My idea of heaven? A city neighborhood (because you know I love my cities) where people are so obsessed with beauty products that sheet masks are handed out on the street. Can you imagine? Well, it’s not just my silly little fantasy—this place actually exists. And because South Korea is truly a meca for beauty, you'll find it in the heart of Seoul. It's a district called Myeong-dong.
Obviously, I had to explore this renowned beauty hub—along with some other 2-million people who find their way to the neighborhood everyday in search of world-class finds and amazing eats! A bustling 245 acres, almost every square inch is taken up by top fashion and beauty shops, their storefronts adorned with captivating pink and white neon lights.
I was lucky enough to get there before the world turned upside down. But since it’s likely none of us will be jaunting anywhere anytime soon (sigh), I thought you might appreciate a virtual tour, so to speak, to help you get your K-beauty fix from your couch. What's more, I brought back my favorite beauty souvenirs and added them to TheBeautySpy.com so you can try them, too!
Where to start? At the top of the main street, of course!
Get ready for your senses to go into overload. Here, you are surrounded by all of the major K-beauty brands, including Etude House, Clio, Nature Republic, Chosungah, Labiotte, IOPE, Innisfree, Moremo, Holika Holika, TonyMoly...the list goes on. There are so many inviting beauty storefronts in Myeong-dong, it’s difficult to decide where to go first. So why decide? Let’s just check out as much as we can!
First stop is Peripera, an adorable brand known for its fun and trendy makeup. So many of the brand's unique products go viral, and once you step inside its doors, you realize it’s no wonder why. The shop itself is an Instagrammer's dream: There are playful setups and perfect backdrops for your selfies, plus rows and rows of products you can't wait to get your hands on.
Most prominent are the coveted lip tints, which are loved for imparting intense color payoff. And because I’m a sucker for packaging, the limited-edition Mini Travel Car Kit ($19) has my heart skipping a beat; it's an adorable car-shaped tin filled with four of Peripera's most popular lip tints. Samples are plentiful, too, so you don’t leave this beauty store empty-handed even if you don’t drop your card. This place is F.U.N.
Next stop, Holika Holika! As you know, I'm an Instagram girl and love scrolling my feed to see the latest beauty posts. So it’s hard not to notice the thousands of hashtags associated with this brand. Their success seems to come from the cute packaging and their seriously effective formulations. The store in Myeong-dong, which was established by in 2010, is packed with women slathering on the latest collection of Good Cera, a collection of moisturizing creams with ceramides that moisturize the skin and help restore its protective properties. (That's one of the biggest perks here—you get to slather and play with the products!)
I was drawn to the bestselling Pig-Nose Clear Blackhead 3-Step Kit ($3.50). I know the name is insane, but hear me out. Enlarged pores drive me crazy (you too?) and it’s not easy to keep them clean. However, this three-part system is so simple, and it works. The first step is a thin sheet you lay over your nose; it softens the skin around pores so they're ready for blackhead extraction. Then, the second step is a sticky patch that contains gunk-lifting ingredients like charcoal and Moroccan clay, so when you peel it off, aaahhhhhhh! you see all the blackheads stuck to the strip. Lastly, you apply a gel patch to the area, which works to calm and tighten pores after the treatment. It’s like getting a spa facial from your bathroom.
I definitely am, which is not a problem in Myeong-dong. In fact, you could spend an entire day here eating, nevermind the shopping (as if). To take a break from all of the amazing stores and recharge for round two, you'll want to check out the food vendors, which line the streets with tasty treats on the weekend. You can truly find whatever you’re craving here, from dumplings and pancakes with sesame filling to stir-fried rice cakes, honey butter almonds, and a giant potato on a stick (aptly named the Tornado Potato). And because we all need a little sweet treat after a meal, you have to try what could arguably be the world’s prettiest dessert: the Rose Gelato by Milky Bee (shown above). It’s heaven!
Next stop: Glowing skin!
Lotte, a department store located at the far end of the main street, is a fashionista’s playground, showcasing brands from Gucci and Tom Ford to Louis Vuitton. But we headed straight to the beauty floor to check out Neogen’s latest innovation. The new Dermalogy Real Vita C Serum ($38) is next level, and you'll want to slather it everywhere. The silky serum contains 22 percent sodium ascorbyl phosphate, a stabilized source of vitamin C that the skin can easily absorb. I always struggle to get a vitamin C product that truly works, and this is a game-changer. The potent antioxidant brightens, firms, and evens out your complexion.
Some other notable finds here at Lotte are Nature Republic New Soothing Moisture Aloe Vera Gel ($7), formulated with a whopping 92 percent aloe and other botanicals for intense hydration. It's perfect for super-dry skin, which is always an issue after being on planes for hours. Dr. Tree’s Dear Loose Skin Plumping Gloss ($34) with patented Volufiline recruits fat cells where it’s applied, and it’s no joke! Your lips will feel smooth and look almost filler-full after you dab this on. For the eye area, check out BornTree Volumetox Eye Cream ($30). Packed with botanicals and peptides, it quickly absorbs into the skin and helps smooth out puffiness and reduce dark circles.
Finally, to see what magic we can find in hair care, head right to the SCAPES counter. I’m obsessed with the brand's APOTHEHAIR Hair Remedy ($25), made with traditional Korean herbs and ginseng. It makes my baby fine hair thicker and fuller, so I stock up on it whenever I can.
And now, we relax.
Exploring from one end of Myeong-dong’s main street, through the crowds and inside its most popular beauty stores, is exhausting! That means it’s time to head to Innisfree. This massive store features its collection of beauty products made from natural ingredients found on the Japanese island of Jeju. (The masks are beyond.) But most inviting is its café, which is totally Zen and a great place to relax, have a healthy meal, and wind down after the rush of your beauty tour.
There you have it. Myeong-dong in Seoul is a must stop for K-beauty.
About Chelsea Scott: Founder of The Beauty Spy, specializing in Asian beauty products and seen on HSN monthly, is an acclaimed beauty professional with more than 20 years of experience in product development and marketing. She has successfully represented beauty products in various countries for more than a decade, including HSN & TSC Canada. For more, follow her on Instagram, @chelseabeautyspy.
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