So you’re a Black woman moving to Korea…where do you find your makeup? This is a question I get asked quite often so I decided to try and write a pretty comprehensive guide to makeup for Black women in S. Korea. If there’s anything I can add or change, please let me know!
There are very few companies in Korea that carry makeup in shades darker than beige, pink beige, sandy beige, sunny beige, etc. Obviously this is the case because Korea is a pretty homogeneous country and the population of Black women that live here and buy makeup often is like.. .00003% (I’m just making this number up but you get my point). So, if you are a Black woman, or any darker skinned woman planning on moving to Korea and you wear a specific kind of face makeup, I’m here to tell you now to bring as much with you as possible. Face makeup includes foundation, tinted moisturizer, concealer, blush, bronzer, highlighters, etc. Most stores and brands in Korea will not carry anything in your color for these products.
Now, say you’re desperate and you’ve run out and you don’t have time to call your mom and ask her to buy you your products and have them shipped to you (pretty much the only other option). There are a few brands in Korea that carry darker colors. The brands that definitely carry makeup in darker colors are MAC and NARS. Brands that *maybe* (and this is a tiny tiny maybe) carry darker colors are Bobbi Brown, Makeup Forever, and Benefit. Don’t hold your breath for these brands though, your best and safest bet is MAC and NARS. Popular US drugstore brands such as Maybelline and NYX are available in stores like Watsons, Olive Young, and Boons in Korea, but they do not sell face makeup in colors for Black women.
You can find brands like MAC, NARS, Benefit, etc. at any department store in Korea, such as Hyundai, Shinsegae, and Lotte department stores. MAC is easier to find, with a counter in pretty much every major department store. There is also a MAC Pro Store in Apgujeong, which carries a wider range of products.
NARS is a bit harder to find, with locations in the Seoul area in the Shinsegae at Express Bus Terminal, Hyundai Department Store in Jamsil, and The Galleria in Apgujeong. Other locations are available here.
Foundation, BB Cream, Tinted Moisturizer, and Concealer
Sadly, these brands will not have a great range of dark colors, if any at all. The darkest color MAC carries just so happens to be mine, which is NC45. The color range jumps from NC35 to NC42, then NC45. That’s it, nothing in between. There aren’t any NW colors or C colors. If you are anything in between these shades or if you are darker than an NC45 in MAC, then sadly, you will most likely not find makeup in your color in Korea. Make sure to bring as much with you as possible. Of course, again, if you have seen anything darker than this in the stores, or know of any places that carry makeup in darker shades, please let me know in the comments.
MAC also doesn’t carry NC45 products in every type of foundation. I’ve only seen NC45 in the Mineralize SPF 15 compact foundation, the Studio Fix foundation, and the Mineralize Moisture foundation. If you don’t like MAC or these 3 formulas, then you’re out of luck. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of MAC foundation, but I have had to buy the Mineralize SPF 15 compact foundation twice and it wasn’t that bad.
NARS carries powder foundations in the colors Tahoe, which is described as medium to dark with caramel undertones, and Syracuse which is medium to dark with brown undertones.
NARS is your best bet for tinted moisturizers, but they only carry up to the shade Malaga, which is described as medium dark with warm, caramel undertones. I actually use the shade below that, Seychelles, which is medium dark with golden olive undertones. I could maybe get away with using Malaga (if I used it with a bronzer), as tinted moisturizer is pretty forgiving when it comes to matching shades 100%.
BB creams in shades for Black women barely exist in the US, and they definitely 100% do not exist in Korea.
You will not find any concealers darker than an NC35 at MAC and the darkest shade at NARS is Ginger, which is way too light. I have yet to find a brand besides Benefit that carries a concealer in Korea for dark skinned women. And Benefit only carries the FakeUp concealer in the color Dark, they don’t have any other concealers in darker shades.
Bronzer and Highlighter
If you wear bronzer, MAC sells the Mineralize Skin Finish powder in Gold Deposit, the bronzing powder in Golden, and the Natural Mineralize Skin Finish in Dark. Depending on your skin tone, these could be used as either bronzers or highlighters.
NARS carries the multiple stick in all colors, including the bronzer stick I use in Palm Beach. NARS in Korea also carries all three of their bronzing powders: Laguna, Casino, and Irresistiblement. Casino is the best shade for dark skinned women.
Blush is another product that I have trouble finding in a typical Korean cosmetic store, so I usually to go to MAC or NARS. MAC doesn’t carry the full range of blushes they do in the US, so they don’t have colors like Sweet as Cocoa, Format, or Desert Rose. They still have a wide range of colors that work though, including Stubborn, and Love Joy. NARS is a better bet for blush, as most counters in Korea carry all colors, even the holy grail color for dark skinned women, Taj Mahal.
Lipstick, Lip Tint, Lip Gloss, and Lip Liner
If you’re a lipstick wearer, chances are you will most likely be able to find colors and formulas that work in a Korean cosmetic store. I’ve had the most luck with sheer lipstick and lip tint colors from Korean cosmetic stores. I haven’t had much luck finding a highly pigmented lipstick from a Korean store that I really, really like, so I stick with MAC and NARS, or a drugstore brand I can find in Korea like NYX or Maybelline.
Lip gloss is way easier for me to find in a Korean cosmetic store, so I usually opt to buy my lip glosses from one. I’m quite fond of Etude House and SkinFood lip glosses, as they aren’t sticky and don’t have any weird smells (like the Innisfree ones…gross).
Lip Liners are another product I have trouble finding in Korea because the colors, especially brown ones, aren’t dark enough for me. I have had success with a few red colors from Aritaum and Missha though.
Eye shadow is a tricky beast in Korea. There are a few brands that make colors that are pigmented enough to show up on dark skin. Etude House is on of my favorite places to buy eye shadow, as they are cheap and are usually pretty pigmented. One of my favorite eye shadows is a golden bronze color from Etude House that I’ve actually bought twice now. Innisfree also makes a lovely dark bronze shade that I love. Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of most Korean eye shadows as I find them way to shimmery and glittery for my liking. A lot of the colors are also extremely sheer and not pigmented enough for dark skin. If you can spot a NYX in your local Olive Young or Watsons, that may be your best bet for inexpensive eyeshadow. If you want to splurge, MAC is a great choice.
Eyeliner, Mascara, Etc.
You will have no problem finding eyeliner or mascara in Korea. Unless you are picky about what kind you use, I wouldn’t stock up. My favorite eyeliner of all time is the Clio Kill Black Liner Pen, and I recently bought the Innisfree liner pen and love it too. I’ve also had luck buying eyeliners in all different shades, from green to cranberry to aqua to blue. All have definitely been pigmented enough for my skin. Mascara is readily available in all Korean stores, and you’ll find popular drugstore brands in Watsons and Olive Young.
Expect all makeup, except from Korean stores to be extremely expensive. Everything I’ve bought from the department store or Olive Young has had at least a 50% markup. For example, the MAC foundation I bought in Korea was 56,000W. In the US, it’s about $32. MAC lipsticks are 27,000W, and in the US $15. I first bought the Maybelline Rocket Volum’ Mascara at Olive Young for 15,000W. In the US, it’s $7.99.
If you’re a makeup junkie, keep an eye out on upcoming collections via Temptalia. Brands like MAC and NARS will carry the full range of limited edition collections, and that’s usually the best time to check and see if there are colors that would work for you. For example, MAC in Korea had both the fall and winter Rihanna collections, which featured great bronzers and highlighters for Black women. If you’re looking to travel while you’re in Korea, keep an eye out on cheap tickets to both Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. I was able to find makeup in a much wider variety for women of color in those 2 places, and it may be worth it to take a quick trip to stock up.
All in all, makeup for Black women living in Korea is extremely limited. Of course, you can always get things shipped, but I wanted to focus on what is available in Korea.
If you have any questions or anything to add please let me know in the comments!