This might be a contradiction in terms as there are beauty shops literally all over Seoul…they are everywhere but still seeking out ones that are really worth a visit can be a little trickier. I am also focusing on places to discover Clean Korean Beauty brands. One slight problem with when discovering new brand in retailers here is that only some brands will have ingredients in English so unless you can read Korean you might need to research online to find out what is actually in the products.
Two tourist areas you may be visiting are Gangnam and myeongdong. They are about 40 mins apart by metro so not to be done on one day!
1st Area to explore: MYEONGDONG
This is the traditional mecca for beauty stores amongst this large maze of pedestrian streets. Lovely that there are no cars and you can stumble across all sorts of treasures but if you are looking for something in particular it is surprisingly hard to navigate!
A few must-see stores in Myeongdong…..
Not traditionally know for beauty, it is predominantly a fashion, accessories store but in this store they have a section on the ground floor dedicated to new beauty brands. There were quite a few interesting brands here and whilst the staff are not knowledgeable about the products you can feel rather intrepid discovering some of the latest brands even before they become trendy in Korea.
WHAMISA – Organic, natural, serious skincare using Korean traditional herbs
This is not a new brand it has been around since 2010. It is natural and organic and EWG verified. They have a very high content of organic ingredients. Star products are their multipurpose flower toners that act as a toner-serum
They have a UK website
Benton – affordable, clean Skincare with some typically Korean ingredients
you have always wanted to try a snail mask but like me weren’t so keen on all the other chemicals that came with it then Benton is a safer choice. Again a fairly established Korean brand but it is just starting to spread its wings internationally.
All products do not have PEGs, Silicone oils, artificial colours and synthetic fragrances and they use Eco cert natural preservatives. And they have PETA cruelty-free status.
The price positioning is very accessible and have a wide range of products. The Bee and Snail line using premium essence of snail secretion ferment filtrate packed with bee venom is one to try!
GEORGANIC – new, natural and very sleek
A brand I didn’t know before this last visit it means know organic’, ‘Getting know Organic’. I love their very clean, simple packaging and some of their products sounded very interesting – the Red Yeast Rice Foaming Cleanser is has 9 natural vegetable oils added to an enzyme obtained from rice fermented for 360 hours. They are sold in the EU on this site.
The ALAND store is tucked away: A-Land In Myeongdong, 30, Myeongdong 6-gil, Jung-gu
Although their formulations are not that Clean it is still a lovely store to visit. They have a colour matching wall where you can create your own palettes, there is a VR experience on the 2ndfloor where you can be transported to Jeju island and best of all in my opinion there is a great café with a yummy bento lunch box where you can sit in the window and overlook the hustle and bustle of myeongdong’s main strip.
Their products are formulated without Paraben, Animal products, Mineral oil, synthetic Colors or Imidazolidinyl urea but they still include ingredients like artificial fragrances as well as other synthetic ingredients that are widely thought to be questionable.
Olive Young Flagship
Olive young is a huge chain of beauty stores in Korea with over 1000 outlets so you should see them everywhere. This one in Myeongdong is their flagship and it is a pretty different experience to most of the stores – it’s two floors of beauty with a combination of local and foreign brands.
They have Skincare on the ground floor and makeup plus personal care and accessories on the 1st floor.
For clean international brands – Dr Bronners products for soaps, Red Seal toothpaste, local brands they have quite a range – it is fun to look at the sheer number of sheet masks here – rows and rows!
2nd Area to explore: GANGNAM
It is much easier to navigate than myeongdong in my opinion. There is one main street where you walk between two subway stations – Chicor is about a 5-min walk straight up the road after coming out of Gangnam Metro station Exit 10. I walked up to Shinnohyeon Metro station exit 3, crossed the road and came down the other side.
This chain is owned by Shinsegae a big department store chain. It has a more premium feeling quite like a large Sephora store with a good mix of international brands as well as local. This branch in Gangnam has a special section on the 2nd floor dedicated to new brands. I found several interesting cleaner brands here – Huxley, Farmacy, dear Klairs, Klavuu and a few interesting looking newbies in their dedicated section like Tomotokki is focused on using Green Science with ingredients from natural plants harvested from the garden particularly using beta carotene and vitamin A.
There are Aritaum stores all over Seoul, it is a chain store owned by the beauty giant AmorePacific where they showcase their own brands they have over 30 of them. But actually these stores have been struggling recently so are bringing in other brands outside of the Amore Pacific portfolio.
In the Gangnam flagship they have a section in the front where you can learn different things like colour mixing with a schedule for the day of all the activities you can learn about.
They also had a much more customer centric way of laying out the store great if you are not looking for a brand but a product type – Cleaners, Toners or specific problem like acne.
Clean Brands found there: P:rem, Commleof, Farmacy, Benton
The only disappointment in the Gangnam area is that Cree’mare whch was a niche beauty store with lots of clean beauty options has closed down.
There are soooo many beauty stores and brands in Seoul, it is a beauty junkie’s paradise and nightmare at the same time…you could never have a big enough suitcase for all the product you want to buy.
Some chain stores that will be worth a visit if you are beauty junkie and want to get a handle on K-Beauty – LOHBS, LALAVLA and as well as some international chains like Boots and Sephora is Opening in October too.
K-Beauty is focusing on natural ingredients – there are many brands on the shelves with this positioning. However, as a foreigner it is difficult to work out if the products are actually Clean because often the ingredients are not in English. Some brands advertise that a certain product or product line is EWG green – meaning all the ingredients are rated Green in EWG database. This is a good way to narrow down the field.