14 Cult K-Beauty Brands That We Wish Were Here In Singapore

By Amelia Tan

You don’t even need to be a k-beauty fan to acknowledge its strong influence in the world of beauty, and quite frankly, we’re glad that there’s so much buzz about what’s happening this side of the world. Asian pride and all, right? See, the appeal of Korean beauty isn’t just about the marketing efforts of their pop idols (though that does get the word out), but also in how innovative it gets, often with technology or products that are light years ahead of established Western beauty brands.

There’s obviously a lot of emphasis on healthy skin, which is seen as the base of all good makeup. That’s kinda expected, from a culture that popularised layering your skincare and a meticulous 10-step regime that still continues to confound us, or products that incorporate sophisticated fermentation methods and sometimes baffling unorthodox formulas — think snail creams you slather on your face. And while the US is still grappling with the idea of serum-soaked cotton sheet masks, South Korea’s already making commonplace far more advanced hydrogel masks, ampoule boosts, and rubber masks. Do we even need to talk about the cushion compact?!

 

So imagine my excitement during a recent trip to Seoul. A quick trip to the LOTTE Duty Free Store at World Tower confirms that South Korea is really the hub of all things beauty, especially when it comes to these raved-about beauty brands that I wish had a bigger presence in Singapore.

 

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Lotte DFS World Tower ; VDL & PONY EFFECT counters
When you think of where to make all your beauty purchases in Seoul, you’d think Myeongdong, the main shopping hub. And I wouldn’t blame you! It’s exciting to explore the tiny lanes, and you can spend hours just swatching makeup  (definitely guilty of that). But what if you’re the kind of shopper who’s pressed for time, who knows exactly what you want, thanks to your brilliant pre-trip research? Here’s a better option.

Save your legwork for the theme parks, and head straight to a LOTTE Duty Free Store. It’s really a one-stop shop with everything you need, under one spacious roof. And there a few outlets to choose from too — there’s one right in the middle of Myeongdong, though we went for the newer (and less crowded) one at LOTTE World Tower Mall, situated at Gangnam and just beside the LOTTE World theme park.

 

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Lotte DFS World Tower ; Nature Republic, Papa Recipe, Banila Co. counters

 

Stay tuned to find out how best to maximise your trip there — but first, here are the k-beauty brands you’ll need to zoom straight to, at least I would!


MAKEUP

Or, some of the most exciting things to look at.

1. VDL

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VDL Lumilayer Primer Fresh, USD19Lumilayer Primer, USD18 ; Lumilayer Primer Aqua, USD21

I first heard about this cosmetics brand when my colleague was raving about the VDL Lumilayer Primer, when the brand was still available here. At the time, I was still thinking, are primers really necessary in my life?! My goal’s always to look like I’ve done a lot for way less, so I was wary to introduce a new step into my makeup regime — until I tried this for myself. VDL’s star product goes on lightweight and smooth, helps my makeup last a tad bit longer, while also with a subtle shimmer that gives off a nice radiance, making my skin look like it’s glowing from within. Seriously, not oily, but #lit. That k-beauty dewy glow is real. There’s now a “Fresh” version that smoothens the skin, as well as a hydrating “Aqua” version that’s part of their ever-popular Pantone collection.

 

2. PONY EFFECT

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PONY EFFECT Limitless Master Eye Palette Chapter 1, USD74Stayfit Matte Lip Colour, USD16Everlasting Cushion Foundation, USD32

Any major beauty junkie would have heard of PONY, the YouTube beauty personality with a fanbase that’s currently 3.9 million strong, and counting, and even if you don’t know who she is, you’ll know this: she’s the face of those amazing makeup transformation videos that went viral on the Internet — imagine, an Asian girl uncannily resembling Taylor Swift! She obviously has other credentials to her name — being the celebrity makeup artist for CL for instance, or squaring off with Bella Hadid in a makeup challenge with Dior — which all point to the inevitable, her own popular line of makeup, PONY EFFECT.

There’s seriously so much in the product range, all glittering in millennial rose gold, that I was spoilt for choice. The cushion foundation, housed in a unique square box, certainly looks promising, as does the raved-about foundation. There’s a great dupe option in the Pebble Blender, while I would also pick up one of many eyeshadow palettes, which have earned praise for their intensely pigmented and velvety-soft shades. If I could only splurge on one item though? The matte lipstick, no doubt about it!

 

3. 16Brand

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16Brand Brickit Shadow Hit 10 Choco ; Finger Pen Lip & Cheek, USD11 ; Pen Tint, USD9

I could not walk past this counter without stopping by to swatch something. The brand is trendy and eye-catching alright, with one very important factor: the packaging. And okay, it’s really affordable too! There’s an entire eyeshadow palette housed in a chocolate bar (sounds familiar, I know) filled with shimmery nude-pink shades for k-beauty’s girly eyeshadow aesthetic, or a series that’ll leave you obsessed, because they look exactly like the markers and highlighters we used to carry around all the time in school. These come with a touch of innovation — the Finger Pen’s actually a lip & cheek tint, with a soft round sponge at the tip that dispenses and helps blend the sheer shades, while the highlighter-looking Pen Tint gives that just-bitten gradient lip effect.

 

4. Banila Co.

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Banila Co. Eyecrush Spangle Pigment, USD7 ; Lipdraw Melting Serum Stick, USD10 ; Liplike Lipslip, USD13

The world’s in love with Banila Co.’s  award-winning Clean It Zero, and true enough, I went home with a fresh new tub of the cleansing balm too. It easily melts off your makeup, even troublesome waterproof ones, and leaves my skin soft after, enough said! What’s not as readily found in Singapore or known here though, is the brand’s impressive array of makeup. They mostly fit in with their philosophy of clean skin, with simple products in clean packaging that are meant to enhance your natural beauty. Think lightweight cheek tints, fuss-free eyeshadow bricks, or lip products that go on light and subdued, giving you your best MLBB moment.

 

5. Espoir

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Espoir Dewy Face Glow, USD19 ; Pure Radiance Glowrizer, USD24 ; Pro Tailor Foundation Be Glow, USD32

If you’re “all about that base”, how about giving Espoir’s base makeup a go? The foundation’s a clear best-selling frontrunner for its smooth application and look, while the Pure Radiance Glowrizer’s another gem too — the primer has these round balls that contain pearl pigments and a moisturising essence, which prep and prime your face, and enhances its glow with a subtle radiance. The brand has a more OL aesthetic certainly, but that means only the best things; their product range is sophisticated and professional, great for everything from chic everyday makeup, to a glamorous look you’ll want to pull up at events with.

 

6. 3CE

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3CE Maison Kitsuné Lip Balm, USD13 ; Mini Brush Kit, USD46

Don’t worry, this is not a glitch; I’m fully aware that we have 3CE in Sephora here, but do we ever get their limited-edition collections? Once, I was so obsessed with their Polly Pocket-style Love 3CE Collection, that I went desperately searching online for Airfrov options, while praying and hoping for the off-chance that Stylenanda would have free worldwide shipping. Because millennial obsession with nostalgia, duh! Same for the stylish Maison Kitsuné collection, a collab with the French-chic label that’s stamped with their signature fox emblems and logos, complete with lip balms or cheek tints in tiny tins that make them very easy to slip into tiny purses. Go ahead and wait for them to arrive on our shores never — I’d rather get my fix straight from Seoul!

 

7. The Saem

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The Saem Gold Snail Deep Wrinkle Plumper, USD42 ; Urban Eco Harakeke Toner ; Cover Perfection Tip Concealer, USD13 for 3 ; Chocopie Hand Cream, USD14 for 3

Confession: I don’t know how to pronounce the name of this brand. Google says it’s “the-sam”, but I’m not entirely convinced… What I do know though is that The Saem is a unique brand that’s strong in both skincare and makeup — whether it’s eco products with potent natural ingredients sourced from the best parts of the world, or cosmetics in playful packaging that are still proven effective.

The Lotte DFS inventory sees 181 items across various product categories! It could be a well-loved concealer, a quirky hand cream in the shape of Chocopie, or a skincare range that highlights the moisturising and soothing properties of the lesser-known harakeke plant from New Zealand. What the beauty advisor said the best-selling product though was this: the snail-based deep wrinkle plumper! It looks like a scary syringe, but really has a soft silicone tip that allows you to dispense and massage the gel cream into specific wrinkle-prone areas. Anyone willing to try that out?

 

SKINCARE

For the original “no makeup” makeup look.

 

8. O HUI

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O HUI The First Cell Revolution Ampoule, USD295 ; O HUI Miracle Aqua Range

Granted, this is a luxury brand, which might be intimidating for some, but it’s the first counter I spotted when I entered, with its pristine ampoule bottle sitting on its gleaming, gold pedestal, so of course I was intrigued. You pay a premium for the technology, and this means anti-ageing science and proprietary Stem Cell Technology that delivers on that youthful promise, in the most rich and sophisticated formulas. The ampoule though, is part of their The First Cell Revolution programme, and is a highly enriched booster that stimulates the skin, activates skin metabolism, and fixes dryness and loss of elasticity, all while containing 24k gold. That’s not really part of my skincare concerns (or price range) at the moment, but you can consider this is a gift for your mom!

 

9. Mediheal

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Mediheal x BTS Moisturizing Care Masks, USD23 ; LINE FRIENDS NMF Aquaring Ampoule Mask, USD25

Moving on to something more affordable — masks! I’m aware that these are available at Watsons too, but they might not carry all the exclusive collaborations as quickly as they’re out in South Korea. And boy, does this brand have lots of collaborations! If you ever need convincing that boybands sell, then look to their BTS collection masks, where you’ll be able to get the glowing and flawless complexions of the good-looking boys, and keep the packaging after. Obsessive fans, you know? Just as well, LINE FRIENDS characters make an appearance too, and even though I don’t have a particular affinity for them, I can vouch for the masks — the ampoule formula is great for an added boost, while hyaluronic acid and ceramide give you the hydrated, skin-plumping effect you need to pamper yourself after a long day.

 

10. JM Solution

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JM Solution Vita Cocoon Mesh Tightening Mask, USD100 (3+2)

Do I dare to splurge on these masks though? They do look fancy. Are they ridiculously expensive though? Not really! With the bundle deal that gives you 5 packs at a go, each pack comes off to less than SGD30 for a pack of 10 masks, which is okay given that these are the super advanced ones we’ve come to expect from South Korea. The best-selling Vita Cocoon Mesh Tightening Mask alone deserves all its praise; it’s a whitening and lifting mesh mask that contains 8 kinds of vitamins, embedded in a thin mesh that best ensures all the essence is fully absorbed into your skin.

 

11. Papa Recipe

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Papa Recipe Gold Holic Royal Peel Off Pack USD41 (2+1) ; Bombee Honey Mask Set, USD75 (3+1) ; Bombee Rose Gold Honey Mask Set, USD67 (4+1)

The brand with all the buzz, Papa Recipe, is best known for their honey masks, which are packed with nutrients that help to enrich the skin, as well as protect and prevent skin irritants. I don’t think it’s good enough to drink, but it’s comforting to know that this k-beauty wonder focuses on natural, cruelty-free ingredients without artificial fragrances, parabens or sulphates — in fact, the mask is made only with organic ingredients without artificial preservatives, which makes it safe for even those with sensitive skin. For something that’s not as readily found in Singapore, I’d pick up the peel-off pack too, simply because metallic masks are such a trend now; what this does is have your face glam for the ‘gram, while leaving your skin nice and soft after you peel it off.

 

12. Nature Republic

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Nature Republic Foam Cleanser ; Cleansing Gel Foam, USD11Soothing & Moisture Aloe Vera Soothing Gel, USD21 for 6

If there’s one thing you’ve heard about from this skincare brand, it’s Nature Republic’s Soothing & Moisture Aloe Vera Soothing Gel. We all know aloe vera for its soothing properties — I mean, it’s right there in the name! — and it’s great for all skin types too, especially sensitive ones. The much-mimicked original aloe vera gel is enriched with natural aloe vera from California, and you can slather that on your face, as well as your arms, legs and hair, in order to get that hydrated look that goes on cool and refreshing. Plus, your mom would tell you that it’s the best thing for sunburnt skin. And hey, even bundle deals aside, it’s super affordable too, especially for an all-in-one cure!

 

13. Huxley

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Huxley Toner Extract It, USD26 ; Oil Essence, USD34 ; Oil Light & More, USD38

What got me here: the minimalist packaging, of course! This would be #topshelfgoals immediately, and the clean aesthetic would blend right in with my Maison Margiela or Byredo fragrances… that aside, the Huxley Oil Essence has been receiving a lot of hype for the glowing complexion it gives! Now, I love patting on a facial oil at the end of the day, it just makes me feel like I’m doing right by my skin with the ultra-nourishing texture, but I have to admit, it’s a little hard to justify day use in this humid weather. This skincare hybrid then, is a great alternative; it has the full benefits of a good oil that leaves my skin plump, but feels like a more lightweight essence. Huxley’s contains sahara cactus oil, as well as the ingredients prickly pear and açai berry — all rich with antioxidants that help fight skin-damaging free radicals.

 

HAIR

 

14. Ryo

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Ryo Mise En Scene Perfect Repair Serum, USD13 ; Black Sprout Hair Oil

Finally, hair! Shampoos and conditioners only go some way in making my damaged, dyed hair look manageable, so I often can’t do without a hair serum, which I like for its lifting, lightweight texture. This one from Ryo is, unfortunately, only available in Korea; it contains hydrating ingredients such as argan oil, royal jelly and rosewater, of which we know that argan oil’s extremely beneficial for its rich nutrients like omega-6 fatty acids and Vitamins A, C and E — without weighing your hair down! Apply it at night after showering, or even before you head out of the house to tame those split ends and flyaways.

 

Where To Shop

 

The Case For LOTTE Duty Free

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Themed 3CE counter at Lotte DFS World Tower
Here’s why the experience is worth it:

  • You truly don’t have to walk a lot. The LOTTE DFS at World Tower spans across two floors, L8 and L9, and has lots of beauty counters just metres away from each other. It’s a total relaxing experience too without having to jostle with other tourists for a beauty advisor’s attention.
  • It’s duty-free! You won’t have to remember to ask the cashier for a form at every store you go to, just pick up all the beauty items you want from each counter, and pick up the tab at the end. Note that this applies only to “outbound travellers leaving Korea“. The current VAT rate for South Korea is 10% — which means you get 10% off your items right away!
  • Pick up all your purchases at the airport. If you’re making purchases in-store, all you have to do is bring your passport and the boarding pass with your departure date and time to the duty-free shopping area. You’ll then be able to arrange for a pick up of your purchases on the day of departure — orders are only available for pickup at duty-free zones, such as the airport or a port. This means you won’t have to lug around your new buys, great for the weary shopper.
  • Exclusive bundle discounts. There are some exclusive deals only available here, especially for the best-selling items you’d snap up anyway. These include Nature Republic’s Soothing & Moisture Aloe Vera Soothing Gel that goes at 6 packs for just USD21, or Papa Recipe sets that bundle their popular sheet masks with other great products. And we all can’t resist saving a few dollars right?

Here’s another way to save too: promo codes, and we know of an exclusive deal with Klook. Simply key in ‘LOTTESG’ when you’re booking any Korea activity with them, and you get $10 off, plus a US$10 LOTTE DFS voucher!

 


LOTTE Duty Free World-Tower Store

8-9th Fl. LOTTE World Tower Mall,
29, Sincheon-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul

For more information and deals for your upcoming trips to Seoul, or other parts of South Korea, go to klook.com.

Book tickets through Klook and use our code “NYLON5” to get $5 off for first-time users!