It’s no surprise that K-Beauty has reached cult status from continent to continent. In a beauty-obsessed country, the local beauty brands have to compete hard to capture the attention of discerning consumers. As a result, we’re spoiled by affordable, highly innovative brands like COSRX, Mediheal, Etude House, Innisfree, Missha, Sulwahsoo, Laneige, and Banila Co.
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When I moved to South Korea, I was overwhelmed and excited by all the unfamiliar brands. Don’t get me wrong. As a Korean-American, I kept up the best I could with all the ins-and-outs of K-beauty. Mama didn’t raise no fool. But back in the day, it was ha-a-rd to get a hold of the latest Korean beauty products in the United States, and they were only ever on sale in the local Koreatowns — probably smuggled in someone’s luggage.
Now that I’m living in Seoul, it’s a beauty playground. Strolling through shops like Olive Young, Chicor, and Aritaum in South Korea is like being a kid in a candy store. It’s a kaleidoscope of colors, shelved wall-to-wall.
I replaced all my favorite Western beauty products with better and cheaper equivalents in South Korea. Boy, was I happy! My skin has never been clearer, and my makeup has been on point.
My friends stateside always ask me questions about Korean beauty products and if I’m willing to ship them the “good stuff”. But you know what? Most of the popular K-beauty brands are available online with free international shipping or have even set up shop in the United States and other countries.
What are the best shops to buy Korean beauty products in the United States?
There is a myriad of beauty stores that stock popular K-beauty products these days, but as long as you’re willing to wait, I would suggest first shopping at Olive Young that ships directly from Korea as they have the best selection. Definitely check out lesser-known (but popular in Korea) W.concept, too.
International Websites that Ship to the United States
Stores Located in Hong Kong
YesStyle is a Hong Kong-based online mall that sells Asian beauty products, clothing, shoes, and accessories. They’ve been around since mid-2006, and they’re legit. Their beauty selection includes popular Taiwanese, Korean, and Japanese brands. You can get free express shipping (5-7 days to the US) for orders over $59.
Stores Located in South Korea
Aritaum is owned by Amore Pacific and headquartered in Korea. They do however have many US retail locations scattered coast-to-coast. I like to think of Aritaum as the Sephora of South Korea, stocking a lot of the higher-end beauty products. Unfortunately, their US website doesn’t have quite the same selection as in Korea, but you can get brands like Mamonde, Iope, Mise-en-scene, and Ryo. Free shipping for orders over $40.
You can find an Olive Young store on almost every other block in South Korea. The global version of the store ships internationally from South Korea, and they stock a wide variety of popular Korean skincare brands and cosmetics like Peripera, WAKEMAKE, and 3CE.
Unlike other stores, you can also purchase Korean cushion foundations. Be warned, Korean cosmetics do not usually offer a wide range of foundation colors, but that’s a mini-rant for another day.
You can get free shipping via DHL (7 days to the US) for orders over $60 USD.
If you’re itching to see what’s popular in South Korea, take a peek at the Korean Olive Young site where you can read reviews (with Google Translate on Chrome).
Jolse is another Korean beauty mall that ships directly from South Korea. They have a very wide variety of popular Korean beauty brands. Shipping times and costs can vary depending on whether you choose expedited, standard, or economy.
W Concept is an incredibly popular fashion e-commerce store in South Korea. It’s honestly addictive, and you’ll most likely start rummaging through the endless Korean clothing and accessories before or after browsing through the Korean beauty section.
Fortunately for those located in the United States, they’ve also set up a site in English, catering to the US market, so you can shop ’til you drop and get your K-beauty fix delivered to your door ASAP.
Product selection is good as expected. In terms of Korean beauty brands, they stock some hard-to-find ones like Hera Beauty — which by the way, the Hera Black Foundation is A+. There are also the usual suspects like COSRX, DearDahlia, Espoir, Hanyul, Klairs, Laneige, and Vodana.
A lot of their items are shipped from overseas, so keep that in mind as it may mean a little extra wait time. Free shipping on all orders over $99.
Wishtrend is a Korean beauty e-commerce store that ships globally. They stock familiar K-beauty brands like Klairs and COSRX and offer their own in-house beauty products called “By Wishtrend”. Free shipping on all orders over $150.
Stores Located in United States
iHerb is an American e-commerce company that is probably most known for selling natural products and supplements globally. They have a pretty sweet K-beauty product selection, stocking brands like Innisfree, Missha, COSRX, Mediheal, Banila Co, Etude House, Holika Holika, Laneige, Mamonde, Mizon, Neogen, Nature Republic, Skinfood, The Face Shop, and more. All iHerb orders are shipped directly from their warehouses in the US located in California, Kentucky, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and one in South Korea. Free shipping for orders over $20.
Again, this is a great website for Korean beauty if you’re just dipping your toes in. Brand selection is very limited, and they sell their own in-house Peach & Lily skincare products … Which, to be honest, I’m a little leery of when there are so many better products out there. Orders ship from the United States and they also offer free shipping for orders over $50.
Sephora has really stepped up their game in the United States by offering product lines from Korean brands like Dr. Jart +, Amore Pacific, Belif, Neogen, Erborian, and Too Cool For School. Free shipping for orders over $50.
I know that people love Soko Glam and for good reason. It’s extremely approachable, and the beauty guides provide a great introduction to Korean skincare. It’s a good start, but the makeup selection is paltry and the skincare lines are limited. Orders ship from the United States, so shipping may be much faster than alternatives. Orders over $35 also ship free.
Ulta Beauty actually carries a decent selection of K-beauty brands like Belif, Banila Co, COSRX, Klairs, Erborian, Tony Moly, Too Cool for School, Skinfood, Mamonde, and Hanskin. Free shipping for orders over $35.
Urban Outfitters has an itty-bitty selection of popular K-beauty brands like Tony Moly and COSRX. I wouldn’t call it a one-stop-shop for K-beauty, but if you’re in proximity of an Urban Outfitters and stocking up on other goods, you might as well throw a Korean face mask in your cart or two.
K-Beauty Brands with Localized Websites
Stores in the United States
Popular Korean beauty brand, Banila Co, is most famous for its Clean It Zero line of sherbert-textured cleansers that promise to melt away makeup. Free shipping for orders over $35.
Korean skincare brand, COSRX, is probably one of my most favorite discoveries while living in Korea. Almost all of their skincare products have been so good to me and incredibly affordable. I really like their Good Morning Gel Cleanser and their AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid. COSRX offers free shipping over $30 within the United States and free shipping over $40 in Canada.
You can purchase Dr. Jart+ products directly from their US website. If you want to shop in-store, you can also pop by a Sephora in the United States and find their products stocked on shelves to play with. I really enjoy looking like an alien with the trendy Dr. Jart+ rubber masks, and their whole Cicapair line is solid. Free shipping for orders over $40.
Etude House always has some of the cutest packaging and fun collaborations. Their recent collaboration with Hershey’s makes me wonder whether I’m hungry or want to play with makeup. There was a time when there was an Etude House shop literally next door to my apartment in Seoul, and I would stop by on my way home from work and pick up every lip tint imaginable. Their global site offers free shipping over $100 (excl. Vietnam).
Klairs is a cruelty-free, vegan brand based in South Korea that has made a big splash internationally. Their Vitamin C serum, Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop, is ultra-popular. Their global website doesn’t offer direct shipping, but you can see their list of partners online and offline.
You can find the nature-based brand, Innisfree, all over South Korea. It has strong ties with Jeju Island, playing off the volcanic soil that the island is famous for. Innisfree also moved stateside with physical stores mostly in the coastal cities. Check out their volcanic masks. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with their tangerine body lotion which has been sitting at my office to offset my over-sanitized, super-dry hands (because of the pandemic.) It’s also owned by Amore Pacific. Free shipping for orders over $50.
Isoi is all about natural, cruelty-free, science-based skincare. You can actually find Isoi at Whole Foods now which is one of the last places I expected to see this K-beauty brand. Free shipping for orders over $35.
JUNGSAEMMOOL, or Jung Saem Mool, is a renowned makeup artist in South Korea. Her products are definitely a K-beauty brand that you may not have heard much about, but they’re totally worth it. Their Nuder foundation cushion compacts are really, really nice.
The global website ships products straight from Korea. Free shipping on orders over $100. The only stores they have outside of Korea as of February 2021 are in Thailand and Singapore.
I have an acquaintance who recently became a Medicube ambassador in the US, raving how the products really changed his life, but I’ve almost never seen their products stocked on shelves in Korea. That doesn’t mean anything though since Korean beauty brands pop up from seemingly nowhere, and it’s hard to keep up. Free shipping for orders over $80.
Mediheal makes some of the best Korean sheet masks. I’ve scared many friends while lounging about in my bathrobe at home, looking like a burn victim with my face mask on. My skin always feels as smooth as a baby’s bottom afterwards, so it’s 100% worth buying these in bulk. Free shipping for orders over $40.
Missha is an ultra-popular Korean beauty brand that is probably most famous for their Time Evolution line. Free shipping for members’ orders over $40.
Skinfood is another nature-based beauty brand that’s based in Korea. The store gives me The Body Shop meets L’Occitane meets K-beauty vibes. They use interesting ingredients like egg whites, royal honey (from bees), sake, ginseng, snail mucin, mugwort, caviar, and yuja. Free shipping over $50.
I like their Royal Honey Propolis Enrich Essence. I also once bought a horse fat face mask from Skinfood, and it wasn’t terrible.
If you’re a Tony Moly fan, you can purchase their products directly off their US website. Funny enough, Tony Moly is one of those brands that are way more popular outside of Korea than in Korea, and you’d be hard-pressed to find their cutesy products in major beauty retailers here in Seoul. I am still a sucker for their whimsical packaging though. Free shipping for orders over $50.
Too Cool for School is a really solid K-beauty cosmetics brand that can also be found at Ulta Beauty. Their US website ships from California and offers free shipping over $35 purchase.
The Face Shop is a natural K-beauty brand with shops all over South Korea. I got sucked into the Belif Moisturizing Bomb hype and The Face Shop was my main supplier in Seoul.
In the United States, you can find physical retail stores in the tri-state area. Free shipping for US orders over $75.
The Last Resort
Trust Issues with Third-Party Sellers
You don’t have to go through weird third-party sellers on Amazon.com or eBay.com to buy your favorite Korean beauty products outside of South Korea, and you probably shouldn’t. Counterfeit goods sold by unverified sellers are a real problem, and you almost never know what you’re actually buying.
Fortunately, more and more Korean beauty brands are making their retail splash in the diverse beauty industry of the United States or at least offering international shipping to meet the global demand.
You can purchase Korean beauty products from third-party resellers on global e-commerce platforms like eBay or Amazon, but expect long wait times and a mark-up. Due to the nature of unverified resellers, you’ll also want to diligently check the individual reseller’s reviews to make sure you’re not getting dangerous counterfeit goods.
I can’t help but stress this. The last, last thing that you would want to happen is that you end up purchasing counterfeit skincare products or cosmetics because those ingredients can cause allergic reactions or worse. I’ve heard awful stories about glue and feces being found in counterfeit goods, so keep that in mind when browsing.