Seoul rises as beauty destination

By Lee Woo-young
  • Published : Oct 5, 2012 - 20:31
  • Updated : Oct 5, 2012 - 20:32

Beauty salons, makeup classes draw foreign residents and travelers who want to try Korean celebrity style

Driven by the popularity of Korean pop music around the world, Korean beauty and style are becoming sought after by young women around the world.

They buy Korean cosmetics and follow makeup routines on YouTube to emulate the sophisticated looks of Korean actresses or charismatic style of K-pop singers.

An easy way for them to learn Korean beauty secrets is to follow makeup gurus on YouTube who teach makeup and hair styling step-by-step. But some visit famous beauty salons in Seoul or attend makeup classes while they travel or stay in the country.

Last week, about 60 young foreign women from more than 10 countries gathered at a cultural center in Myeong-dong, one of the biggest shopping districts in Seoul, to attend the new makeup class conducted by the Korean cosmetic brand Etude. 
Foreign participants watch a makeup artist demonstrate tips to create a doll-like look at the Seoul Global Culture and Tourism Center in Myeong-dong, Seoul, last week. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

Their eyes lit up as the makeup artist started demonstrating makeup tips to create a lovely doll look.

“I like Korean style because when I watch TV dramas and singers (they) all look pretty. It looks lovely and cute ― different from the makeup style in Peru, which is strong and sexy,” said Irene Martinez, 23, who studies public administration at Yonsei University on a government scholarship.

Kessy Hamann, 24, who studies in Seoul on an exchange student program agreed: “It’s different from German style too because here it’s more pinkish and girly.”

Asian women, who made up the majority of the class, seemed to find the routines more useful in burnishing their images.

“I want to know how to draw eye lines and conceal flaws on my skin,” said Jin Ying, 27, who studies Korean language in Seoul.

“Not many girls wear makeup in China. But here in Korea, people wear makeup all the time. I came here to learn the Korean style I saw on TV dramas,” she said.

Hong Shin-hye, a marketing manager of the cosmetic brand Etude, thinks many foreign women like the Korean style because it emphasizes an effortless and natural look that accentuates positive features and keeps skin flawless and translucent.

“I think part of the reason that K-pop stars gain so much popularity has to do with the makeup. And if it weren’t for hallyu, Korean style wouldn’t be able to gain much attention,” said Hong.

Beauty salons as popular tourist destinations

Thanks to the growing popularity of Korean style, more foreign tourists are visiting local beauty salons and cosmetic surgery clinics for an expert touch.

Soonsoo, a beauty salon in the affluent Seoul district of Gangnam, has seen a surge in foreign tourists lately.

“There are two different fans: those who come to meet their favorite stars and those who just visit to try a Korean style they saw on TV dramas,” said Hong Ju-yeon, the PR manager of the salon, which is well known for styling K-pop stars such as Kim Hyun-jung, Girls’ Generation and CN Blue.

“Now more people spend a day at the salon during their trip to Seoul and receive a total makeover service ― from makeup to hair and fashion,” Hong said.

Sometimes, a makeover stretches to surgery.

B&A Clinic, a cosmetic surgery and dermatologist clinic in Gangnam, is popular with foreign visitors for its image consultation and a total makeover program that involves cosmetic surgery and dermatological services.

“About 30 percent of our customers are foreigners, mostly from countries like China, Indonesia and Malaysia. They usually come for the image consultation service to improve their images like that of K-pop stars,” said Han Gyu-ri, director of the clinic.

“They don’t follow the Korean style 100 percent, but rather they mix it with the styles of their countries,” said Han, adding that aspiring singers from abroad also visit for its reputation as the image-making service used by S.M. Entertainment stars.

Amid the growing popularity of Korean style, hair salons and cosmetic surgery clinics are working with travel agents and create beauty tourism packages.

Ra Beauty Core, a beauty salon that offers hair and makeup services, released the “K-style Tour Package” in July to offer a total styling service.

It includes styling consultations on all aspects of beauty, from hair, fashion and skin care to cosmetic surgery during a four-day stay. Ra Beauty Core launched the package through 15 travel agents in major cities in China and plans to expand it to Hong Kong and Taiwan.

So far, about 20 tourists visited the salon, according to Park Chan-yoon, a manager at the Cheongdam-dong salon.

More beauty salons and cosmetic surgery clinics are following in the footsteps of Ra Beauty Core. Soonsoo is also thinking of teaming up with travel agents and other beauty companies to create a travel package that offers styling services for foreign customers.

“We get many requests from travel agents, companies in the beauty and wedding sectors to create our own systematized beauty service. We are in the middle of consulting with them,” said Hong of Soonsoo.

The Korean style applies not just to everyday style, but to the wedding look as well.

A Korean bridal style is quickly becoming popular among Asian women, especially Chinese women, for its sophisticated and natural look.

“An average of five to six couples (a month) visit Soonsoo for a Korean bridal look and wedding photo shoot,” said Hong.

Park of Ra Beauty Core predicts wedding programs will soon be the most popular beauty program among foreigners.

“It’s becoming a popular trend among Chinese and Southeast Asian brides to shoot wedding photos in Korean style,” said Park.

“It’s a big opportunity as the wedding programs make up 30 percent of sales at our salon,” Park added.

By Lee Woo-young (