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Korean cosmetics brands always seem to be, like, five years ahead of their American counterparts—by the time Sephora caught on to BB Creams, Korean women had bypassed CC Creams and were touting the benefits of DD Creams. So, now that we're in the midst of that early spring skincare slump (a.k.a., undoing all that winter damage before shorts weather rolls around), we thought we'd ring up Korean beauty expert Charlotte Cho—owner of the excellent e-commerce site Soko Glam—to give us her next-level recommendations for surviving the season. Join us as we follow her from Koreatown to Flushing and back—and pick up some sheet masks, long-wear lip stains, and the most gentle face wash ever, along the way.
Tony Moly: 316 Fifth Avenue
Our first stop is Koreatown's Tony Moly—the recently-opened New York outpost of the Korean beauty brand known for its affordable skin care products and cutesy packaging. Charlotte immediately grabs a few of the line's best-sellers: the 'Petite Bunny' gloss bars ($8), 'Fruit Princess' lip gloss ($12), and 'Panda's Dream' brightening eye base ($14)—the first step in getting that dewy, gleamy eye makeup look that's so popular in South Korea.
Charlotte spritzes on Tony Moly's 'Pocket Bunny' mist ($14)—a multi-tasking product that can be used as a facial spray to rejuvenate and moisturize combination skin, or as a super subtle fragrance.
Onto the stars of Tony Moly—the sheet masks! At $3, they're perfect for moisturizing while you Netflix. "Sheet masks lock in the moisture. If you don't put a thin sheet of cloth over your face, a lot of the product evaporates," Charlotte explains. "You leave the sheet on your face for 20 or 30 minutes, and when you remove it you can actually see the plumpness. The way to combat fine lines is through hydration, and these are great for that. It's so important, whether you have dry skin or oily skin, especially if you have a New York apartment where the heater is on full blast and you have no way to combat that other than by opening your windows.
'Panda's Dream White Magic' cream ($14) is another Tony Moly favorite. It's meant to be used as a light moisturizer, or as a flaw-blurring step before layering on foundation. While a lot of the brand's products have words like "whitening" in their names, none of them will actually alter your skintone—it's just another way of saying "brightening," meaning if matte is what you're after, you best move along.
Charlotte decapitated the 'Fruit Princess!' Avert your eyes! Actually, don't—that's a really cute color.
Caffe Bene: 39 West 32nd Street
Before we head to Flushing, it's time to grab a snack. Charlotte suggests Korean coffee and pastry shop Caffe Bene. The mini-chain specializes in towering bowls of shaved ice in flavors like red bean, mango, and caramel popcorn, as well as our guide's favorite treat—honey toast.
If you don't have time to sit and enjoy the free Wifi, Charlotte recommends picking up one of Caffe Bene's sweet red-bean-filled buns.
Club Clio: 136-86 Roosevelt Avenue, Queens
Half an hour on the '7' train and we're in Flushing, Queens! Our first stop is Club Clio, which is kind of like the Korean MAC, full Crayola-bright lipsticks, easy-draw eyeliners, and an array of foundations in varying degrees of matte-ness.
Charlotte pulls a few of her favorites: the 'Salon' mascaras ($30), 'Lipnicure' lip stains ($26), and 'Kill Cover' highlighters ($28). "They're famous for their mascaras, they have this concept where the different types of mascaras are named after hair tools. So the blowout one gives you long, straight lashes, like when you blow dry your hair, but I like the curling iron version," she says.
A Club Clio makeup artist applies a pearly shade of 'Kill Cover' to Charlotte's cheekbones.
Cute packaging overload! Another Club Clio highlight is the eyeliner selection. "I love their 'Kill Black' eyeliner ($22)," Charlotte says. "It reminds me of YSL's, but it's much less expensive. It's a felt tip, and I never used to use liquid liner but this is so easy to apply and it doesn't budge."
A swipe of 'Gelpresso Glow Tint' ($22) and we're onto the next stop!
Skin Food: 136-89 Roosevelt Avenue, Queens
Up the street is Skin Food, which rivals Anthropologie in places-you-want-your-apartment-to-smell-like-at-all-times. "Their concept is that foods that are good for your health are also good for you, beauty-wise," Charlotte says. "They use a lot of natural ingredients, like aloe vera and apple extract."
"Skin Food first became famous for their 'Black Sugar' mask, then the 'Strawberry' mask ($18), then the 'Rice' mask. I personally love all three, but my favorite is the Strawberry, for the smell," Charlotte says. "You use it to exfoliate, which is important for all skin types—whether you're dry, aging, or have combination skin. When you exfoliate, you remove dead surface cells, which helps with hydration. You're helping your skin look less dull."
"The 'Egg White Pore Foam' is really gentle, and you don't need a lot to make it foam up," Charlotte says of another one of her Skin Food go-tos. "It doesn't leave your skin feeling tight, if your skin feels tight after you wash it that means it's been stripped of its natural oils. When that happens your skin will try to overcompensate."
The Flushing, Queens outpost is also home to a nail salon, where a standard manicure will only run you $8.
Check out the Skin Food manicurist's nails!
New York Spa & Sauna: 14906 Northern Boulevard, Queens
After a long day of shopping, it's time to unwind. We might be in Spa Castle territory, but New York Spa & Sauna is only a 15-minute walk from Skin Food, and has many of the same amenities—on a much smaller scale. Unwrap one of those sheet masks and take a nap on a heated mat, pop into a sauna (followed up by a dip in the ice chamber), or wander into a salt room for some sinus-clearing relaxation.
Baekjeong Korean BBQ: 319 Fifth Avenue
Another trip on the '7' train and we're back in Koreatown, to try the just-opened Baekjeong Korean BBQ. Momofuku and Jean Georges vet Deuki Hong helms the kitchen, and the menu is fairly traditional, with lots of grilling packages to choose from. The only challenge: trying not to peek at our beauty hauls between bites.