South Korea Beauty Shopping Guide

This may look familiar because I’ve re-purposed most of this content from a reddit post I made last year reviewing my shopping experiences in South Korea.

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A portion of my haul. Mostly duty free and drug store items.

What did I do? When did I go?

Seoul, Busan, Incheon Airport. This information may be somewhat dated as my trip was April 7-21, 2017 but I feel like my main takeaways are still the same. I’ve reviewed my shopping experiences in brick & mortar stores, local drug stores, duty free stores, and Incheon Airport, sales, and prior trip planning.

Prior Planning

Honestly I cannot stress this point enough. One of the most difficult aspects of AB/skincare as both a veteran and newcomer is the SHEER VOLUME of stores and products to try. I knew that to get the most bang for my buck, I would need to have a general idea of the products I wanted to buy and carry back. I started to create a basic spreadsheet but truthfully I knew the products I bought would be things already in my routine, things I’d tested from r/asianbeautyexchange and knew I wanted the full size, or items I knew I couldn’t find in America. In retrospect, several of the items could’ve been found or were introduced into US markets after we got back so I wish I wouldn’t have purchased.

  • It’s Skin Green Tea Watery Emulsion
  • Leaders and Mediheal Masks + masks in general
  • Dr Jart Ceramidin Liquid
  • Cosrx One Step Moisture Up Pads
  • Sulwahsoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask
  • Innisfree Aloe Revital Sleeping Pack
  • Etude House Zero Sebum Oil Cut Silky Essence (dupe for Zero Sebum Matte Gel which is what I was looking for)
  • Etude House Honey Cera Body Lotion
  •  Miscellaneous hand lotion
  • Miscellaneous Toners preferably from drugstores
  • Gifts for family, friends, and colleagues

Budgeting

This was an integral part of this process and I started saving for the trip costs about 7 months in advance. I would highly recommend (if you are able) setting up a separate travel/leisure checking account + auto deposit a fixed weekly/biweekly sum from your paycheck. I saved for my trip without even thinking about it and even had some left over for my next concert 😀 Looking back on when I originally created this, I definitely wish I would’ve used some of my travel money on beauty experiences in Seoul rather than just products! I seriously missed out on going to Sulwahsoo, clinics, and jimjilbangs…

Locations

Insadong (Misc Brick & Mortars, Olive Young):

We stayed in the Insadong historical area of Seoul and there are a good number of stores on the main street Insadong-gil including: Etude House, Too Cool For School, The Face Shop, Nature Republic, Missha, Innisfree, and Tony Moly. Around the corner on Jongno-gu, you’ll find two Olive Youngs, Daiso, Etude House, and I believe Aritaum. These starts blending towards Jonggak Avenue of Youth where you’ll find even more of the same shops and I think what felt like the largest Olive Young we went in.

Products Purchased:

  • Missha sunscreens had 1 +1 so my boyfriend and I hauled 18 for a little over $100. This will probably last us 1-2 years depending on if we gift any.
  • Cosrx One Step Moisture Up Pads (4)
  • Tony Moly Hand Cream (4)
  • Etude House Zero Sebum Oil Cut Silky Essence (dupe for Zero Sebum Matte Gel which is what I was looking for)
  • Etude House Honey Cera Body Lotion

 

Shinsegae Duty Free Busan:

We had a brief visit to Shinsegae on a guided tour of Eastern South Korea and one hour to shop. I knew that this was my time to get a lot of products that I probably wouldn’t want to be fussed with finding the stores in Seoul. I had my mental checklist and my BF so we were able to hit several vendors in under 45 minutes. They gave a ton of samples at Jayjun because the salesperson accidentally dumped a bunch of an emulsion on my hands (it came out much faster than either of us thought). Dr. Jart+ also gave a decent amount of samples which were perfect to give in my gift bags for colleagues and friends.

 

 

Products Purchased:

  • Jayjun Rose Blossom Masks (1)
  • Dr Jart Ceramidin Liquid (1)
  • Mediheal Wrinkle Smart Mask (1+1 deal)
  • Sulwahsoo Overnight Vitalizng Mask (2 for 72,000KRW)
  • the Saem Gold Snail Deep Wrinkle Plumper (1)

Myeongdong:

We visited Myeongdong as part of a guided tour so we only had about one hour to see the shops which is definitely not enough. We ended up going back for a longer visit but actually didn’t end up buying anything that time. Anyhow I knew that I wanted to hit it’s Skin, Mediheal, belif, and any other brands I knew from memory we didn’t have stateside. Mediheal was the stand out customer experience. I might be biased because they have my HG sheet mask but they were having a 50% off the whole store sale so naturally I purchased 50 sheet masks and my BF got a cleanser and emulsion (I think). The staff was so helpful, gave some cute samples (you spin a wheel to determin your sample) and the most fun is the free beverage at their café above the store 😀 So cute and the Flower Boy manning the bar was just so cute I was basically running around screaming and my BF/friends were like can you act like you’ve been somewhere or… but I digress. The coffee was excellent btw.

 

Products Purchased:

  • it’s skin green tea watery emulsion (2)
  • assorted Mediheal masks (50)

LOHBs

Not really a ton to say here. Customer service was fine and they mostly leave you alone at drug stores. They do give semi obnoxiously large samples like a cleanser foamer and a body scrub but I appreciate the thought.

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Products Purchased:

  • Papa Recipe Bombee Honey Masks
  • Huxley Secret of Sahara Toner extract
  • assorted lip masks for colleagues
  • assorted I’m Sorry For My Skin masks for colleagues (literally based this on the photo and their personalities lol)
  • Dr. G Barrier Activating Cream

 

Duty Free Shopping at Incheon International Airport:

PSA don’t buy if you are having a layover elsewhere because security will likely confiscate full size products even if they’re in the sealed bags; source: my Sulwahsoo was taken in Beijing

We had about 2 hours preflight to check out duty free so I decided to buy the Sulwahsoo Essential Duo set as a last purchase. My boyfriend got the Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Liquid that somehow didn’t get confiscated in Beijing even though my Sulwahsoo did and they had a store with the same exact products mere feet away but still pitched mine (can you tell I’m still salty?)

Products Purchased:

  • Sulwahsoo Essential Duo Set (1)
  • Leaders Amino Moisture Mask (1+1)

Key Takeaways

  1. Budget, budget, budget! Even though I was kinda going buckwild, I knew the number I should aim to stick to and ended up being maybe $15-20 over when it was all said and done.
  2. Planning ahead was super helpful because the volume and density of beauty stores is quite overwhelming. My boyfriend was so surprised by the number of the same stores that were just yards away from one another.
  3. Not buying just to buy stuff. We had to pack all of our shoes as carryons so we could make weight on the way back. I also brought a collapsible duffle bag which was our second free checked bag. I should’ve checked it and filled it with my suitcase items first because we let it go down the belt with a ton of room still left in it. Reflecting nearly a year later, I would’ve approached shopping completely differently, tried to find more indie brands and shops to visit instead of stockpiling.
  4. Take advantage of deals and understand if it’s actually a good one. I made sure to price check before coming to SK on Sulwahsoo and Dr.Jart+ the former being actually great deals whereas the latter was just fine.
  5. If it’s too overwhelming just leave the store and regroup. There were a few times I would walk in an establishment and just be shook by all the products and it took going back a few times to review what was there and get my bearings.
  6. Don’t be afraid to try new things! I purchased a Oolu by Dr. OhKims Ginseng Gold Mist at a ginseng market and bought some random things at LOHB that looked interesting but also met my skin concerns.

Have you travelled to South Korea? What was your shopping experience like?

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