Beauty Tropes: 5 Times Beauty Steals the Scene in Korean Dramas

beauty tropes

The restroom confrontation? The sheet mask therapy session? K-drama fans have come to expect these cliché but endearing (and enduring) beauty tropes in their favorite shows. Here, our favorite moments in Korean dramas when beauty steals the scene.



Just as K-drama fans have come to love and rely on certain staples of Korean dramas — the clingy second lead, the plucky heroine, the genius chaebol — they could probably list all the times makeup and skincare have played a role in advancing the plot. (And I’m not talking about blatant product placement.) After all, where would a heroine be without her makeover? And what does it mean when she pats on powder or a cushion compact before her date? Let’s look at the typical scenes where beauty steals the scene in Korean dramas.


beauty tropes
Oh My Ghostess


1. The Lipstick Showdown


Often taking place in the ladies’ room, this is the scene where a girl’s big guns (in the form of a lipstick bullet) come out. Here is where the second lead has a chance to take down the female lead, just like when Shin Mina’s character Kang Joo-Eun from Hello Venus runs into her former best friend and now rival in the restroom. Catty insinuations and verbal ammunition ensue, invariably fired from perfectly applied pouts.


beauty tropes
Hello Venus


Always be rival-ready with lipsticks that are easy to apply, so you can focus all your energy on your comeback. We like Su:m 37’s Dear Flora Enchanted Lip Glow for its softer, more romantic shades and 3CE’s fun Lip Color in #408 Chuchu for a bright lip worthy of a leading lady.


2. The Mask Bonding Moment


beauty tropes
The Time I’ve Loved You


In my earliest K-drama watching memories, I noticed that girls would pepper their faces with cucumber slices and giggle and bond with each other over conversations about their crushes. While most bonding moments these days occur with the much more modern sheet mask or at an aesthetic spa, it was fun to see the old-school cucumber facial as flight attendant Choi Won (played by Lee Jin-wook) commiserated with his sister Mi-hyang (Jin Kyung) in The Time I’ve Loved You.


Always be prepared for your girlfriend (or sibling) bonding moment with some of our go-to masks, like Eclado Gold Essential Mask, Tony Moly Intense Care Snail Gel Mask, and Moksha Dear Honey Mask Sheet (read our rave review here).


3. The Makeover Epiphany


beauty tropes
Go Eun Chan attempts her own less-than-successful makeover, left, in Coffee Prince. Her final makeover, right.


The makeover trope is worthy of entire article in and of itself. Where would we be without our plucky K-drama heroines getting entire clothing and beauty makeovers courtesy of their irascible chaebol lovers? What makes most of these makeover scenes really special, though, is their ability to make the male lead realize that he loves the girl and no amount of makeup or fancy clothing is going to change that fact. My all-time favorite makeover scene comes from Coffee Prince where Yoon Eun Hye’s Go Eun Chan goes to meet Han Seong and displays her ignorance of makeup in the way she plasters it indiscriminately over her face. Rather than mocking her for this, Han Seong lets her have a makeover that is as much about the ever-busy Eun Chan getting an opportunity to feel feminine and pretty as it is about actually changing her looks.


If you don’t have a chaebol heir to buy you a new wardrobe, give yourself a quick makeover without breaking the bank with some bold lip tints like Romand’s Juicy Lasting Tint or Mamonde’s Highlight Lip Tints.


4. The Jjimjilbang Escape


beauty tropes
A scene in a jjimjilbang from the K-drama 21 Again. Source: Dramabeans


When I first started watching Korean dramas, I thought jjimjilbangs (Korean bathhouses) were cheap places to sleep overnight when the heroine had nowhere else to go. And that’s often the case in Korean dramas, like in The Legend of the Blue Sea, when Sim Chung (played by Jun Ji Hyun) goes to one after she finds out what Joon-jae (Lee Min Ho) really does for a living.


In reality, most Koreans use jjimjilbangs as places to relax and detox. The hot baths can open and cleanse your pores, and many jjimjilbangs offer additional on-site spa services. Not only is your skin cleansed and refreshed but visits to jjimjilbangs are purported to have a range of health benefits, including clearing up internal congestion and improving blood circulation. It’s no wonder that Koreans in general have such good skin if they make visiting jjimjilbangs a regular part of their beauty regimen. After a visit to a jjimjilbang, I like to add a moisturizing facial oil, such as SanDaWha Extra Virgin Camellia Face Oil, to seal in the invigorating effects of a sauna visit.


5. The Endearing Date Primp


beauty tropes
Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo


While any drama with Jun Ji Hyun is invariably going to show her primping with a Hera cushion compact or lust-worthy lipstick before a special date, I like the scenes where the K-drama heroine lacks a proficiency in skincare and makeup, with the requisite primping-before-a-date scene comic fodder for displaying the heroine’s lack of knowledge.


One of my favorite such scenes is when Kim Bok-Joo from Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo gets all dolled up for her date with Joon-hyung. There’s something sweet about seeing a girl prettying herself for an enjoyable time with her boyfriend, and the act of putting on makeup merely fans the flames of anticipation.


To re-create Bok-Joo’s monochromatic peachy-pink makeup look, check out our how-to here.


What are some of your favorite beauty tropes in Korean dramas?


Sageuk Skincare: Beauty Rituals from the Past in K-Beauty Today

beauty rituals sageuk skincare

We may never know if Joseon era women plastered sheets of seaweed on their face for 20 minutes at a time, but historical period K-dramas, or sageuk, allow us a peek into the beauty rituals of a time long gone. Here,  we look at sageuk skincare for some insight into K-beauty’s origins.



Korean obsession with skincare is hardly a modern phenomenon. The current Korean beauty industry — sleek, sophisticated, thriving, and exuberant — stands in seemingly direct contrast to the gentle agrarian landscape of Korea’s past. As I watched Park Min Young ask a gisaeng (a highly skilled female entertainer) for beauty tips in Queen for Seven Days, I couldn’t help speculating over historical Korean beauty traditions and whether they have any influence on Korean beauty rituals today.


After some digging, it should hardly be surprising to learn that, yes, Korean beauty rituals and traditions are heavily influenced by practices and philosophies of the past. The Yeoyonggukjeon (a Joseon-era manual on women’s care and habits) mentions around 18 different types of cosmetics. And the Coreana Cosmetics Museum in Seoul (a must-visit for any K-beauty junkie) displays hundreds of makeup tools, such as brushes and tweezers, as well as cosmetics cases made of celadon and porcelain. This remarkable museum testifies to the importance of skincare and outward grooming for Korean women from the earliest recorded times.


An ingredient list Cosdna would love


Unlike the West, where makeup has hitherto been accorded more attention than skincare, Korean women have always devoted their attention and energy to skin. Joseon society (1392-1897) was ruled according to Confucian ideology, and Confucian ideology praised virtue and inner beauty. Clear, soft skin and glossy hair were thought to reveal this inner beauty, something that doesn’t seem to have changed much over the last century or so.


beauty rituals sageuk skincare
Queen For Seven Days. KBS2


For shiny locks, Joseon-era women favored camellia oil. Today, we know that camellia oil is a beauty powerhouse, rich in antioxidants for both hair and skin. (Find it in Innisfree’s Camellia Essential Shampoo and SanDaWha’s Extra Virgin Camellia Face Oil.)


To achieve flawless complexions, Joseon women would use ground mung beans mixed with water for an exfoliating cleanser, followed by an application of safflower oil, rich in vitamin E, to soften their skin. The Face Shop harnesses the cleansing and brightening properties of mung beans in its Herbday Cleansing Foam , while powder cleansers are back in vogue for its non-liquid, gentle exfoliating powers. Eclado Red Velvet Natural Moisture Face Oil is rich in safflower oil and sinks in without any greasy afterfeel.


Women also used cucumbers and mugwort to clear their skin of impurities, both popular ingredients in K-beauty today. A mask of cucumber slices is still common practice in Korea, and in case you don’t happen to stock the aromatic plant in your fridge, this sheet mask from Illi uses mugwort as its main ingredient to tone and calm your skin.


Flower boys & willow brows (on fleek)


beauty rituals sageuk skincare
Hwarang, the K-drama. KBS2


During the Silla Dynasty (57 BC-935 AD), heavier makeup was favored, even among men. The Hwarang, elite male warriors of the time, were known for their makeup and cosmetic adornments. Known as the “Flowering Knights,” these young warriors are reminiscent of the “flower boy bands” of today’s K-pop.


On the other end of the spectrum, dramatic makeup was usually associated with gisaeng, which meant that ladies belonging to the yangban (noble) classes eschewed heavy makeup.


beauty rituals sageuk skincare
The iconic 18th century painting “Portrait of a Beauty” by Shin Yun Bok.


Nonetheless, gisaeng were the trendsetters of their day and popularized inked eyebrows and cherry-red lips. (Sound familiar?) Clean, trimmed brows were considered an indispensable frame for one’s face, and books about women’s habits written in the era mention around 10 eyebrow designs, with names such as “willow” or “crescent.” You can mimic these shapes with Etude House’s brow stencils or go for a bold gisaeng look with Peripera Ink Brow or 3CE’s Longwear Tattoo Eyebrow Maker.


But most of all, inner beauty


Unforgettable women of Korean history were known for more than just their looks, however. The soul-stirring poetry of Heo Nanseoulheon and the delicate paintings of Shin Saimdang testify to the courage of these women and the difficulties they faced in daring to create art that would resonate centuries later.


beauty rituals sageuk skincare
Saimdang, Light’s Diary. SBS


Today, Shin Saimdang is the face of the 50,000 won note (and Lee Young-ae, fittingly the face of the classic Korean hanbang beauty brand The History of Whoo, played her beautifully in Saimdang, Light’s Diary). As Korean feminists call for more women to be recognized for their contributions to Korean culture and advancement, we hope that their achievements inspire us to be the best that we can be, both inside and out.


What’s your favorite sageuk skincare or beauty ritual scene from a Korean drama? Do you have a favorite historical Korean drama?



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