There’s this Korean word hallyu, which translates to “Korean wave” and refers to the way South Korean cultural influence has been growing since the ‘80s. (This is on purpose, mind you—the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has a whole unit dedicated to investing in this stuff. More on that here.) Like all waves, it crept up on me slowly… First, I got hooked on Korean oil cleansers and pimple patches. Then I fell into K-pop, the absolute best music genre for dancing, working out, or just killing an hour on YouTube. By the time I found the dramas, the hallyu completely pulled me under.
In case you're unaware, the TV and film industry is gigantic in South Korea. Netflix has invested $700 million in their Korean content over the past five years, and plan on spending another $500 million in 2021. There's a good reason: the shows are amazing. Each one usually consists of ~16 episodes, and each episode is basically the length of a movie, which makes for incredibly immersive viewing. Plus, while women make up only 25-percent of screenwriters in the US, in Korea that number is almost 90-percent. It totally reflects in the stories told and the gaze through which they’re shared—you get fun things like plot lines about how sexy a man’s hands are, really vulnerable displays of emotion between friends, and scenes of women lounging at home in sheet masks. Charlotte Cho, aesthetician and co-founder of Soko Glam, fondly calls Korean film her “first love.” Together, we paired K-dramas available on Netflix right now with some of her favorite K-beauty products. Ready to watch something new and try something new?
The ultimate slow burn. Principled hottie Park Saeroyi spends three years planning, seven years saving money, and four years growing his restaurant business with a grand scheme of besting Korea’s largest food corporation, Jangga Co. (Think a fancier Chipotle, with lots of franchises, a truly terrifying CEO, and an oppressively rigid company culture.) Meanwhile, his coworker Jo Yi-seo, an influencer with a brilliant instinct for marketing, is running her own long con: make herself so valuable to Saeroyi that he can’t help but fall in love with her. The show’s got a vibrant backdrop of Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood, a relatively diverse cast (there are Black and transgender characters), and some true nailbiters. But it’s really just about steady persistence. Charlotte pairs it with Then I Met You's Birch Milk Refining Toner, which is 1-percent AHAs and over 80-percent hydrating birch milk. "You won't see overnight results," says Charlotte, "but with a little bit of time and investment, you’ll have glowing skin with a skin barrier as healthy as relationship Yi-seo and Saeroyi's relationship!"
This show is how I learned that Seoul is only 35 miles away from the border of North Korea. 35 miles! If you’re in New York, that’s about the distance between Glossier’s Soho HQ and Jones Beach. The more you start to think about it, the more feasible it seems that an heiress beauty executive paragliding in Seoul might accidentally get swept up in a tornado and spat out in the DMZ. Once she lands, Se-ri is discovered by a coincidentally very hot North Korean army officer named Ri Jeong-Hyeok, who decides to help protect her from the shady State Department. Se-ri doesn't have access to her full skincare routine (or, uh, hot running water) while hiding out in Jeong-Hyeok's outpost home, but she is able to snag some South Korean products smuggled in and sold on the black market. "In the marketplace scene where these illegal beauty wares are traded," says Charlotte, "you’ll notice that the shop features sheet masks from Mediheal. It's no surprise that North Koreans would want to get their hands on these—they're the most popular sheet masks in Korea, and inexpensive too!"
Son Ye-jin, who also plays the lead in Crash Landing On You, stars here as a driven career woman who… look, we don’t drop in on Jin-ah her at her best. She’s being sexually harassed at work, she’s 30-something and still lives with her parents, and she’s just been dumped by a two-timing scumbag boyfriend. One day on her way home from the office, she runs into her best friend’s little brother Joon-hee, who’s just returned to Seoul from a stint in the US. Surprise: he’s a dreamboat now! They have a seven year age difference, "but age is not the only reason why their love is forbidden," explains Charlotte. "It’s also his background and 'class.' He’s simply not enough." She suggests pairing the show with a true Korean-style essence like this Son Rev Tri-Bio Treatment, which uses fermented ingredients (in this case, a whopping 90-percent galactomyces ferment filtrate) and antioxidants for a plumped, more youthful appearance. Another reason this essence makes a perfect match? The luxe glass bottle. "Maybe Joon-hee should gift it to Jin-ah's mother, and she can have a change of heart?"
This is the show to watch when you’re missing the homies. It’s one part ‘80s nostalgia with one part pre-pandemic nostalgia, which is obviously not on purpose, but really hits at the moment. The story follows five high school friends and their families, who all live on the same street in Seoul. Unlike most K-dramas, there's no nutty storyline or dramatic romance—you just follow the teens though the trials of tribulations of coming-of-age (crushes! awkwardness! uncertainty about the future!). It’s soothing to escape to a world where every night, you share dishes your mom has cooked with your best buds. If luck’s on our side, we’ll be able to see our friends and family very soon! And, as Charlotte says, "friends don't let friends live without pimple patches." These are matte with a beveled edge (read: near-invisible) and not only suck the gunk out of active zits, but also protect them from picking and further irritation. "42 patches in a pack are enough to share and pass them around with your besties," she adds. "Don’t you wish pimple patches were part of your routine in high school?"
A tale as old as time: you’ve got the idea of the person you have a crush on, and then you have the actual person. In this case, the Nam Do-san from Dal-mi’s childhood is really Han Ji-pyeong, who was asked by her grandmother to write fake love letters in the hopes that they would boost her self esteem. The real Nam Do-san, meanwhile, was busy practicing coding and working on new AI tech. When Dal-mi goes searching for the former and meets the latter, Ji-pyeong (who’s grown up to become a hotshot VC investor) convinces Do-san to play along for as long as possible. "There’s never been a more perfect moment for a complimentary duo to come together," says Charlotte. Then I Met You's Cleansing Duo starts with an oil-based cleanser to melt off sunscreen, makeup, and grease, and pairs it with a water-based cleanser full of antioxidants and gentle acids. "When you’re stressed and working late nights on your start up, you’re going to need all the help you can get to keep your skin in tip-top shape!"
Photo from Crash Landing On You, via Netflix