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Beauty with Mi, hosted by Refinery29's beauty writer Mi-Anne Chan, explores the coolest new trends, treatments, products, and subcultures in the beauty world. Never miss an episode by subscribing here.
In a small suburb on the outskirts of Seoul sits a nondescript warehouse on a hill. Surrounded by lush greenery to the right and the city skyline to the left, it's a serene location for a cosmetics factory — one that produces one of the most popular K-beauty products at Sephora: Glow Recipe's Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask.
Before Glow Recipe was the brand behind the best-selling bright-pink mask, it was an online retailer founded by beauty-industry veterans Sarah Lee and Christine Chang in 2014. The business was based on the idea that Lee and Chang, both entrenched in the Korean beauty space, could bring the best of the best across the Pacific and to the States. In 2017, they launched their own eponymous brand with just two products: the Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask and the Blueberry Bounce Cleanser, each formulated with years of K-beauty research in mind.
Two years later, the Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask has amassed a loyal following (one sells every three minutes at Sephora). It's because of this that I found myself standing in a laboratory in South Korea, about to dive head-first into the manufacturing process.
Glow Recipe's cruelty-free formula, which can be used as an overnight treat or 10-minute flash facial, has over 60% watermelon extract to thank for its uniquely hydrating, exfoliating, and non-irritating properties. So, naturally, the day begins with dozens of ripe watermelons.
"All these watermelons are cut by hand every day," says Lee, my guide for the day. The majority of the black seeds are painstakingly removed with a pair of metal chopsticks (a common household tool in South Korea) before all the watermelon pieces are moved to the preservation room, where they sit for 30 days in a propriety blend designed to kill bacteria and make the watermelon shelf-stable.
A month later, the watermelon is puréed, and a mixture of hyaluronic acid, alpha-hydroxy acids, glycerin, and seaweed extract is added in. This combination is what gives the mask its soothing and hydrating yet intensely brightening qualities. Finally, the boxes are packaged and shipped out to hundreds of stores across North America.
It's been said that finding out how something gets made ruins the magic. While this might be true for breakfast sausage, the month-long process of turning real watermelons into a cult-favorite blend is far from boring. Press play to see it all come together.
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Travel and accommodations were provided to the author by Skin Inc for the purpose of filming this video.