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  • Writer's pictureRegina Cantú Navarro

How K-Beauty Turned Skincare Into Makeup

Should we stick to separating the two — or should we have always been joining them at the hip?


Before 2015, a 10-step skincare routine — in the Westernized approach to skin health — was unheard of. Now, the market size for K-Beauty — which some would argue is the dominant beauty force right now — is expected to reach $13.9 billion in 2027.

How and why did the conversation around skincare in relation to makeup begin? How did the two become conflated, especially when talking about the ever-haunting glass skin trend? Sheet masks; eye patches; the use of spatulas to apply thin layers of foundation — all new, popular, and steadfast skincare tools credited to Korean beauty.

South Korean soap operas, food, musical groups, and overall aesthetics have been at the forefront in challenging, varying aspects of makeup culture: from the fun, playful design of makeup products (see: TONYMOLY) to ideals of masculinity and the rise of men wearing makeup and seeking a softer look (see: BTS’ styling). This wave of Korean cultural ascendancy — called “Hallyu” — is, above all, innovative, unique, and effective. In contrast to what the U.S. market has had to offer across the 2010s, Korean cosmetics are often functional and eco-friendly, rejecting animal testing and artificial ingredients. With diffusion additives ranging from green tea, to food extracts, to even snail mucin, cosmetic lines are embracing the beauty of the natural world — and making people look towards a different cultural proposal.

But back to skincare and beauty. Should we stick to separating the two — or should we have always been joining them at the hip? K-beauty has set a standard for new trends and their evolution within the beauty realm. We see this in the skin rituals, ingredients, and the overall care given to this part of a person’s daily routine. It makes sense that skincare and makeup have become synonymous with beauty as a whole. At the same time, healthier habits have become the priority when the results speak for themselves. So far, this has meant this evolution seems like it’s here to stay.

When looking at makeup products of today, it could be argued that most upsell skincare functions in their products, like Glossier — and they have a clear purpose to enhance features and create a natural look. Foundations are suddenly now serum-infused lip treatments, oils, and scrubs also have SPF coverage; tinted moisturizers and sunscreens promise extra hydration support; and that doesn’t even include the use of various steps before actually putting makeup on.

While we’ve moved past the full-coverage look of the early 2010s, this doesn’t eliminate the negative side effects that come along with any beauty ideal. Even if the K-Beauty wave is one we follow now, there are certain repercussions we have yet to fully grasp — especially in how they could continue to change our standards of biophysical appearance. Cosmetic surgeries and invasive procedures have become widespread and aspirational in some countries. This, in hand with the idolization of whiter, paler skin in South Korea, gives us a different perspective of this beauty movement — one that gives us the power to break down many pre-conceived, Western notions of beauty and aesthetics, but could also bring a slew of more serious topics onto the already complicated panorama of harmful standards.

We are always at risk of falling into the perfectionism trap — especially with the never-ending search for the best natural, “no-makeup makeup” look. The involvement of skincare in the majority of makeup products should, ideally, highlight people’s innate, most beautiful features, but it’s not so simple. The lines are blurred, now, and it’s highly unlikely they’ll ever be separated again. But that doesn’t mean every makeup product is inherently skincare or even “healthy” — or that the full coverage look will never return. I can see the risks and the benefits of these skincare habits in how they relate to using makeup daily; I’ve been influenced to try the 10-step skincare routine and it hasn’t worked for me (however, I have kept the diligence of wearing sunscreen daily). That’s the key — keeping what works for you is the only way this skin-like effect will look its best. So: experiment, play, and draw your own conclusions. 🌀


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