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The Secret to Korean Women’s Beauty

Hint: Look to nature for the ingredients for flawless skin
Jun Michael Park/Jun Michael Park Photography
by Anna Sohn
13 August 2013

Traditionally, for Korean women, makeup was not simply about becoming more beautiful, but about treating one’s body properly and cultivating both inner and outer beauty. Presented here is a brief history of Korean women’s skincare and cosmetics. Learn the secret of their flawless skin and try a few of their tips this summer to keep your skin healthy and beautiful.


In the past, Korean women made their own skincare products including everything from scrubs, lotions, creams, and oils. Ground mung beans were made into soap by blending the powder with water and lotions were made from the juice of plants1. Just as today, vitamin E was valued for its moisturizing properties and women applied oils such as Safflower oil, which was abundant in vitamin E, to their skin.


During the Joseon dynasty, Confucianism had a significant influence on women’s beauty routines2. A clean and soft face was considered beautiful due to Confucianism’s emphasis on thrift and modesty as well as on inner beauty rather than outer beauty. Typically, women from middle class families wore lighter makeup, focusing on having a clear and healthy-looking face. Even for special events such as weddings and feasts, they did not stray far from their natural appearance. On the other hand, gisaeng (female entertainers of the royal court) and court ladies wore much showier makeup that set all the latest beauty trends.

Korean women considered eyebrows one of their most important features and used eyebrow ink to emphasize them. During the Koryo dynasty, particularly with gisaeng, it was popular to draw thin, distinctive eyebrows while applying powder generously to make their faces pale and white.

Jun Michael Park/Jun Michael Park Photography


Traditionally, Korean makeup was made by hand with natural ingredients. Since modern preservatives were not available, women were concerned about their makeup deteriorating. Thus, they only made cosmetics in small quantities and stored them in small containers. During the Three Kingdoms period, dishes and bottles for holding cosmetics and lotions were made of earthenware. During the Koryo dynasty, containers were made from celadon and during the Joseon dynasty, white and blue porcelain were used.

A wooden mirror box that contained makeup was also indispensable in the makeup routine, in addition to diverse tools such as brushes for mixing and applying the many colored powders, eyebrow ink, and rouge that women wore.

Try it at home

Korean women are known for their glowing, natural-looking skin. Try the following popular face masks to refresh your skin this summer.


Cucumber mask

Cucumbers are packed with vitamins and antioxidants and this mask is especially good for restoring moisture to sunburned skin after a day at the beach.

1 cucumber, flour (20 grams)

Wash the cucumber and finely grate it
Mix 60 grams of the grated cucumber with 20 grams of flour
Optional: Add ½ tablespoon of honey into the mixture
Spread the mixture across your entire face, avoiding the eyes
Leave it on your face for 15 minutes and rinse off thoroughly

Potato mask

This potato mask is a favorite for its nourishing and brightening effects. It is also good for cleansing the skin of excess oil, so those with oily or blemished skin will especially love it.

1 potato, flour (12 grams)

Wash the potato and finely grate it
Mix 60 grams of the grated potato with 12 grams of flour
Optional: Add ½ tablespoon of honey into the mixture
Spread the mixture across your entire face, avoiding the eyes
Leave it on your face for 15 minutes and rinse off thoroughly 

Sheet mask

Sheet masks are a must-have item for Korean women for a quick pick-me-up or as part of an established routine to address skin needs. These cloth masks, with holes for your eyes and mouth, are infused with ingredients ranging from aloe to pearl extract and are sealed in individual packaging for one-time use. Visitors to Korea can find them at beauty stores including innisfree, THE FACE SHOP, and Olive Young. High-end beauty brands and department stores typically also carry specialized sheet masks.



1. Coreana Cosmetics Museum

2. Amore Pacific Gallery of Art