A Year of Surprises & The End of the K-Beauty Decade

This year has been a plot twist that I never saw coming. Yes, this is happening: a post, on my blog, shambling out of a dusty corner of empties and snarled with torn webbing of sheetmask silk.

Even though this year has been non-stop and the most transformative and momentous period of the decade for me, I couldn't let this year pass without an update +  some thoughts about the past and future of K-Beauty.


Vancouver, BC forest
The pacific northwest is so much more beautiful than any photo can convey.

Many of you have sent me messages and emails asking what I've been up to, why I haven't been posting, and if I'm going to be posting again. Here it is, and this year has been wild.

In this post:

  • What I've been doing instead of blogging aka "The Year Life Yanked Me Out of One Timeline and Shoved Me Into a Totally Different One"
  • What hooked me on K-Beauty & why my loins are no longer aflame about it
  • What soured me on the K-Beauty scene & beauty blogging
  • Where I think K-Beauty is going in the next decade if it lasts

Have you ever had the experience of having the next, say, 5-10 years of your life plotted out, and you're minding your own business, living day to day, and then suddenly, something happens that snatches you up by the nose hairs and hurls you, metaphorical pants around ankles, into a completely new reality?

(Seriously, drop me a comment if you have had this happen to you. Because, wtf, man.)


What I've been doing instead of blogging, aka "The Year Life Yanked Me Out of One Timeline and Shoved Me Into a Totally Different One"

Last year, I was headed towards a future of banal domesticity. We'd bought our first house. We got a puppy. We made friends. We started renovating our house. My puppy became a tiny, sanity-and-home-destroying demon that devoured all my time and energy with the same gusto that she dispatched stuffed toys.

Thankfully, puppies don't stay puppies forever, although you still have to survive their second, longer phase, the Final Boss Form known as a "teenager" which is much worse. 

So naturally, I got another one. That's not the plot twist, either.


Tiny border collie puppy is fierce, and fluffy
"Did your crazy ass get a second border collie?!" Yes, yes I did.

She was smol, she was floofy, she was born in December of last year, and we brought her home in February. She tormented Not-As-Tiny Demon with a vigor that felt karmic in its proportions, and life felt settled. We established a routine. I started washing my face again. My husband was becoming established in his career, and things were stable. Oppressively stable, even.

I was still miserable; living in the US for over a decade had taken its toll on me. I felt old, exhausted, lifeless. I was nearing the end of my 30's, and was frankly resigned to early-onset middle age.

Then, it happened.


Beautiful cherry blossoms in Vancouver, Canada
The cherry blossom festival had me millennial-ing with my phone every few feet.

We went on vacation. (Resentfully, in my case!) It was a last-minute thing, with expiring flight credits and credit card travel points being the driving factor. I didn't want to be away from my dogs, but off we went to Vancouver, Canada in the spring.

Predictably, it was heartbreaking. It felt so good to be home in Canada, to be back in a diverse place, to walk by a pair of young girls wearing hijabs who didn't react to our presence by averting their eyes, stopping their conversation, or hurrying past nervously. The scenery was breathtaking, giving us mountains, forests, and ocean in a single glance.


Mountain and forest stream in British Columbia
B.C is really pretty. Really, really pretty.

And the food! My god, the food. Hand-pulled noodles. Ramen. Cheap, yet fresh sushi. Poke. Japanese bakeries. European charcuteries. Persian markets. Korean BBQ.


Korean BBQ
Korean BBQ made me want to weep with joy while shoving it down my maw

Vancouver is one of the most beautiful, and expensive, cities in the world. My husband fell in love, of course; being Canadian myself I knew that living there is a pipe dream few can afford.

But he couldn't let it go: "I wonder what the job market is like in Vancouver."

Me: *laughs in jaded realism*

Dr. Mr. The Pear: "There's a job posting in my specialty, should I apply just to see?"

Me: *still laughing* "Why not, it's not like they would offer us something that would make it worth it to sell the house we just bought, and move across the country."

Me, my husband, and the Vancouver job market:


Time to laugh, loudly and at length
Who wants to move to Vancouver? Ok, who wants to move to Vancouver *and* still afford to eat? BAHAHAHAHAHAA!

Er, yeah. Welp. Come Mother's Day weekend, we've suddenly got a job offer that we can't refuse.

We'd have to sell our house. We'd have to finish renovating our house to sell it. He'd have to go through immigration. He'd have to leave for Canada, almost immediately. I'd have to stay behind, finish work on the house, hire contractors for what I couldn't DIY, handle both dogs, put the house on the market, pack all our stuff and move it, by myself. Without a car, in a small, non-transit-or-walking-friendly Midwest town.

But on the other hand, Vancouver. Vancouver, Canada. To be home, to be free of the escalating shitshow that is US politics, to live in a place dreamt of by many. To be independent again, to feel safe. Dare I hope, happy again.

So we did it. In the space of a few weeks, we went from confident we were going to be living a small, withering, but comfortable little life, in our little house, in a little town, to uprooting everything and moving to another country.

Not going to lie, renovating a house by myself with dogs underfoot was hell, and it took forever.


Gluing down hardwood flooring really sucks
Have you ever installed glue-down hardwood flooring? If you haven't, it sucks.

I'll spare you the gory, boring details of construction drama, packing and moving drama, immigration drama, and house selling drama, but if you've done any of the above, you know it's the endless, protracted, very wrong kind of excitement.

It also didn't feel real. It still doesn't feel real, even though I'm now typing this in front of a fireplace, gazing out the window at the lights of the city, listening to the perpetual rain of the Pacific Northwest. I'm happy. My husband is happy. We eat amazing food. We walk, we hike, we go to the gym and enjoy it. Our dogs miss the constant games of fetch in our large backyard, but love getting muddy in exciting, wild places.


Muddy, but happy, dogs in a mountain stream
What's the best thing to do while covered in mud? Hop in a stream and shake!

I feel alive again. I'm excited about the future, and while it's a slow process undoing the damage a decade of depression has left on my body, and mind, it's happening. It's happening.


What hooked me on K-Beauty & why my loins are no longer aflame about it

Don't get me wrong, after almost an entire decade of using, thinking, and occasionally writing about K-Beauty, I still love it. But I loved it in part because it forced me to learn new things, because it was challenging and inaccessible, because the leading experts on it were everyday people like me, cobbling together ingredients lists from Google Translate and comparing swatches on forums.

Products became popular through word-of-mouth and performance, not because they landed in a beauty editor's PR pile with a promo cheque attached. Ever read a "Best K-Beauty Products list" on a mainstream media site and wonder where the hell they got their picks from, because you've either never heard of any of the products, or they're mediocre at best? They are there because their brands, or the shops that carry them, are willing to pay to play.

The science of skincare was a new frontier for me, full of chemistry and dazzling studies and new knowledge waiting for those willing to slog through Google Scholar. But once you've adjusted to accommodate pH, gentle surfactants, and worked out which chemical exfoliants work for your skin, there's not much more to do. Hydrate your skin, then seal it in with a richer moisturizer, and you're set.

Desperate to maintain the momentum of new, cutting-edge technology, K-Beauty PR turned to increasingly ludicrous gimmicks like splash masks, sheet masks with injectable ampoules, microneedle masking patches, acupressure masks, and an endless array of sexy new extracts that were supposed to revolutionize skincare yet disappeared from our radar within a year.


What soured me on the K-Beauty scene & beauty blogging

Not gonna lie, K-Beauty hit its peak in 2014-2016, and it's been fading ever since. When the conversation shifted from the discoveries of everyday users to the narratives of shops who cheerfully retconned the rise of K-Beauty in the west while repackaging its garage-band grassroots appeal into a contrived shine of corporate gloss.

Worse, somehow those everyday users, the bloggers, the forum posters, the Instagram reviewers were rebranded into "influencers", a term which sparked immediate loathing the first time it landed in my inbox. The concept of peddling one's influence, as a personality or media figure, rather than focusing on the quality of their work, was deeply offensive to me.

It remains one of the biggest deterrents whenever I think about sitting down for a quick review of my latest go-to sunscreen, like a whiff of tequila evoking the memory of a hangover so violent it taught you the meaning of projectile vomiting.

The plague of "influencer culture" on the beauty blogging sphere provides both a pressure to have a very polished, high production value style especially on Instagram, while also stripping away individuality and authenticity, like the social media equivalent of the Stepford Wives.  (See @Insta_Repeat, and just imagine that in a beauty product form.)




Having a unique voice, good research, thorough testing, or your own style pales in comparison to mastering the perfect flat lay, with carefully-yet-carelessly glimpsed trappings of a successful life, usually adorable succulents in a monochrome white setting with a few tasteful mixed metal accents thrown in. Or, alternatively, whatever Glossier is doing these days.


Where I think K-Beauty is going in the next decade if it lasts

Honestly, I'm not sure whether there's anywhere to go, other than further dispersal into mainstream beauty until it becomes just another option in the cosmetics aisle.

And I'm not sure that's a bad thing, either; K-Beauty has had some really dodgy marketing in the past, leaning heavily on Orientalism, so the idea of it being viewed in the same way as, say, French beauty, where it has its own style but is still commonplace, is a perfect middle ground.

As Fanserviced-b put it: "K-Beauty isn't punk anymore" and we're almost at the KidzBop-version levels of saturation. It seems that most mainstream beauty users are chasing the all-in-one simplicity of the VSCO girl's skincare routine. (Even though I still don't like the spork approach. Please just give me two things that work really well, rather than one thing that does two jobs badly.)

The 2010's were definitely the decade of K-Beauty, but I think that heyday has come to an end. There are still great products out there to be tried and reviewed, and I'll be doing just that, but I think the golden age of new discoveries and exciting advancements is fading into a twilight glow, like office-appropriate highlighter. Just with better skin, and really great sunscreen. I'll need it; I have a lot of hiking to do.


The view from a Vancouver off-leash dog hiking park
If this is the winter view, I can only imagine how beautiful this park view will be come spring.

Have you ever been upended into someone else's dream life? Or do you have thoughts on whether K-Beauty is still on the rise, or on the wane? 

Have something you'd like to share with me in general?  Snap a pic and tag me on Instagram at @snowwhiteandtheasianpear because I'd love to see it!

All the best,
-Cat

**Disclaimer: All products I review on my blog are 100% purchased with my own money, with a single exception of a press sample I tested & reviewed in 2015 which swore me off of them forever. Personal gifts from friends & family will also be identified.  This blog contains  both affiliate and non-affiliate links, and clicking the former before you shop means that this blog may receive a small commission to assist in this blog supporting itself.  Please see my Contact Info & Disclaimer policy for more information.

26 comments

  1. This made me happy 😙
    Keep those sunscreen reviews coming!

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    1. I'm glad it did, I'm pretty happy myself!

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  2. Such a nice, uplifting, hopeful and refreshingly real blog post. I'm so tired of overprocessed, superedited pics and blogs... I feel like it's so difficult to trust any recommendation nowadays. I'm very happy your bad decade has closed to a brighter future and I wish you a wonderful new decade ahead. Please stay true to yourself, there will always be people looking for authenticity ��

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    1. I hear you, I feel like Instagram has just gotten out of control with the staging and artifice in general. I can't imagine growing up in the age of the IG booty and facetune, and the perfectly composed lifestyle backgrounds required to just show a product, phew. The pressure to produce that style of content made me miserable.

      I think part of the problem with trusting recommendations, as you mention, is the exploitation of the "microinfluencer" as part of mass PR campaigns. The smaller bloggers (I'm lumping IG microbloggers in with that) that used to generate a huge spectrum of product reviews are now all featuring the same products that are clearly part of a marketing push.

      It puts them in a tough spot, because they either have to shell out their own money for products, which is expensive and not sustainable for most people, or accept the strings that come with free products. :(

      And thank you, I'm pretty freakin' thrilled at the start of this decade! I started the day with a beautiful (and fairly challenging) hike with my wee fam, and like always, was blown away by the sheer beauty of my new environment. It feels like I'm living in a National Geography picture, but it's real. It's also muddy, haha. I love it.

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  3. Welcome back home! I scrubbed my Instagram last week. I was tired of everything. I'm considering a different approach, less product shots, more sharing knowledge, I'm going back to my skincare roots and doing what I love more. I'm with you, I think the Kbeauty heyday has come to an end.

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    1. Heck yeah! *fist bump* I hope returning to what you love brings you the satisfaction you deserve. The pressure to produce editorial-level IG shots is just nuts, and I think it does so many people a disservice. Everyone has their own unique voice, but when you look at IG, somehow that's gotten steamrolled by the "Insta look" and I hate that that's the new standard.

      Here's hoping that 2020 sees a renaissance of the garage-band earnestness we all once had!

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  4. I just came back from visiting the US and my relief at coming home to Canada was overwhelming. I don't even like Calgary, but I'll take it over anywhere in the US, any day. Congratulations on your return and I hope Vancouver remains a sustainable place for you to live.
    As for kbeauty, it was your blog that got me into it in late 2017. I knew then that I had already missed "peak" but I didn't care. You inspired me to look at the science, to write in my own voice, and actually look after my skin.
    Thank you

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    1. I felt so much relief just getting off the airplane, to be honest. Everything felt lighter, safer, happier. Even as depressed and perpetually stressed and anxious as I was, there was a whole other level of subconscious tension that I was carrying with me at all times.

      Keep on writing in your voice, doing what you love, that's always, always going to be worth it! If it brings you joy, what the rest of the world is, or isn't doing, doesn't matter.

      <3

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  5. Yay! So glad you're back! ��

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  6. Welcome back! Sounds like a very exciting new chapter in your life and a wonderful way to start the decade!

    I absolutely agree with what you said about IG beauty and posts. I started doing sheet masks review this year, and I've had moments where I've conformed for "aesthetics" but it was never my thing, and tbh I'm too lazy for staged photos and editing. I've also strongly disliked the photos, but nothing absolutely noteworthy in the caption. "great product" doesn't tell me why it's great.
    So. 2020- I'll post when I want, and I'll keep the captions informational.

    Take care of yourself!

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    1. Thank you, I'm pretty excited!

      The changes to the algorithm and chronology of the posts made things so much worse, too. Suddenly people shifted from exploring a new avenue of creativity to obsessed with engagement and metrics. That's not healthy, and it seems like there are studies coming out that support how negatively IG affects one's mental health. Granted, they're from a user perspective rather than a "content creator" perspective, but unless you have employees handling social media for you, you're creator and consumer of content all in one, and the pressure is intense.

      Take care, too! <3

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  7. This is such a refreshing read! And I'm so happy to hear from you again, and that you are in a happy place! I have a skincare ig account, because I love skincare and want to share and hopefully steer people in the right direction, cause I went down so many wrong roads. I do have a high standard for my photos, but that's because I am a graphic designer and photographer in my day to day life, not because I want a perfect feed to just fit in, I don't do it so I get free products, even though it is a nice perk, and even if I ever did get free products if that ever happens, me being me can never lie about how I feel about anything, because that is not why I'm writing reviews, sharing my thoughts.
    K-beauty has definitely reached its epidomy. I honestly don't get excited by k-beauty products anymore. Are they bad? No. Some of my favourites are still Korean products. However, there's no REAL innovation anymore. The most cutting edge skincare technology nowadays are not from Korea, they are from all the Western brands. I am Chinese. And Chinese skincare brands are basically copying what's popular everywhere else. Japanese skincare is in the same boat as Korean skincare, but they at least have Shiseido that very occasionally comes out with something new and exciting, but still not really.
    Anyway, thank you for writing this post! And wish you an amazing new decade! Keep them sunscreen reviews coming!!!!

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    1. I think if IG is an outlet for your art, rather than a burden of expectation, it can be a wonderful medium. There was a time I enjoyed composing my photos, before it started feeling like an obligation and a pressure to conform to a certain aesthetic, so I absolutely get how the push for high production value could dovetail neatly with your profession and be something you enjoy doing.

      I definitely agree that it's possible to get free products and still be honest in one's review of them. I also see there are a lot of predatory brands and shops out there deliberately targeting microinfluencers and exploiting them as part of their mass marketing campaigns, and that bothers me. I hate seeing people taken advantage of like that.

      I totally agree that the innovation just isn't there anymore. I find myself less and less interested in straying from my staple products. Unless something is pretty, then I need it, haha.

      And thank you for the comment! I hope this decade brings you happiness and success!

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  8. I'm so very very happy you're back. I agree with you about everything. Just...everything. I've missed your voice, SO MUCH.

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    1. Aww, thank you so much! Here's to everyone finding their voice, and using it!

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  9. I’m so happy for you, your husband, and your pups that you’re here in Vancouver and that you’re home in Canada! Is it weird that I’m also happy you guys chose Vancouver because that’s my neck of the woods and even though sometimes it drives me crazy about affording to live around the lower mainland, I still won’t trade it to live elsewhere. Spring and summer is going to be so much fun for going out on hikes and fingers crossed, we’ll have cool weather interspersed again this year so the forest fires wouldn’t be too bad.

    Besides all that, you’ve described to a T about my feelings towards k beauty now. I still buy my favourites but I find a lot of the social media engagement side of it fills me with a feeling of ambivalence. Definitely not as exciting as before but as you said, there are still good things to be slathered on and tried.

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  10. So happy to see you are back! I discovered your website a couple of years ago when I was still a K-beauty newbie and since then, I have been regularly lurking/visiting to read your articles. Though this is my first time to comment :).

    I really love how you put a lot of effort into your research -- esp. when there are so many blog posts/influencers out there who only review at a "superficial" level. Thank you so much!

    Fun fact: I was actually looking for a new sunscreen when I remembered that you had written a nice article about it. I can't fully remember your whole domain name so I just usually type "Asian Pear skincare" in Google and it always leads me back to you. :)

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  11. K-Beauty already is just another option in the cosmetics aisle- both Target and Ulta have their own K-Beauty sections and have had them for a good chunk of time. I myself never got into K-Beauty but I see its commercialism as both good and bad, just like you do. I stopped following bloggers for a solid year just because they had gone too commerical/VSCO/perfect/suck-up-to-certain-brands-just-for-the-money and because of these characteristics they were all blending together and looking the same to me. But yours never got like that and I appreciate it. Hope your life continues to get better from here!

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  12. So glad you're back! Your reviews are like no other.

    I agree with you, and would go even further – so many things these days are inauthentic and staged. And WHAT are they all doing with their sheet masks out in the scorching sun!

    On a personal note, I'm currently in that depressed, stuck with my significant other in a place I hate phase, hoping to be yanked out by a new job (I actually suggested trying Canada yesterday!), and this post reads to me like a success story :) Really glad you made it out.

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  13. I'm so excited to see a new post, and honestly, it's brilliant and encompasses all of my feelings regarding kbeauty and influencer culture both together and as separate entities.

    I started researching kbeauty in 2014, when I was in graduate school and struggling with the weight of nonstop stress playing hell on my skin (as well as my own whopping major depressive disorder). Your blog was a huge help to me, taught me so much, and I knew that you and other similar bloggers were sincere in their reviews. You were a voice I could trust and I can't thank you enough.

    It's kind of sad that the glitter and dazzle has faded, but everything I've learned has helped me fix my own skin problems (as well as do many friends'), and you were a huge part of that. I just underwent my own major move as well -- not as big as moving to a different country(!) but completely uprooting our well-established life to move to a totally different city -- and it was an intense experience, but I'm also very happy and looking forward to forging our future here.

    I hope you have the chance to make the occasional update (I'm yearning for someone I can trust to review new items from classic quality k-beauty brands), but regardless, I wish you the absolute best!

    Thanks for everything!

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  14. For me the uppity K-beauty skincare purists on Reddit and other places have soured it for me. Having lived in East Asia myself, I can tell you that Asian women with money buy and use Sisley, Chanel, YSL, La Mer, etc...The upscale malls are full of Western/European makeup and skincare and those who buy drugstore stuff do so because it's cheap. When I pointed this out (and after stating I substitute some Western products in my routine) I was banished from the subreddit forums for saying such sacrilegious things! I had to remain a purist and ONLY use and buy K or J beauty or face insults or my comments deleted. God forbid a product didn't work for me.

    I still love my sheet masks and my naturie skin conditioner, but I'll stick to Avene and the like for the rest. I plan to slowly switch over to European products again but using the Asian skincare methods and keep my monthly Korean beauty boxes for the monthly treat, but I agree it's time has come and gone.

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  15. Not gonna lie, I miss you reviews. You have however now introduced me to my new favorite Instagram account

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  16. I just found your blog this week. I started my own foray into skincare just a few years back and the past few months where when I got serious about it.

    It's very enlightening to see your reviews and comments based on your experiences and research. It's also nice to find someone with combi-skin that's acne prone. And the realization that my skin might be dehydrated. Haha.

    Anyway, I'll keep referring to your posts whenever I need to find products to try out since I still haven't figured out what's best for me.

    Have a great adventure back in Canada. :)

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  17. Congratulations!

    I've been a fan of you for a while. This blog helped me so much during the dark days of my skin journey. Now, years later my skin barrier has recovered and I feel like it's harder and harder to move away from my skincare staples just like you haha. I was so obsessed with k-beauty and it's innovative skincare products but now everything just feels gimmicky. Maybe because I'm getting Asian beauty fatigue.

    Would love to see your reviews on great sunscreens (Make Prem's hydrating sun cap sunscreen is still my favorite!) and whatever your blog takes you! Enjoy Vancouver it's such a lovely city!

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  18. Thanks, Cat.

    I have the misfortune, I think, of discovering K-beauty just in the last year or two. I wish I'd been around in the heyday. I write, and I've found myself writing articles for k-beauty websites, but the culture of it all feels funny.

    Congratulations on making it back to your home. I love the Pacific Northwest too. And yes, I've also been upended out of nowhere-- for me it was falling in love and moving across the country to be with a guy. We're three years in now and so happy.

    Hoping I get to see more from you, whether it's about k-beauty or something else. You have a gift. Thanks for everything.

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