aforementioned hipster grumpy over their obscure finds becoming mainstream, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Actually, I'm absolutely thrilled that K-Beauty is in such international demand that Sulwhasoo recently launched a whopping 7 shades ranging from #11 to #33, a move which completely shocked a Korean friend of mine as she pointed out that most Korean brands feature only two shades (#21 and #23) and don't address [in her opinion] the shade needs of Koreans in Korea, let alone anyone outside of Korea.

Image from Sulwhasoo's Korean site showing 7 cushion shades
Image from Sulwhasoo's KR site
I'm quite happy that K-Beauty has grown so much in the 4 years that I've been blogging about it, because it's seen exponential growth and it's a totally different scene since the days where I had to use Google Translate to figure out what I was buying.

What troubles me is how it's being marketed, talked about, and presented.

In this post:

  • The trouble with K-Beauty marketing
  • Why I write about K-Beauty
  • 5 Korean women share their thoughts about K-Beauty on the global stage

There's nothing wrong with a little soul-searching to examine one's own motives and reasons for doing, well, anything.   But more important than what I have to say about it, is what the Korean women I know have to say about it, and I'm fortunate enough to have several sources just an email away for me to ask!

A Quick Note: Something Fun is Coming!

Don't panic, I'm not on hiatus; I'm going through some massive real-life changes that resulted in me being extremely overworked the last few weeks, as well as having a lot more free time for the rest of the summer.  Woo hoo!

In addition to having more free time after I emerge from catching up on 5+ years of lost sleep, I'll have the time to finish working on a serious post with several sources and some delicate topics, and I want to do it justice.  But first, sleep.  Lots of sleep.

Flowers and mysterious something
What could it beeeee?
In the meantime though, I wanted let you all know that are some exciting things upcoming, so if you aren't following me on Instagram, I'd recommend doing so -- even if (or especially if!) you're outside the US.

As always, you can also connect with me on Facebook or Twitter; I tend to be the most active on the latter when I have nonsensical things to say, so be warned, heh.

All the best,
-Cat

Ciracle Pimple Solution Pink Powder Review & What I Should Have Used Instead

I admit it; I've been procrastinating on reviewing this Ciracle pink powder for weeks months a long time.  It's a spot treatment, so it doesn't get consistent daily use, and that makes it difficult to test it to my usual standards.  I'm now almost done the bottle, though, and it's time for me to just throw in the towel and admit this product doesn't measure up to its predecessors.

Ciracle Pimple Solution Pink Powder Review
I managed to snap this before it rained, go me!
As you can see, I'm almost done this bottle so it's time to review this and get it off my To-Do list!

In this post:

  • What is a pink powder/drying lotion?
  • Product details
  • Why I didn't like it
  • What I'd rather use

This is my second pink powder product, and when I'm done writing this review, I'm going to run right back into the acne-thwarting arms of my first.

Sheet Mask Reviews & Empties: a Month of Getting #Sheetfaced

I like sheet masks.  I like them so much I use them once a day (also known as 1일 1팩) or even twice a day.  Some days, I might even #doublefistmasks-- aka using two masks back to back, coined during a discussion I had with fellow Snailcaster Fiddy of Fifty Shades of Snail, which I shamelessly borrowed from the rich tradition in Canada (and elsewhere) of having an alcoholic beverage in each fist to ensure one can more efficiently imbibe without pesky interruptions like having to get up for another drink.  Hmm, I'm seeing a theme: #doublefistingmasks, #sheetfaced, drinking wine with a straw while masking ... well, considering the alcohol in some masks, clearly I need to write this review with a drink in-hand, eh?

This means I go through a lot of sheet masks, and it occurred to me that people might like to see the wreckage left behind after a month or so of rampant sheet masking.  Once a day, twice a day, or if it's prepping for a special occasion, even more?

Korean sheet masks & Taiwanese sheet masks
Mmm, sheet masks.

In this post:

  • 47 empty sheet masks
  • 24 mini reviews
  • Assorted inebriated jokes

As someone with chronically dehydrated skin that hates occlusive products, I have to spend a lot of time sloooooooowly restoring hydration to my skin.  Too many layers results in a build-up of product residue on my face once it's sucked the water out of  any essences, serums, and creams I apply.

So, I combat summer heat, winter dryness, stress, and laziness by doing the slow cooker Korean beauty equivalent: sheet masks.  20-60 minutes of slow, sustain saturation replenishes my thirsty skin and lets me relax from the long and stressful hours of my day job.  Here are my thoughts on this giant pile of mask empties!

A Rant on Reformulations: Stop Breaking the Things I Love!

You know the saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"?  I get that it's not always economically feasible to continue producing a product as-is, but I'm getting really tired of my HGs being taken away or worse, causing skin disasters.

Has it always been this bad, or is the popularity of K-Beauty causing a spike in bait-and-switch style reformulations/cheapening out on formulations and ingredients, or shortcuts in formulation to meet demand?  I don't know, but I'm seeing an uptick in products being reformulated for the worse, to the point where I'm immediately suspicious that differences in experience are not always YMMV but surprise reformulations.  And I'm really grumpy about it.

Smashing the computer in rage
Seriously, just knock it off! [image credit giphy]
It's an ongoing hazard of cosmetics in general; you fall in love with a product only to have it discontinued.  You wail, you gnash your teeth in rage, you stock up on backups.  You're prepared; you allow yourself to go through the stages of grief: denial ("no, it's just a rumour!"), anger ("It's a top-selling product, what the hell are they doing?"), bargaining backup hoarding, depression (self-explanatory) and acceptance ("I guess this means I need to shop a bunch to find a replacement.")

Even so, you know it's coming/it's happened.  You've braced yourself.  You've stockpiled.  You're resigned to the day that you shake the last precious drops onto your palm.

But what if they reformulate it?  As in "we're going to discontinue your favourite product and replace it with hot trash but not tell you so you don't realize the danger and thus stockpile the good stuff."

And supposedly it's totally OK (not to mention legal?) for them to say it's the same product. RARGH!

No it's not!
It's totally the same product, just new and improved! [image credit giphy]
Sometimes, even more  frustratingly, they will reformulate an existing product without telling you.   No warning.  Just poof, one day you're using a tried-and-true sheet mask on your face from a supposedly legitimate seller, and the next thing you know your face is swelling up with red, angry welts.

In this post:


Thankfully there doesn't seem to be any lasting damage from said skin reaction, but I am quite annoyed.  Ironically, I had just written a post about how YMMV differences may actually hide reformulations, and then wound up with a nasty reaction to the reformulation of a product I'd previously used and loved.

4 Reasons Why I Don't [Always] Agree with "Skincare is YMMV"


One of the least controversial, most-repeated refrains of the international K-Beauty and Asian cosmetic community is "Your Mileage May Vary", meaning "not everything works the same on everyone.  Perfectly logical, and it's often how we agree to disagree and stay polite even as someone else is dragging your favourite skincare product until its label is worn clean off.

Cat dragging a blanket like they dragged your favourite product
"I hated the smell, it broke me out, the packaging design was hard to use, and I don't agree that it was hydrating at all!" [img credit giphy]
I was inspired to write this post because I was complaining to someone that the Lador hair care products I had just tested had a horrible, permeating scent that bothered me and my husband all night, and to my surprise, they said that it was almost odorless for them.  When I pressed for more details, they good-naturedly shrugged off my questions with "I guess it's just YMMV of skincare then" and I actually found myself (gasp!) disagreeing on that too (for reasons I'll explain below.)  Heresy! Blasphemy!  Certainly a shocking departure from my usual mantra of YMMV in all skincare.

YMMV is the great equalizer; almost everyone can agree that a lot of the conflicting results people get with the same product can just be chalked up to their unique skin's reactions, their personal tastes, even how they might be using it.

But I don't always agree, and here's four reasons why.

K-Beauty on Amazon: Rebuilding a 15+ Step Routine if My Stash Caught on Fire

Phew, I did it!  As I mentioned in Beginner Friendly: Simple K-Beauty Starter Kits for 4 Skin Types, that if I managed to not throw myself  off a cliff after finishing all 4 skin types, I might do a bonus "My personal kit if my house burned down and I had to start over with nothing but Amazon gift cards" version.  *knocks on wood that will never happen.*

I also warned that unlike the original starter kits, my lineup would not have just 5 items or less, because that's not how I roll.  Here's yesterday's products, for example:

korean beauty product routine
Instead of "drive it like you stole it", it's "layer it like you bought it & it has a limited shelf life"?
I'm coming back to this series as it's something that people seem really interested in, but I'm going to have to break it up a bit because I want these posts to be heavy on visuals and light on wordswordswords.  This is also going to help answer those questions like "why does toner go after a first essence?" and "where do I sheet mask?" which despite all the numerous guides I've made over the years, still remain a frequent visitor to my inbox.  Visuals for the win!

What I'm going to do once this post is done, is create visual examples of how these products can be combined into different routines.  That will be coming up next, woo!

In this post: 

  • My K-Beauty picks on Amazon (if my house burned down)

Let me just say before we start that 1. you do not need all this stuff.  Really.  2. this is not a recommendation of skin treatment; that is a discussion between you and your doctor.  This is just a curated (eurgh that word) round-up of Korean beauty products I throw my money at that are readily available on Amazon, in case you are the "two day shipping or bust" vs the "80% off retail and wait 3 weeks" type.  If you're the latter, this post is for you: From Beginner to Expert Mode: Where I Buy K-Beauty & Asian Cosmetics