The One K-Beauty Treatment You Need to Try in Seoul

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Photo: Courtesy of Christine Chang

Korean beauty (or K-Beauty) remains one of the buzziest skincare movements in the world for its emphasis on pioneering ingredients and regimented routines. Among the cult-favorite brands that have soared to popularity in the United States is Glow Recipe, which made a name for itself with its ultra-hydrating Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask.

The brand's co-founders Christine Chang and Sarah Lee both started their careers in Seoul, and they often return to the South Korean capital to meet with friends in the industry and visit the brand's labs. Chang recently spoke with Travel + Leisure to share her in-flight beauty essentials, her favorite beauty destinations in Seoul, and the one spa treatment everyone visiting the city should experience.

Ddae massage
Courtesy of Christine Chang

Her In-flight Essentials

Proper cleansing is a central tenet of K-Beauty, so it's no surprise that it's also a key element of Chang's flight prep. "I start with a clean canvas," she says. "I never wear makeup on the plane because you have to get some sleep, and it's already an environment that's not the most hygienic." Before boarding, Chang washes her face with Harumada cleansing pads, which she favors for their gentle fabric. "It doesn't rub or tug the skin," she explains. Once she reaches her seat, she wipes down the whole area with a disinfectant or baby wipe. Then comes hydration, either in the form of Glow Recipe's watermelon mask or a sheet mask, which gets followed with an emollient cream to seal everything in. "Lately I've been loving MAKEP:REM's micotension cream," she shares.

Her Favorite K-Beauty Destinations in Seoul

On trips back to Seoul, Chang often returns to three sources for inspiration. The first: Unistella, a salon in Gangnam known for the cutting-edge nail art of Eun Kyung Park. Irene Kim, the beauty influencer who goes by @ireneisgood, introduced the Glow Recipe founders to her a few years back, just as she was launching glass and wire nails. "A lot of the trends you see stateside now originated with her," Chang says.

Courtesy of Christine Chang

There's no shortage of beauty stores in Myeondong — "you'll see tourists walking around with suitcases filled to the brim with purchases," says Chang — but the spot she makes a beeline for is Mask Story, which sells "every kind of mask you can imagine."

Courtesy of Christine Chang

For more bespoke service, Chang heads to Beaudiani in Itaewon. "It's an up-and-coming area, kind of like the Brooklyn of Seoul," she describes. "There are amazing hand-drop coffee shops, lots of great restaurants, and tons of interesting beauty stores." What sets Beaudini apart in Chang's eyes is the way they harness the power of essential oils. "The quality is really high, and they carry a lot of beautiful products that connect to the overall approach of K-Beauty."

The Essential K-Beauty Spa Experience

Korean bathhouses have long functioned as social gathering spaces, and they're one of Chang's favorite activities. "The bathhouse is where friends and I would meet up, and it's where my grandmother would take me when I was younger," Chang recalls. "She'd bring milk that was about to expire, and I never really understood why, but we would splash our faces with milk and follow with our bodies. Later, as I studied product development and skincare, I understood that it was because the lactic acid in the milk helps improve skin. She was being thrifty!"

Ddae massage
Courtesy of Christine Chang

Now, when Chang visits Seoul, she seeks out a more elevated experience. "I discovered from some friends that all the celebrities have been going to this bath experience at the Grand Hyatt," she says. "It's become sought after and hard to get a reservation. You dip into hot water pools and then have this lady use an abrasive towel to fully scrub you down head-to-toe." As Chang points out, more traditional bathhouses see their fair share of international clients, so the staff members are used to guiding newcomers, but the process and etiquette can still be intimidating: "There are all these buckets and tubs, and you're already naked and vulnerable, so the Hyatt's a great place to start."

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