Cosmetics in Korea

YoonJae Lee


History of Korean cosmetics started from the ancient times. During long times, interactions between cultures has spurred the exchanging makeup materials, methods and cosmetics production technology. These contributed a variety of cosmetics cultures and products worldwide. Korean cosmetic companies are also flourishing. Many diverse trends in cosmetics are also represented in Korea.

The Ancient times

The history of makeup in Korea began from the Three Kingdoms of Korea. Makeup flourished in the Goryeo Kingdom as people felt interested in beauty. In ancient times, makeup was usually used for protecting from the outside environment. With natural sources, people drew something on their bodies to present deities and dispel misfortune. Traditionally in Korea, makeup was thought as a tool for care rather than external beauty. People regarded their inner sides could be affected by appearance. Good appearances are important for this reason. They made scrubs, oils, lotions extracted from plants, creams for face as well as color powders, lip inks and eyebrow ink. Gourd stems are used to make lotions. As Ground mung bean has saponin, it was helpful for cleansing. Therefore, people used it as a cleansing soap with blending water and powder. Castor oils and camellia oils are used as hair oil. They had tender smell and were not sticky. To supply moisture on skin and gloss, safflower oil was used. Apricot and peach oil were used to remove freckle and liver spot. Powder called 'Mibun' or‘baekbun' was made with ground rice and millet. It was used after blending with water or oils to make stick to the face effectively. Women added scent to cosmetic goods made form extraction of plants and grains because these had bad smell. Therefore, they made perfume to remove odor and perfume was made from dried clove buds. Perfume was also used to relieve stresses and tiredness. 'Gyuhap Chongseo' (women's encyclopedia in the ancient times) was written in 1809. It included diverse methods to make perfume. It informed eyebrows were thought as core of feature. 'Gyuhap Chongseo' describes the 10 popular eyebrow forms. Crescent or willow leaf shapes were most popular. Plant ash is basic raw material for eyebrow ink. The primary colors were black, blue, dark brown. It helped to draw eyebrows in diverse types of shapes. Rouge ‘Yeonji’ is the Korean name of rouge. Safflower could be source material for rouge. It was used to color on the lips and cheeks. In the Joseon period, luxurious makeup was forbidden because of Confucianism. Elite and upper-class women tended to copy the makeup and style of gisaeng during the Joseon period.

The Modern Times

In accordance with the advent of Western cultures in the end of the 19th century following the Treaty of Kanghwa in 1876 when Korean ports opened to foreign trade, new makeup styles and products were famous, stimulating Korea's cosmetics culture and enabling mass production and consumption. 'Bakgabun' which means Park's powder was the first mass produced cosmetics item in Korea. It was the first face powder and bestseller from 1916 to 1930. However, because of its lead content, sales dramatically reduced and similar products were quickly launched. According to dominating cosmetic market by Japanese cosmetic brands, Korean cosmetics failed to develop in the 1920s. Hopefully, Korean cosmetics could restore after escaping from control of Japan. However, Korea experienced Korean War in 1950. Finally, about 1961, Korean cosmetics industry could begin prosper as the law banning sales of other countries’ products was made.

Cosmetics in Korean Culture

Korean people focus on skin care under the influence of TV programs, advertisements and tradition. Koreans created beauty cult including double cleansing and double moisturizing. Korean people prefer radiant skin with water light. Korean tend to follow trend which is suitable for the season. At least every few months, people change skin care line due to various kinds of cosmetics in Korea. Most of girls in Korea have 3 different kinds of cleansers in bathroom. One is collagen lightening the skin, the other to tighten pores, the other to moisturize, etc. They have many different kinds of moisturizer such as cream for tightening pores and lotion lightening skin. Korean are interested in BB cream and CC cream that make skin white. BB & CC cream vary particularly in Korea. BB is blemish balm or beauty balm. CC stands for colour correction or colour control. These creams conceal discolouration and offer reasonable SPF. Korea people show concern about skin-lightening. They makeup almost everyday because of looking and protecting from sunscreen. In korea, men are also interested in skincare. Some people whiten their skin with BB or CC cream. Various products are produced for men. Men's cosmetic in South Korea are focused on soothing skin from shaving daily.

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SHAW BROWN, GENEVIEVE. "Move Over BB Cream, Here Comes CC". abc news. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
FUJITA, AKIKO. "South Korean Men Cosmetics-Crazed". abc news. Retrieved 30 November 2016.

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