Korean Beauty Is Booming. Now What?

Skin Care

What comes next for K-beauty

It was love at first essence, that's how I'd describe my relationship with Korean beauty. My first introduction came almost five years ago by way of The Wanderlust Project, a blog run by Sheryl Donerson, a black American expat living in Asia. It was an uphill journey from there. I say uphill because though my interest was piqued—the innovations! The cute packaging! The convincing results!—accessibility was, at that point, nonexistent. I would read a review of a product, excited to get my hands on it, only to realize it wasn’t available in the U.S. unless I ordered from unreliable websites that didn’t guarantee you’d ever receive the product, let alone that it was legit. As with most long-distance relationships, it was a frustrating one. But, luckily, it got easier.

The mainstream popularity of K-beauty really began in 2014, when Urban Outfitters expanded its beauty selection with brands like Holika Holika, Mizon, and TonyMoly. I’d argue, though, that the boom really picked up speed when the mecca of beauty retailers, Sephora, began stocking K-beauty products in 2015. Now, select Macy’s and Nordstroms, along with Ulta, Ricky’s, and, most recently, CVS, all carry K-beauty items of some kind. (The latter boasts more than 100 products, one of the largest introductory hauls we’ve seen.)

On the whole, this is great news. Charlotte Cho of Soko Glam says this level of familiarity with K-beauty was her goal when she first founded her site in 2012. “Before Korean beauty, there was a gap between department store and luxury products and then drugstore products, and I think Korean beauty filled this gap in the middle,” she says. “It's caused brands to rethink their strategy and rethink how to make these products more accessible and fun. This is great for consumers.” And Christine Chang of Glow Recipe notes that this is the path the movement was meant to go down. And it truly is, but, as Reddit’s very popular Asian Beauty thread states, with great power comes great responsibility. 

If you trace the popularity of Korean beauty back to the beginning, you’ll find a whole bunch of skin-care products. The serums, face masks, toners, and cleansers are what Cho points to as the crux of people’s interest in the movement. “I think Korean beauty is a disruptor in the beauty industry because they’re allowing skin care to be more fun and accessible,” she says. “It’s not about one cleanser or one brand out there, it’s really about the whole philosophy behind it.” And the philosophy is a good one. Korean women’s approach to beauty is less about what makeup they’re swiping on their face to cover up blemishes, and more about what they're putting on to prevent those blemishes from even occurring. To that point, the products in the K-beauty space are some of the best and some of the most effective. But finding the ones that work amongst the white noise is a process, one that some Reddit users are worried isn’t at the forefront of retailers' concerns. One writes: “The only sort of downside I see is that [American consumers] only have access to certain products, and those products then get super hyped but in reality aren't a great representation of AB [Asian Beauty] products, and therefore people will write it off as a passing trend.” 

That's where curating comes in—something that both Cho and Chang prioritize when it comes to the products they choose for their respective companies. For Cho, she wants users coming to her site to feel like they’re in Korea, without having to pay for the plane ticket. She does that for you, by visiting the country numerous times throughout the year to get insight from beauty experts and makeup artists there. That, in turn, dictates what products she chooses to stock. She’s also an aesthetician, so what’s going into the products is also very high on her list. “Sometimes I don't even test the products when the ingredient list doesn't look good,” she says. “I want to make sure everyone has a great experience and actually see results because, if I go toward the gimmicky ingredients or the gimmicky products, they won't have a good experience and then they might think Korean beauty is not reliable.”

Chang has a similar approach. She and her partner, Sarah Lee, both come from beauty backgrounds and their site, specifically, focuses on “natural, harsh-free” products. She sees curation as a huge factor in helping the movement from falling into the overdone category. “I think curation is a big part of combatting oversaturation because, if we're constantly finding new, interesting brands and we can bring new, interesting technologies to the dialogue, it's never going to be oversaturated,” Chang tells us. “I think the issue is that when people see a certain category taking off, they want to jump into that category without a strong point of view, that's when oversaturation kind of happens.” 

Which brings us to the next concern: approachability. Access to products is one thing, but if it’s not paired with education, K-beauty can turn into an overwhelming beast that you'll, eventually, lose interest in taming. Informing customers about what a product does or how it works is fairly easy to do online, by way of how-to videos and digital explainers, but brick-and-mortar stores have to do a little more work. Donerson, who recently moved back stateside, relayed an experience she had recently that was particularly off-putting.

“I went to Ulta to ask about their Korean beauty section and the sales associates had no idea what I was talking about. I asked if they had any cleansing balms or oils, two popular Korean beauty-associated products, that brands from other countries also make, and again, blank stares,” she tells us. “I was really surprised at the lack of knowledge. I finally found their selection, and it was pitifully small and really underwhelming, with nothing to indicate that it was Korean or any different from any of the other products they had in the store. I feel like you'd already have to be a K-beauty fan to know what to buy.” 

For someone like Donerson, who is more well-versed than most, she’s still able to determine the good from the bad on her own but, she says, she worries about the people who are just getting started. The interest is there, she says, but the understanding is lagging behind. “The future of K-Beauty involves more expansion and more education about their products and why they are effective. I don't think that's translated well to the average consumer,” Donerson says. “I think people who are interested in skin care and beauty are being courted, but the average woman trying to buy a new cleanser from Target is going to have no idea what Missha or Laneige is.” On top of informing salespeople about products, she suggests that traditional advertising—in magazines and beyond—could be helpful in reaching customers. Go where they already are, but come armed with information, too. 

I made the argument over a year ago that the K-beauty movement isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and it holds more weight today than it did then. But this might be the rare case when strength in numbers can, perhaps, do more harm than good if not approached with care. All of this isn’t to say K-beauty is at risk of failing, it’s really quite the opposite,  but there's a lot of potential for even more growth. Ultimately, when the dust surrounding the boom settles, the tried-and-true brands that take the time to curate products and inform, both themselves and their customers, will be the ones that rise to the top. 

Four years after my first love affair with essence, I'll be spending five hours in Korea this summer during a layover. It's not lost on me how ironic it is that I'll be traveling 15 hours to gain access to a lot of the same products, now, available a mere 15 minutes from my apartment. And, like a true K-beauty devotee, I plan on taking full advantage of all there is to offer, everywhere I can find it.  

Photo by Imani Givertz

Premiering today via NYLON

Small Talks, aka Cayley Spivey, has come a long way since starting a band, then becoming the entire band herself and forging her own fan base from the ground up. On her recent album A Conversation Between Us, she began to unpack any lingering baggage with one particular song: "Teeth." Today, she premieres the accompanying music video exclusively via NYLON.

"'Teeth' is about my personal battle with letting go of the past," Spivey tells NYLON, admitting that it's easily her favorite song off of A Conversation Between Us.

Watch the video for "Teeth" below.

Small Talks - Teeth (Official Music Video) - YouTube

Photos by Joe Maher/Getty Images, Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for TIME

Must have been pretty awkward

Taylor Swift and Sophie Turner were guests on the U.K.'s The Graham Norton Show together, which must have been awkward for Turner's husband, Joe Jonas, seeing as he also happens to be Swift's ex. I wonder if his name came up?

The interview doesn't come out until Friday night, but promotional photos show the two sharing a couch. Swift is making an appearance to perform her new single, "ME!" while Turner is promoting her new film, X- Men: Dark Phoenix. But it seems necessary for the two to be asked about Jonas.

Swift was just on the Ellen DeGeneres Show earlier this month, where she brought up the fact that she felt bad for putting Jonas "on blast" on DeGeneres' show back in 2008 by telling the audience that he broke up with her in a record-setting short phone call. But, according to Swift, she and Jonas are chill now, since it happened pretty long ago, which means she's probably already hung out with Turner and maybe even gossiped about him with her.

We can only hope that they get the chance to spill some tea on television.

Screenshot via YouTube, Photo Courtesy of HBO

"That's! His! Auntie!"

Leslie Jones has rewatched the Game of Thrones finale with a beer in hand, Seth Meyers at her side, and a full camera crew ready to take in all her glorious reactions. Spoilers ahead, but, if you haven't watched last week's episode already, that's kind of on you at this point.

When Jon Snow started to make out with Daenerys, also known as his aunt, only to stab her through the chest moments later, it was emotional whiplash for everyone watching. And, Jones' reactions—both from her first and second viewing—sum it all perfectly.

"That's! His! Auntie! [gagging noises]," Jones says before making an aside about calling the police if her uncle ever tried to do the same. But then the knife goes in, and Jones screams. "Did you see that?!" Jones asks, "Yeah bitch, that's a knife in you." Meyers points out the funniest part of all: "Why are you so upset about someone kissing their aunt but totally fine with someone killing their aunt?" Jones replies, "Because that bitch needed to go," and, well, same.

Other highlights from the comedians' rewatch include comparing Dany's victory speech to a bad improv gig, predicting that their dogs would have less of a reaction to their deaths than Drogon did to his mother's, and more.

Watch all of Jones' reactions from this Late Night clip below.

Game of Jones: Leslie Jones and Seth Watch Game of Thrones' Series Finale

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These lyrics are a lot

Robbie Tripp, aka Curvy Wife Guy, is back with a music video, titled "Chubby Sexy," starring his wife and a trio of models. In it, Tripp raps about his bold choice to find women with an average body size attractive.

The video begins with a series of statements laid over some pool water: "Curves are the new high fashion," "Chubby is the new sexy," "We Out Here." Tripp posits that these queens deserve an anthem, which they do. What they do not deserve is this Cursed Song. As he lists all the names he knows to call them by (thick, thicc, and BBW), one model (who I really, really hope was paid well) squirts some lotion down her cleavage, and Tripp begins dancing.

"My girl chubby sexy/ Call her bonita gordita," Tripp states in his chorus, before going on to compare "big booty meat" to the peach emoji. Another thing he mentions is that his wife can't find a belt that fits her waist, and that's why he calls her James and the Giant Peach. He then tries to dab. Here are some of the other Cursed highlights from his, uh, verses:

Got those Khaleesi curves/ Knows how to dragon slay
She like a dude that's woke/ We like a girl that's weighty
Some say a chubby girl that's risky/ But they ain't met a curvy girl that's frisky
Imma dunk that donk like I'm Andrew Wiggins.
Thick like an Amazon/ Built like Big Ben.

Tripp says one thing in the video that I couldn't agree more with: "She don't need a man." No, she does not. Please run. If you must, watch the entire video, below. Or send it to your nemesis!

Robbie Tripp - Chubby Sexy (Official Music Video)

Photo by Emma McIntyre / Getty Images.

See the promo here

It was bound to happen. The Kadashians and Jenners have committed themselves to letting the cameras roll on their lives, for better or for worse. So if you thought that the Jordyn Woods and Tristan Thompson cheating scandal was off limits, you thought wrong. The trailer for Sunday's episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians was just released, and it involves the famous family working through the fallout of what happened when Woods went to a party at Thompson's house.

The teaser includes the infamous clip of Khloé Kardashian screaming "LIAAAARRRRRR." It's still not explicitly clear who prompted that strong response. She could be responding to Thompson, who clearly isn't always honest. Or she could be reacting to Woods account of the events on Red Table Talk. But the most revealing moment comes when we see Kylie Jenner—who was Woods' best friend before all of this happened—react for the first time.

In a heart-to-heart conversation, momager Kris Jenner says, "For you and Jordyn, it's like a divorce." Kylie only offers this in response: "She fucked up." Based on Woods' version of events—which I'm inclined to believeThompson is the one who fucked up. Still, I'm hoping for some kind of reconciliation between the two longtime friends. Perhaps we'll have to wait until next season for that.

Check out the promo video below.