My Journey into Korean Beauty, An Education

Recently I’ve been swept into the K-Beauty trend or Korean Beauty trend. “Is this were you use a gajillion products in your routine?”/ “Isn’t that the same trend that’s pushing snail slime?” You ask? To which I say – yes, all true. The Korean Beauty trend has gained a lot of attention from the now ubiquitous serial-killer looking sheet masks seen all over Instagram to the focus on a disciplined, multiple product regimen.

I decided to explore this trend more in depth because I wanted to see for myself where the truth stood between hype and results. Would using such uncommon ingredients be more beneficial? Is the multiple product approach better than one that is streamlined?

It was a little daunting at first when hearing about 10-step routines and just the categories (cleansers, toners, essences, serums, pressed serums, oils, ampules, moisturizers, sheet masks, rubber masks, splash masks – OH MY!) alone are enough to intimidate any beginner or novice. I enlisted the help of natural K-beauty purveyor Glow Recipe which provides handy , informative guides and insights on latest trends as well as Sokoglam‘s Charlotte Cho who is a wonderful source for all things K-Beauty.

It was through watching their videos, reaching out on Instagram and a couple of e-mails back and forth that I was able to form my insights which is that like any beauty regimen, the Korean Beauty regimen is all about what works for you. For the most part, the reason for so many steps is because the K-Beauty philosophy is comprehensive rather than tedious and purposefully overwhelming. After researching the products and categories, I believe it’s really important to think about everything holistically in terms of how products will interact with each other and what they bring to the table independently.

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One of the first things I noticed was that despite those uniquely out-there ingredients, most of the ingredients list tend to be fairly common and not that different from what one might easily find in a Sephora store. Take for example the snail goo sleeping mask from Missha (Cell Renew Snail Sleeping Mask) shown above. Sounds pretty cool right? The actual product is really just a rich creamy lotion, no hint of goo but an abundance of synthetic fragrance. In my experience, there wasn’t anything that distinguished it from other moisturizers despite being called a sleeping mask. I suppose in this regard overnight moisturizers might as well all be called sleeping masks and day time moisturizers, activity masks?

What I did gravitate toward was Glow Recipe, a site where products are really celebrated from being uniquely different. While the brand curates “natural” offerings, the green beauties out there may notice some iffy ingredients such as PEG’s but in general I didn’t see too many bad ingredients. Think of this purveyor as carrying brands akin to Origins, REN, Grown Alchemist, where they’re not entirely ‘green’ but a daliance isn’t going to be ideology shattering either. I love how enthusiastic the ladies at Glow Recipe are with sharing their latest finds in which each product is given a chance to shine – their latest discovery is the Aqua Peel which is an acid treatment applied through a soaked over sized Q-Tip, pretty cool right?

With Glow Recipe, I found that the Whamisa line really spoke to me and I purchased their Organic Flowers Toner [Deep Rich] which is described as a bouncy essence like hydrating step and Organic Flowers Facial Oil which I purchased purely to see how Korean oils may differ from ones we purchase here. The Organic Flowers Facial Oil reminded me of the Acure Oil in terms of packaging and was noticeably light and quick absorbing. As a fan of face oils and being spoiled by brands like Odacite and Yuli that just can’t be beat when it comes to freshness, nothing about the Whamisa Oil stood out to me per se although it proved competent as a night time oil (it contains citrus oils which automatically classes it as an evening only product for me).

Still, the toner immediately found its way into my routine, nestled between cleansing and a fine botanical mist. I found the emollient texture to add a certain bit of moisture cushion which is much welcomed during the winter. I also like that it relies on Aloe Vera, botanical extracts and natural fermentation which is something we see in green beauty as well.

In fact, I recognized that a lot of things that worked for me with Korean Beauty also worked in line with green beauty from the reliance of high quality ingredients, plant based actives and designing a comprehensive system focused upon individual skin conditions. I was able to take the teachings of K-Beauty and apply it to my fairly green top shelf:

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My evening K-Beauty inspired Green routine starts with double cleansing. In Korea and Japan, women believe that to take off the layers of the day requires a multi-step process starting with the make-up, sunscreen and water-proof products. This is usually an oil based cleanser and in my case on light days, I use an oil-based cream cleanser like In Fiore’s Treate. After the surface is cleared, it’s time to really cleanse and freshen the skin and Korean beauty usually incorporates a light foaming, pH balanced cleanser that is usually SLS and alcohol free. Of course, for this step I use my beloved Yuli Halcyon Cleanser, which I find to use much higher quality and advanced ingredients – I really do consider it to be THE gift to us green beauty fans.

Now that skin is bare and fresh, I acid tone with First Aid Beauty’s Radiance Pads to give a gentle resurfacing which only helps skin absorb more moisture to follow. This is the most gentle acid toner I’ve used and it was recommended by a reader (thank you!). Next I use 3 drop-fuls of Whamisa’s Organic Flowers Toner and press into my skin in upward circular motions. This gives my skin a good moisture base to build from. Then I follow with Tatcha’s Luminous Deep Hydration Serum to really amp up the hydration factor with hyaluronic acid and Okinawa red algae which is very deeply moisturizing as the name suggests and gives skin some bounce. Next, with my skin loaded up from the water, glycerin, hydrating actives and hyaluronic acid, I mist it with MUN’s No.11 Rejuvenating Rose toner which is based on water and rose water (which the aforementioned actives will bind to skin) and also contains hyaluronic acid. In Korean Beauty, this is the pressed oil/ampoule stage so I press 1.5 to 2 pumps of Yuli’s Liquid Courage antioxidant serum to my skin as it is the most concentrated product and I want to give time for my skin to absorb all of the good stuff. Liquid Courage itself contains a unique ingredient in the form of a bio-ferment of black garlic which kicks up the antioxidant capacity, and don’t worry I can confirm that there is no unpleasant garlic odor, only a soft neroli fragrance. With serums, I allow one to two minutes for it to absorb before continuing.

During this time I diligently apply my Kahina Giving Beauty Eye Serum which is one of my favorite as it contains peptides, antioxidants and hyaluronic acid as well. I do a dot on each ring finger and dab across my under eye. This Eye Serum relieves that bit of tightness that I sometimes feel and sinks in quickly. I press any leftover product to my smile lines and around my lips.

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As the final step I use Tatcha’s Soothing Triple Recovery Cream which locks in all that hydration and itself is formulated with the highest concentration of colloidal oatmeal which is a very powerful anti-inflammatory. This anti-aging moisturizer also contains Indigo extract and is based on water and olive based squalane. The Soothing Triple Recovery Cream also does not contain essential oils and coupled with the colloidal oatmeal has won the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Acceptance.

So while I know this might look like a lot immediately, once each step is broken down everything starts making sense in their place. So what began as an exploration of a new trend really just showed me that it was a different take on the tried and true: do what works for you! I’ll likely continue to incorporate some things from Korean beauty because they’re quite playful and out of the box with product ideas and a lot of things actually work very well, however I’ve come away with a deeper appreciation for high quality ingredients that us green beauty fans have treasured all along.

Rant on the NMDL community..

Through my search for natural brands that used clean ingredients, No More Dirty Looks has served as an encyclopedia of knowledge, their founders Alexandra + Siobhan are passionate, knowledgeable, and friendly. They’ve helped introduce so many brands and essentially carve out this online niche for the growing community of clean beauty fans. This post really is not an attack towards the hardworking ladies whose efforts and work I’ve truly come to appreciate and respect. 

When NMDL first started, it was a welcome breath of fresh air from blogs that would essentially be paid mouth pieces (in the way of constant freebies from the giant brands) that reviewed all the same products at the same time. Through NMDL, I got to learn about truly great and effective skincare, and was introduced to so many brands before my work place even carried them such as Dr.Alkaitis, Intelligent Nutrients, Kahina Giving Beauty, & Tata Harper. I also connected with trailblazing entrepreneurs such as Spirit Demerson of SpiritBeautyLounge, one of my favorite online retail stores, and amazing bloggers such as Kimberly Loc. In essence, I give credit to NMDL as one of the most important websites in developing and cultivating this online community of educated beauty junkies.

Recently, I’ve been on it a lot less. I’ve been trying to figure out why and it has to do with many factors. For those of you who have seen their recent posts on Marie Veronique Organics and May Lindstrom, you will see they each inspired over 30 comments. I was kind of taken aback at how hostile the comments were in general. People seemed to take May Lindstrom to task for the fact that her price points are geared more towards “luxury” brands, and the comments are otherwise filled with DIY’s for how you can replicate her formulas. With Marie Veronique, the comments are even more scathing and I can understand the disgruntled observation that her products are not “all clean” – such as using emu oil and questionable preservatives, but it became a little hostile on the boards. With both posts, I believe one of the founders of NMDL had to go comment and kind of justify why they provided the post in the first place. 

So a few issues I have with this:
1. Why the hostility against NMDL for featuring luxury products? The ladies are free to post whatever they want. I personally am not interested in the DIY recipes because I like my luxury products, hence a blog dedicated to luxury beauty care.

2. What is so wrong with a company that wants to position itself as a luxury company while using clean ingredients? It seems any mention of Tata Harper or a product that is less attainable is met with the response that the brands and their customers are elitists who are unreasonable almost trying to “trick” you out of money. I know everyone has different priorities and budgets but that doesn’t mean luxury green companies are inherently bad. How can we expect green beauty brands to be successful if we ourselves take down any brand that dares to compete on a upscale market with traditional products? With the way that the commenters on NMDL behave, we’re just going to end up with glorified Etsy beauty brands. The fact is when any brand tries to expand and be an actual business, there are operational costs, marketing costs, and overhead costs which need to figure into the cost of the product to keep the company alive. As expensive as Tata Harper is, if you want the lenient return policy and generous samples – well guess what – the product pricing will reflect that! I don’t see how Tata Harper is any more “unreasonable” or “greedy” than the next beauty brand sold at high end department stores, at least she uses clean ingredients, so please – stop with the bashing of any clean brand that dares to compete in the high end market!

3. The constant “here’s my own DIY for ___” that I see in comment streams for products like Kahina’s Brightening Serum or May Lindstrom’s Clean Dirt – I am fine with people sharing information but not to undermine the legitimacy of a product. The inference here is that these products can essentially be replicated at home and are not worth the cost. This goes into feeding the erroneous belief that the entire clean movement is essentially composed of products that are “homemade”. Perhaps this belief is why people are so unwilling to pay a premium for products and why people are hesitant to leave traditional products behind for the perceived “granola” green products— and also why green brands are less accepted in the luxury market. But many of us transitioned from “traditional” products that were made with lots of iffy ingredients, so we know that clean ingredients do more good and in general cost more than the iffy products/fillers- so why doesn’t it make sense for the products to cost more? If you read YULi’s post explaining the traditional ingredients list, it really teaches you about all the filler and the fact that those lotions and creams you see are mostly filled with the cheap ingredients with few good ones coming in at the bottom: go here and have a read. I think in order for the clean beauty movement to be taken seriously we have to support these brands that dare to compete in the Neiman Marcus space against La Mer and La Prairie, this is the only way people understand that this movement isn’t all just a “hippie grassroots” thing.

To be fair, I think part of the issue here is that so many emerging brands are piggybacking off of green brands that actually have good formulations, trying to position themselves as these wonderfully luxurious brands when really they’re just run by people at home who don’t have any experience as chemists or in the skincare industry, who spend all day reading about oils, then ordering bulk oils and throwing them together and slapping a $100 tag on them. I mean seriously, everyone and their mom is making facial oils now and starting their own brand because they think it is so easy to just order a few ingredients and they all have this “story”- EYEROLL. It really trivializes the challenges of actually having a long-term business with an actual business model. If you look at the ingredients list for Tata Harper or Kahina – you can’t whip that up at home, you can’t order the stem cells that go into an Intelligent Nutrients product on mountainroseherbs, and good luck trying to derive your own chiral ferulic acid from acai and biophotonic matcha in YULI’s products. Part of what you’re paying for with these brands are what makes them good, you’re paying for the fresh farm ingredients straight from Tata’s own organic farm, you’re paying for the amazing argan collective that allow Kahina to have unsurpassed argan products, you’re paying for the experienced hand of a chemist who has formulated products in the beauty industry who is going all out with her own formulations at YULI, you’re paying for an actual doctors holistic remedies with Dr.Alkaitis, you’re paying for the expertise from the founder of the Aveda empire with Intelligent Nutrients products.

In summation: high end green beauty brands have every right to exist and should not have to constantly justify themselves. 

May Lindstrom: The Clean Dirt

Happy 2013 everybody! It is fitting that I start off the blog with a review of one of my favorite beauty brands: May Lindstrom Skin. I admit and am okay with the fact that a lot of the time with skincare brands, the message is very important to me and I can say of all the brands sold at Spirit Beauty Lounge, her entry was the one that got me most excited.

May Lindstrom is a model who has developed a line of 4 products: The Clean Dirt, The Problem Solver, The Youth Dew, and The Good Stuff. The Clean Dirt is her answer to a cleanser and after reading rave reviews from green beauties including Spirit Demerson herself who calls this her favorite facial cleanser, I knew I had to get my hands on this product!
 

The Clean Dirt comes in a miron glass bottle with a chic label strip at the bottom. The bottle is 6.76 oz/ 200 ml (question: do powders fall under the 3oz limit with the TSA?), and is topped with a cap. The cleanser comes as a powder which is a first for me as I’m not that used to products I have to mix. It reminds me a little of the wasabi powder that you add water to turn into a paste, which I just can’t ever seem to mix right and always ends up being over watered. 

The powder is made of clays, salts, and spices which claim to encourage blood flow and increase cell turnover for soft, refined skin.

I used a dropper to add water since I didn’t want to overdo it and have product go to waste, and I highly recommend this application method so you can control the consistency. Upon adding water, you notice immediately that it foams and becomes moussey in texture with some grittiness. This is a very cool effect that also helps the paste apply easily. 

Upon application, I immediately felt a warm tingling sensation. It smelled really delicious and reminded me of cinnamon cookie dough, due to the spices. Upon washing off, I noticed my skin did indeed feel cleaner and fresher. I do not think congestion will be an issue for people who use this cleanser as its drying power really does suction out a lot of the stuff inside pores. 

With that said, I have to say, I cannot use this daily. The description for this product online says it’s a daily exfoliating/microdermabrasion for your skin but I feel it is a little too rough. The grittiness of the paste mixed with the spices left my skin fragile and resulted in redness along my forehead and dry patches along my cheeks. I think it is too active for sensitive skin due to the spices (spices are a key irritant in a lot of skincare preparations, which is why I’m a little surprised that there are so many spices in this ‘daily’ cleanser), and the scrub texture. I think I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of physicial exfoliators and my reason is that it tends to be too much, our skin just doesn’t need that much ‘abrasion’ and it can actually tear delicate skin. Using this, I really feel like I had to stock up on repairing balms and increase the dosage of facial oils to make my skin not feel so raw. 

The Clean Dirts ingredient list is as follows:

white halloysite clay,
red moroccan rhassoul clay, 
red alaea sea salt, 
ascorbic acid (vitamin c), 
sodium bicarbonate, 
althaea officinalis (marshmallow) root*,
rosa centifolia (pink rose)*, 
calendula officinalis (calendula) flower*, 
cinnamomum zeylanicum (cinnamon)*, 
myristica fragans (nutmeg)*, 
syzygium aromaticum (clove)*, 
curcuma longa (turmeric)*, 
zingiber officinale (ginger)*, 
vanilla planifolia bean*, 
theobroma cacao (raw cacao)**. 

There are just so many spices in here! I wish May would have cut back a bit and added a few more soothing ingredients along with the Pink Rose, Calendula, and Mashmallow Root because the scrubby texture is enough ‘action’ for most skin types. 

Overall, I’m a little confused by the May Lindstrom girl. Whereas Tata Harper is better suited for those with normal-dry skin, I feel like no consumer can use just May Lindstrom products because the 4 products are for different people. The Clean Dirt Cleanser is for those who do not have sensitive skin and perhaps those who have oilier complexions. The Problem Solver Mask is definitely not for those with sensitive skin and is for those who are blemish prone. The Youth Dew on the other hand is really a heavier facial oil that is better suited for dry skin, while The Good Stuff Body Oil is suitable for any skin type. The thing is, when I use key products by Tata, Kahina, Intelligent Nutrients, & YULI, I can imagine what kind of skin type the founders have by the products they use and then figure out which products in their line would work for me by comparison, I can’t figure out if May Lindstrom has extremely combination skin or if her products are truly a little extreme.

All said, The Clean Dirt feels like the most fun you can have with skincare. The foaming action, the tingling sensation all feel like a creative science experiment only you’re applying it to your face. I actually look forward to using this product because I like watching the powder fizz and the scent is amazing. For a clean product, this is very imaginative and has given me interest in raw powder products that previously I would not have tried. I just wish they would dial it back a bit and maybe create something more calming and healing for people with sensitive skin. 

Available at Spirit Beauty Lounge for $60 

Green Beauty Event Shopping List

I don’t know about you, but as a girl with one foot firmly planted in the luxury beauty market, and one foot planted in the clean beauty market – I couldn’t be more excited about some of the luxury brands participating in the 1st annual Green Beauty Event on Fashion’s Night Out! I will of course be working, so those of you in New York – please feel free to stop by Neiman Marcus where we will be hosting many events and giving away lots of prizes! Before my shift though, I’ll be eagerly taking advantage of the promotions offered by each brand, here is a shortlist of what I plan to buy:

Kahina Antioxidant Mask ($62)

I love masks and I love antioxidants, is it any wonder this product earned a spot on this list? I’m at the age now where I need to decongest skin while I can’t have anythign too drying/harsh as I need to start worrying about the first signs of aging so this seems like the perfect product. I also want to keep the jar for future use- I don’t know what I’ll use it for but it looks really neat.

Kajer Weis Lip Tint ($48)

Clean product? Check. Beautiful colors? Check. Slick packaging? Check x 100. This is a product that is not only well formulated but the gorgeous mirrored metallic sliding container is one of the most distinct, eye-catching packaging I’ve seen in a long time. I do hope the pigmentation and wear time are sufficient – I will definitely post a review after I’ve had enough time with this.

YULI Mr.Incredible ($78)

Been a fan of this line and the quiet storm they’ve generated since launching. The Mr.Incredible product is the ultimate luxury shave oil that I plan to get for my boyfriend who up til now only just transitioned from shaving creams to olive oil. I ordered a sample before and the scent is HEAVEN, kind of like my boyfriends current Tom Ford cologne only it is completely natural. I also really like that it also really takes care of skin besides just for shaving so he can use it daily.

Dr. Alkaitis Purifying Facial Cleanser ($65)

I’m always on the hunt for cleansers, and I’ve been meaning to try Dr.Alkaitis for some time now. I thought the cleanser would be the best product since it is described as both gentle and deeply cleansing which is important for me since I find that deep cleansing products often leave my skin ‘tight’ and dry which only causes my skin to overproduce oil soon after. I’m really curious if the organic castile cleansing base will be similar to Dr.Bronners or if the additional ingredients such as Aloe Vera and Skin Repair complex will add in some nourishment.

La Bella Figura Under Eye Repair Serum ($115)

I haven’t met an eye serum yet that has done what I needed it to: moisturize, firm/lift, erase dark eye circles, and enliven. At my age, I don’t have under eye bags or even crows feet  (luckily) but I do feel the undereye area get fatigued more easily now and when I don’t get enough rest, sometimes I look like a panda.

This natural beauty promises to tackle tired eyes, dark circles, and smooth facial lines. I have high hopes for this product since the ingredients list looks well put together with coffee beans, rosehip, tomato, and blue tansy.

YULI Panacea Elixir ($36)

This is my addiction. Plain and simple. The flower hydrosols, the antioxidant rich actives, the fresh earthy scent – this elixir feels like spraying living nature on your face. It is such a rush of energy when you’re tired throughout the day. I also noticed that if I spray just this on my face at night and go to bed, newly forming blemishes die down. I don’t know how it does this, but the decongestant/detox qualities of this product are no joke. My skin just feels better and pores look refined. I’m definitely stocking up on this stuff.

Vapour Organic Beauty Soft Focus Foundation ($48)

I love my current Koh Gen Do foundation, but the truth is – it isn’t a ‘clean’ product although based on the retailer literature I have access to, I did see that it is low in silicones compared to other foundations. I’ve decided to try out Vapour Organic’s Soft Focus foundation because if it can live up to the promise, it sounds amazing. There is light reflective technology to conceal the appearance of lines, pores, and wrinkles, and organic Pumpkin/Papaya complex actually moisturizes skin as you have your foundation on. There are also anti-inflammatory ingredients, skin brightening actives, and no chemicals! If this does work, it will most likely replace my mainstream Koh Gen Do, Armani, and Chanel foundations -so we will see if it can rise to the occasion! 

What products are on your shopping list?