If you’re in Korea and you want to buy some affordable cosmetics, you won’t head to your local pharmacy to check out the designated beauty aisle.  What you’ll probably do is head to the nearest Missha, Face Shop, or Etude House chain store and allow a sales assistant to help you select some items suitable for you.  In this series, I’ll cover the major beauty shops: their concepts, bestsellers, and of course, which celebrities endorse them.  For this edition, I’ll discuss Korea’s first nature-conscious cosmetics brand, Innisfree, which is currently fronted by SNSD’s YoonA.

Innisfree provides an almost guilt-free buying experience for even the most indulging shopper.  The ingredients are natural and the packaging is eco-friendly.  Since 2003, the brand has been deeply involved in environmental activism, starting campaigns to promote recycling and other green practices.  If that’s not enough to sway you, they also pursue something called “ethical consumption” — meaning that they offer quality products at affordable prices.  So you can feel good about these products! 

To this end, Innisfree extends their concept by choosing spokesmodels who are renowned for their natural beauty.  The reigning model is YoonA, who has released a number of CFs and even a single for the company.  I like these CFs — they’re well-made and really show what the brand is all about! 

Past models include Moon Geun Young, Nam Sang Mi, and of course, Korea’s queen of natural beauty, Song Hye Gyo.  Here’s the latter in a simple but lovely CF.

Many of the ingredients in Innisfree’s skincare and cosmetics are sourced from pristine Jeju Island, and these are the items that tend to sell the best.  Perhaps the top bestseller is the Jeju Volcanic Pore Clay Mask (also titled the Scoria Pore Clay Mask), which comes in two formulations, clay and powder.  A saleslady told me that the clay formulation is the more popular, probably because it’s more convenient and cheaper than the powder.  The powder must be mixed with water before use, and costs 15,000 won ($14 US) compared to the clay formulation’s 12,000 won ($11 US).  Why would anyone buy it?  Because the powder is supposed to be more effective at absorbing excess sebum.  Plus, you can control the consistency of the product based on what your skin requires.

I bought the mask in its more popular form.  Either way, it can be applied to clean, just-toned skin and rinsed off after 10-15 minutes to cleanse your pores and brighten your skin tone.  If you have acne, you can also spot apply it before you sleep and rinse it off in the morning.  I’ve never had good experience with clay masks because they tend to dry out my skin.  However, this one felt very mild, with none of the uncomfortable tightening sensation that so often results in flaky and/or irritated skin.  Actually, I had gone hiking earlier that day and returned home as red as a tomato.  (In retrospect, was a clay mask really the best idea for sunburned skin?  Probably not.)  But the mask didn’t exacerbate the condition, as you might expect.  Instead, when I rinsed it off, the redness was gone!  (And I’d been red enough that one stranger actually told me that evening, “Wow, your face is really red!  You should go buy some lotion and do something about it!”  Thanks for the beauty advice, old man I don’t even know!) 

Other bestsellers include:

The Green Tea Seed Serum: This is a moisturizing serum made from organic green tea seeds from Jeju Island, which is said to be as light as water but with great moisturizing properties.  It’s meant to be applied after cleansing and toning (if you like, you can follow the green tea line’s eight-step sequence).  22,000 won ($21 US).

Olive Real Power Cream: For this product, Innisfree strayed from their Jeju roots and turned instead to the Greek island of Crete, which is known for olive production.  This cream delivers intense moisture thanks to its extra virgin olive oil.  The moisturizing properties are said to last up to 24 hours.  Wow!  18,000 won ($17 US).

Even though Innisfree’s bestselling products are skincare items, they also carry a full range of cosmetics, in as many colors and formulations as you could ask for.  Check it out — teal lipgloss, anyone?  (Don’t worry, even these lipglosses are eco-friendly and contain natural ingredients from Jeju.)

As anyone who’s ever shopped for makeup in Korea should know, you usually get a freebie when you make a purchase.  What you get appears to be at the discretion of the saleslady.  I noted that last time I visited Etude House, I received a box of cotton pads and a deflated beach ball.  This time around, even though I bought less, I got luckier.  I got more cotton pads (man, I have almost a lifetime supply now!), as well as samples of the Olive Real Body Lotion and the White Up Tone Lotion set. 

See you next week!