What are the best Korean cosmetic brands available in the US?
In the past, it was quite difficult to purchase Korean skin care products or other cosmetics. You would have to use specialized importers who often sold products at high markups. Those days are long past, and you can find more and more Korean cosmetic brands available in mainstream American shops such as Sephora and Urban Outfitters. Brands like TonyMoly even have their own stores in large cities like Los Angeles and New York. However, no matter where you live in the US, you are in luck. These days, you can find almost all major Korean cosmetic brands from Amazon. We take a look at the best Korean cosmetic brands that you can buy online in the US today.
Best Korean cosmetic brands available in the US
The first brands we discuss are all established heavy-hitters in the Korean cosmetics industry.
Innisfree is a Korean cosmetic brand owned by parent company Amore Pacific. The focus of Innisfree is providing all-natural products using ingredients from the Korean island of Jeju. Innisfree does not currently operate any stores in the US, but ships its products through Amazon resellers.
Innisfree really pushes the all-natural angle in its marketing. Their five promises, translated from Korean, are 1) reliable ingredients, 2) ethical consumption, 3) green design to benefit from nature, 4) green life to be a benefit to nature, and 5) holistic sensory experience. Innisfree runs various campaigns every year to promote a clean Earth, incuding bottle recycling efforts, hankerchief promotion (to reduce tissue waste), and planting trees for reforestation.
Every couple of years, Innisfree finds a new spokeswoman to carry the line’s marketing. LOONA (pictured above) is a new Kpop group that is representing Innisfree starting from 2017.
Bestselling Innisfree product: Green Tea Seed Serum
The Green Tea Seed Serum (Amazon link) is Innisfree’s most popular product. Like all of its products, the main ingredient is a natural product, which is, in this case, green tea from Jeju island. This serum helps keep skin soft and glowing, especially if you have dry, uneven, or other problem spots on your skin. The Green Tea Sead Serum is moisturizing but doesn’t leave behind a greasy feeling. It has a strong fragrance right after you apply it, but the green tea smell goes away pretty quickly. Many women swear by this product.
2. Etude House
Etude House is another major Korean cosmetic brand operated by Amore Pacific. Although Etude House used to have an online US branch, they closed it no longer have a direct US presence. You can however order Etude House products through Amazon resellers.
Etude House’s marketing angle is more twee or cutesy, probably targeting younger women. Their website’s motto is “Life is sweet”, and the shops all use pink design themes. Store employees greet customers by saying “hello princess”, trying to tie-in with the whole princess theme. Krystal from f(x) has been their spokeswoman for several years now.
Bestselling Etude House product: Wonder Pore Freshener
The Wonder Pore Freshener from Etude House mades waves across the blogging world when it first came out. Unlike American toners, the Wonder Pore Freshener does not sting or leave your skin red. After rubbing it on with a cotton pad, you can let it air dry. Many women swear by this product. It reduces pore size and tightens skin to make it feel healthier. The freshener will serve as an stringent without over-drying the skin. The Wonder Pore Freshener is not called a toner, even though it can replace one, because it does not have the same alcohol content.
3. The Face Shop
The Face Shop is one of the largest Korean cosmetic brands run by the LG Corporation. It opened up stores in the US in 2007, although mostly in California and the Bay Area. Walgreens also now carries some of the Face Shop’s products.
The Face Shop emphasizes its natural beauty products. Unlike some of the other brands, the Face shop also targets both men and women, as men in Korea also use many skin care products. In fact, the current ambassador for the Face Shop brand in Korean is a guy, Kim Soo Hyun. He probably has better skin than most women!
Bestselling Face Shop product: Chia Seed No Shine Hydrating Cream
The entire Chia Seed line is incredibly popular, including the Chia Seed No Shine Hydrating Cream (Amazon link). Just like Innisfree, the Face Shop tries to use all-natural ingredients to promote healthy beauty, in this case relying on the vitamins and minerals in chia seed extract.
This moisturizer works best for combination and oily skin. (Confused? See our guide to skin type.) The chia seed extra helps to reduce oil and keep your skin soft, without leaving behind any residues. The Chia Seed cream leaves behind a fresh and terrific smell.
Missha is another famous Korean cosmetic brand that targets both men and women. It is operated by the parent company Abel C&C Co. Missha opened a US store on the famous Fifth Avenue in 2005, and has since expanded to quite a few stores across the country.
Missha’s marketing line is affordability. Their philosophy is that the highest quality cosmetics should also have a reasonable price. They are known for replicating products from higher end luxury cosmetic brands such as SK-II and Estee Lauder, then reselling at a lower price point. Missha’s popularity has come and gone in the past, but today it is as strong as ever.
Their models for many years was the Korean boy band duo TVQX, but Missha recently added the male actor Jo In-Seung as a new model in Korea. In fact, the only female brand model so far has been BoA. It might seem strange to have a man market female cosmetics, but it apparently works in Korea.
Bestselling Missha product: Perfect Cover BB Cream
According to Missha’s website, they have sold over 30 million units of their most popular product, the Perfect Cover BB Cream (Amazon link). BB cream (read our guide here) is probably what kicked off the Korean cosmetic craze. The great thing about BB creams is that they are both a cosmetic and a skin care product. With an SPF of 42, the Perfect Cover BB Cream prevents sunlight-induced skin damage. At the same time, you can use the BB Cream to cover existing blemishes and uneven tones as a makeup base or foundation. It’s available in a number of shades to match your skin tone.
Tonymoly is an independent Korean cosmetic brand with that started in 2006. “Tony” is supposed to mean “fashionable” in English and “Moly” is supposed to mean “put something in” in Japanese. Together, Tonymoly means “putting style into packaging”. They have entered the US market and have a store in New York City’s Koreatown.
Tonymoly’s emphasis is on packaging. They have a lot of cute looking (some would say even strange) packaging for their cosmetics. They also use unusual ingredients for many of their products such as bananas, mangos, and goat milk. It almost sounds like a grocery store! Overall, they have a fun, girly approach to marketing. Their main focus is on cosmetic basics.
Hyuna has been the female model for Tonymoly since 2014. In October of 2015, boy band 2PM replaced B1A4 as the male model counterparts.
Bestselling Tonymoly product: Delight Tony Tint
The Delight Tony Tint (Amazon link) is a popular product tint from Tonymoly with rave reviews. Unlike other lipsticks or stains, the Delight Tony Tint does not leave behind dry lips or a crusty residue. Your lips feel clean and less sticky compared to lipstick, for example, and there is no noticeable taste. The 3-pack comes with different shades to match your mood and style. The tints can last for half a day with normal talking and drinking. If you have heavy eating, you may need to re-apply. Although drying out the lips is usually an issue, you can use a balm or gloss on top of the tint to prevent drying.
Peeres Cosmetics, the parent company of Skinfood, has been in the cosmetics business since 1957. Skinfood initially launched in 2004 as a small test of a new marketing concept. Skinfood now operates worldwide and now has storefront locations in Los Angeles and New York.
The idea behind Skinfood was to treat the skin with nutritious food. You see that all of Skinfood’s products are based on real foods. Skinfood also prides itself on sourcing the freshest food ingredients for its cosmetics. Their packaging resembles food products and includes English labels, making it one of the more unique Korean cosmetic brands.
Skinfood doesn’t have a main model to promote them, but they have had sponsored photoshoots in the past. Male actor Lee Jong Suk had a promotional shoot in 2014 for Skinfood
Bestselling Skinfood product: Black Sugar Mask Wash Off
The Black Sugar Mask Wash Off (Amazon link) from Skinfood contains Brazilian black sugar that is rich with minerals and vitamins. The Black Sugar Mask Wash Off hydrates and exfoliates to brighten and smooth skin. The wash off also serves to remove blackheads.
To use the Black Sugar Mask, cleans the face and then massage into the face. Remove the mask after 10 to 15 minutes for a rejuvenated feeling. The black sugar crystals may or may not melt during the process depending on the temperature and humidity.
7. Nature Republic
Nature Republic opened its first store in Korean in 2009, launching under the endorsement of Korean entertainer Rain. It has now expanded to the US, mainly in California and New York.
There are some similarities between the Korean cosmetic brands Nature Republic and Innisfree. They both target the all-natural. They also both have a set of promises. The Nature Republic’s promises are to 1) embody pure nature, 2) let everyone enjoy, 3) be original in their offerings, and 4) promote communication. They use a range of natural ingredients from deep seawater, Bulgaria rose, Moroccan argan, and bee venom (!).
Tayeon from Girl’s Generation and the boy band EXO are the current brand models.
Bestselling Nature Republic product: Aloe Vera Gel
The 92% Aloe Vera Gel (Amazon link) by Nature Republic is its perennial bestseller with 1.5 million units sold already. The reason it probably has not sold more is because you get a giant tub that seems to last forever. Everyone comments on this generous size, making it a great deal.
Some women use this as a moisturizer under makeup, but it’s main use is at night. It works very well with sensitive skin, and even bad combinations like sensitive yet oily skin. The gel cools red, itchy skin and while also controlling oil. A few adventurous women even use it in their hair!
Moonshot is the brainchild of YG Entertainment, the talent company behind stars such as 2ne1, Psy, and Big Bang. YG Entertainment partnered with the cosmetics company Coson to launch Moonshot in October of 2014. Although it is one of the younger Korean cosmetic brands, the heavy-hitter promotions and quality products have made Moonshot a major player already. Currently, Moonshot only has stores in Korea.
Moonshot focuses on vibrant, edgy colors with a slight alternative punch. They provide a different, more mature or fashion-forward look, although still well within the realms of mainstream styles. Many of their cosmetics double as skin care agents.
Sungykung Lee and Sora Choi represent both mainstream and edgy styles as Moonshot’s brand ambassadors.
Bestselling Moonshot product: Cream Paint in Pink Punch
The Moonshot Cream Paint in Pink Punch (Amazon link) was sold out in stores after Sungkyung Lee introduced it on her TV show “Get It Beauty”. This lip tint stains your lips in a matte without giving a shine once it dries. The product is a bit thicker than other lip stains and may take some getting used to. One of the selling points is that the Cream Paint is multipurpose and doubles as a cheek product.
While many of Moonshot’s products are still not available on Amazon, you can find their Microfit Cushion series.
9. Dr. Jart+
Dr Jart+ began in 2004 as a joint venture between a dermatologist and his businesss-minded friend. Since then, Dr. Jart+ has expanded to 15 countries and made a name for itself with high profile endorsements. Many Dr. Jart+ products are available in US stores, such as Sephora.
The aim of Dr. Jart+ is to provide healthy skin care and cosmetic products that rooted in medicine. Dr. Jart+ focuses on its dermatologist credentials and markets its Dr.-approved status to gain credibility with a health-conscious consumer.
Dr. Jart+ doesn’t have a main Korean brand ambassador, but they are doing just fine promoting their products internationally and in the US. For the last several years, Dr. Jart+ has teamed up with the famous NY Fashion Week’s Open Ceremony to have all of their runway models undergo treatment with Dr. Jart+ products. You can read one story about it at The Klog (above image credit: klog.co).
Bestselling Dr. Jart+ Product: Ceramidin Cream
The Ceramidin Cream (Amazon link) is a bestselling product from Dr. Jart+ that is particularly well-suited for sensitive skin. The cream helps calm skin and moisturize throughout the day without leaving an oily feeling. This cream is also good for people with eczema. If you’ve read our previous article on how to treat eczema, you’ll recognize that the Ceramide 3 ingredient in the Ceramidin Cream is the same class of ceramides that the dermatologist Dr. Zirwas recommends. Dr. Zirwas recomends CeraVe as a ceramide-based cream for therapeutic purposes. The Dr. Jart+ product is lighter and perhaps more suitable for use in the day, or as a non-therapeutic product. Well, apparently dermatologists agree that ceramides are good, though!
LG Household and Healthcare started the Korean cosmetic brand Belif in 2010. Their tagline is “believe in truth” and the core values of Belif are to deliver 1) true value, 2) true formulas, 3) true benefits, 4) true honesty, and 5) true community.
Belif also incorporates natural ingredients into their products. However, unlike some of the other Korean cosmetic brands like Skinfood, Belif focuses on herbal remedies. They count their heritage back to the Scottish herbalist Duncan Napier from the 1800s.
Belif doesn’t really use brand ambassadors like the other companies, but markets their product with more standard approaches.
Bestselling Belif product: True Cream Moisturizing Bomb
The True Cream Moisturizing Bomb (Amazon link) claims to hydrate skin for 26 hours. According to users of this cream, it actually does last all day. This is the ultimate long-lasting skin moisturizer that does not leave you feeling sticky or oily. It works great with super sensitive and dry skin. This version of the True Cream contains an herb called comfrey leaf.
Belif also makes a gel version of the True Cream, called the True Cream Aqua Bomb. This uses a different herb called lady mantle and claims to replenish your skin’s hydration instantly by up to 18%. Users rave about this version of the True Cream as well. These two versions of the True Cream are by far Belif’s best selling products.
Neogen doesn’t have its own stores but sells its products through resellers and pharmacies. While one of the younger Korean cosmetic brands, Neogen is making big waves as one of the bestsellers at its retailers. Neogen takes a serious, grown up approach to cosmetics and performs serious clinical research on its products. They hold a number of patents as well. Their products are clinically effective, and instead of marketing with celebrities, Neogen focuses on achieving real results.
Bestselling Neogen product: Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine
The Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine (Amazon link) is an exfoliating pad soaked in resveratrol for rejuvenation and lactic acid for removing debris. The pad comes with a smooth wet side and rougher side. You apply the wet product, turn over the pad, and gently rub to exfoliate. Then, you wash off the product. The Bio-Peel is quite effective and you might be surprised at the amount of dirt that comes out. It’s also has a delicious grape juice smell.
12. Blossom Jeju
Blossom Jeju is a relatively young specialty Korean cosmetic brand that focuses on the Jeju island Camellia flower. You’ll notice the similarities to Innisfree promoting natural ingredients and Jeju island. However, Blossom Jeju is the only major brand that offers products with Camellia extracts. As a smaller company, Blossom Jeju doesn’t have the same kinds of celebrity endorsement deals that the big players make. However, they are getting great reviews from women at home and regular customers.
While there are a number of offerings, the main star of Blossom Jeju is its Pink Camellia Soombi Blooming Essence Serum (Amazon link). The Pink Camellia Cream is a luxury cream for those that want to spoil themselves. It costs over $60 from most American resellers and contains over 50% Camellia flower extra as its main ingredients. Squeezing the essence of all those flowers into the bottle is quite costly! The cream is a drier cream that doesn’t leave behind residue and gets absorbed immediately. As such, it might be better for oilier skin or for use at night time. This cream plumps and smooths out damaged skin. It simply feels luxurious. Women will acne will appreciate that it does not have significant acne triggers and should be compatible with most sensitive skins.
Other rising Korean cosmetic brands
There are many new Korean cosmetic brands debuting these days with exciting offerings at the mid and high cosmetic ranges. Primera, Shangpree, Erobrian, and Blithe are just a few of the additional brands you can now order online through Amazon.
We can’t name a single best Korean cosmetic brand, because they all have different target audiences or marketing packages. However, with so many brands, we’re sure that you can find products that fit you well.
Read our complete guide to a Korean skincare routine: http://www.ladyqs.com/korean-skin-care-routine-for-oily-skin/