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My Week In Seoul, Korea: An Editor’s Guide To All Things K-Beauty

My Week In Seoul, Korea: An Editor’s Guide To All Things K-Beauty

The global beauty landscape has experienced a seismic shift since the pandemic, and self-care has become our #1 priority. At the epicentre of this influence lies the world of K-beauty. Its influence permeates the beauty industry with innovative ingredients, advanced technology, and unique product offerings. We’ve seen traditional Asian ingredients like Rice, Cica, Ginseng, and even Snail Mucin make their way to all of mainstream beauty. 

My love for Korean skincare began in my late twenties, and I’m in my mid-thirties now. Finding these products in India was a challenge back in the day, but things have changed. The rise of e-commerce platforms like Kult has made K-beauty more accessible than ever. If you haven’t already done so, download the Kult App here. The Kult app’s genius lies in its skin analysis tool. Take a quick quiz and get a personalised skin score that recommends the perfect products for you – no more endless browsing, fewer impulse buys, and wasted products. Plus, it has the best curation of K-beauty brands and the best discounts in the e-com space. They’re always running exciting offers and freebies on purchase (sometimes discounts can go up to Rs 2000 off!).

Fueled by this shared passion for K-beauty, Kult App, Korea Tourism Organization and K-Beauty conglomerate SKINTL invited me to embark on an exciting adventure with them – #Kult2Korea. Alongside a select group of influencers and a lucky contest winner, I found myself whisked away to the beauty capital of the world – Seoul. The beautiful cherry blossoms were in full bloom when we landed, almost welcoming our arrival. For the next 5 days, we immersed ourselves in the city’s vibrant culture and unparalleled beauty market. We had the privilege of meeting the masterminds behind some of Korea’s most celebrated brands, Skinfood and Dr. G.

Skinfood is a pioneer in the K-beauty industry renowned for its ingenious use of everyday kitchen ingredients in its formulations. Their black sugar mask, propolis serum, and carotene toner pads are on my personal list of must-haves. Our visit coincided with Skinfood’s twentieth anniversary—a momentous occasion we were thrilled to celebrate alongside them. We also managed to squeeze in a cultural visit and enjoyed high-tea at a traditional Korean tea house.  


Dr. G, a brand deserving of wider recognition, boasts a fascinating origin story. Dr.Ahn Geon-Young had painful burns as a child, so he became a dermatologist to help people. The Red Blemish Cream, a current bestseller, garnered a fervent following among servicemen. Word-of-mouth about its transformative effects spread like wildfire, propelling Dr. G to the forefront of the Korean beauty scene, making it the #1 K-Derma brand. In fact, it is Korea’s #1 selling cream. 1 bottle is sold every 8 seconds. The Red Blemish and Black Snail lines are my personal favourites. Our day at Dr. G’s headquarters was an unforgettable experience. We had the opportunity to DIY our own toners. Watch me here playfully concocting a potent hydrating, exfoliating toner here:

For those contemplating a trip to Seoul, here’s a curated beauty checklist to elevate your experience. While I won’t delve into generic travel tips, I recommend timing your visit during the cherry blossom season. I stayed at the Novotel Dongdaemun Residences in Seoul and I highly recommend the property. The rooms were equipped with kitchens, washer-dryers and all the amenities needed to make your stay comfortable.

Beauty Must-Do’s In Seoul 

  • Olive Young: This omnipresent beauty haven is your one-stop shop for all things K-beauty. Think Sephora on steroids! Numerous other chain stores also sell skincare, but Olive Young was my favourite.
  • Costco: The American chain of stores is also in Korea; if you want to buy multi-packs of popular Korean and American brands, head to Costco for better discounts. 
  • Myeongdong Street: For a more immersive beauty shopping experience, head to Myeongdong Street. It is lined with charming flagship stores of every skincare brand. These will allow you to dive deeper into the brand’s offerings and find products you may not get at Olive Young.
  • Niche Perfumeries: Korea has several local brands that are gaining popularity worldwide. The fragrances made in Korea are fresh, citrusy and unconventional. Check out brands like Tamburins, Non-fiction, and Youssoful. 
  • Korean Pharmacies: If you’re a truly seasoned beauty consumer, visit a Korean pharmacy. This is where you can unearth hidden gems sworn in by locals, like acne treatments, brightening creams, and herbal teas. Just arm yourself with Google Translate because most Koreans don’t understand English.
  • Nail and lash salons: Every area has hundreds of nail and lash salons. Reaching out to them via Instagram DMs or the phone is the fastest. Prepare to be mesmerised by intricate nail art designs. However, be prepared for a hefty price tag, as gel manicures cost upwards of Rs. 7,000, and a set of lashes can cost upwards of Rs 8,000. Unless your Indian lash & nail tech isn’t cutting it, I recommend you skip these.
  • Hair treatments: Korea is known for 10-, 15-, and even 20-step hair spas that can be extremely relaxing. However, they can cost as much as Rs 15,000+. Depending on your budget, the experience may be worth it. I got my hair coloured at a popular chain of Salons in Korea called Juno Hair. I paid Rs 13,000 for a basic global hair colour. 
  • Dermatological treatments: If you’re considering more advanced procedures like facials, fillers or laser treatments, the Gangnam area boasts a plethora of luxe clinics. A quick Google search will give you information on all the clinics around you, in whatever area you’re staying. Most clinics have active Instagram accounts with price charts listed in their bio. Appointments are booked weeks in advance, so make sure you book your services well in advance. You may even have to pay an advance for booking a slot. While the equipment in Korea was more advanced than what you’d find in Indian dermatologist clinics, their treatment costs were significantly higher, too. I gave this one a skip because I have access to great dermatologists in Mumbai and Delhi. 
  • Colour Analysis: This personalised service, ideal for the beauty-fashion-challenged, determines your optimal colour palette for hair, makeup, and clothing based on your skin tone. It is an expensive service (Rs 12,000+) but worth the experience. Document your experience so you don’t forget all the amazing advice they give you. Again, Google search for places around you DM them on Instagram to book your appointments. Check out Mood Collect and Only Q in Gangnam.

Fashion and Accessories:

  • Luxury Retail: Seoul is a haven for designer shopping. Check out luxury department stores like the Co-ex Mall, Lotte Department Store (Myeongdong), and Galleria Department Store(Gangnam). Don’t forget to check out Gentle Monster for unique sunglasses and other accessories. 
  • Off-label stores and boutiques: Walk around the city’s labyrinthine streets for hidden treasures; it is worth it! My personal favourite was the Samcheong-dong area, around the Folk Museum. The streets are lined with the cutest little boutiques.
  • Accessories: Myeongdong Market has stores called The Plain and Bling Box that sell the cutest accessories. They also have a local version of Miniso called Daiso—you can go there for cheap beauty supplies.
  • Bargain shopping at fashion malls: Channel your inner bargain hunter at malls reminiscent of Platinum Mall in Bangkok. Some malls even operate into the wee hours of the morning! DDP Fashion Mall and aPm Luxe in the Dongdaemun area offer a treasure trove of wholesale fashion finds—remember, the more you buy, the bigger the discount!
  • Underground Shopping: A unique Seoul experience – discover a network of stores directly accessible from popular metro stations.

Food and Nightlife:

  • Go bar hopping: Areas like Hongdae, Itaewon, and Cheongdam offer an immersive experience of Seoul’s vibrant nightlife.
  • Cutesy Cafes: Seoul has an abundance of charming cafes serving delectable treats from every cuisine. It’s hard to go home hungry when you’re in Seoul.
  • Street Food: You must try the street food while you’re here. There’s a little bit of everything, from sweet to savoury to seafood. 

Other Travel Essentials:

  • Local Sim: Getting a local phone number with data and calling activated is best. 
  • International Credit card: You’ll need this to book taxis.
  • Metro App: If you’re comfortable taking the subway, you’ll need the app to recharge your metro card.
  • Kakao/Google Translate: The language barrier is strong; you’ll need these to communicate with the locals. 
  • Naver: Google Maps doesn’t work in Korea, so Naver is their local navigation app. Its interface isn’t the best, so you might need to input addresses manually using Google Search. 
  • Uber and TABA: These are your go-to apps for booking cabs. Surprisingly, Uber was cheaper!

Are you ready to experience the magic of Seoul? Pack your bags and book your trip! A pro tip for shopaholics like me – travel light and carry an empty suitcase. Trust me, you’ll need it. 

10 May 2024

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