6 K-Beauty Myths to Chuck Like a Moldy Cream, Part 1

It’s human nature to fill in the gaps in our knowledge with myth and superstition. We’ve been doing it since the dawn of recorded civilization, spreading and passing down stories to help us make sense of our bewildering reality. Of course, these stories often get things wrong. The Norse god Thor did turn out to be a real person, but most other myths, including those about “Korean beauty” and the AB life, are more wrong than right. Let go of them and you’ll become a smarter skincare shopper with a more effective routine of your own–K-beauty or not!

Affiliate links in this post are marked with an asterisk(*).

K-beauty myth 1: “Korean beauty” is all about the 10-step (or 12- or 15-step) routine

The myth: “Korean beauty” is defined by extravagantly lengthy daily skincare routines featuring so many different steps and products that you’ll need to redo your bathroom with a bigger counter just to accommodate your new purchases. You’ll also need to start waking up an hour earlier in the morning and canceling all your evening plans forever.

10 Step Korean skincare routine
Ten steps, not including cleanser(s), all items in my current rotation.

Who benefits from this myth:

  • Magazines, websites, and bloggers (come on, we’ve all done it at some point, to some degree) using clickbaity “35-Step Korean Skincare Routine!!!” headlines to lure readers and/or please advertisers
  • Cosmetics brands and retailers eager to increase sales by creating a perceived need for MOAR STUFF NAOW.

The reality: This is arguably the mother of all K-beauty myths, and it developed, like a lumpy, defective pearl, around an actual grain of truth. A grain. There are definitely people out there with enough stuff on hand to assemble a 12-step everyday routine. I’m one of them, and I’ve written plenty about my extensive routine. My fellow Snailcaster Snow over at Snow White and the Asian Pear uses a spreadsheet to keep track of her product lineup and usage. Kerry at Skin and Tonics needed three separate blog posts to list and explain her morning and evening skincare routines and occasional treatments, like masks and sleeping packs. Confusion over the complexities of the many-step routine is so widespread that darling Tracy of Fanserviced-B and the Snailcast even created a (brilliant) step-by-step visual guide to the Korean skincare routine.

Thing is, we’re bloggers. We are among the most visible and vocal K-beauty consumers, but that doesn’t mean we’re really representative of the average K-beauty consumer. Maintaining a K-beauty blog means endlessly acquiring and testing new items. Our routines don’t stagnate, our quest never ends, and our stashes have a tendency to swell not shrink. The differences between the skincare and shopping practices of K-beauty bloggers and K-beauty consumers are what led me to create my routine building and Asian skincare shopping guides instead of offering my own routines as a template. Please don’t use my routines as a template. YMMV!

(To tell the truth, even beauty bloggers don’t always do every single possible step of their daily routine. Check out some of the routines under the #koreanskincare or #rasianbeauty tags on Instagram to get a feel for K-beauty in practice. Snow is particularly consistent about posting what she actually uses on a day-to-day basis. I post routines once in a while, but photography for me is a sweaty struggle, so I don’t do it every day.)

Short Korean skincare routine
A routine like this is just as normal for me as the full twelve-stepper, especially in the mornings.

K-beauty is not about slapping a dozen products on your face every morning and a further 15 products every night, despite the impression given by magazine articlesoften hardly more than undisclosed advertorials anyway, blogger routines, and skincare sales pitches. K-beauty is about making your skin a priority and keeping it in top condition with a routine tailored to your own needs, budget, and lifestyle. Maybe that routine will only require a single cleanser, a toner, one serum, and a cream. (And sunscreen in the mornings!!!) Or maybe you’ll end up using cleanser, toner, essence, serum, ampoule, sheet mask, cream, and sleeping pack. (And sunscreen in the mornings!!!!) Either way is perfectly valid. The only thing that matters is giving your skin what your skin needs. Don’t feel pressured to buy products you don’t need just to have a “full” K-beauty routine, and don’t feel like you’re “doing it wrong” if you can’t.

K-beauty myth 2: Korean skincare is better than Western skincare

The myth: The South Korean cosmetics industry is so advanced, its technologies and research so cutting edge, that K-beauty products are inherently superior to their Western equivalents.

Who benefits from this myth:

  • The South Korean cosmetics industry, encouraged by the government to export its wares to foreign consumers (article gets bonus myth points for including the obligatory line about the “between 10 and 18 products” that “Korean women” use in a day)
  • Retailers, especially those with questionable curation abilities but a talent for driving the narrative and exploiting the innocence of consumers new to K-beauty

The reality: With the exception of sunscreens, prescription tretinoin, and (K-beauty-inspired) Holy Snails handmade products, everything in my sizable skincare stash is Korean. Even my current (and HG) body lotion is Korean. Obviously, I prefer Korean skincare products. But that’s not because Korean products are automatically “better.” There are great Korean products and okay Korean products and just plain terrible Korean products, and which products belong in each category varies wildly from person to person. I’m sure there are even people out there who love Missha sheet masks. I’ve never met one, but Missha keeps making those masks, so I assume someone is buying them and maybe enjoying them.

In my experience, what is superior about Korean skincare is the sheer variety of targeted options it offers. A perfect storm of economic and cultural factors, such as the South Korean government’s encouragement of cosmetic exports, the popularity of Korean cultural exports like K-pop and K-dramas, and the insistence on flawless skin that characterizes East Asian beauty standards, drives an extremely competitive cosmetics sector. It takes real dedication just to keep track of all the new releases (I’m lazy and also Hangul-illiterate, so I rely on Joan at Kinseng for product release announcements). Options exist for nearly every budget, skin issue, and ingredient fetish. Let’s say I want to repair existing sun damage with the goo of gently treated snails while slowing down future aging with a serum made from flower juice, all to be sealed in using a moisturizer formulated with traditional medicinal herbs. K-beauty lets me do exactly that. That’s what’s so great.

Asian skincare routine
Not a hypothetical example, by the way. Snail goo, flower juice, and traditional herbs all accounted for. Also bee glue, seaweed, sprout oil, and…uhhhhh…dairy.

Being Korean doesn’t automatically make a skincare product amazing, no more than being Asian automatically makes a person good at math. I should know. I, an Asian, am terrible at math. If  you’re already perfectly happy with a Western product, don’t feel compelled to replace it with a Korean one–there’s no guarantee the K-option will be better. Trying to fix something that ain’t broke isn’t as effective a use of your skincare budget as seeking out the things you can’t get elsewhere.

K-beauty myth 3: K-beauty is just a passing fad

The myth: This whole “Korean beauty” thing is just a trend. The hype will die down, and by this time next year, no one will even remember why they wanted to put snail goo on their faces. Korean skincare is the equivalent of mini buns and skinny brows for your face.

Who stands to benefit from this myth:

  • Non-Korean beauty brands pushed out of the spotlight and struggling to generate excitement despite being less than on-trend
  • Mainstream beauty journalists and bloggers who don’t cover, or don’t often cover, K-beauty

The reality as far as I can tellthough I’m not psychic and these are just observations, predictions, and opinions: Yes, the media hype will die down. Magazines and mainstream fashion and beauty websites won’t always cover K-beauty as the current Hot Thing That Hot People Do To Stay Hot. But there’s a big difference between reaching the natural end of the hype cycle and going away altogether. K-beauty isn’t going to disappear. Too many people have experienced too drastic an improvement in their skin thanks to Korean products. I think instead that K-beauty will settle into a more or less permanent position on beauty shelves and behind the shiny glass of cosmetics counters in the U.S.

Actually, to me, it looks like it already has. Sephora carries a pretty impressive number of Korean brands, though I agree with Tracy that the curation is all over the place. I suggest checking out Dr. Jart+ skincare and Too Cool For School makeup. Avoid May Coop Raw Sauce unless smearing concentrated, thickened perfume on your face is a thing you like to do and pass right over Tony Moly and It’s Skin–there are far more affordable ways to get your hands on low-end cosmetics than Sephora.

Sephora isn’t the only beauty chain in the K-beauty game, either. Ulta is testing the waters by selling Goodal online. They’ve got the Waterest Lasting Water Oil that I love!

Goodal Waterest Lasting Water Oil review

Ulta also carries a number of Leaders masks. The varieties appear to be Ulta exclusives, but if they’re anything like Leaders masks overall, I bet they’ll have excellent ingredients and produce consistently impressive results. And Ulta sells Whamisa, a brand previously only found at Glow Recipe! I did not enjoy the sea kelp sheet mask at all, but I’ve heard great things about their essences and creams and had great experiences with their hydrogel masks.

And let’s not forget Target, which has been carrying K-beauty for about two years now in the form of major Amore Pacific brand Laneige. Personally, I don’t love Laneige, whose highly fragranced products never work that well for me, but plenty of people do love the brand, especially their famous Water Sleeping Mask and BB cushions. If you’re shopping Target online, you can even gawk at a selection of Mizon products (though the pricing is ridiculous compared to getting Mizon from RoseRoseShop and other Korean shops).

My point is, if shelf space at major retail chains means anything, K-beauty has already come a long way in its journey to the mainstream here in the U.S.. Things that reach the mainstream stand a good chance of sticking around if they’ve got the quality to retain the customers. Many of these brands do. And even if K-beauty brands lose some of their current retail store shelf space, the category still has its expanding and also increasingly mainstream online presence to keep it going. Amazon has an entire Korean Beauty section*. Which is where most of my personal K-beauty budget goes, because I have no patience and like to order things from whomever will get them to me the fastest.

So, no. K-beauty isn’t just a passing fad that’s bound to fade into obscurity in a year’s time. The collective savvy business decisions and PR moves that brought Korean cosmetics into the Western consciousness wedged the door open as securely as a cinderblock; the vast selection of products and growing numbers of impressed consumers is keeping it open. I think Korean skincare is here to stay. Which is awesomeIf you’re curious about K-beauty but hesitant to try it out for fear that it’s just an empty fad, don’t be afraid! A product that’s intimidatingly unfamiliar now may turn out to be just what your skin needs, and unless it’s discontinued, you’ll probably be able to keep buying it for some time to come.

Continued in Part 2

What are some K-beauty myths or mysteries you want to discuss?


22 thoughts on “6 K-Beauty Myths to Chuck Like a Moldy Cream, Part 1

  1. Lol, I will fight you, I love the way raw sauce smells! Does it do anything? No. Do I use it everyday? No. But is it pretty AF? Yes!

    I agree with all of these, especially the hot trend for hot people to be hot-ness of kbeauty right now. Growing up French Beauty was the hot trend for.. Oh you get the idea. If you wanted to be beautiful, France was the place to figure out why. Now it’s Korea, it might be Peru in the next 10 years ago knows? Let’s just enjoy our 3 to 30 step routines now for what they are 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Thanks for this post! I am wondering about a specific kbeauty concern that I think? Is a myth but not sure. Its the one where people say you shouldn’t leave a sheet mask on too long because it will suck moisture out of your face. But I like to leave mine on as long as possible….what are your thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like to leave mine on as long as I can. I usually only take a sheet mask off when it feels kind of dry. No truth to the idea that it would suck moisturize out of your face as far as I know!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes this is what I do too, remove when starting to dry out. Depending on the mask it’ll sometimes stick to my upper lip a bit but it’s not like that’s because the mask is trying to…absorb my face? Everything feels hydrated so I am not sure where this myth came from! Thanks Fiddy!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Fabulous post! I’ll chime in with some of the K-Beauty myths that I’d like to dispel–apologies if these already are part of your Part II post. 🙂 And warning: long comment ahead.

    1) “Brands that are popular in South Korea are better than brands that are popular abroad.” I see this from time to time on the AB Reddit sub. The justification is often related to the belief that “Korean women have the best skin/are the most discerning consumers” (see myth #2 below). What this idea doesn’t take into account is that:

    a) A lot of the popular brands in Korea are popular because of marketing, especially celebrity endorsements, not necessarily because they’re better.

    b) There is not one monolithic Korean consumer block (just as there is no “black vote,” mainstream media, ugh!)–you have to break it down by demographics such as age, income, and location. I suspect that the same people buying popular Tony Moly and Etude House products in Korea are not the same people buying Sulwhasoo and Amore Pacific.

    c) Some of the brands popular in Korea are not even Korean.

    d) Ultimately, it’s about what’s best for your skin, not what’s popular anywhere. Brands like Cosrx which aren’t that popular in Korea but are popular on the AB Reddit sub are popular with Reddit users because they work and are affordable–not every Cosrx product works for me (looking at you, Low pH Cleanser that turned my face into an active volcano), but the point I want to make is that there are brands that are popular because they work, and brands that are popular because of marketing. Anyone who thinks that Cate Blanchett has gorgeous skin just from using SK-II (not K-Beauty, I know) is naive–see #2c below.

    2) “Korean women have the best skin/are the most discerning consumers.” I hear this a lot, especially from U.S. retailers who want to propagate the notion that K-Beauty is superior.

    a) Firstly, see #1b–let’s not make generalizations about ALL Korean women. I know Korean women (from Korea) who have great skin, and I know women from Korea who have very troubled skin. I know Korean women who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about skincare and haven’t heard of some of the (popular in Korea) brands that I mention to them. I’ve never been to Korea, so I’m basing this on the people I know who are from Korea who I’ve met in the U.S., China, or elsewhere. The women who care a lot about their skin and are discerning consumers are probably the most visible thanks to the media, including the online K-Beauty retailers.

    b) Let’s not forget about MEN. Yeah, men care about their skin too.

    c) My understanding is that dermatological procedures in Korea are a lot cheaper than they are in the U.S. (No idea how they compare to costs in other countries.) It seems that many people who are skin-conscious in Korea visit dermatologists more frequently and have more procedures done there. This is probably a big part of why some people seem to have really great skin (and this is also why celebrities, including non-AB celebrities, seem to have great skin). These procedures could range from facials to acid peels to laser treatments to more extensive surgical options. This is probably why over-the-counter acid products are less popular in Korea, as people can just visit the derm for an acid peel.

    So those are the two myths that really annoy me.

    Like you, most of my skincare routine is K-Beauty, with some exceptions–I’m exclusively using Japanese sunscreens for now, and I have a few T-Beauty products (aside from sheet masks) as part of my routine. I also have some Holy Snails products (though I view her stuff as AB, to be honest, though not necessarily K-Beauty) & am testing out an Ole Henriksen eye gel because I want results on my fine lines by my eyes and this product came highly recommended. And my makeup is very much a mix–I have a lot of Korean and Japanese and Taiwanese makeup, but I still like my Urban Decay and Tarte from time to time, Laura Mercier is still my best setting powder, and my Lancome brow pencil isn’t ever going to be replaced.

    Love your current list and look forward to Part 2!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. You’re welcome to quote some of my comment, though it was made before I was fully caffeinated, so reference at your own risk!! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Amen to all of these! I’m looking forward to what you’ll have in part two of the post. I think you hit the biggest ones in this one, but there are definitely others. Like that Korean skincare is only for women or that the brands that are super popular in the US are also the most popular in South Korea.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. omg I actually love the missha sheet masks with the more advanced looking pakaging (can’t remember the name.. the hyaluronic one is great!!)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this!! I actually just love your blog in general but I think these are so important to get out to people. Whenever I first get people to try Korean products it’s hard not to use most of these as selling points but in my opinion, my skin likes most Korean products better! I find most of the retailers (though not all! certainly not all) seem to put a lot more thought into what is going into the product. With many Western brands there can be so much fluff in the product! K-Beauty is what really made me start looking at the ingredients I was putting on and into my body 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I really enjoyed this post. I am new-ish to Asian beauty and K-beauty, but I’ve been trying to build a Korean-style regime with Western products. I think it’s important not to get caught up in the idea that Asian-qua-Asian is better the same way that those who don’t understand Asian beauty think that Asian products are inherently weird or even dangerous. But the philosophy behind caring for your skin above and beyond just fixing explicit problems is what I like the most.

    I sometimes wonder if the modern American desire for multi-tasking products or simplified skin care is a throwback to our Puritan days, in that it’s a virtue not to think about yourself too much. Just a thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a very intriguing thought and I think makes a lot of sense.

      From what I’ve observed–and I’m neither a cultural anthropologist nor a sociologist, so take it with a grain of salt–in general, American society places a premium on a certain “effortless,” “woke up like dis” look. Beauty is still valued, but for a large part of society, we’re not supposed to admit that we’ve spent much time or effort on it. It’s seen as frivolous, which does indeed seem pretty Puritanical. In East Asian societies, meanwhile, in general it’s expected that a person will put effort into their appearance. It’s seen as a virtue and in some places it’s even seen as bad manners to go out in public without makeup done.

      As a parallel, American culture in general emphasizes intrinsic ability (as in, you should pursue what you are naturally talented at) while East Asian culture in general emphasizes extrinsic effort (“talent” is less revered; effort and discipline are what is valued).

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I had no idea Target had been carrying k-beauty for so long! Someone on Reddit said they now carry MBD and Donkey Milk masks. When I first became intrigued with asian beauty, the only places I knew to buy were a few options on Amazon, YesStyle, and Gmarket, so it’s nice to see more US based companies selling asian beauty products, even if wildly marked up.

    Looking forward to part 2.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve kept a skin and hair journal for over a year and I’m not a blogger. (tee hee)

    I DO have arcane items like a silicon mask to wear over my sheet masks, silk cocoons, RF device and micro-needle rollers. My product arsenal is a mix of DIY elements using high quality/organic oils, charcoal and the like; many items are from Korea or manufacturer, others are more expensive mass market.

    Are you considering giving it a try? GOOD! Don’t be fooled by naysayers.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hey, there you have suggested some importent miths of beauty products as like as skin care products.but maximum people are not aware about these.some more Beauty Myths:
    1.Makeup causes acne.
    2.Hypoallergenic products are better for sensitive skin.
    3.Everybody needs an eye cream.
    4.Mineral oil is the worst skincare ingredient around.
    5.use the products you like, regardless of what they contain.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. well, I buy korean products since 2014 (not even close to the amount that you do tho o////o,) I was already late on the korean brands hit, and there are still a lot of blogs, a lot of places where to buy, and I don’t think this is going to slow down. I was pretty suprise when sephora started with the k-brands. (a little of mixed feelings tho )
    so, I agree. k-brands are going to stay on western countries :B


  12. Can you explain more about the Raw Sauce? I’m still learning to read ingredient list and I don’t see what makes it all that different. Thanks!


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