10 of the Most Unusual Beauty Trends in South Korea

Snail cream is an increasingly popular ingredient in Korean cosmetics.
Snail cream is an increasingly popular ingredient in Korean cosmetics. | © Summa / Pixabay
Photo of Mimsie Ladner
13 April 2018

Koreans are known for their innovation prowess, and this rings especially true when it comes to the beauty industry. Spurred by a fixation with youth, flawless skin, and feminine beauty, the country continues to push new cosmetics, procedures, and beauty hacks into the spotlight (think BB cream, the cushion compact, and the sheet mask). But some of the country’s beauty trends are undeniably unusual. Read on to learn about a few of the most unique.

Eye smiles

Aegyo sal (also known as “baby eye fat” or “eye smiles”) is a beauty trend that involves cultivating fatty, under-eye bags. These fatty deposits are said to make one look more wide-eyed, youthful and innocent, as they look like the natural pouches we get under our eyes when we smile. The trend, which first became popular around 2013, can be achieved through makeup, surgery, or filler injections.

The "aegyo sal" look is believed to give one a more wide-eyed, youthful appearance. | © Johnny Silvercloud / Flickr

Animal Oils

Oils have long been used as a skin moisturizer, but animal oils have in recent years become especially popular, due to the fact that they are smooth, quickly absorbed, and, per their claims, similar in chemical composition to the oils found naturally in human skin. Two particularly popular varieties include lanolin, an oil secreted by sheep to protect their skin, and horse oil, which is made by extracting the oils from horse fat.

Scalp routine

The classic ten-step skin care routine has been a cornerstone of K-beauty for quite some time. But why limit the laborious procedure to your face, when you can also incorporate it to the skin on your head? From exfoliating and cleansing to hydrating and moisturizing with hair essence, oils and masks, the Korean scalp routine promises to give you silky, glossy strands.

Face plunging

Known as jamsu (“diving”), this new (and controversial) beauty trend involves patting baby powder on one’s face as the last step of skin care, then plunging it into a sink filled with cool water for up to 30 seconds. The process is said to set one’s makeup, resulting in a matte finish and long-lasting foundation. However, the safety of the long-term use of talcum powder has been questioned, and it can also cause irritation to the airways when being applied this way, so proceed with caution.

Jamsu, a South Korean beauty hack, involves plunging one's face into cold water. | © Anthony Tran / Unsplash

Nose squeezing

Nose squeezers, like Tony Moly’s “Nose Up!” apparatus, are quickly becoming a staple in Koreans’ beauty arsenals. Worn for approximately 10 to 15 minutes at a time, the tool works to make one’s nose skinnier and higher – an attribute of the Korean beauty standard.

Snail slime

K-beauty devotees swear by snail slime – er, mucin – to achieve a lifted, tightened appearance. Cosmetic products boasting a high concentration of snail secretion are said to have significant protective and nourishing qualities. In particular, night creams, which are slathered on before going to bed, result in a plumped and lifted complexion by morning.

Rib resection

Move over, waist corsets and slimming shirts. Rib cage shaving, rib resection, and rib removal are procedures many women are turning to achieve a slimmer waist contour. While many board-certified plastic surgeons believe that rib removal is too extreme of a procedure to be performed for cosmetic reasons, as the ribcage’s essential function is to protect vital organs, it is becoming increasingly popular in South Korea.

Some 20 percent of Korean women have admitted having undergone a cosmetic procedure such as rib resection. | © Aiena Zahira Daim / Flickr

Salmon eggs

The tiny pink pearly eggs you’d usually find in your sushi are now being used by Koreans as part of their skin care. The ingredient is known for its high vitamin and mineral content, and repeated use of products containing it are toted to enhance the skin’s tone, texture, and overall condition. It is said to be especially useful for improving skin troubles such as acne, dark spots, and fine lines.

Smile lifting

While the procedure might come off as somewhat menacing, smile lifting (or lip corner lifting) is a thing in South Korea. Although not extremely common, the smile lift is a cosmetic procedure that involves cutting and lifting the corners of the mouth to create a more “natural” looking smile, even when the mouth is at rest.

Placenta products

As the skin ages, cells don’t renew as rapidly as they previously did, leading to skin that is thin and lacks elasticity and collagen. As yucky as it may sound, slathering placenta – which contains powerful stem cells – on one’s face can heal and repair skin, thus stimulating skin renewal.