I’m a beauty junkie. When I found out I was locked for a work trip to Seoul, South Korea, the first thing I did was list down brands to check out and stock the hell up. If you’re also a beauty junkie on your way to Seoul, let me give you the lowdown on how and where to get your K-Beauty fix.
Essential K-Beauty Shopping Tips
Keep a List
Prior to my trip, it helped A LOT that I had loosely listed out some products and brands to check out. Some were to be backups of K-beauty staples that I know and love, complete with prices of if I were to get it back home or online. The rest were cult products that I read about and been meaning to try out.
On top of that, keeping a list will help keep track of brands that you can purchase together under one roof to claim tax refund. For eg, I could have purchased one 3CE lipstick at the 3CE concept store and not get tax refund. But by purchasing the same lipstick at Olive Young, I could easily accumulate my total with other products and get my tax claim like that. This is also the only time my Maths would become genius-level.
Understand K-Beauty Limitations
Have a basic understanding of Korean skincare and makeup. This is more so you don’t waste time in a store – salesgirls are there to sell, not to tell you that you can’t use something.
For example, I’m one proud brown girl, and I know for a goddamn fact that their bb creams/cushions/whatever face product will not work for my skin. So I don’t bother with those.
However, Korean lip products are some of the best in the market, so these I research quite extensively and would gladly ask salesgirls for recommendations.
I only realized this when I arrived. I assumed that things would definitely be much cheaper from Korea, land of origin. Right? Wrong. Sometimes online sites churn out better discounts.
Different shops carry different discounts for the same item. For example, the Cosrx Good Morning Cleanser was retailing for 9,500 Won at Aland, but it was slightly cheaper at 8,500 Won at Olive Young. If time is a luxury, cross-check between stores as well.
I spent a couple of extra evenings roaming the streets of Myeongdong with work colleagues, so I had plenty of time to find what I wanted and cross-check prices.
Bring your Passport for Tax Refund
If your purchases hit a minimum spend of 30,000 Won, you’re eligible for tax refund! Yay! Bring your passport for the processing – some stores can do instant tax refund, which means less fuss at the airport.
On that note… don’t just spend for the tax refund.
The tax refund for a spend of 30,000 Won was a… paltry 5% to 7% off. If you manage to hit 50,000 Won, you get more tax refund. I’ve fallen into the trap of salesgirls inciting me to spend a wee bit more to get tax refund… And now I’m stuck with a bright neon pink lipstick that I thought looked more rosy mauve in the stores, and 10,000 Won richer. Ok fine – 9,000 Won, with 5% tax refund.
Ask for more samples
While you get samples automatically at point of purchase, if you want more, you have to ask for it. This I learned from my Korean friends – who were visibly appalled that I didn’t ask for more samples when I was shopping by myself earlier on. Apparently it’s custom to ask.
Where to Buy K-Beauty in Seoul
Myeongdong is an area that’s supremely touristy… but you won’t find a better area to fulfill your K-beauty hunting needs. I was staying in Myeongdong, and ended up doing the bulk of my shopping here. I love Myeongdong because it’s bustling in the day time, and would get even more lively at night.
Your Korean drugstore brands like Innisfree, The Face Shop, Nature’s Republic, Club Clio, Tony Moly Skin Food, Aritaum were all here in droves. And by droves I mean you can’t walk 5 minutes from the first Innisfree before encountering another Innisfree. I ~love~ it. There’s also a huge Olive Young outlet in the heart of Myeongdong.
If you plan to just walk the streets of Myeongdong and shop without a game plan, you’re in for a good head aching treat. You will be assaulted with a cacophony of deals, promotions, freebies, in literally every shop you walk in. That, coupled with the too-helpful salesgirls trailing you in the store… you’ll either leave with too much, or nothing. Either way, it’ll be an experience.
Location: Myeongdong-gil, Jung-gu
Metro: Euljiro 1-ga or Myeongdong. They both direct you to the main shopping hub, but Myeondong has an underground mall while Euljiro leads you to Lotte Department Store.
Olive Young is a health and beauty store which stocks multiple brands under one roof. Some brands here include Cosrx, Neogen and Dr Jart. Beauty brands such as 3CE and Clio were also present here. Unlike other stores of this kind, Olive Young categorise products by type, instead of by brand.
I would recommend visiting the huge multi-storey ones, such as the outlet in the heart of Myeongdong and Gangnam. They’re way more fun than the smaller convenience store lookalikes. The multi-storey ones will have a dedicated area for beauty, with set-up tester corners ala Sephora. The Gangnam one also had a hair styling area where you can try some tools. I wanted to try a hair tong with an exceptionally huge barrel (Vodana 40mm, FYI)… but the area was crowded with girls doing full-on hairstyles.
They also have open wifi and instant tax refund – score and score.
Location: They’re everywhere! But the ones I mentioned above are at:
Myeondong: 53 Myeongdong-gil, Jung-gu
Gangnam: Gangnam Station metro stop, Exit 10.
Aland stocks cult favourites such as Cosrx, Klairs, Benton, Whamisa and Heimish. While places like Olive Young stocks Cosrx, they didn’t have the full range of the brand. Aland does. Besides these beauty brands, Aland has clothes and accessories too, which were fun to browse through.
That said, Aland rarely does promotions, does not do instant tax refund, has no open wifi and you have to pay for a carrier bag – regardless how much stuff you bought. It wouldn’t be a big deal except I was too pampered from the other beauty stores I visited prior.
Location: 30, Myeongdong 6-gil, Jung-gu.
Chicor at Gangnam
Chicor was one of my favourite stores to visit. I stopped by while exploring Gangnam to check out Dear Dahlia products, and not expecting much… but I left with bags full of skincare. Namely, Klairs, which Chicor was having a sale for. Another thing I love about Chicor was the free open wifi, the instant tax refund and the ultra-friendly staff who fill up your bags with samples from Western brands such as Clinique and Dermalogica.
Location: There are a few Chicor outlets, but the one I visited was located in the middle of the Gangnam shopping street.
441 Seosan Building (B2F ~ 2F), Gangnam Road, Seocho-gu, Seoul – CHICOR
Metro: Gangnam, Sinnohyeon.
Creemare is like Aland, except more beauty than clothes and other knick knacks. This concept store has Klairs, Whamisa, Heimish, Huxley and Blithe. It also has an impressive array of cosmetic brands including Labiotte and Pony Effect. There was a cute little area for you to chill and hang out at too.
Location: B2 Urban Hive, 476, Gangnam-Daero, Gangnam-Gu, Sinnonhyeon.
Metro: Sinnohyeon, Exit 3.
Garosugil is your Myeongdong, but with a lot less shops, a lot more order and some might say, a lot more class. The shops here are more boutique and upscale, though you will find your K-beauty staples like Innisfree and Skinfood here. My favourite store to wander about was at Jung Saem Mool (JSM). There was also an LOHB here, an Olive Young competitor.
Location: Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu.
K-Beauty Shopping in Gangnam in a Day
If you plan correctly, you can visit Garosugil, Gangnam for Chicor and Creemare in the same trip.
Get off at Gangnam station, walk down the street where you’ll pass Chicor, Olive Young and other K-beauty stores before ending up at Sinnohyeon metro station for Creemare.
Then you can either take the metro to Sinsa stop for Sinsadong/Garosugil, but that would require some metro changes along the way. I say, just enjoy a pleasant stroll over to Garosugil.
If you want a good mixture of fashion and K-Beauty shopping, Hongdae would be good for that. The fashion at my point of visit are not to my taste – i.e. all black all day errday – so I didn’t do any shopping at all. Hongdae is more youth-oriented, so you find more of the affordable brands here such an Etude House, all of which I could find in Myeongdong itself
Location: Hongik University Metro Station, Exit 9
Lotte Department Store
For the sake of rounding out this post, I will include Lotte Department Store here. This iconic building is simply a huge ass shopping mall. I was here twice, and it was only to meet up with a Korean friend. This place stocks K-beauty brands alongside the luxury brands, but I hate the idea of doing any shopping in a mall. That my country has tons of. Where’s the fun in that? The only positives I could find were the instant tax refund and the free wifi – but you’d be hard pressed to find a store outside of the mall that doesn’t do that anyway.
0, Eulji-ro 11-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Metro: Euljiro 1(il)-ga Station
Where to Stay: Myeongdong
I was staying in Myeongdong, and ended up doing the bulk of my shopping here. There’s a smorgasbord of Korean beauty brands would be concentrated in this insane area. The best part about staying right at Myeongdong is that you can easily go back to your hotel room to dump your new purchases and head back out again. I also loved that I could easily go back to any shop to buy reiterations of something new you discovered (hello there, Innisfree My Palette customizable blushes and eyeshadows).
Of course, Seoul is easily accessible and taxis are affordable, so essentially you can stay in any other neighbourhood of choice.
Even if you’re not a K-Beauty hunter, you’d find Myeongdong a fun place to stay at. At night, it is a bustling area as street food peddlers come out to hawk their wares. There are also so many sit-down restaurants that are very good, such as Yoogane and a street just filled with Chi-Mac (fried chicken and beer concept stores).