This week on the Get A Drip podcast, we chatted with the lovely Maree, founder and CEO of Beauty & Seoul, THE online retailer for all things Korean beauty and skincare.
Adopted from a South Korean orphanage and raised in Australia and the UK, Maree has such an interesting story that you’re going to love.
Maree, I love your story so much I’d love it if you told us about how Beauty & Seoul came to be.
So I’m actually adopted from South Korea, I was an orphan there when I was a baby and then I was adopted by my British parents who were living in Australia. I wasn’t really interested in anything to do with my heritage, my adoption, or Korea and it wasn’t until I was in my mid 20s that I began to get really interested about finding out more about where I came from.
So I quit my job in London, flew over to Seoul for six months, and tried to find my birth parents there. But, a month into that six month trip, I found my birth mother, and she didn’t want to meet me, so I was there in Korea, thinking okay I’ve quit my job for this. I don’t know what the hell I’m meant to do. I don’t speak Korean, even though I look Korean and as a distraction I just started blogging about everything that I was discovering there from the food to all the beautiful places but particularly, because it’s a topic of interest to me, the trending Korean skincare and beauty scene.
The blog took off, I started Instagram, and then I decided to use the time to reach out to the brands that I really liked in Korea. I started writing a business plan, thinking about how I could introduce these products back to the UK.
It was really difficult if you were in the UK and wanted to try Korean skincare; you had to buy directly from Korea, which meant, obviously, long shipping times, high costs, etc. So, I came back to London and set up Beauty & Seoul, which was almost four years ago now, which seems pretty crazy. And here we are!
Tell us about the beauty scene in South Korea
It was really eye opening the first time I went. If you compare it to the West, certainly back in the early 2000s, there was more of a focus on makeup over skincare so I think the average person would spend more money on makeup products than skincare. That was flipped on its head when I went to South Korea. You literally walked out of High Street, and it’s all just skincare stores, it’s pretty crazy to get your head around until you go there and actually see it.
The ethos is that if you look after your skin, then you actually don’t need much makeup to hide it. And at first I was like, well, that totally makes sense and the more I was kind of speaking to friends that I made over there they said, ‘well you know, the skin is your largest organ, why wouldn’t you take care of it the way that we try to look after our insides as well?’
You’ve mentioned to me once before that there was a huge craze about plastic surgery, as well. So tell us a bit about what you discovered when you were there.
I read an interesting stat that one in three women in Seoul has probably undergone some sort of surgery, which I just couldn’t get my head around, and just from speaking to people, it is very common.
The most common surgery to get is double eyelid surgery. And I’m not here to want to say what’s right or wrong; I think that if you’re severely insecure about something and there’s a means in which you can rectify that for your own self confidence, hundred percent, I’m all for that. But I think where potentially they may have gone too far in Korea is that when there’s that societal pressure to look one’s best. That’s when I just see a darker side of it it’s that pressure to look a certain way.
In Korea, you will literally see advertisements saying ‘go from witch face to pretty.’ It’s really in your face and, you know, having lived there and not having experienced that in the West, it wore me down in terms of confidence. I felt the pressure so I can’t even imagine how younger girls are feeling there. I wrote a blog about it previously, which was entitled ‘feeling fat and ugly in South Korea’, and showing all the advertisements I was seeing, it’s a dark side of what we talked about that kind of cultural thing to look your best.
How did your skincare routine change from when you’re in the UK to when you live in South Korea?
I cringe at some of the products I used to use on my skin!
I now double cleanse, using an oil based cleanser and then a water based cleanser which will effectively remove impurities, dust, bacteria, SPF and makeup, without drying your skin so you don’t want to use products they’re going to disrupt your skin’s natural barrier.
When I think about the products I used to use, you know those toners that used to make your face feel so tight. At the time I thought, that’s great! It’s reducing my pores and I won’t have blackheads but all it was doing is just drying out your skin, and you don’t want that, even if you have oily skin you still need hydration because what you don’t want is your skin to crack and then make it more open to bacteria which then causes breakouts. So I would definitely say stringent toners so those like ones that always burn and dry out your skin and NO face wipes, I used to use face wipes a lot!
Also, I now always use an SPF on my face!
Any Korean skincare trends you forecast coming over to the UK?
Industry experts suggest that the formulations in Korean skincare brands are about 10 to 12 years ahead of French and American brands. The reason being that these brands are investing so much into research and development, because the demand is there in Korea because they’re spending a hell of a lot of money on skincare. Two trends that really excite me is that there’s been a big shift in vegan skincare formulations and also sustainable packaging, which is something really great to see, they are actually leading the way in terms of sustainability packaging in the beauty industry.
Another thing another brand is doing is using data analysis to create your own bespoke skincare, believing that everyone’s skin is different. Everyone has different skin types, skin concerns, and environmental factors, and basically on a monthly subscription basis they are analysing your skin, your lifestyle and then delivering formulated personalised skincare.
I feel like I’ve seen a lot about vitamin C at the moment. Would you agree with that?
Absolutely. It’s one of our most asked questions like, ‘which vitamin C serum like would you recommend?’ Vitamin C is just a really great all round product for brightening skin, evening out complexion. And it’s a really good ingredient for those trying to remove acne scarring as well.
How else do you take care of your skin from the inside out? Do you do anything to intentionally your skin?
I would say, intentionally I drink a lot of water. Two years ago, I was working full time and running Beauty and Seoul and I was extremely busy. I think I was averaging three to four hours of sleep, living off coffee, skipping breakfast. My skin was at its worst. It was really, really bad, and it was a result of poor diet, no exercising and just being worn out.
I then started to take time to actually cleanse my skin before going to work. I started hydrating, sleeping eight hours a night, making sure I was exercising four times a week. My skin then went from at its worst, to at its best. at its best.
If you could give one piece of skincare advice to everyone listening, what would that be?
Please use SPF every day and reapply it! Don’t just put it on once in the morning, reapply it and make sure it is at least, at LEAST factor 30.