A Journey to Seoul’s Best Beauty Stores

Originally posted on Medium on April 26, 2018.

The story: When brick and mortar challenge online retail.

For 2 weeks last fall I backpacked solo in South Korea. After exploring the stunning country side and temples, I decided to spend some time perusing the innovative beauty landscape in Seoul to become a K-Beauty “expert”.

We tend to think of the death of bricks and mortar retail stores with the recent explosion in online shopping. But during my travel I realized how important consumer experience still is and how Korean beauty brands have created exceptional atmospheres in their stores with nice coffee spots, spas, rooftops, selfie booths, free skin testing and open laboratories.

Here are my top 4 beauty stores:

1- For the food and fun: Skinfood

 Skinfood flagship, 37, Apgujeong-ro 12-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

Skinfood flagship, 37, Apgujeong-ro 12-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

Skinfood was launched back in 1957! They were the first cosmetic brand to root itself in food and believe in nutrient-rich beauty for healthy, beautiful skin. For example, some of their key ingredients are black sugar, honey and eggs.

Their 4-floor flagship store in the Gangnam district is really stunning with a green rooftop full of plants and comfy chairs where you can relax. They have a coffee spot where you can sit down, eat and have your nails done at the same time. I tried it and the food is good though more international than Korean.

I highly recommend visiting this store to discover all the products you can develop from food, and to take a break at their cafe, photo studio or rooftop.

2- For the luxury and Korea’s traditions: Sulwhasoo

 Sulwhasoo Flagship, SPA and museum: 18 Dosan-daero 45-gil, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

Sulwhasoo Flagship, SPA and museum: 18 Dosan-daero 45-gil, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

I hadn’t heard of this brand before I found their store. What an experience! The place is beautiful and so tastefully decorated. Back in 1966, Sulwhasoo was inspired by Korean herbal medicine, which is steeped in a long tradition of Eastern holistic philosophy that searches for deeper answers. Based on a desire to find harmony and balance, their treatments view the body as a whole. There is a museum on the first floor where you can learn all about the history behind the brand.

They have 2 luxurious spas offering traditional treatments, one specializing in anti-aging and the other one more contemporary. I had a facial treatment in the contemporary one and I was not disappointed. It is a whole ritual performed in a beautiful room. At the end of the treatment you have access to the powder room to freshen up, try their skincare and make-up products.

They also have a rooftop that is very contemporary and worth a look.

3- For a “Back to the Future” experience: Dr.Jart+

 Dr Jart Flagship: 46 Dosan-daero 11-gil, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

Dr Jart Flagship: 46 Dosan-daero 11-gil, Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

If you want to experience a visit to a pharmacy managed by a crazy scientist, you’re in the right place! Dr. Jart was developed by 2 doctors in 2004, Dr. Jung and Chin Wook Lee. They believe in the true spirit of science for creating skincare products.

Their brand new flagship store in Gangnam can be viewed just like a museum of modern art. Most spaces are set up like a contemporary installation where creativity matters more than their products. 

Even if you are not into K-Beauty this place is really worth a visit!

4- For the consciousness award: Innisfree

 Innisfree, 193 Hoegi-ro, Hwigyeong 1(il)-dong, Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul

Innisfree, 193 Hoegi-ro, Hwigyeong 1(il)-dong, Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul

A big round of applause for Innisfree who are highlighting sustainability first in their Dongdaemun store (not the Flagship one). In this beautiful traditional Korean house, they display their recycling process to visitors. Inside the store they showcase their green products and special edition skincare products which use less plastic. Innisfree offer a large range of innovative beauty solutions powered by natural ingredients responsibly sourced from Korea’s pristine Jeju Island.

I believe all companies should follow their example. Fortunately, today we are witnessing a major change in the cosmetic industry with a focus on sustainability. As most beauty products today contain mostly water inside and plastic outside, it is time to be more creative and offer solid alternatives to build a greener future for our planet.

Written by Elsa Jungman, Ph.D.