Remember how we all felt about the French pharmacies a decade ago? And American drugstores before that? Well, now South Korea - or "So-Ko" - is where beauty is at. Here's what you probably already knew: that the average Korean woman's skincare regime contains 12 steps and can take up to 40 minutes. That South Korean women are beauty obsessed (a brief look at some of the online make-up tutorials will tell you that). And, finally, that "wacky" - in ingredients, textures or packaging - is no barrier to trial. This, after all, is the country that gave us snail-secretion and bat-dropping facials, jelly face creams and serious skincare in a jar shaped like a panda.

It all started with the BB cream. When that particular phenomenon landed over here five years ago, the So-Ko beauty industry became a major force. "Japan and China have quite strained trade relations, and South Korea has been able to capitalise on that by selling to both," explains Beautymart's Anna-Marie Solowij. Consequently, beauty is now Korea's second biggest industry after technology (Samsung and LG are both Korean) and, thanks to government investment in R&D, So-Ko beauty is said to be seven years ahead of the rest of the world in product development.

In South Korea you'll find "first-date face masks." CHARLOTTE CHO, co-founder of Soko Glam, Cho worked at Korean tech giant Samsung before developing her beauty blog into a respected online beauty retailer. Has just published her first book, The Little Book of Skin Care: Korean Beauty Secrets for Healthy, Glowing Skin (William Morrow, £18.99)

 

Solowij's business, co-founded with trend expert Millie Kendall, is known for cherry-picking the best buys from South Korea and the Far East. What So-Ko beauty has going for it, says Kendall, are two things: first, its specificity. In South Korea you'll find products like "first-date face masks" or "job interview creams", as well as little ideas that fill big gaps - a few years ago Beautymart had a run on Korean "fringe stabilisers", little heart-shaped Velcro dots that keep your fringe out of your eyes while you're washing your face. Second is the unconventional packaging. "They're not as old-fashioned as us in terms of how they lay a brand out," says Kendall. "For a start, when they put a range together they don't make everything look the same. And they also believe that just because something looks cute and playful, it doesn't mean it can't be a serious product." Solowij puts it down to South Korea embracing kawaii, the Japanese trend for cuteness that is a significant part of the country's culture. "I've even seen roadworks signs that have pink rabbits on them," she says.

For Charlotte Cho, the glamorous California-born co-founder of Soko Glam, an American website selling a chic edit of cool Korean beauty (she worked at Samsung before developing her beauty blog into a retail site), it's the array of products never seen before that is really getting beauty addicts excited. "For decades, Western women were taught to cover blemishes with make-up and that skincare is more of a chore. After seeing Korean women take delight in their skincare routines, Western women have been motivated to do so as well." Neither does it hurt, she adds, that the products are "extremely high quality, gorgeous and in adorable packaging."

Essences - super-charged waters that you apply pre-face cream to aid your skin's absorption of moisture - are a staple in Korea but are now being launched by brands such as Sisley, This Works and even Superdrug.

Also emerging are sleep-packs: a cross between a face mask and a night cream, these are dense, exceptionally hydrating creams that take many hours to be properly absorbed, hence they are applied at night: see Garnier Miracle Sleeping Cream, Estée Lauder Nutritious Overnight Crème/Mask and La Prairie Luxe Sleep Mask.

Coming next is "sparkling" skincare; products containing carbonated ingredients which, so the theory goes, give an even deeper clean because of the carbonic acid (some So-Ko beauty-room chat is currently debating whether you should actually wash your face in sparkling water for the extra cleansing oomph). Still on cleansing, powder cleansing - where you "activate" the powder with water to ensure the active ingredients are at their freshest and most potent - is also a So-Ko-originated trend: Diptyqe, Rodin and ELF have all launched versions recently; as well as rubberised sheet masks (aka #rubbermasking, the first beauty trend to come with its own hashtag), the next generation of paper or cotton masks which adhere so closely to the contours of the face that less of the product is wasted - see Bliss Spa or the Korean-based online retailer Glow Recipe. Vogue's edit on these pages is of the best bits available in Britain so far - but something tells us it's just the beginning.

[By Nicole Moulton] [Read More] [From Vogue.co.uk] [First Image From Herworldplus.com | Second Image From Vogue.co.uk]

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