The Beauty Guru’s Guide to Seoul, South Korea



When Sarah Lee and her business partner Christine Chang won $425,000 on ABC’s “Shark Tank” in 2015 to help fund their company, the Korean beauty trend was at its height of popularity—and their business has been in demand ever since. Glow Recipe, which calls itself a “lovingly curated destination site that makes natural, harsh-free beauty products and the latest skin-care trends from Korea,” has tapped into consumers’ hunger for the high-tech, often niche K-beauty products that seem to successfully address every imaginable skin gripe or makeup woe.

So when Lee offered to let us live vicariously through a trip she took in the name of discovering new beauty brands and networking within the extensive K-beauty world, we were thrilled. Below, find out the things this professional beauty junkie must do and see when she’s in Seoul, South Korea.

I went to: Seoul, South Korea, on a three-week #beautyhunting expedition.

I stayed at: The Grand Intercontinental Hotel in Seoul for half the time, and the rest at my parents’ house. The Grand Intercontinental Hotel was great, as it was located in the heart of Seoul, and perfectly convenient to set up meetings in the lobby.

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I ate: Lots of Korean food! The best food I had was my mom’s home-cooked meal—it’s no exaggeration that I go to Korea for just this amazingness. Korean food in Korea is way better than Korean food in the States. I tried to check out some trendy spots while catching up with partner brands’ CEOs, but also managed to squeeze in some authentic Korean restaurants in my packed itinerary.

I packed: A few business-casual dresses and jackets so I could mix and match throughout my three-week trip. A jean vest and jacket are musts, and I packed six pairs of shoes, including everything from sneakers to high heels. I didn’t pack a ton of beauty products, as I knew I’d constantly be testing new ones every day.

I did, however, pack for my flight to Seoul. The 14-and-a-half hour flight between New York and Seoul now feels like a routine. I prepped my skin for the flight by applying a thick layer of moisturizing essence. My usual Korean Air flight is now so familiar that I think of it as an extension of my bathroom at home. This time, I brought Artichoke Power Essence, a hydrating essence with bouncy texture; Organic Olive Leaf Mist, a waterless mist; and three sheet masks from Blossom Jeju to hydrate, nourish, and brighten my skin. I was able to walk out of the airport with glowing skin and looking fresh!

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While I was there I: Crammed in as much as possible in each day because as a cofounder and co-CEO, I’m the ambassador for our start-up and there are infinite opportunities on the road. Prior to my trip, I booked early-morning breakfasts, lunch meetings, and visits to brands during the day. In between these meetings, I visited beauty stores to discover the latest innovations and trendy spots to be inspired—and captured my journey via Snapchat or Instagram.

As Korea is the current beauty mecca, I did a few Snapchat takeovers live from Korea. In the evenings, I met with top Korean bloggers, local-media editors, or had more informal catch-up sessions up with partners and friends in the industry.

Another reason I was in Korea was to attend a seminar sponsored by the Korean government, where I made a speech for Korean companies desiring to export to the US. I spoke about some key priorities, including the importance of understanding the US market and consumer, as well as the competitive environment, prior to entering the market. I also met many new beauty brands that could potentially become our vendor partners.

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One more thing on my Seoul agenda was hand-curating new sheet masks for our very first “Glow Mystery Launch Box” that sold as soon as the announcement was made. This was very exciting, as it’s my ultimate passion to introduce the best and the latest products from Korea to our customers in the US.

On weekends, I made sure to spend time with my family, who lives in Seoul. We went to eat at some of my favorite local restaurants together, and with my mom, I went to public bathhouses and our go-to derm clinic to get aqua-peeling treatments and facials.

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My favorite part of the trip was: Discovering new brands and products! Sheet mask–hunting for our new Glow Mystery Launch Box was super fun, and there was a lot of buzz amongst our followers with feedback that included which mask they wanted me to curate. I asked our followers “Yay, or Nay?” with images of some masks that I thought were interesting, and received real-time feedback.

I also loved meeting new brands and their CEOs. It’s always inspiring and motivating to hear different brands’ philosophies and stories directly from the creators. With Korean beauty being the most innovative in the world, you can imagine the amount of creativity and intelligence I’m exchanging with these powerful industry insiders.

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The most Instagrammable moments from my trip were: When I spotted Lindsay’s Modeling Rubber Mask at Olive Young—Korea’s answer to Sephora—as a best-selling mask. This speaks to the rubber masking trend still being strong, but also the shelf behind the rubber mask that is PACKED with all sorts of masks. Korea is truly a wonderland of masks!

Korea is a country with tons of innovative cafés, and I enjoyed stopping into many of them, especially a public bathhouse-inspired one.

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The best places I’d tell people to eat and drink are:

The Blind Pig is a bar hidden in the heart of Hannam-dong, which is just on the north side of the Han River.

Gourmet Tree is the latest casual French restaurant known for its octopus pasta. It’s tucked inside a residential complex, but certainly a place to spot celebrities.

For Korean food, I recommend Mingles, where you can enjoy contemporary Korean cuisine with the freshest ingredients and authentic fermentation methods.

One in a Million café has the best “baby lattes”—ice cream floating on a latté—in pink cups.

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If you only do one thing in Seoul, it should be: Walk down the “Beauty Street” in Myungdong—don’t be overwhelmed by the thousands of beauty stores!—and shop the latest Korean beauty innovations. Get your nails done at the one and only Unistella salon—originator of #glassnails—and get a facial that includes an “Aqua-Peel” treatment and finishes with rubber masking. Finally, soak yourself in a public bathhouse’s enzyme body treatment. You won’t want to leave Seoul.

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