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A Beginner's Guide to Korean Makeup

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Tony-Moly's-Cat-Chu-Wink-Etude-House-Cherry-Tint
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Tony Moly's Cat Chu Wink & Etude House Cherry Tint

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LG Korea Eun Kang Go Bamboo Salt Toothpaste

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Tony Moly's Cat Chu Wink & Etude House Cherry Tint

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LG Korea Eun Kang Go Bamboo Salt Toothpaste

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LG-Korea-Eun-Kang-Go-Bamboo-Salt-Toothpaste
Iope-Air-Cushion-Compact
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You know when you catch yourself not listening to the last 12 words out of somebody's mouth because you're wondering what the hell they're using on their face—that you don't—to get such perfectly even skin? That's kind of what it was like meeting Charlotte Cho at an ITG event in New York a couple of months ago. She's the type of chick that could be either 18 or 30—skin too good to have spent three whole decades under our depleting ozone layer, but she's suspiciously too put-together to be flipping a penny for the top bunk at the dorm. Actually, we're still not entirely sure of the Cali native's age, but we do know that her great skin is in no small part thanks to a five-year stint in Seoul, Korea, where she developed an obsession with the nation's ever-advancing beauty industry. So, we asked Cho — who also runs the e-commerce site Soko Glam — to give us a rundown of her current favorite overseas products and a few predictions for the “next BB cream.” You heard it here first, people.

I thought I was beauty-obsessed, and then I experienced Seoul. I was a 20-something, recent UC Irvine graduate when I took a job working as a publicist for Samsung halfway around the world at their headquarters in South Korea. It was in that magical mecca of flawless, dewy skin that I found my true calling in beauty retail. This is a city nay, a culture — that believes in a million-step skincare regimen and very minimal makeup. They’ve dominated the skincare game for, like, centuries, but it wasn't until Koreans incepted, perfected, and popularized BB cream that cosmetics companies throughout the world have been hawk-eyeing their makeup innovations, too. Which is to say, if it’s big in Korea, you can bet that it’s going to be the next billion-dollar global product. Here’s what every girl in Seoul has in her makeup bag right now:

The Liner

Nary an eye goes unlined in Korea, so our liner formulas need to pass the test of both the dreaded monsoon season and sub-zero Seoul winters. Clio Waterproof Pen Liner in Kill Black is one of the most popular liquid liners in the city. It's the deepest, darkest, blackest black I’ve ever used—hence the lurid name—and its tapered felt tip allows you to easily produce razor-thin lines or thick, Dita-Von-Teese-ian flicks. It’s a total game changer, because at $15, it’s half the price of YSL’s version (but just as smooth and long-lasting), and is so easy to apply that you'll be pushing your gel pots and pencils to the dustier corners of your vanity.

The Eyebrow Pencil

Korean women don’t leave the house without defining their brows—always thick, straight-across lines completely lacking arches. I prefer the sheer brown color and angled application of Design My Eyebrow Pencil from The Faceshop, that twists up so you never have to sharpen it. Equally important is its sturdy spoolie on the opposite end, to brush away any obvious pencil lines. The goal here is to soften the arch of your brows to get a youthful look that screams, “I am a prepubescent girl that has never used tweezers.”

The Lip Tint

A makeup artist in Seoul once told me to stay away from perfectly-manicured lips because they can make you look older. And if you take stock of the mouths of K-Pop starlets, along with pretty much every girl in the South Korean capital, it seems they’ve all ditched the liner + lip brush combo in favor of creating an advanced gradient lip with a creamy pink tint, as if they’ve just sucked on strawberry lollipops. To recreate the allusion, you can dab Etude House Cherry Tint [ed note: discontinued] or, for an orange-y red, Tony Moly Cat Chu Wink [ed note: discontinued] at the center of your lips. Like all Korean lip tints, both products are adorably packaged (did you miss the cat ears on Tony's?) and smell and taste like jellybeans.

Oral Hygiene

Koreans are BIG on oral hygiene. It’s totally normal to catch people brushing their teeth in a public restroom at school, at the office, and in subway stations—we eat a lot of kimchi and garlic, so brushing three times a day is kind of a must. If a toothbrush-and-toothpaste set isn’t in a person’s makeup bag, you will be more than likely find the duo stuck into their pencil holder at their desk—and the paste will probably be of the bamboo salt variety. A thousands-year-old Korean cure-all, bamboo salt does a hell of a job preventing gum and tooth decay (even in comparison to its minty American competitors), but the funky herbal taste takes some getting used to.

The Next Big Thing

One Iope Air Cushion Compact sells every 30 seconds (according to Iope, at least). The formula-soaked sponge provides all of the benefits of a BB cream (all-in-one moisturizer, anti-aging, SPF 50 PA+++, and skin-evening color), but what makes it revolutionary—yes, I said revolutionary—is that it can be reapplied throughout the day via the non-absorbing puff applicator for buildable, non-cakey coverage, and it hydrates for that instant aforementioned flawless, dewy finish. There are now what seem like millions of copycat products in Korea, but Iope still does it best. This is the next BB cream.

—Charlotte Cho

Photos by Mathea Millman.

It all starts with the Korean 10-Step Skincare Routine.

And when it's cold outside, switch to the Cold Weather Korean Skincare Routine.