In South Korea, Ulzzang is the word (pronounced ool-jang) used to describe an attractive face blessed with flawless skin; literally, it translates to "Best Face" and is a top compliment. Google the word, and you will find scores of suggestions on how to get that look right in terms of clothes, makeup, and even Instagram selfies. But for all the extraneous hype surrounding it, the underlying ethos of Ulzzang is about looking beautiful - naturally. It is about having a skincare routine and sticking to it religiously. While the word may not be familiar in our country, a growing number of Indians are turning into Asian skincare fans who can't rave enough about their snail mucin creams, double cleansing oils and rice water-infused sheet masks. Everyone here wants to look Ulzzang-- just like their favourite K-pop and K-drama stars.
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"There is a big shift happening in India towards Korean culture, and K-beauty has become a big part of the trend now," says Raisa Tolia, a marketing manager with Limese Connect, a platform that curates only Korean skincare and makeup brands for the Indian market. Founded in 2019 by a Korean--Dale Deugcheon Han-- who noticed a yawning gap between demand for K-beauty products and their supply in India, Limese Connect has seen an increased number of visitors to their site since covid. "The number of orders we get have definitely gone up, and the K-wave has helped too," Tolia says.
Cure for sure
Ritika Toshniwal's love for skincare was born out of need; she has highly sensitive skin. "Dry skin, acne, strawberry skin, you name it, and I have had it," says Toshniwal, who spent a large part of her growing-up years looking for solutions to cure her skin problems. "I'd spend a lot of time researching products and ingredients. I used to be a girl who used mainstream brands until they stopped working for me," she says. That was until she found The Face Shop and Innisfree on Nykaa. Today, Toshniwal is an Asian skincare loyalist, and she attributes it entirely to how effective the products are. "J-beauty and K-beauty products have been better alternatives for me. The Face Shop's Chia Seed Hydro Cream is the holy grail of face moisturizers for me. Muji's moisturizing milk is also really good", she gushes, adding, "Earlier, winters for me meant enduring dry skin. Now, I am practically glowing."
Nabanita Das, a marketing manager with an MNC and a skincare devotee, loves The Face Shop Calendula Essential Moisture Toner and is currently on the fourth bottle. "I can feel the difference it has made to my skin. I love its mild fragrance and its cute packaging too," says Das. But, for both Toshniwal and Das, the icing on the cake is that all the products offer great value for money. "We have customers coming to us looking for solutions for common issues like acne, oily skin, dehydrated skin and dullness. But, of course, once they see the benefits, they stick to the products," responds the belif India team to a questionnaire sent by Mint Lounge. The Korean beauty brand launched in India in 2019 and has gained a loyal following ever since.
Packed with goodness
If you had to round up a list of reasons why Asian skincare has got everyone hooked, the checklist would include the following: Use of natural and unusual ingredients, advanced research and innovation, affordability, and irresistible packaging.
"Unlike in India where we go looking for a solution after we have got a problem, in Korea and Japan, the focus is on providing preventative solutions. Their products aim to hydrate the skin and restore the skin barrier," says Bangalore-based dermatologist Sahana Shreenath. "A lot of the Asian beauty products have ingredients like hyaluronic acid, AHAs and vitamin C that aid in fibroblast proliferation. Fibroblast (mesenchymal cells) produces collagen, and so when you use products that increase your collagen quotient, you automatically get plump-looking, hydrated skin," says Shreenath. "Koreans like to look after themselves before something happens. It is about starting earlier so that you'll have better skin as you age," Tolia observes. The purity of ingredients – be it pumpkin, bee venom, egg, or peptides- is another reason why Shreenath thinks Asian skincare works.
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Gary Gauntt, executive director of Japanese beauty major DHC, launched in India in August. The company's global cult classic Deep Cleansing Oil ® is a prime example."It works for all skin types everywhere because of the consistent use of quality ingredients. The organic olive oil used in the product came from a family farm in Baena, Spain, from 1995 when we began producing it. Consistency is achieved by using the same ingredients over and over again," he iterates. belif only uses selected true herbs directly sourced from Scotland and excludes synthetic preservatives, dyes and fragrances. "While trends do have an influence on new product development, we believe in backing time-tested ingredients like Vitamin C, aloe and formulas," the India team says.
Routines for great skin
In both Japan and Korea, skincare is a lot like the tea ceremony in that there are steps that need to be perfectly followed. The 10-step skincare routine promises to endow the user with glass skin in Korea. There's also a five-step and seven-step routine. The general K-beauty routine involves using multiple products like oil and water-based cleansers; exfoliator; toner; serum, ampoule or essence; a sheet mask; eye cream; moisturizer; and sunscreen.
In Japan, things are a tad simpler. Fumi Manabe, a senior manager at DHC, elaborates. "The Japanese cherish the traditional double cleansing ritual that involves using an oil-based cleanser and a foaming cleanser to remove makeup and sweaty sebum before you head to sleep," says Manabe. Also, as she points out, Japanese women prefer to work their face wash into a lather – using their hands or a foaming mesh- before applying it to the face. "We believe doing this reduces damage to the skin. It is also extremely relaxing," she says.
Now, if these processes boggle you, Shreenath has a simple solution: Use sheet masks."Sheet masks have peptides in them which help hydrate and restore the skin barrier. They are good if you want an instant pick-me-up."