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February 12, 2020

Vegan Korean Beauty: What It Means & Where to Find It

As more and more South Koreans adopt a vegan lifestyle, K-beauty brands are responding with vegan skincare options as well. Here, what vegan Korean beauty means and how to get it into your routine.


For anyone who embraces a non-carnivorous, non-omnivorous diet, it’s logical to want to make sure that the same lifestyle choices that fueled the switch to an animal product-free diet are reflected in every other aspect of one’s life. To some, it might seem at odds to avoid dairy and meat, only to use skincare products containing ingredients like animal fat or honey every day. Thankfully, the landscape of green and vegan beauty is growing, and there are a lot more choices than there were a few years ago.


The number of vegetarians in South Korea is reported to have increased tenfold in the past 11 years, from 150,000 in 2008 to 1.5 million in 2019, with the number of vegans estimated at around 500,000. South Korean citizens are increasingly looking to embrace a healthier and more ethical lifestyle, and the retail industry is trying to meet those demands. So far, the change has been mostly in food products, like Lotte Mart’s egg-free mayo, Nongshim ramen’s meat-free instant noodles, and plant-based gimbap available at 7-Eleven.


While there haven’t been as many developments in vegan beauty, there are signs that that will change in 2020. In December last year, Amorepacific signed a strategic partnership deal with American makeup brand Milk Makeup. The partnership promises to be mutually beneficial for both, lending each the knowledge and resources to penetrate the other’s market. Hopefully, this means that Amorepacific will take a page out of Milk’s vegan beauty playbook, generating skincare products to meet consumer demands.




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What constitutes vegan beauty?


Before I had ever heard of vegan skincare, I was ignorant of just how many of my favorite products contain animal products. Stuff like honey and lanolin are no-brainers, but I never in a million years would have considered an ingredient like hyaluronic acid as non-vegan. Because we tend to think in terms of four-legged and sea-bound animal products when it comes to ethical lifestyles, I didn’t consider the human body as one of the sources of an animal product. However, HA can be both animal- and plant-derived, so look for information from the brand on whether the product is vegan.


Some other popular non-vegan ingredients are collagen, glycerin, fatty acids, and our beloved snail mucin. Of course, all the other sensationalistic stuff that was really popular at the time when K-beauty first crossed over to the U.S. — starfish, bird’s nest, sea cucumber — are also on that list.


It’s important to note that vegan beauty isn’t synonymous with cruelty-free beauty, as vegan beauty products can still be tested on animals if it is mandated by a country’s manufacturing and certification process. Also, you can certainly adhere to a vegan skincare routine without embracing a vegan diet. People may adopt vegan beauty for numerous reasons, such as allergies to non-vegan ingredients, as a way to cut down on the number of possible skin triggers, or simply in support of a more ethical lifestyle. Just you do you.



vegan korean beauty
COSRX Ultimate Nourishing Rice Spa Overnight Mask



Where can I find vegan Korean beauty?


While there might not be a whole host of specifically-vegan skincare on the market right now, there are options for those who wish to adopt a vegan skincare routine.


You’re probably tired of reading about it, but I can’t help but mention that this would be a great time for single-ingredient essences, like Missha’s Artemisia Essence, to shine. The Missha essence is 100% Artemisia vulgaris extract, which puts it in the clear for vegan use. It’s great for sensitive skin because of its ultra-simple content and because of artemisia’s naturally soothing properties.


There are a number of other K-beauty brands founded on green and/or ethical principles that provide products that are vegan or mostly vegan-friendly. Klairs products, for instance, are mostly vegan. (The company says the updated version of its Midnight Blue Calming Cream is now vegan.) COSRX, a fan favorite, has always been famous for its clean ingredient lists and features a stable of vegan or mostly-vegan products, like the Ultimate Nourishing Rice Overnight Spa Mask. Mamonde, A.True, Benton, Purito, and Thank You Farmer are also brands that feature vegan beauty products.



vegan korean beauty



Your vegan Korean skincare routine



Ready to start your vegan Korean beauty lifestyle? Here’s a sample skincare routine for you:


1st cleanser: Klairs Gentle Black Deep Cleansing Oil


2nd cleanser: COSRX Low pH Good Morning Cleanser


Toner: Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Toner


Essence/Serum/Ampoule: COSRX Hydrium Centella Aqua Soothing Ampoule


Moisturizer: COSRX Hyaluronic Acid Intensive Cream


Sunscreen: Purito Centella Green Level Unscented Sun


You’re all set!


If you’ve heard of any exciting vegan Korean beauty products, share in the comments. It’s always great to find new gems to treasure.




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 didn't know that Hyaluronic Acid can be sourced by an animal. I always thought it was plant derived or lab created. Thanks for the education! I'll be sure to look more closely to my cruelty free product labels, to make sure they are also not using animal-derived ingredients.