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NOW READING We Take on the #10YearChallenge: Korean Beauty Edition
January 31, 2019

We Take on the #10YearChallenge: Korean Beauty Edition

What can happen in a decade? A lot apparently, as evidenced by the trending #10YearChallenge sweeping social media. And Korean beauty is no different. Here, we take on the K-beauty 10-year challenge and examine how much has changed A.D. (after double cleansing, natch).


If you’re on any form of social media, chances are you’ve seen or participated in the recently trending #10YearChallenge. The challenge asks individuals to post photos of themselves from 2009 and 2019 in a bid to gauge how much change they have gone through in the last decade.


There have been some interesting angles, from Autostraddle’s chronicling of the progress in LGBTQ representation on TV, to the heartbreaking contemplation of the toll climate change has taken on the planet.


Korean beauty is a phenomenon and an industry that has changed so much not only since its inception, but in the last 10 years. A lot of products and trends have come and gone, and we’re all constantly learning and growing as a community. In this K-beauty 10-year challenge, we look at 10 major ways things have changed in Korean beauty.


10-year challenge


1. You want me to put what on my face?


Remember when you got into K-beauty and a lot of the popular, holy grail products had ingredients like bee venom, donkey milk and sea cucumber? Don’t see a lot of that nowadays, do ya? While some ingredients have made it into the mainstream (hello, snail mucin!), in general the industry seems to be focused more on ingredients that bolster the concentration of molecules already present in human skin, like ceramides, amino acids, and hyaluronic acid.


2. You can’t wear BB cream with us


Once upon a time, BB cream only came in one shade. ONE. In truth, some brands like Klairs still do this. A few years later, brands like Missha and AmorePacific added more shades to fit people with skin tones in the medium-ish neighborhood. Last year, Innisfree really stepped it up with an expanded 14-shade range, and Laneige also has cushions available in darker tones.


10-year challenge
A’Pieu Personal Tone Foundation


However, there isn’t a brand with a variety of shades and undertones like, say, Fenty Beauty’s, and there probably won’t be anytime soon. I think this is because South Korea doesn’t have the same kind of skin tone diversity that countries like the U.S. have and therefore isn’t as invested. For brands trying to make a big impact in foreign markets, it would be smart to cater to consumers outside of their main target market.


3. It’s all about the ginseng, baby


In 2015, hanbang blew up in a really big way. Products like the Beauty of Joseon Dynasty Cream flew off shelves, and K-beauty enthusiasts gained a new appreciation for brands like Sulwhasoo and The History of Whoo.


Raise your hand if you were one of the many scouring the internet for Sulwhasoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask samples and putting together group hauls for EVERCOS masks to get around the expensive EMS shipping.


4. Zen and the art of sheet masking


Gone are the days when all sheet masks were made from thick cotton. Now we’ve got interesting textures and fibers like cupro, Tencel, silk, and cellulose, each created for better adherence and absorption. One can only wonder which masking innovation will come next.


10-year challenge
Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Tencel Sheet Mask


Which ones are your favorite ones? *youtuber gesture* Comment below.


5. But first, some lipstick


The first time I saw a gradient lip look on a K-drama actress, I thought her lips looked chapped. Or like she had chewed off her lipstick halfway through the day. It’s a look that doesn’t work for everyone, especially if you have darker lips that don’t showcase lip tints the way they look on the models in the promo photos. The trend train has since pulled out of the gradient station and into the full-coverage terminal.


And speaking of K-drama, some female characters in the last 10 years have served us a few truly iconic looks. Prime examples are My Love From Another Star’s Cheon Song-Yi and Pinocchio’s Choi In-Ha.


10-year challenge
Jun Ji Hyun as the iconic Cheon Song Yi from “My Love From Another Star”


6. Oppa, can I borrow your eyeshadow palette?


Female celebrities and personalities aren’t the only ones with looks worthy of re-creation anymore. While South Korean men have always put the “metro” in “metrosexual” (and we LOVE them for it!), there’s been an increase in the number of men in the West who wear makeup as part of their daily routine. It’s a testament to the changing attitudes towards gender roles and standards of male beauty, and the world is a better place for it. It’s important to demonstrate that there is no one way to be a man and that self-care does not compromise masculinity one iota.


men wearing makeup
Suga of BTS


7. Shine bright like a diamond


“Honey skin,” “glass skin,” “cloudless skin” — there have been a few of these buzzwords floating around in the last few years. The trend in skincare has shifted from using makeup products like foundation and BB cream to create a dewy and smooth complexion, to nourishing skin with the right active ingredients with the end goal of skin that glows from within without needing to be sculpted and highlighted.


8. Makeup minimalism


Goodbye to heavy smoky eyes and severe slashes of deep-hued blush, and hello to simple makeup looks that make the skin the star of the show. Dewy, bouncy skin is the order of the day.


There’s been a retrospective of sorts in this area in the same way it happened with hanbang skincare, with women choosing looks that echo back to more traditional times when makeup was a lot more muted and natural-looking.


K-beauty slang 10-year challenge


9. A new skincare standard


Ingredient lists are another aspect of K-beauty that have gotten a bit of a makeover. Are you sensing a pattern here? It’s like the entire industry got together and agreed to pull a KonMari.


Simpler skincare ingredient lists are great for many reasons. They make it easier to weed out possible triggers, unlike products that feature a bajillion components. This makes them particularly useful for sensitive skin and for people looking for a simplified routine after suffering a serious skincare issue like over-exfoliation or fungal acne. Fewer ingredients also mean that star ingredients can be present in larger concentrations instead of jockeying for position with a bunch of other extracts and agents.


10. Doing it for yourself


One of the less palatable aspects of K-beauty is the competition and peer pressure of sorts. And by that I’m referring to the hopefully outdated notion that skincare is a race to the finish line, with flawless skin as the prize. A lot of great posts have been written about healthy attitudes towards K-beauty, touching on everything from approaching it as self-care to being financially responsible instead of hauling every hyped-up product. Skincare is a deeply personal thing and should be treated as such. Whatever progress you attempt to make should be for yourself and not for the sake of validation from others.


What would you add the this K-beauty 10-year challenge? What have been some of your most and least favorite events in Korean beauty over the last 10 years? Let’s reminisce!


Karachi discovered K-beauty in 2015 and fell wallet-first into the fray. When she’s not binge-watching a TV series or losing herself in a book, she’s creating wish lists of new stuff to try and reading posts by her favorite bloggers. Learning has been a lifelong hobby for her and she truly enjoys geeking out about the amazing things different ingredients can do for skin.



I never jumped onto the BB cream train. It's fairly recent I've gone to a cushion compact, but after finding my perfect fit, it's hard for me to want to go back to other brands. The hard part for me was I couldn't do drugstore brands and sometimes the counters for European brands would have to do a couple of colors before finding a close enough match. (Some would read my skin as light and others would assume I should have a warmer tone, only to realize it doesn't look right with the rest of my skin.)

I love that the gradient lip is gone (never looked good on me); I love that guys using skincare and makeup is more accepted; and I love the focus on what ingredients works for your skin and really sticking to that, rather than a million-ingredient ingredient list that purports to do everything for everyone. I've also really learned to embrace the dewy as opposed to the matte (my mom always had dewy skin and my Western-beauty-brainwashed teen self grew up thinking she looked shiny!).

I totally get the dewy-not-shiny thing. For the longest time I avoided foundation and setting sprays with a dewy finish because I thought they made me look greasy, but now, I embrace the glowy, soft blur look.