CVS Has a Fountain of Youth Section Now
DISCLAIMER: I am not nor will I ever be an expert on Asian beauty, because (spoiler) I'm white. If you want some info from the source, start HERE and or HERE for K-Beauty, or follow my fave Asian beauty gals on insta: Nam Vo, Christine Chang, Pony, Sarah Lee, and for fun Naomi Wantanabe. For a true life American white girl’s thoughts, stay right here (for now, but then go follow all of them too).
Is the lining of your purse comprised of a close-knit network of five foot long CVS receipts? Rhetorical question. I know it is. You may have noticed a new section in our favorite drug store: K-Beauty HQ. As the title suggests, I feel like I can look young (read extremely hydrated) forever now using only my hoards of coupons. Fingers crossed.
I personally have been experimenting with Korean and Japanese beauty for a few years because I am fortunate to have a lot of access to it as a resident of Queens and an employee of Manhattan. The CVS section is honestly just okay compared to the possibilities, but definitely a good baby step! This category of beauty is new to a lot of Americans who didn't grow up with it, so it can be pretty hard to navigate alone. The key, as I understand it, is to only use things that promise hydration. No drying lotions or shine reducers here. Below are a few of my actual daily-use products that just happen to be from South Korea and Japan, and they work so much better for me than Covergirl and Nutrogena.
The All-Purpose Hero - My sister and I call this "The Piggy Mask" because of the cute packaging. I honestly had to look up the real name (Holika Pig-Collagen Jelly Gel Mask Sheet), but would immediately recognize it on the shelf of any Ricky's (their website says it's sold out, but the brick and mortars always have it in stock). This is a two part jelly sheet mask that is best used after it's been in your fridge for about an hour. One part goes on the top half of your face, and the other part covers the bottom half. I like this because it fits any face size! The coolness of the fridge jelly takes down redness and inflammation while the other ingredients work to repair your skin. If you have dryness, blemishes, or large pores, this mask actually FOR REAL diminishes all of it immediately. I know it's hard to believe, but this is the best sheet mask I have ever used. You will look like a baby pig. Cute!
The Fun One - You might have seen the Dr. Jart version of this at Sephora, but I'm here to give you a better option: The Peach & Lilly Let Me Skin Ultra H2O Modeling Mask. The basic idea here is that you get two packets of ingredients, mix them together in the little receptacle (Dr. Jart's is a Slurpee cup; P&L's is a giant pill capsule), and spread the resulting rubber goop on your face to dry. I've tried both, and the issue with the Dr. Jart one is that it's a little clumpy and hard to peel off. It never really dries completely. The Peach & Lilly version mixes together smoothly and comes off in more or less one piece (so satisfying). I also like the hydrating effects of the P&L version better, but it is more expensive, so if you're intrigued, I'd say try the one that fits your budget.
The Overnighter - Sometimes it's really helpful to just know you can trust anything from a certain brand, especially in a category where most of the labels are in a different language. In the K-Beauty category, TonyMoly is that brand for me. Their Water Recharging Sleeping Pack is my favorite overnight moisture mask, but very sadly, they don't make it anymore. A sleeping pack is integral to your quest for baby (or piggy) skin, so some good alternatives are the Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask or the Laneige Water Sleeping Mask. These dry down after about ten minutes, so you won't be getting it all over your bed. It's a necessary solution when you have a radiator that sucks all the moisture out of your room (and your skin) like a rude climate ghost in the night. My pre-war apartment people can relate. This will be your best friend in the cold months.
The Best Red Lipstick I Own - I knew this lipstick was a winner when I wore it to the Glossier Showroom, and the editors were asking me where I got it. I have a few shades of this lipstick, but my favorite by far is the red orange matte one (shade RD312). Etude House's matte formula is so perfect. It looks matte but feels moist, and it stays on all day (through eating and everything). Also, if you want to reapply it later in the day, it doesn't do that gross clumpy thing that a lot of lipsticks do. The chiffon and jelly formulas are nice too, but they don't last as long. Etude House also has a really cute feature where you can buy the component separately from the lipstick, so if you want all your lipsticks to have flamingoes on them, you can buy those cases and slide in any of their shades.
The Glossiest Gloss - This gloss was actually in the bargain bin at a little shop in K-Town called THEFACESHOP (25 W 32nd St) when I found it. It's the TonyMoly Delight Dalcom Lip Gloss. I have the tangerine one, but I want all of them now. It really tastes like citrus, and it's very pigmented for a clear gloss, giving me a noticeable orange tint. These remind me a little of the Lip Smackers gloss that I used to wear in 5th grade (my fave was the vanilla flavor), but they have the adult upgrade of being less sticky and more moisturizing. I don't know how much longer they're going to be available since I did find mine in the sale section, but if you can't find it, TonyMoly also has this awesome lip balm (Ricky's has it, and I actually think CVS might too).
The Key to Popsicle Lips - If you follow Nam Vo (here's her insta), you've seen her rock the popsicle lips look. She didn't originate it, but she's the celebrity makeup artist I see talking about it the most. The idea is essentially to make it look like you ate a popsicle. Simple in theory, but you have to find a pigment that doesn't spread once you put it on or wear off immediately. Shu Uemura, a luxury Japanese brand, has the best one I have found by far (including every American lipstick brand I own -- aka a buttload). My favorite formula from them is the Laque Supreme Shimmer. I have it in OR 02, which I think they may have discontinued, but orange is not for everyone anyways (obviously I love it since all of these lip recos have been orange, oops). A berry or red shade would be just as effective for this look. This liquid lip stays where you put it and doesn't flake off or dry weird. A+ in my book.
The Solid - Enature's Moringa Cleansing Balm is the gentler of these two cleanser options, much better for dry or sensitive skin. She's an oil that you scoop out of the tub with a little spatula. The spatula is key to this experience, and many of these experiences (see "skincare" section), because it keeps any bacteria on your fingers from contaminating the whole tub of product. Once you spread it on your face, the oil does a really great job of dissolving off dirt and makeup. It also turns into a kind of light foam when you rinse with water, so no greasy residue. The best part about this is that it smells like a spa and does not strip your skin like some harsher options.
WORD OF CAUTION: I tried the Banila Co version of a cleansing blam, and the perfume was really irritating to my skin. It's cheaper, but maybe not worth the risk.
The Foam - I found this store on a trip to Chinatown, and I am so thankful. It's called The Saem, and they own the company that makes the red lipstick I mentioned above. On top of a lot of effective and affordable sheet masks, they also have a great, heavy duty cleanser called Healing Tea Garden Green Tea Cleansing Foam. If you have oily skin, this might be the one for you. It's a little more intense because of the foam, leaving your skin literally squeaky clean from oils and dirt. It's not great at removing makeup, but you really should not give your cleanser that kind of responsibility. It's like Emma Watson in Beauty and the Beast, she was fine alone, but the performance would have been better if two people were behind it. This cleanser is great at acting and can sing a little, but the movie will sound better if you hire a trained makeup remover. Clear metaphor? Not as clear as your skin will be.
The Heavy Weight - Like CVS, Sephora also has a K-Beauty section now. I found this there. Its called Water Bank Moisture Cream from Laneige. It's a pretty straight forward, non irritating, very moisturizing night cream. Tiny spatula included! I like this moisturizer a lot when I have dry patches because it's thick and soaks into the skin really nicely to alleviate dryness.
HOT TIP: All the pots I mention in this post come with a plastic protector over the product; keep that and store the spatula on top of it, between the lid of the container and the protector. Then you'll never lose your spatulas!
The Light Weight - If you're looking for a lighter option or something for daytime (though you should really be wearing an SPF for daytime) the Cosrx Aloe Vera Oil Free Moisture Cream is a unique option. It's an extremely lightweight clear gel that is not sticky and soaks right into the skin. It's great under makeup or can be applied in a thick layer (with it's included slatula) as a sort of hydrating mask. Another word of caution here is that Cosrx has a lot of products, and they have been pretty hit or miss for me. Their Hyaluronic Acid Hydra Power Essence is unpleasantly sticky and their blackhead and whitehead "Power Liquid"s may or may not be snake oil. I do like their sheet masks though, which are fun because they have three steps, and Ulta carries them!
The Sticker - Hormonal acne and cystic is the worst skin problem I have personally had to deal with, but these suckers changed the game. CVS to the rescue! Peach Slices Acne Spot Dots come on a little plastic sheet with three sizes for various blemish emergency levels. I tend to use the big ones first because I'm dramatic, but you have to be strategic with these because the small ones will not do the job if they don't cover the whole blemish completely. The little stickers are meant to go over whiteheads or use the more heavy duty version for emerging cysts (Acropass Trouble Cure). You can sleep in these, and peel them off in the morning (or wear them on a plane to protect from further stress to an existing spot). You'll notice they pulled out some "stuff" overnight which results in a smaller blemish on your face! It's honestly a miracle product. Rumor has it that some brands make cartoon versions of these stickers, but I have yet to find any bunny or heart shaped pimple dots. Pls LMK if you come across them.
The Serum - South Korean beauty is all about serums. Innisfree makes my favorite one which they call Cica Blam. It claims to even out your skin tone and texture, and I think this is the closest any product I've tried has ever come to delivering on that claim. I have a lot of freckles so it's hard to speak to tone, but it definitely evened out the texture of my skin after only using it a few times. It's one of those things that you put on your skin and you're immediately like "oh. I want to keep using this." On a side note, this company also has a mix and match makeup palette setup (of which I own two) so you can combine your ideal products for easy travel. Their concealer is similar to Glossier's (win!), but it only comes in fair tones unfortunately (boooo). Their eyeshadows are gorgeous though and I have a lot of fun with their wide range of cream blush shades.
HOT TIP: If you go to an Innisfree store in person, they have a wall of sample pouches for all of their skincare, so you can find the right products for you.
The Oils - Last but not least are two products you can probably live without but they do give you the coveted "glow" (of which there are actually three types, but that's for another post). The girls form Glow Recipe introduced me to these at a demo, so shout out to Christine and Sarah. Okay, number one is Tundra Chaga Pressed Serum which is a balm that turns into an oil on your face. Use it where you would put highlighter for a natural shine. Natural if you're a tree frog. Like, you will serve glossy, wet alien vibes in this. Number two is Whamiza Hydrating Double Layer Mist. This one is a spray that you shake up to disperse the oil that's suspended in a luxurious beauty water (which is made of botanicals and no actual H2O). It acts as a mid-day pick-me-up facial mist, and because of the oil, it gives you a little healthy glow that sticks around after the beauty water dries.