K-Beauty: A beginner’s guide PLUS top cruelty-free picks

K-beauty is a big deal. A HUGE deal. If you’re not already on top of this one, I’m sorry to say – you’re well behind the curve.

Korean beauty products are considered to be some of the most inventive in the world – and are generally built around the key concept of having flawless, radiant, glowing skin.

Lots of popular innovations originated from Korea – for example ‘cushion’ products like foundations and liquid blushers, and sheet masks (which can be effective but are not very environmentally-friendly).

Double-cleansing is another. Many Korean women use elaborate routines with up to 16 steps – a style of skincare that has been incorporated into some western beauty practices (for example, the ‘layering’ multi-step regime of blogger Caroline Hirons).

Another key trend is the ‘7-skin method’ – where toner/essence (called ‘skin’ in Korean) is patted (using a dabbing method known as ‘chop chop’) in layers onto the skin seven times – just make sure it’s an alcohol-free essence. This step happens after cleansing and before moistursing.

The purpose? To add hydration to the skin, while cutting out many products, using ‘skin’ in their place.

Other innovations include ingredients used in beauty products, for example, artichokes or snail slime. While the latter isn’t vegan, and there will be cruelty involved in its extraction, it is certainly no more cruel (or weird) than the use of milk or other animal-derived secretions in beauty products.

On that note, how easy is it to find cruelty-free K beauty brands?

As of 2018, animal testing for cosmetics will become prohibited in Korea; numerous brands have stopped testing already.

According to Martin Mallon of Cruelty International: “In the discussions leading up to the current law which phases out animal tests, we found Korean companies very supportive.

“This reflects strong feelings among many Korean consumers that they want to use cosmetics which have not involved animal suffering.”

However, many of the brands are sold in mainland China, which means they have to be animal tested in order to meet local legislation.

In addition, some bloggers claim it can be difficult to find English language information about whether a product is tested or not, though there are some resources which list companies – this one is worth checking out.

Top five vegan and cruelty-free K beauty picks


1. THANK YOU FARMER Sun Project Water Sun Cream SPF50, £24

For many people, sunscreen may not be considered the most exciting product in the world. But it is one of the most important; protecting your skin from the sun is one of the only proven ways to slow down the ageing appearance of your skin.

This SPF 50 cream is a multi-tasker, tackling dryness (it is packed with hyaluronic acid) as well as providing a protective shield, with a pretty, dewy finish.


2. NEOGEN Dermalogy bio-peel gauze peeling lemon face pads, £22 Selfridges

These single-use pads use lactic acid and lemon to exfoliate the skin, leaving it smooth, soft, and radiant. They are also useful in unblocking pores.

Suitable for all skin types, these pads should be used twice a week, on dry skin. (This product is exclusive to Selfridges).


3. RE:P Bio Fresh Mask With Real Calming Herb, $41

Use this vegan-friendly mask on your freshly cleansed and toned face. Leave it on for 10 minutes before rinsing off with lukewarm water, and following with the rest of your skincare regime.

This product soothes irritated and stressed skin, with chamomile, calendula and kaolin clay. These ingredients combine to leave skin much cleaner, smoother, and softer.


4. Dear, Klairs Midnight Blue Youth Activating Drop, £24

Unlike EGF, Fibroblast Growth Factor, commonly referred to as bFGF, works deep within

This anti-ageing night serum is aimed at tackling the appearance of fine lines & wrinkles as well as improve skin texture and repair damage.

The water-free product is formulated with 10 ingredients including blueberry extract – a powerful anti-ageing ingredient which enhances the skin’s collagen and moisture levels, adenosine, which makes the skin smoother and softer, and guaiazulene which soothes skin aggravated by UV rays or acne.


5. Cosrx, Oil-Free Ultra-Moisturizing Lotion, with Birch Sap, £13.90

This hydrating lotion contains 70 per cent birch sap – an ingredient which calms sensitive or irritated skin (including freshly exfoliated skin).

The non-greasy formula leaves no residue and is light, but quenches thirsty skin. Even those with acne prone skin can use this moisturiser without causing breakouts.

Photo credit: K-Queen Beauty Routine Vimeo

**Please note – the above information is abridged and non-exhaustive. There is a whole world of K Beauty out there (and far too much to pack into one post!).

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