Are you a fan of K beauty? Although I’m Korean American, I haven’t used a lot of K beauty products in my life. My beauty memories consist of drug store brands (Wet n’ Wild! Cover Girl!) to Sephora to finally, my current mix of independent and mainstream cruelty-free vegan brands for skincare and color. It’s not that I was averse to K beauty exactly. But I definitely prioritize ease of access. On a subconscious level, I was not sold on the K beauty philosophy of more is more. I just don’t believe it’s necessary for women to spend so much time, money, and energy on 10+ separate products to be beautiful. That’s just skincare, not even including color makeup!
After a visit to Seoul, however, my heart (and eyes) have been opened. As I expected, so many women there had perfect, flawless, youthful skin. You gotta give credit where credit is due, these ladies know what they’re doing. But it was just as important for me to see that there are women walking around in Seoul without any visible makeup or patches on their acne. It was a relief to see that using K beauty doesn’t make me an automaton or a clone. People use what they like to use, skip others—and that is A-okay.
Finally, in Seoul my cousin gifted me a set of Sulwhasoo Concentrated Ginseng “Renewing Water Ex” and “Renewing Emulsion Ex” along with some travel-sized eye cream and essences. I have been using them for the past few months and my skin has been responding really well to it. (My mom has been using strictly Sunwhasoo for a couple decades now and swears it is the best for her sensitive skin.) I don’t see a dramatic improvement in my uneven tone (sunspots etc), but my skin feels healthy and hydrated and well-balanced, and much less prone to fine lines, which in itself is high praise. It all feels very functional. And Sulwhasoo claims to use botanical and herbal ingredients inspired traditional Korean medicine, with holistic beauty as a goal. All good! But unfortunately, the brand sells in China, and states in its FAQ that while products sold in North America are not tested on animals, that’s not the case for those markets that require animal testing by law. For me, this means I won’t buy it after my gifted products run out.
*Do note that the Korean Beauty Association states that since Korea doesn’t require animal testing, most K beauty brands don’t do it regardless of the official vegan label from places like PETA or Eve Vegan (a French certification body). So if a K beauty brand doesn’t sell in China, chances are good that it’s unofficially cruelty-free.
All of this did lead me to search for cruelty-free vegan K beauty brands. Fortunately, there is an abundance out there! According to the Korean Vegetarian Society, vegan population in Korea increased from 150,000 in 2008 to 1.5 million in 2018. The K beauty industry acknowledges the importance of veganism and sustainability, even just from a purely economical point of view. If you’re curious, the following brands are a great entry point.
Known for: luxurious, cult-status velvety lip products, 100% vegan ingredients, refusing to sell in China to maintain veganism (kudos!!)
I have been lusting after Dear Dahlia Dream Velvet Lip Mousse for at least a few years. It’s their cult product that combines vivid hues with a softly matte finish. As soon as I pan a few of my lipsticks (they are SO close to the end!!), this will be my reward.
Known for: PETA-approved, low-waste packaging, gentle and sensitive-skin-friendly
If you’re into K beauty but intimidated by multiple products, try this line by a Korean American founder. Deep Hydration Cream, Bamboo Serum, a Balancing Toner, and a Gel Cleanser make it easy for you to care for your skin.
Known for: luxurious zero-waste body, hair, and skin products, plastic bottle collection (Join The Circle) using electric vehicles, aromatherapy & organic ingredients
Rosemary Concentrated Essence
This brand offers a minimalist and eco aesthetic that feels like a soothing spa day. There are lots of single-ingredient mainstays like rose hip oil and tea tree oil, and rose-infused emulsions and toners.
Known for: being the most “mainstream” established vegan cruelty-free K beauty brand, lots of options
Melixir and Aromatica have a stripped down, elemental and minimalist feel—but if you’re craving the hyper-focused nature of most K beauty, check out Bonajour. You wanna try Peptide Water Cream? Or a Melting Glow Cream? What the heck is a water balm? My interest is piqued—and plus, the packaging is also eco-friendly.
Have you tried any of these vegan K beauty brands?
Photo: Peaceful Dumpling, Dear Dahlia, Aromatica