My name is Maree, a UK based Korean adoptee who discovered Korean beauty products on my first trip back to Seoul. K-Beauty is more than just a business and hobby to me. The Beauty & Seoul blog introduced me to many Korean manufacturers and the amazing KBeauty Community. Follow this blog for skincare product reviews, routines & tips.
I first heard about Enature a year ago when I was researching the best natural, vegan, Korean skincare brands. Their bestselling Moringa Cleansing Balm and highly popular Birch Juice range kept cropping up in skincare routines I was seeing on YouTube and also various influencers in the US.
I first met with Enature on my last trip to Seoul and was fortunate enough to try out their full range. At the time, I was quite stressed and my skin was breaking out as a result – it was probably in the worst state it’s ever been. I cracked open their products as soon as I got back to the hotel room and got the Cicaherb Restore sheetmask on my face. It remains one of my favourite soothing masks; we all know how I feel about Cica!
With their sleek packaging, and impressive ingredients list, Enature is a brand that, I know, will appeal to many. Their products are simple, yet highly effective and that is a trend I am seeing more and more of in KBeauty, gone are the days of cute packaging and excessive ingredients. My personal favourites are the cleansing range including the Moringa Cleansing Balm and Moringa Peeling Gel which is a super gentle, yet highly effective exfoliator.
I love how plump and supple my skin feels following the Birch Juice range, particularly their sleeping pack which is formulated with 74% birch tree sap instead of regular water to help boost its hydrating power. It also contains calming chamomile extract and plantain seed extract which helps strengthen skin and improve elasticity.
A great way to sample the Birch Juice range, as well as the Squeeze Green Watery range, is purchasing these handy travel kits (you all know I love a travel size!). In particular, the Squeeze Green Watery range is ideal for combination skin during these warmer months.
Finally, their sheetmasks are infused with highly effective ingredients, cater for a wide range of skincare needs and are extremely affordable at £2.20 each. So what product from Enature will you try first?
As most of you know, I’m adopted from South Korea and so on Mother’s Day I spare a thought for all three of my mothers – my birth mother, my foster mother and the lady I consider my real mother – the mum who, like any other mum, was there for my first day of school, there for my awkward teenage years, and who now helps organise the packing for Beauty & Seoul!
I owe it to my mum for enabling me to grow up proud of my Korean heritage. It was my mum who always encouraged me to search for my birth parents, who, when being teased at school, made me learn to appreciate my almond-shaped eyes.
My mum always supported the idea of me going back to Seoul as much as possible and learn more about my heritage and I’m forever grateful for that. She didn’t worry when I quit my job to embark on my birth search, she was on the other end of the phone when the search was unsuccessful. She didn’t doubt me when I quit my well-paid job in marketing to start a beauty blog and run a K-Beauty store. She remains one of my biggest allies, a massive support to Beauty & Seoul and a total KBeauty convert! For this reason, I wanted to ask her about her favourite products to help give you an idea on what to get your mum this Mother’s Day!
What was the biggest thing you noticed when you changed to Korean skincare?
Mum: "The products I chose suited my skin type (dry) so my skin felt really well hydrated and a lot softer after using them on a regular basis."
Mum:"Always purchase products that are suitable for your skin type. It sounds obvious but not that many people actually know their skin type and so buy products that aren’t suited for it. So make sure you know your skin type."
All of mum’s favourite products will be discounted from 20th March to 31st March for Mother’s Day! I’ve also discounted some products that I feel would be suitable for all the mothers out there! What will you get your mum? The Commleaf Rose Sleeping Pack (whose mum can resist roses?!) or the Benton Cleansing Foam (an anti-aging face wash named after the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button?!)
One of the things that excites me most is when I discover new brands – even more so when they are brands whose philosophy I can get on board with, who have wonderful packaging and whose products are lovely. Enter Commleaf.
Can we just take a moment to appreciate the bottles?
I was seeing these gorgeous little things everywhere on Instagram and had to try them, coupled with the fact that I am a sucker for anything containing rice, I knew these products had to find a place on my dresser.
Commleaf is a brand ‘born to soothe the skin with nature as skin is fatigued from hazardous environments.’ As a girl living in London, this spoke to me. The glass bottles are in the shape of pentagons which represent the 5 essential nutrients that humans need - Carbohydrate, protein, vitamin, minerals and fat. It also represents five key skincare concerns – anti-wrinkle, soothing, moisturizing, brightening and elasticity. The toners and serums are in lovely glass bottles meaning they are recyclable plus look utterly decadent. Packaging uses FSC forest protection certified and eco-friendly wood pulp and acid free paper as well.
To help me introduce Commleaf to you, I wanted to speak with someone who I know has long been a fan of the brand. If you’re a fan of KBeauty then you’ll probably already be familiar with Katherine, blogger of Skinfull of Seoul. Katherine was one of the first people I followed on Instagram @skinfullofseoul when I moved to Korea a few years back and she recently moved back to the UK (yay!) but still keeps up her KBeauty passion! I kept seeing Commleaf cropping up in her regular routines and knew it would be fun to ask her more about her thoughts on the brand and products.
Where did you first come across the brand Commleaf?
Katherine: “They first reached out to me over a year ago to try some of their products while I was still living in Seoul. I hadn’t heard of them or seen them on IG at that point, but after looking over their website I was very excited to see what they had to offer.”
What were your first impressions?
Katherine: “Great! I fell in love with the aesthetic and then really loved their Rose Moisture Pads.They were much more saturated with toner than others I had tried and that led me to try their other products with high expectations. They haven’t disappointed!”
What impressed you the most about the brand?
Katherine: “I think the quality of their products, particularly in their second wave of products with the Vitarice / Skin Relief lines. I like how they targeted different skin types with those products. Also, they’re in glass bottles which are better for the environment than plastic!”
What are your favourite products that you’ve tried from Commleaf and why?
Katherine: “I have several faves! First is their Rose Moisture Pads because they’re such a useful daily skincare product
I have to admit, my skincare game was NOT strong in 2018. A busy job combined with running Beauty & Seoul, an unhealthy diet and social plans pretty much whacked my life out of equilibrium. I found myself literally crawling to get through to the end of December – the promised land of January where I vowed to myself to make some changes. I’m not one for resolutions as such but I do like the idea of thinking about what small changes I can make and this year I want to go back to what was making me happy – my skincare routine being one of them! That 10 minutes every morning and evening that relaxes me. That said, I wanted to take a look back at 2018 and talk about the five products I either discovered or found myself reaching for the most; products that I know will remain staples in my collection.
Yes, I know I go on about these a lot on Instagram but I truly believe for good reason! Plus, every person I have gifted these to or who has purchased them also raves about them. Containing Niacinamide and hydrating rose water, these handy little eye patches soothe and brighten the under eye area. Simply, place under each eye, leave on for 20 mins, remove and then pat in the remaining essence.
I use these when I'm tired, hungover or having a pamper sesh but honestly, now I keep them on my bedside table and the first thing I do when my alarm goes off is to put these on each morning. I’ll wear them whilst I potter around making my breakfast or drinking my coffee and then remove – the perfect start to the day!
When I was at the KBeauty Expo in Seoul in October 2017, I remember discovering the brand Jumiso. What struck me first was the packaging – I mean, the dog is just too cute plus the barcode is in the shape of a dogbone!
I spoke with Si Heon and the passion he had for the brand and the meticulous details in creating a great, affordable sheetmask were abundantly clear. I tried a sample of the sheetmask on my hand and honestly, for the rest of the expo I had one super bright left hand. The sheetmasks are made from a material called cupra that really adheres to the skin whilst ensuring the skin soaks up all of that lovely essence containing Black Ginseng and Argan Oil. This is my go to sheetmask if my skin is looking dull, before an event when I want to achieve that ‘glow’ or after a flight when my skin is feeling dehydrated.
I have long been a fan of the original Klairs Supple Preparation toner so when Klairs came out with an unscented version designed specifically for those with sensitive skin, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. If there’s one product that was a gamechanger for my skincare routine, it was toner. I previously wrote a blog about my experience with toners, my discovery of hydrating Korean toners and my favourites here. Deeply hydrating, this toner retains all the benefits of the original cult classic formulation but is also free from essential oils. The fragrance is also removed and the product has a lighter texture for faster absorption. WIN.
Pre-soaked toner pads were a big thing in Korea. Exfoliating pads such as the original Cosrx Clear Pad were a huge success, paving the way for this alternative – a hydrating version.
Quick and easy to use, these pads containing propolis extract and hyaluronic acid whisk away impurities, add hydration to the skin whilst acting as a very gentle exfoliant leaving skin feeling smooth and soft. I will either use these in the place of my toner post cleansing, post a gym workout, in the morning if I’m in a rush or on the plane.
Jumiso Have a Good Day Cream
Yes, it’s another Jumiso product. Fast forward to the KBeauty Expo 2018 in Seoul, I was so happy to see Si Heon again and the team and was lucky enough to receive samples of their new moisturiser. Still retaining the cute packaging of their sheetmask range, this cream contains centella, squalene and snail – talk about soothing! This was the moisturiser I found myself reaching for when my skin was distressed and needed help to calm it down. Super lightweight, this cream has a citrusy scent that really helps lift you up in the mornings!
What were your finds for 2018? Any discoveries you'd recommend?
I was born on 6th June in a small town just outside Daejeon. My birth mother, aged 17, had run away to her brother’s place when she found out she was pregnant. Her parents had forced her to break up with her boyfriend (my birth father, who was from a much lower societal class). From what my records say, my birth parents were complete opposites. My birth mother, described in my paperwork as ‘short, caring, and shy’ was a top student whilst my birth father was ‘tall, popular and often skipped classes.’ It sounded like the quintessential ‘geeky girl meets popular boy’ at high school story. Both my birth parents were sporty; my birth father played basketball whilst my birth mother represented her district in track & field. I’ve spent my entire life wondering whether these attributes are a product of hereditary or environment.
I was transferred to Seoul soon after I was born to Eastern Child Welfare Society where I was fostered by a lady called Mrs Yoon. My parents came to collect me and I was brought home to Australia. And just like that, I went from Jang, Ma Ree to Maree van Aken; from Korean to Australian.
Adoption in South Korea remains a topic of hot debate. Following the Korean War in the 1950s, South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world. Many babies were sent to the United States for adoption, having been orphaned during the war. For the next 30 years, this trend continued until, having undergone huge economic transformation, the West criticised South Korea for not taking care of its own despite its prospering economy. South Korea, shamefully, became known as the ultimate ‘baby exporter’ and this played on their conscience.
Now the 11th largest economy in the world, it seems as though whilst development has caught up, traditions and values haven’t. The shame the 80s brought with exporting ‘their own’ despite their wealth, meant that the Government put restrictions on international adoption. What wasn’t accounted for was the fact that ‘demand’ was still there. Bloodlines remain hugely important in Korean culture, and ‘raising someone else’s child’ is frowned upon in Korean society. Therefore, no one domestically wants to adopt. Having a child outside of wedlock is also frowned upon so consequently, babies are still being left at orphanages, and orphanages can’t shift these babies. It was as if South Korea developed too quickly; their customs had no time to catch up.
When I quit my job in 2016 and went to Korea in search for my birth family, I was fortunate enough to volunteer at the very same orphanage I was left. These babies are all extremely well cared for and cuddles and love are given by the transient volunteers such as myself. But one can’t help but think what will happen to these children, and even more heartbreakingly, knowing that they probably will not be as fortunate as myself to be adopted in to a loving home. Once this dawned on me, wracked with emotions and guilt, I felt I could no longer volunteer there.
Two years later and back home in London, I received an email from my adoption agency a couple months ago asking for help. They were looking for money to help purchase powdered milk for the babies. Reading this, I know that people think as a wealthy country, it’s not our responsibility to care for these babies. And I agree. But until values move on and the government does something to help, the situation is that the future care of these babies relies on donations from others.
To help do my little bit, I’ve curated a skincare bag where for every bag sold I will donate £1 and then will personally double the total amount raised. I have also created a Just Giving page for those that wish to donate direct – whatever is raised here, I will also double. I don’t like to beg people for money but as this is a cause that is so deep to my heart, I ask that you donate generously.
For decades, the beauty and cosmetics industry has been rightly criticised and condemned for its treatment towards animals. With the fabulous rise of ethical shopping in generations Y & Z, the single most frequent question we get asked at Beauty & Seoul is whether the products and brands we sell are free from animal testing and furthermore, what is South Korea’s stance on animal testing?
Firstly and most importantly, it is an EU requirement that all products sold in Europe have not been tested on animals. So you can be rest assured that not a single product we sell, or have ever sold at Beauty & Seoul has succumbed to animal testing. Furthermore, I was delighted when back in 2016, the South Korean government implemented a law whereby all cosmetics must be cruelty free by the end of 2018! So that’s it right, blog over? Unfortunately not, things are about to get a little unclear right about now.
With its high demand for luxury products and very close geography, the Chinese market is extremely lucrative and a big draw for South Korean brands. The unfortunate conflict is that in order for a cosmetic product to be sold in China, animal testing is mandatory. It is therefore impossible to be fully regarded as cruelty free and sell your products in both China and Europe so Korean brands are forced into some tough choices.
Some of the larger brands can create two separate formulations of the same product – a Chinese version which has been tested on animals and a Korean version which has not. This is a permissible way in which a product can be legally sold in both China and Europe. However, at a brand level, it can never carry itself as truly cruelty free. It is quite difficult to get confirmed details on who does and doesn’t sell in China as many of the brands who do will not be forthcoming about it but there is evidence that Missha, Tony Moly, Clio, Son & Park and Dr.Jart all fall into this bracket. Pyunkang Yul are in the process of registering products on the Chinese FDA so they will be selling in China shortly
Thankfully there are some loopholes (there’s always loopholes)! Hong Kong and Macau, whilst still being governed by China, do not carry the same law which insists that all skincare products must be tested on animals. Therefore, by launching your products into the Hong Kong market and then using mail order / online channels for distribution further into mainland China, many Korean firms have found a loophole into the Chinese regulation without having to compromise their cruelty free status. At the time of writing, we have confirmation that the following brands use this tactic to avoid animal testing; Cosrx, Mizon, Whamisa, Thank You Farmer, iUnik, Heimish and Helloskin.
Cosrx, Mizon, and Pyunkang Yul are all cruelty free brands on sale in Hong Kong and exploit a loophole whereby their products do not require animal testing
Finally, and most admirably, some brands forego the Chinese market completely, and often these are the brands which have been certified by official cruelty-free bodies. Klairs and Benton are all certified with various cruelty free organisations and do not sell in China. These are the brands that you can 100% guarantee have never tested on animals.
Klairs and Benton have all been officially certified by third party bodies as being cruelty-free
"So if some of your brands are certified as cruelty-free, are they the only ones which are cruelty free?" Some of the brands we carry have managed to get their products certified by KARA or have the leaping bunny certification. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the rest are not. Certification can be a long and expensive process and might not be a priority. Also, bear in mind that a lot of the brands we sell are relative newcomers and their effort and resource are currently best placed in marketing, product development and better distribution.
I hope this blog helps give you the information you need to make an informed decision. South Korean skincare is on a journey to be completely cruelty free, the vast majority of brands already are following the principles but lacking the official certifications. I would expect that in the coming years we are likely to see a lot more certifications being awarded to South Korean brands and proudly displayed for complete transparency.
Son & Park have confirmed that they do sell in China
iUnik have confirmed that they do not sell in China
Heimish have confirmed that they do not sell in China
Pyunkang Yul have confirmed that they have had some products approved on the Chinese FDA so will start to sell in China
The company who owns J.One have confirmed that they do not sell any products currently on the Chinese market. However, there seems to be a grey area in that there are some J.One products registered on the Chinese FDA but the company themselves do not know whether they ever came from J.One or whether they are duplicates created by a total different, unaffiliated Chinese company. There are no conversations or data passed between the company that owns J.One and this Chinese company.
*The following brands all strongly claim to be cruelty free (Neogen allegedly is certified) but we are awaiting confirmation.
At the recent KBeauty meet up in London, I was asked by someone ‘what is one piece of advice you would give male customers, or what’s the one step you feel makes a huge difference to your skincare routine’. Possibly expecting me to say sheet masks or double cleansers, people were a bit surprised when I said TONER!
Considered by many as the least sexy step in your skincare routine, toners are possibly my favourite. We’re generally picky on our face washes, and moisturisers, and we know we’re doing good by adding actives and serums to our routine. But toner? Isn’t that just one of those steps I just ‘need to do’?
Why are toners important?
Toners have many benefits and as a result of this, on my dresser I usually have about 3 toners that I will rotate depending on my skin’s needs. Yep, you heard me. Toners can do everything from re-adjusting the pH level of your skin, closing your pores after cleansing (and shaving for the boys!), moisturising and prepping your skin for subsequent steps.
Why Korean toners?
I remember when I used to use toners from western brands. I used to get a tingly sensation using them and naively thought that this must be ‘doing good’ by stripping my pores of gunk. WRONG. All they were doing were stripping my skin of moisture. Why? Because many contained high amounts of alcohol which can irritate sensitive skin and worsen acne. Many Korean toners use natural ingredients, some completely waterless as well, using aloe instead for more intense hydration. Korean brands have come up with wonderful multi-tasking toners, hydrating toners and mist toners. Some are thicker in consistency as well, not water-like, and therefore add that extra layer of moisture. Despite this, they absorb nicely in to the skin prepping your face for the next step in your routine.
Dry skin? Hydrating toners are for you. Thicker in consistency, these hydrating toners work wonders to give your skin a boost and prep your skin for your routine. Simply dispense in to the palms of your hands and pat in – such is the hydration level of these toners, I wouldn’t waste them on a cotton pad! Treat yo self with the cult favourite Whamisa which uses aloe instead of water to provide maximum hydration or the affordable no fuss Klairs toner which gives you the perfect canvas for your serums and moisturisers.
The perfect companion on the go, on the plane or if you’re in a rush. Mist toners are handy to keep in your handbag for when your skin gets dry on the go. The luxurious Whamisa Damask Rose is a firm favourite and I’ll usually spray first thing when I wake up in the morning whereas the Pyunkang Yul Mist Toner I keep in my gym bag and is very refreshing.
My favourite. Exfoliating toners are great for those with combination, acne prone or oily skin types. Usually lighter in texture, they will work to combat clogged pores by including AHAs and BHAs (naturally derived acids) which work as gentle exfoliants. These AHAs and BHAs are oil soluble so can penetrate areas of the skin with excess oil (think around your T Zone). The result? Smoother and clearer skin. The Cosrx is great for acne-prone oily skin whereas the Benton is good for those with dry acne-prone skin. The Son & Park is great for those with sensitive skin and can also double up as a gentle cleansing water.
In a hurry? Shorten your routine with these multi-tasking toners. The Thank You Farmer Toner is an unusual consistency – almost like a creamy essence/emulsion. Deeply hydrating and nourishing, you could literally just slap this on your face and be done with your routine as it is a toner, essence and moisturiser in one. The hugely popular Pyunkang Yul Essence Toner doubles up as… you guessed it… an essence and toner providing hydration and helping to brighten the skin.
Please let me know what are your favourite toners and how you use them in your routine!