10 of the Best Korean Beauty Products

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Korean beauty is so universally beloved that it’s turned into a major export for South Korea — and the government takes it incredibly seriously, dedicating real resources of money and time into building up the national beauty industry. What do all those Korean government dollars get us, the beauty junkies of the world? The Cut has spent several months testing some of the most popular beauty products from popular Korean e-commerce retailers like Peach & Lily, Soko Glam, Glow Recipe, and others to create a short list of our favorites. Click through to learn about the best smudge-proof eyeliner we’ve ever tried (really), the best face mask we’ve ever tried (seriously), and other standout products.

Your Gateway Korean Beauty Product

Many Korean-beauty newbies start with this mask, which is also called a “sleeping pack,” because it’s easy to use and you get results quickly. Like most masks, it’s designed to leave your face feeling soft and hyperglowing, but unlike a typical mask, you don’t rinse or remove it. Instead, you apply the cool gel as a final step in your skin-care routine and sleep in it. I used this once after a 14-hour flight without moisturizer, when I had to quickly rehab my skin. A few nights of this hydrated my skin without making me break out, and now it’s my go-to for any time my skin needs to look better, fast. —Kathleen Hou

The New Cleanser Everyone Will Be Using

If Korea is any indicator, we’ll all be using sherbet or sorbet cleansers very soon. This cleanser, which is one of K-beauty’s best sellers, feels like of your favorite Häagen-Dazs sorbet. It has a gentle flowery aroma and a light, pastelike texture that melts with water to become a milky cleanser. Once applied, it easily removes makeup, dirt, and grime without stripping your face or making it feel tight. It’s so gentle that it’s even a favorite for sensitive skin. Much like actual sorbet, it’s a palate cleanser, refreshing your skin and prepping it for the next nine steps of your Korean skin-care routine.  —Kathleen Hou

The Stinky Toner for Clear Skin

Cosrx’s AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid smells like the fleet of trash bins stationed outside the high school near my apartment, with subtle undertones of wet cat food. That’s the bad part. The good part is that the alpha-hydroxy acid liquid gently smooths your skin. After a week or two of use, your face will feel like a pebble scooped from the ocean’s floor — only softer. To use, I pat a few squirts of the liquid all over my face at night, after I’ve washed it but before I’ve applied an essence or moisturizer. Yes, there are better, more effective alternatives to clearing and preventing whiteheads, which is the product’s main purpose, but I love the way it evens my complexion. —Ashley Weatherford

The Product You Never Knew You Needed

Until recently, I thought about essences the same way Beyoncé thinks about grocery coupons: not even once. But SK-II’s Facial Treatment made me realize that, much like dry shampoo, an essence is the kind of product that will change your life once you experience it. Cremorlab’s Mineral Treatment Essence is a more wallet-friendly option. With the consistency of water and a slightly earthy scent, it’s like a drink of relief for underhydrated skin. It comes in handy for just about anyone — those with dry skin can use it as an extra boost ahead of their moisturizer, while people like me, who have oily skin, will want it in place of a cream on super-humid days. Much like Cosrx’s Power Liquid, I pat a few drops of the essence onto my skin before sunscreen in the morning or before night cream at bedtime. —Ashley Weatherford

The Next Big Thing After BB Cream

A few months ago, the Cut showcased beauty trends on real women in Korea, where straight brows and dewy skin are front and center. You can likely credit the dewy skin part to cushion compacts. If you’re unfamiliar with the skin-perfecting innovator, a cushion compact is a lightweight foundation or BB cream stored within a sponge. Using another sponge that’s less porous, you press down on the BB-cream-filled compact to dispense a small amount of product that you apply all over your face. Though the coverage is lightweight, the finish is slightly damp, which transforms even the dullest complexion into a marginally sticky, saunalike glow. It’s our new favorite method to fake effortlessly healthy skin. The only downfall is that the shade selection is very, very limited but since it is sheer, you don’t need a precise match. —Kathleen Hou and Ashley Weatherford

The Liquid Liner That Never Gives Up

This Korean eyeliner embodies the slogan on every grade-school motivational poster: Winners never quit. This smudge-proof liner’s practically bionic formula can withstand more weather conditions than most United States Postal Service workers. A blessing for girls with deeper-set eyes, it also dries quickly, avoiding the dreaded upper-lid blotch. It also has a nice fine tip — pliant enough to let you create a jaunty cat-eye flick, but firm enough that you don’t need a fine-arts degree to draw a straight line. —Kathleen Hou

The Essence That’s Almost As Good As Candy

Going raw has never been so easy with this essence. Made of maple-tree sap, which has smaller molecules than even water, its nutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants absorb easily into the skin. It doesn’t feel sticky at all — more like a viscous fluid on the skin that allows your moisturizer to lock in moisture even better. And much like maple candy, it’s something you won’t be able to get enough of. —Kathleen Hou

The Creamy Cleanser That’s Straight From an Ass

If you can get around the fact that there’s donkey milk in this low-foam face wash, you just might learn to appreciate it as much as I do. Donkey milk is said to be similar to human milk, calming the skin. I like that this cleanser washes my face without leaving any residue, and it smells just like Johnson’s baby lotion, which is perhaps the most soothing effect of all. —Ashley Weatherford

Your Perfect Acne Serum

Tea-tree essence is like Windex for natural-beauty advocates. “Dab some tea tree oil on it!” is a common answer for anything ranging from “I’m getting a breakout” to “My weird rash won’t go away.” This essence contains 90 percent tea-tree oil and zero percent water, making it a perfect targeted treatment for those with acne-prone skin. It also contains trehalose, a moisture-binding ingredient, enabling this product to do the beauty equivalent of rubbing its stomach and patting its head at the same time: It will dry out blemishes but also moisturize your skin. —Kathleen Hou

The Best Face Mask (Really)

I know these are fighting words but I will say it: These are better than the SK-II face masks, at least according to me and my mom. If I had a lifetime supply and an unlimited bank account, I would ship these over to Pat McGrath, Taraji P. Henson, and Terrence Howard to see if they agree. These masks are made of plant pulp that is pressed by a machine to become as thin as silk — allowing the moisture to really absorb into your skin. Each mask is fermented for two weeks with white ginseng, which is purported to brighten (but not whiten) your skin, making you look glow-y and well-rested. —Kathleen Hou

10 of the Best Korean Beauty Products