"Hey, your skin looks so matte," I said to a girlfriend. It was a passing remark but a look of doom flashed past her face. "Oh no, it's dry," she muttered. She goes through three to five skincare products in a day, namely the Son & Park beauty water, Missha Time Essence, Nature Republic Aqua Max, Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum, and a sleeping mask — all of these products happen to be South Korean origins, which, according to her, results in moisturised and dewy skin. Of all the possible skin trends, "Why dewy?", I asked. She replied, "beause it's moisturised, that's always healthy. I think it looks better when I see people with dewy skin."
The influx of South Korean popular culture has opened the floodgates to the country's unique beauty ideals. What it means to be beautiful has changed. What "healthy" skin means has changed as well.
She also mentioned that she was more influenced by South Korean culture. This was a sentiment shared by several friends in their mid-twenties as well. It was approximately four years ago when they switched up their beauty routines, in hopes of achieving the South Korean dewy skin trend.
All of these ladies had one common interest — K-pop. The popularity of South Korean entertainment could be traced back to 2002 and 2003, when the television series Winter Sonata and period drama Dae Jang Geum found its way to Singapore. Soon after, the second generation of K-pop bands made their debut. Amongst them were boy bands TVXQ, Super Junior, Big Bang, and girl bands such as Girls' Generation, and 2NE1.
These female stars had what was then called "porcelain skin" — incredibly fair but clear (blemish-free), translucent skin that literally had a glow or shine to it. It spawned a notorious 12-step skincare routine. Cosmetic products had to mirror this beauty ideal.
Take, for instance, the latest Layering Cover Cushion & Concealing Base from Laneige. The 24-year-old brand was one of the pioneers of the cushion compact foundation. Their latest iteration opens up to reveal two compartments, a concealer base on the left, and the foundation on the right. The liquid foundation was carefully designed to deliver a dewy finish. It stems from the four key ingredients — pearl pigments, Litchi (or lychee) skin extract, purified water from France, and Hydro-ion mineral water. The pearl serves two purposes. It brushes a subtle rosy tinge to the skin, and reflects light off the skin. The Litchi skin extract plays an anti-oxidant role here, while the two types of water moisturise the skin. Altogether, the cushion foundation promises "flawless and glowing complexion".
Despite being surrounded by friends enamoured with the South Korean beauty culture, I have never quite caught on with them. I took one of these compact cushions home, unfolded the instructions booklet, and peeled away the foil seals. "Step 1: Apply concealing base. Step 2: Apply layering cover cushion," the instructions wrote.
The concealer base seems light, so users are in full control to build up their own coverage. The foundation's texture resembles that of the Laneige sleeping mask — the formula stays on the skin for a couple of hours before it is fully absorbed. I thought it was great since I have dry skin, and the moisture keeps my skin hydrated throughout the day. Yet, I later found out that the foundation was supposed to behave a little differently. The moisture-ladened formulation was presumably designed for Seoul's harsh and dry winter. Seoul's weather can get so dry that it literally draws moisture out of the skin in an instant. The foundation, therefore, acts as a protective barrier — or amour for the skin. It has been a week since, and I could get used to dewy skin and this beauty status quo.
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