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Here at T&C, we pride ourselves on our discerning eye for quality. With Tried & True, our editors will give you an inside look at the pieces they simply cannot live without.
I probably don't need to tell you that Koreans take their skincare very seriously. You may have heard of the 10-step routine? Which is only the tip of the iceberg. In the past few years, they have brought us glass skin, snail serum, acne patches, BB creams, CC creams, cushion compacts, tiger grass, bee venom, baby foot peels, lip masks, and, of course, everyone's favorite party trick: sheet masks. Then around 2018, just as that exhaustive multi-step regimen was reaching a fever pitch here in the states, they swiftly declared the 10-step process out—skincare diets, in.
All this to say that South Koreans are unparalleled—and always miles ahead—in the realm of aesthetic self-care. (The dark side being that the small country is also the plastic surgery capital of the world and notorious for its extremely narrow standards of beauty, but that is another story for another time.) The Made in Korea stamp commands respect, trust, and, in some circles, cultish devotion. And it's not simply because of aggressive marketing, or the fact that Korean celebrities really do have skin as translucent as glass (K-dramas and movies prove this).
Koreans have been crafting, honing, and perfecting skincare since the era of the Three Kingdoms—57 BC to 668 AD—when the peninsula nation (and parts of modern-day China and Russia) was ruled by the monarchies of Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla. And texts from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897), such as the Dongui Bogam (A Precious Mirror of Eastern Medicine) compiled by the king's royal physician in 1613 and the Gyuhap Chongseo (Women's Encyclopedia) of 1809, have entire sections devoted to cosmetics. That spirit of innovation—which, back then, included using ground mung beans as cleanser, extracting juices from gourd stems for lotion, and treating freckles and liver spots with apricot oil—has carried the industry through to the present day, where it's the ninth largest beauty market in the world and projected to be $31.6 billion by the end of this decade.
In other words, we're in good hands. While I personally don't have the patience to slather on dozens of essences, serums, and potions on my face twice a day and can't keep up with every fresh K-beauty trend, I have remained steadfastly devoted, as of 2015, to one particular product: Shangpree's Gold Modeling Mask.
Before expanding into a skincare line (which is available at Peach & Lily and Harrods), Shangpree was, and still is, one of Seoul's most highly-regarded and sought-after spas—the award-winning institution has been bestowing coveted "dewy" complexions to scores of loyal patrons (a lot of them actresses and pop stars) since 1990. So rigorous is the process here that every aesthetician, no matter how impressive her resume, is required to go through at least three years of training before even being allowed to put her hands on a face.
Shangpree's products are created with this same level of exacting care. This modeling mask (also known as a rubber mask, it was all the rage in America a few years ago even though it has been a staple of facials in Korea for decades), is formulated just like the ones used in the spa's famous treatments and is loaded with premium ingredients, including antioxidant-rich cica (or tiger grass), collagen-boosting ginger root extract, and jojoba seed oil. The mask also has variations in silver (which has silk amino acids), green (fortified with snail mucin, spirulina, and chlorella), and black (infused with charcoal).
Like Hanacure's Instagram-famous "all-in-one at-home facial," Shangpree's mask requires a little bit of prep—it helps to also purchase the $10 reusable bowl and spatula made specifically for the process. You mix the gold gel and collagen powder together until it creates a thick, gooey concoction that you then spread over your face (using the spatula) as evenly as possible. Cue the immediate cooling sensation (making this ritual especially perfect for summer). After about 20 minutes, when the mask has congealed to a more rubbery consistency, peel it off and voila: So this is what glass skin looks like! The goop has transferred ultra-concentrated doses of hydration and moisture, lifted away impurities, and left behind nothing but a silky and radiant complexion, one that will last about a week. It's like 24-carat magic.
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