Interview: A Korean Prodigal Daughter returns to her K-Beauty Roots

I have been very excited about this week's post for some time; I have been dying to interview H, the lovely Korean woman who has been helping me in my pursuit of lesser-known Korean products- the fabulous Beauty of Joseon Dynasty Cream, for example.

In 2010, at the age of 21, H moved from Korea to the US and is only now developing an interest in the beauty products of her native country.  Like many Korean women, she used imported beauty products (American and European are the most popular) and Korean-made products were not even on her radar.

However, while helping me with many a late-night Korean shopping site marathon, translating product listings and images that defied Google Translate, my Korean-product-evangelism was so fierce that eventually I was able to convert H to the ~Way of the Snail~.   

This image from her phone spans the breadth of a Great Skincare Journey. Image credit: H
Like the return of the Prodigal Son Daughter, has rediscovered Korean products and she has agreed to answer all my burning questions about her triumphant return to her beauty roots.

In this post:
  • How and why she switched from western products to Korean ones
  • Her thoughts on the Hallyu Wave and how it's reverse-impacting Korea
  • Her routine and the American products she won't give up
Let's get this party started!

My questions are in bold, H's responses are in purple.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I'm Korean, 25 years old now and going to be 26 in this July (yay) and I am currently a graduate student. I moved to the U.S. when I was 21 years old. It was December 31st, 2010 and I lived in hawaii for 3 years and moved to the mainland after that.  I like beauty products, shopping and fashion, specifically shoes! I don't really care about k-pop idol groups :) 
It's hilarious that you need to mention [not liking k-pop].
People really ask me whenever I say I'm Korean.
Oh, I believe it.

When did you first become interested in beauty products?
Image from
I've loved beauty products since I was really young. I had my first compact powder when I was 15 and it was from Innisfree. I still remember my first mascara too, it was from Etude House. 
It was not common at all for young girls to be wearing makeup when I was young. Most our peer group thought that we can only wear makeup after graduating high school. But, when I went back to Korea in 2013 for christmas break, I saw lots of middle and high school girls wearing makeup, so I guess the times have changed.

Based off your experience, how would you describe the attitude and perception of western (US, European) products in Korea?
We think that it is really special to buy western products, and it is a symbol of wealth sometimes. It is really expensive to to buy US products in Korea compared with the prices in the U.S. And some girls think that they are really special because they use western products. This is my personal experience, I know one girl, and she always ignored people who do not use western products. She loved to show off how much she spent on these products and how western products are so special.
I used to live in Hawaii, as you all know Hawaii is a famous place for honeymoons. There are tons of Korean tourists in Hawaii, so if you go to Sephora or a Duty Free Shop (In Hawaii, you can go to Duty Free shop outside of airport, it is located in the middle of Waikiki Street), you can easily find Korean saleswomen, and Korean women buying tons of western beauty products. I used to go to Sephora inside of famous shopping center in Hawaii, and it was not really a surprise to see Korean women buying tons of beauty products.

Do you feel the perception of western products is influenced by the media?
Yes, for example, YSL lip gloss and lipsticks are so popular in Korea now, because they advertised that famous pretty women in the media use all the time. Even though it is really expensive in Korea, I heard that it is super popular now. To me, if the media says some famous actress wear some color of lipstick or what skincare products they are using, I found that I search for those products online. "Song Yi's famous lipstick from 

My Love From Another Star is back in stock" [image source]
I think you're not alone in that, nor are Korean women alone in that habit!

I know that the k-drama 'My Love from the Stars' caused the YSL Rouge Pur Couture in No. 52 Rosy Coral to sell out internationally, which is pretty irrefutable evidence of the the impact that the Hallyu Wave has on a global scale.

As soon as you mentioned YSL and it trending in the media, I immediately thought of of this as an example.
Oh, that YSL picture is perfect.
Was that what you were thinking of too?

Were you influenced to use foreign products, for reasons such as a symbol of wealth/status, fashionable trends, or other reasons?
Among my peer group, there was lots of pressure from girls who used foreign products to represent wealth and fashionable trends.
To me, I only had one western product in Korea: I bought Dior Mascara when I was 18 and I believe it was $40. It was a really huge decision to me at the time. I never thought to buy western skin care products because it was normally over $100 dollars. For L’Oreal, it was not a bad price. For cream, it was around $20 for cheapest one and I used it a few times. I [could not] see any difference between Korean skincare products and L'Oreal. But most of my peer group, including me, liked to use those products because we felt like we know very well about western products, and followed fashionable trends. 
She's not kidding about the ridiculous markups; I did a search for the UD Naked 3 palette on Korean sites (left); it's more than double in some KR shops/sites compared to US vendors including Urban Decay's direct site (right)
Have your perceptions of western products changed now that you have been living in the US for 5 years?
The first time I went to Sephora, I was surprised that the western products are super cheap compared with Korea. I was young at the time, and I sometimes spent around $200 for beauty products few times. But my skin was really terrible when I was in Hawaii, I guess because of ocean and salty air, so I stopped wearing any kind of makeup. I moved to the mainland, and my skin got better and I got interested in Korean products again, and now I can see how western products are not so good for the price. 

What was your perception of Korean products when you were living in Korea? 
My thoughts of Korean products was that they are more pure and use more natural ingredients compare with western products.

Do you feel the implied 'status' of western products overshadowed the more pure/natural appeal of Korean products?

Do you feel the perception of your family and friends still in Korea has changed when it comes to Korean products?
My mom believes that Korean skin care products are the best - because she likes Hanbang products and she believes that Korean products are the best for Koreans. My Korean friends all love western products though. 
I'm with your mom; Hanbang love forever! ♥

All the Hanbang things, I want them ALL!

Korean music, dramas, and products have been trending within Asia since the 1990’s, but the ‘Hallyu Wave’ has really exploded in the western markets in the last 5 years, with export sales of Korean cosmetics overtaking imports by 50% in 2013, and then increasing by 34% in the first half of 2014 alone.

As K-beauty started trending hard in overseas markets, a ‘reverse Hallyu Wave’ has been observed; the popularity of K-beauty overseas has renewed interest in Korean products inside of Korea, and western products are falling out of favour.  Have you noticed any signs of this ‘reverse Hallyu Wave’ in Korea, such as changing attitudes towards Korean-made  cosmetics, less interest in foreign-made cosmetics, etc?
(This is really good question, woohoo) 
I noticed lots of signs. When I lived in Korea, the Hallyu Wave was getting bigger and bigger. There are famous shopping streets in Korea, Myeongdong and Hongdae. 5 years ago, I was surprised that all Korean cosmetic stores had three language services; English, Chinese and Japanese. It was really surprising to me, because the women in the stores speak really good English and I did not know that foreigners would really buy Korean cosmetic products. 
When I imagine entire streets of K-Beauty stores, I feel a little dizzy, like a border collie contemplating an entire dog park covered in tennis balls. Actually, I'd need smelling salts before checking out Sulwhasoo, for example. [img source]
When I lived in Hawaii, there were tons of people are from all of the different countries, especially Chinese/Hong Kong friends loved Korean products because of the Hallyu Wave. My boyfriend is American, but he knows the Korean culture and language very well. His sister also loves Korean culture because of the Hallyu Wave and when she went to Korea 2 months ago, she bought tons of Korean cosmetics. 
Oooh, what did she buy?
Skincare products, and facial masks, but basically she got tons of sheet masks.
She knows where it's at.  *fist bumps*

I find it really fascinating that the international demand is so strong that not only are online/overseas sales high, but 'shopping tourism' where people go to Korea just to buy beauty products is so prevalent that it's a common practice to offer language services at the shops in Seoul.

What do you think of the growing interest in Hanbang cosmetics in the west, when traditionally those products were only popular with older, affluent Korean women?
I was very surprised when I found the [Asian beauty product online community] and people who know more about Korean Hanbang cosmetics than me. I think it is great that those products are getting popular. As a Korean woman, I personally believe that Hanbang products are the best in the world. It is pure and natural for everyone.
No argument there.  This blog has been All Hanbang All The Time lately, and I'm not the least bit sorry.  Say the words 한방 or 발효 and you've instantly got my attention.  (Note: 한방 is Hanbang, traditional Korean herbal medicine, and 발효 is 'fermented'.)

Let’s talk about your routine!  What’s your skin type, troubles, and makeup style? What products are you currently using?
My skin was gorgeous and perfect before I moved to Hawaii, but after I moved to Hawaii, I had crazy acne. I guess it was because of the weather and salt in the air. Now I live on the east coast, where we have four sessions like Korea, and my skin is better. Especially, after I met [you], I knew how to order Korean products from here, so my skin is really better after using Korean products. 
(Lifetime blogging achievement unlocked: Inspire a Korean to fall in love with Korean products!)  
Image from Cosrx's kr site
My skin type - combination skin, oily T-zone and some acne.
Skin routine, morning - 

  • Cosrx Natural BHA Skin Returning A Sol 
  • Mizon Original Skin Energy Hyaluronic Acid 100 
  • Dr. Jart + Ceramidin Cream 
  • Super City Block Oil-Free Daily Face Protector Broad Spectrum 40 SPF
Make up- 
I prefer natural/fast makeup for everyday routine

  • Foundation - bare minerals powder foundation
  • Mascara - L’Oreal mascara (I do not like it, I need to buy new one soon)
  • Eye Shadow - Mac and Naked 3 
  • Cheeks - Tarte (Only a few times per week) 
  • Finish powder - Bare minerals 
  • Lip - Just use depends on colors that I want to use that day. 
Image from
Night routine - 
  • Cleansing - Origins oil, and use COSRX Hyaluronic Acid Hydra Foam Cleanser with Clarisonic Mia 2 
  • Mizon AHA 8% Peeling Serum - 40ml
  • Mizon Original Skin Energy Hyaluronic Acid 100
  • Mizon All In One Snail Repair Cream - 75ml
  • Nature Republic Super Aqua Max Moisture Watery Cream
  • Use Facial Sheet Masks two or three times a week. Use Lush Fresh Face Mask once a week.
Were there any Korean products that you did use regularly, even when you were still using a primarily western routine?  I know we've talked a lot about sheet masks, for example.
Sheet Masks are love <3. I used a lot since 2008. I normally buy a lot and put in the refrigerator and put on my face at the end of day or the morning time if I have to wear nice makeup. Whenever I have to take an airplane somewhere, I also use in the airplane. My parents are coming to visit me next month, so I told my mom to bring tons of sheet masks. 

Are any of them the Evercos Hanbang masks?
I should ask mom to get some for me.
(For reviews of the Evercos masks in question, check out my Sheet Mask Roundup and Holy Grail: Spring 2015 post, where I review 5 of the masks from the line.  Spoilers: I love them. H does too; she recognized them right away when I showed them to her as she used to use them herself when she lived in Hawaii.)

How has your skin changed since you switched to a Korean routine?  Did you notice any immediate effects?
So, I am the type that always has skin troubles before my period; I get lots of pimples around my lip and forehead. But after I switched to a Korean routine, I only have one or two around my lips. After a month since I changed to my Korean routine, I can go out with only simple makeup - sunscreen and light power. And I blamed myself  for spending lots of money on western skin care products from Sephora. I've now sworn that I am going to use Korean skin care products forever. 
#Preach!  The Asian philosophy is to buy skincare, not makeup, and it's so worth it.  I wore only sunscreen and concealer today, and although my skin isn't great, I felt perfectly comfortable walking around in public with just that.

Is there anything western that you have kept (or will keep) in your routine, that you don’t feel can be replaced by Asian products?
For skin care routine, I love Lush fresh face masks, I do not want to replace them with Asian products. For makeup products, I love Bare Minerals powder foundation, I am not going to replace it with Asian products forever :)

Regular visits to a Dermatologist are more common (and affordable) in Korea compared to the US, where one usually only visits a Dermatologist if they have severe and life-impacting skin conditions.  To your knowledge, do Korean Dermatologists recommend Korean products, western products, or something else entirely?
I only went to meet a Dermatologist once. When I lived in Hawaii,  my skin was terrible - tons of acne - so I went to see the Dermatologist when I went back to Korea. They recommended using super expensive skin care things that I do not want to do, so I ended up giving up on Dermatologists. I have a friend who always visits her Dermatologist, even if she has one tiny outbreak. I am not sure what kind of products Korean Dermatologists recommend. But I am pretty sure they recommend some medical products that are imports from the west. I saw many people that strongly believe that western products are better than Korea’s.

On that last point; do you feel that this belief that western products are better than Korean ones may change in the future, considering how the reverse Hallyu Wave is having a boomerang effect on the popularity of domestic products?
I definitely believe that it will change one day, not just for k-pop or something.  Koreans are also trying hard to develop nice skincare products, because they love beauty products.
I love that they love beauty products, because it means more amazing beauty products for me to try, fall in love with, and with which to Spread the Word of Hanbang, Snails, and Science in one's skincare.

Thank you so much for taking the time for the interview, and of course for patiently answering all the strange questions I have various product links I send to you. ^o^

Final Thoughts

 I have to say this is one of the most fun posts I've done in a while, and I found H's perspective on things fascinating; it's not every day you get to hear the thoughts of a Korean woman who 'found' K-Beauty products after she moved to the US, and I'm honoured to have played a part in her prodigal journey.  I knew that many of the international 'cult' brands were virtually unheard of in Korea (my beloved Mizon is a perfect example) due to the long-established preference for western products; but I wanted to hear an insider's perspective on it as well as their thoughts as a recent convert to products that are overlooked in Korea.

It's a shame, because people don't realize that there is a treasure trove of magnificent-yet-affordable gems in their metaphorical backyard; I'm excited to see what new innovations come out of Korea as their products catch fire both outside and inside the country. 

And with that, we're done!  Have a story to share about your rediscovery of Asian beauty products, or the boomerang effect of the reverse Hallyu wave?  I'd love to hear it; drop me a comment below or shoot me an email or Facebook message!

**Disclaimer: H was not paid for this interview, nor was she sponsored for any of the products mentioned.  She did all of this out of the goodness of her heart.

1 comment

  1. Thank you for stopping by to read the post, Dawn! You are one lucky lady not to have ever experienced a UTI, Action Fuel PRO but now you know what to expect IF you ever get one.You mean to tell me, that along with still getting zits at age 51, hot flashes, sporadic