The NYLON Beauty Guide To Seoul
Aka the Korean beauty holy mecca
Peach & Lily's founder Alicia Yoon takes us on a beauty tour of Seoul, Korea. Join her as she shops for products and participates in the best self-care that the city has to offer.
A visit to Korea wouldn’t be complete without a proper beauty tour; after all, it’s considered to be one of the most exciting beauty meccas in the world, where you’ll find everything from high-tech skin bars, where you can pop into to for a lunchtime treatment, to stores filled with masks for every part of your body. To help guide you, I gathered up a thorough list of my favorite places to shop for K-beauty products and spas to visit. Just, don't go spending your money all in one place.
Where To Shop:
Watsons: I would describe this as a slightly more upscale 7-Eleven where you’ll find snacks, toiletries, and yes, beauty products. You’ll find Watsons all throughout Korea and filled with some interesting beauty brands. The best part is the price point. It’s usually great value.
Olive Young: This is one of the biggest beauty supply chain stores that you’ll likely spot in all of Seoul. Think: well-priced, drugstore-type beauty brands all in one place.
Lohbs: This is a beauty supply chain store with fewer locations than Olive Young, but it boasts a great assortment that also includes slightly higher-end products. You’ll also find a selection of inner beauty items like drinks and supplements that are intended to help with improving skin health. It has a clean décor and a well-laid-out store plan to make navigating different sections and brands easy.
Creemare: This is a beautifully decorated beauty and lifestyle shop that showcases plenty of natural brands. The space itself is a draw, with a mix of raw wood, marble, and bronze and a little corner table to examine your shopping haul or just to relax amidst greenery. It has a tightly edited but expansive assortment of beauty brands.
Chicor: Located in Gangnam and also in another city outside of Seoul, this store has a large assortment of all beauty categories. With poppy videos playing and a black-and-white décor with fun splashes of color, the store showcases trends and best-sellers.
Lotte Duty Free: A bit of a tourist trap, but if you want to find some of the best prices, the Duty Free shops will have great deals on many of the brands you’re seeing in the other stores. Standard department store décor (clean, white, and basic gondola-type displays), but you’ll see lots of K-pop star cutouts and famous faces modeling for many of the brands.
Department Stores: Galleria, Shinsegae, Lotte, and Hyundai are the big ones. The beauty floors, including the first floor, will have a good number of prestige and luxury beauty brands that you may not find in the beauty supply chain stores.
MyeongDong: This isn’t a store, but a general area to visit. I think of this as the Times Square of beauty. I like going at night as all the bright store lights dress this area up nicely. It’s about eight city blocks in sort of a 4x4 grid, but after a few blocks, you’ll notice the same stores appearing again. It gets crowded, hence the need for more than one location for each store. Fun fact: This area has one of the largest Olive Young flagship stores.
Garosugil: This means “tree-lined street” in Korean. This street is indeed tree-lined but also lined with cafes, small fashion boutiques, and plenty of multi-branded and individual brand beauty stores. A lot of beauty brands will build out fun “concept” stores that highlight the essence of their brand through experiential and all-out décor. Stroll around this area—don’t forget the side streets and the street parallel to the main Garosguil—and you’ll come across some of the prettiest and most innovative beauty concept stores, but you may get sidetracked by alluring cafes and well-lit boutiques with spot-on fashion trends.
Where To Treat Yourself
Shangpree: Estheticians come here fully trained, licensed, and with experience (for three years, they are paid full-time, but do not touch a client’s face until they are re-trained the Shangpree way). This special spa boasts clients who have been coming for decades, including many A-list celebrities and some of the most discerning and demanding clientele. But Shangpree always delivers with their proprietary treatments and techniques. Their mantra is that you’ll walk out with a glow from within for weeks and no irritation. This spa is women-only and gets booked up fast, so be sure to call and make an appointment in advance. Here’s a line created by their master estheticians and the spa director, who has a Ph.D. in cell biology and happens to be the person who actually creates the exam for licensure for estheticians in Korea.
Sulwhasoo: This beautiful spa is located in the brand's flagship store. The first thing you’ll notice is that this is a masterpiece of interior and architectural decor, with a floor-to-ceiling grid of gold poles, which looks somewhat like a gilded graph paper come to life in 3-D form. It's futuristic, luxe, and calming at the same time—their spa treatment can also be described the same way. Be prepared to walk out completely relaxed and feeling thoroughly pampered.
Skin Lab L: Do you sometimes wonder if an esthetician can really tell what’s going on with your skin by just looking at it? Skin Lab L addresses that head-on by having you first sit in a huge white lacquered chair (that is shaped like a face), to have a high-tech skin imaging device analyze your skin along with a list of specific ingredients that it could benefit from. You then walk over to the fun wall made up of what looks like beautiful IV drip bags filled with “pure awesomeness” and “amazing glow,” which are separated into categories like “Oily Skin,” “Acne,” “Anti-aging.” Next, you pick out what you need and also some supplemental ingredients that come in what look like syringes. You’re then given a condensed body massage, after which the contents of the IV drip bag and syringe are sprayed into your face using a nano oxygen spraying device; your skin drinks everything up. A vibrating face mask is then placed over your skin to further help with absorption. Finally, you're given an herbal drink that's been personalized for what your skin needs that day. And you walk out completely radiant, with a face that is hydrated and happy for days and days to come. You can also ask to get a facial in the backroom, where they do everything from facial pilates to intensive facial massages. Here’s one of their masks that shows the kind of innovation they conjure up.
Nail Tam 2 Na: Nails are big in Korea. While the no-makeup makeup look still reigns supreme here, nails are often blinged out and totally done up. Many of the shopping streets will also have nail salons. Most of them are completely capable of the most intricate nail art. However, if you want to go where the K-pop stars go, Nail Tam 2 Na is worth checking out for nails that will make a statement.