The beauty industry is alive and well in Korea. In the country that invented BB cream products range from the usual moisturisers, cleansers, and toners, all the way across the spectrum to skin whitening treatments, and fat reduction "hippo patches" for your thighs, stomach, and knees. You'll find it all on sale in stores across the country. The beauty industry sure knows how to prey on people's insecurities. Korea has had a surge in the rates of plastic surgery in recent years (check out this short doc featuring Gracie Neutral to learn more) as K-pop stars have more and more influence on beauty ideals. Beauty, make up, and skincare stores line the streets here and it seems that each brand has there own store; so, rather than finding Barry M products at Superdrug like we do in the UK, Barry M would have their own store selling a mix of beauty and skincare products.
Whilst the beauty industry as a whole makes me sad I couldn't help but want to get involved with this huge Korean trend on some level. Also, sometimes you just need toiletries y'know? One notable cruelty free brand that has made it across here from Europe is LUSH. They're huge here with almost as many stores in Seoul as there are in London. But what if you're looking for non imported cruelty free and vegan beauty products, can't afford LUSH's import prices, or just want to try some fun Korean products like sheet masks?
Well, it's tough, after a lot of searching in stores like Olive Young (Korea's Superdrug), tweeting at people, and e-mailing companies I stumbled upon Beyond who are on this list of cruelty free products. It was put together by a Korean animal rights group who I assume do their research thoroughly especially as the list is spilt into three categories including one for no animal testing, no animal ingredients, and no exporting to China, and another for no animal testing, possible animals ingredients, and no exporting to China. There was a third for no animal testing, possible animal ingredients, and exports to China but I discounted everything in that section as exporting to China means that animal testing is happening somewhere fo' sure. Here's a copy of 2015's list which has English written over the Korean to help you work out which category is which.
I visited more than a few Beyond stores in Seoul and my favourites are in Sinchon near Ewha Women's University (hop off the train at Sinchon and walk down the street towards Starbucks), and in the Coex mall (look for Beyond's name in Korean in the B section of the store finder). These stores had a higher concentration of products with English ingredients as well as a larger representation of Beyond's product range. These stores (and the Beyond stores I visited in Busan and Daegu) also sell sheet masks in single packs or packs of 10 whereas the Myongdong store really pushes people to buy 40 masks at a time. I got out of there with 20 for 9,500 Korean Won / £6.90 / $8 because I rummaged through some boxes at the back of the shop before they had a chance to package them up but I'd probably have chosen a wider variation if I'd known that it was possible.
Out of the two types of mask I tried, green tea and bamboo, the bamboo was my favourite. My skin's been getting super spotty lately thanks to constant climatic changes and using suncream a lot and the bamboo sheet mask has definitely helped. They also make you look like a serial killer from a scary movie if that's your idea of fun! I picked up the mini tube of moisturiser because the Beauty Without Cruelty one I ordered from iHerb whilst I was in Japan finally ran out and it's the perfect travel size. I also couldn't resist grabbing some Apple Mint cleansing tissues whist I was in there. They leave my skin feeling really refreshed on travel days and are a good back up on days when I can't be bothered to cleanse properly with LUSH's Dark Angels.
Beyond do use animal ingredients in some of their products so you'll need to know your shit before you start shopping. Things like honey and squalene will pop up and no vegan wants to be smearing that stuff all over their face.
One other notable Korean brand with a cruelty free status is Neogen whose parent company is the leaping bunny certified Outin Futures. Other brands produced under their name are RE:P and Code9. I didn't find any products by the last two brands anywhere in Seoul or Busan (maybe I wasn't looking hard enough?) but I did spot Neogen's award winning exfoliating pads in Olive Young. I'm not a full time beauty blogger but I do know that the leaping bunny certification doesn't mean that the product is vegan. The ingredient list on these looked okay to me but always double check - they were a little out of my price range so I didn't do any extra googling of ingredients.
Are you tempted to try Korean beauty products like sheet masks? Did you watch the Vice vid? What did you think? I find the idea of elective cosmetic plastic surgery so conflicting. I totally believe in a person's right to do as they wish with their bodies but there's something about changing yourself to fit in with social norms rather than standing up and smashing them that sits weirdly with my feminism. Equally don't most of us do that when we choose to shave our legs or armpits, buy face masks to try to get clearer skin, or put on make up before leaving the house? It's a tough one but I think it's a whole 'nother blog post kinda topic!