So beautiful: Korean high-end cosmetic brands

Written by on October 13, 2011 in Brands & Products, Lifestyle

After taking a look at the low to mid-priced cosmetic brands that line the streets of Seoul’s Myeongdong in a previous post, it’s about time to take a look at the other end of the spectrum, the luxury brands. Korean high-end brands usually offer skincare with rare ingredients, incorporating traditional medicinal herbs and plants, and are packaged in highly sophisticated designs.

Because of the high price range, all of the brands sell pre-packaged sets with a full range of a certain line in smaller volume bottles bottles which make great gifts, and even if not a gift, are smart shopping purchases. During special sales or promotions, most will add a complementary gift to your purchase as well, so keeping an eye out is highly recommended. Unlike the mid-priced brands with freestanding shops, most of the luxury brands will be found in the cosmetics section of the major department stores.

Here is a look at some of the most notable brands:

AMORE PACIFIC’s Time Response Line is highly sought after

Among the many brands which the giant cosmetics company Amore Pacific owns, their main brand carries the same name of their company. Amore Pacific has been around for over 65 years, and prides itself for bringing traditional Korean aesthetics and scientific research and technology together.

The brand AMORE PACIFIC specifically utilizes many of the qualities that green tea has to offer, especially green tea from the fields in Halla, in the beautiful island of Jeju-do; the leaves, the flowers, the extract, and the seeds are profiled in their products.

Their bestselling line is their anti-ageing line, aptly called “Time Response”. The skin renewal cream (regular and gel type) are the most popular. AMORE PACIFIC also has their own spa in Seoul, New York, and Osaka. Their products can be found in the USA and Japan.

Sulwhasoo : bestselling cream and set

Sulwhasoo (설화수)
A sister brand of AP, Sulhwasoo was noted not only for its fragrance of ginseng, but also for its distinctive package design, reminiscent of ancient Korean pottery and celadon. The use of many traditional medicinal herbs and roots are especially noted in all of their lines: white peony root, sacred lotus root, dunggullae (둥굴레, Solomon’s seal), lily, licorice root, moutan(peony) bark, chrysanthemum, and many other native ingredients.

Because of the use of these many botanicals, the fragrance of Sulwhasoo is very pronounced. Their main fragrances are made of ginseng, pine, apricot blossom, and camellia. Although ginseng is the main note, other fragrances also add to its aroma and may or not please, depending on the person. It is a fragrance that lingers, so be sure to take a whiff of the samples before purchasing to see if you can abide by them or not. (I have friends who quite dislike it, whereas I find it quite soothing; tastes differ.)

Sulwhasoo has a basic men’s line, and also has a spa at the Lotte Department Store in Jamsil, Seoul.

Hera’s makeup palette for fall

Hera (헤라)
Yet another sister brand of AP, Hera is indeed named after the Goddess. The brand has a wide range of products of skincare, bodycare, perfume, and a men’s line but is mostly noted for its makeup collection. Spot-on regarding the latest trends, their products are always being selected as editor’s pick for major beauty and fashion magazines.
Hera’s extensive men’s line covers all skin types; line also has a BB cream for men. Hera is also the brand that is at the forefront in the Pink Campaign for breast cancer awareness, where AP is the main sponsor.

IOPE made retinol a household word

IOPE (아이오페)
It would not be an exaggeration to say that it was thanks to IOPE and its Retinol 2500 launched in 1997, that ‘retinol’ became a familiar word in Korea. The product became an immediate hit, and was literally selling out all over the country. Everyone just HAD TO get their hands on one. My friends and our mothers, aunts, cousins, and friends of cousins were all dashing to the nearest department store and putting our names on the waiting list and trying to cut in to buy as much as we could.

IOPE’s retinol product went through several innovations since then with minor name changes, but it still remains their bestselling product and loyal fans never seem to waiver from using it. Their moisturizing creams have also gained popularity in recent years. Along with their skincare, IOPE has also an extensive makeup line, and a basic men’s line. IOPE is owned by AP as well.

Cosmetics fit for a queen

The history of fu (후)
Once upon a time, there lived a queen with the most beautiful skin, who never aged and lived with great dazzling beauty until her death. Her spirit lived on in the hills and valleys of the country, and with the plants and roots of that land, people collected her spirit and put it into bottles for all to share, and everybody lived beautifully and happily forever after.

If there would to be a short fairy tale made of the concept behind the brand Fu (pronounced ‘whoo’), this would be it. The last syllable of the word ‘wanghoo’ (왕후), which means ‘queen’ or ‘queen consort’ had become the brand; the image portrayed can’t be more blatant.

The packaging is true to the brand name, intricate and detailed, it was designed by a renowned fashion designer and an intangible cultural asset artisan. (Some find the bottles too pretty to throw away and use them for something else after use.) Their gift sets are extremely beautiful and elaborate and make great gifts for your elders.

Besides the gift sets, their bestselling products are their essences and creams. The brand uses traditional medicinal herbs and roots, so the fragrances of the products reflect the ingredients quite strongly. The brand has a makeup line, whose casings are as equally beautiful as the skincare line.

Beautiful face with O HUI

O HUI (오휘)
O HUI’s emphasis is on their skincare, especially anti-ageing and moisturizing: cell power, hydra-formula, age recovery, clinic science are names of their main lines. Accordingly, their packaging is clean-cut, neat, simple and almost clinical. They taunt in their advertising, “How far have you been to with a bare face?” – a nod to Korea’s obsession with flawless skin.

Their makeup line equally emphasizes skincare properties, and you can apply for a free makeover at one of their stores by making an appointment in advance. (See website for more info.)

Not to be obsessed only by the superficial, the brand sponsors the “Beautiful Face Campaign”, a charity fund to aid children with facial defects, which is managed by Seoul National University’s Children’s Hospital, which gives you a good reason to buy the brand.

Youth in bottles – su:m’s creams

su:m 37° (숨 37°)
Breathe. It gives you life. And the natural body temperature of 37°. Thus is the reasoning behind the brand name of su:m. (For the life of me, I cannot tell you why the “:” is there, though.) Proclaiming that they take the most natural approach to creating their cosmetics, su:m is rather new on the market and hasn’t quite have a runaway hit product yet.

However, their “Dazzling Base”, which gives the wearer a dewy complexion, has been getting good reviews, and their moisturizing line called “Water-full” is also getting favorable reviews. Their packaging design retains the bottle shape for each line, but the textures and colors differ from line to line. The brand has a basic men’s line and a baby’s line.

2011 fall makeup trends from VDVC

VIDI VICI (비디비치)
Unlike the other luxury brands, VDVC is a brand created by one of Korea’s first makeup specialists and artist, Lee Kyung Min. Now the creative director of a beauty enterprise, LKM brought to her line of makeup all the know-how and expertise she had accumulated over the years. Her beauty salon in the ritzy area of Cheongdam-dong in Seoul is where many top Korean celebrities turn to create their fabulous styles. Most of VDVC’s seasonal makeup collections tend to be on the dramatic side; it’s certainly not the brand for the shy and demure.

A skincare line is also available, while the brush sets are known to be worth investing.


Happy shopping, and may your skin glow!


About the Author

Suzy Chung

Multilingual editor, writer, and translator. Coffee addict, bookworm, art junkie, foodie, oenophile, and a billion other things. I tend to talk a lot. @suzyinseoul