Originally posted 27 January 2015; updated 11 October 2015.
Updated: in the nine months since I wrote this post, other members of the Asian Beauty community have brought absolutely amazing, game-changing ingredient list resources to light. That means that you may very well not have to translate lists most of the time unless you’re looking for lists from obscure brands, new products, or old products. I’ve compared the official ingredient lists to those in both of the below online repositories on multiple occasions and I found them to be perfect matches.
My preferred resource is the Hwahae ingredient app, which is downloadable on iTunes and in the Google Play store. Lost in Pretty made a tutorial for how to use it–find that tutorial here. I find the interface and folders (explained in the Lost in Pretty tutorial) amazing. For people who just need a quick list, once you know how to use the app, you could–if you wanted to–type in the English version of a Korean brand name, use photos to find the product, and then jam your finger at the right box and see the whole ingredient list in both English and Korean. I usually then transcribe the list from my iPad, if I’m using it for a review (citing Hwahae as the source, of course).
[Yeah, I get that the title–and the whole post–is boring as hell, but I’m trying to be as plain and unsensationalist as possible in hopes of setting the tone for a rational discussion.]
This post demonstrates that South Korea and the United States have different cosmetic ingredient list order regulations leading to the exact same product having a differently ordered ingredient list in each country. A key difference in terms of what is demanded from manufacturers in South Korea versus the United States means that kbeauty ingredient lists for products sold in the U.S. that have simply been translated from Korean may not meet U.S. FDA regulations and cannot be read in the same way one reads an FDA-compliant label.
What caught my eye was a statement by one of the panelists that the South Korean beauty industry offers not only innovation and expertise, but also “skincare that gives a fun and exciting entertainment experience.” This was referred to in the article as 스킨케어테인먼트 (Skincaretainement), which I’m going to switch to skincaretainment just because that spelling makes more sense to native English speakers like me.
As I wrote on my Instagram, I think that skincaretainment is one of the strengths of Korean beauty. It starts with the willingness of cosmetics companies to stun and delight consumers with experiences that go far beyond slathering on a cream. In my experience, Western makeup brands tend to offer a fun, entertaining experience, but skincare is expected to be the A+ student with no extracurriculars and a 9pm curfew. The lesson here for companies is that kbeauty isn’t just about products from Korea, but about a whole different relationship with customers and different goals for what products are supposed to do–goals outside of just firming and smoothing skin. For international fans, the kbeauty lifestyle is very different from walking into a drugstore or even popping in at the day spa regularly. Instead, it’s an engrossing and consuming experience that people like me continue because, well, it’s really fun and interesting.