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Beauty History

Traditional Korean Beauty Styles

Today, almost everyone around the word acknowledges that South Korea is a big player in the cosmetics industry, constantly bringing out new makeup, beauty tools and skincare products for us to enjoy – but this isn’t just a modern occurrence.

It is believed that Korean makeup history began in The Three Kingdoms (Silla, Baekje and Goguryeo) in 57 B.C. and reached its peak during the Goryeo Kingdom, when men and women believed that having a good appearance could affect how you were on the inside. 

©Coreana-Cosmetics-Museum, 23.09.2017, www.londonkoreanlinks.net

©Coreana-Cosmetics-Museum, 23.09.2017, www.londonkoreanlinks.net

Early Korean Cosmetics

Unlike other cultures in history, those who lived in early Korea used very natural ingredients, such as fruits, seeds, beans and flowers, to craft makeup and cleansing products rather than using chemical lotions and pastes (that were used in middle ages and early 20th century Europe). 

Facial scrubs were made with red beans, ‘Jodu’ or ground mung beans, ginseng root or sponge gourd, whereas facial lotions were made of watermelon, cucumber or gourd stems juices and were perfumed with scented plants. 

Various seeds, such as cabbage and sunflower seeds, were used to make cosmetic oils – Peony oil was very popular with women, as they used it to make their hair appear more sleek.

Apricot and peach oils were used to relieve spots and freckles, and safflower oil (that was rich in vitamin E) was used for increasing skin moisture and  to give it a glossy look.

Traditional Styles of Beauty

Beauty styles in the Joseon Dynasty were based around the ‘Confucian ideals’, meaning that makeup and appearances were kept very simple, dignified and elegant. But most of all, women used makeup to appear healthy. 

The richer women (that could afford it) used mixtures of purple plants, flower ashes and gold power as eyebrow dye, and for rouge they used either cinnabar or saffron flowers. The more common women had to make do with using charcoal for their eyebrows and dried red peppers as rouge. 

Although ground rice and millet were used as facial powders, having a white powdered face was avoided by most women since  it was the style used by the lowly female entertainers or Gisaeng (기생). 

Much like today, all makeup and products were held in small earthenware containers – but the Goryeo Era saw the rise of celadon (glazed, jade coloured pots) culture, which came to be the common containers for beauty products.

Modern Korean Beauty

Towards the end of the 19th century, foreign beauty styles and cosmetics were being adopted by Koreans, in particular French brands and products.

Then in 1916 Korea created and manufactured its first, very own facial powder (‘Pak Powder’) and this launched the modern industry of Korean beauty that grew to be what we all know and love today!

Want to experience more of Korean culture? Why not subscribe now to the Inspire Me Korea CULTURE BOX to receive a box of goodies sent to your door every month? OR how about a box of our specially curated 7 DAY MASKS SHEETS? We ship internationally~!

Feature Image Source: ©기생, 23.09.2017, www.webzine.nfm.go.kr

Claudia Deborah (이보라)

Local book dealer by day - goblin writer by night. Always looking for ways to include obscure SHINee references in my articles.

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