Fancy Footwork

I’ve mentioned previously how the problem with pedicures here is the lack of a good foot scrub – I know that’s more than half the reason I want a pedicure most of the time – I mean, painting toenails is not that hard. Yet there aren’t scaly gross feet everywhere you look. Ok yes, most people wear covered shoes and I think even amongst the foreigner community Raj and I are in the minority wearing flip-flops whenever we can get away with it but don’t forget that in all Korean houses and even some traditional Korean restaurants, taking off your shoes at the entrance is the norm.

So apart from taking a file to your feet yourself, how can you achieve the impossible-y smooth feet that the locals have – do an at-home Foot Peel of course. I promised (threatened?) you last week with a full photo diary of how the process worked and I will not disappoint. It is gross and there aren’t really any nice words I can use to describe what happens, so probably best you don’t eat anything whilst reading this particular post.

There are a huge variety of peels that you can buy – as I like to minimise the number of different shops that I have to go to on a given day, I ended up picking up one from Tony Moly:

Although there are pictures, I did need to Google Translate the instructions which basically boil down to:

  • Wash and dry feet and place in the baggies provided
  • Pour the Solution into the baggie
  • Seal baggie up using the tabs
  • Sit for an hour and let the solution work its magic
  • Remove baggies and rinse off the solution from feet.

5. Post Peel

These are my feet immediately post-peel. Just a bit wrinkly from sitting in solution for so long, but nothing drastic yet.

The interesting thing about these foot peels is that the effect is not instant. When I instagrammed (of course) myself using the peel, my cousin wrote to me to tell me that it would take about 2 weeks for the actual peeling to take place so you have to be patient. Had I known this before, rather than waiting for Raj to travel to use the peel, I probably would have used it while he was in town and just timed it for the peeling to happen while he was away – subjecting anyone to the grossness that ensues is just not nice. Also, not a good idea to use these if your home is carpeted.  Just saying.

Now in my case, the heavy-duty peeling started about 7 days after using the pack and finished about 2 weeks later, so that’s the timeline I’d work with. One thing that I think helped things along though is actually wearing socks and shoes, rather than flip-flops. Something to do with the friction of the socks against your skin helps to slowly peel the dead crusty skin away – and its also a useful way not to trail skin everywhere you go. I liked the end result a lot – will definitely be using this more regularly – but I think every couple of months will do the trick! As promised, here’s a little photo diary of my feet… lucky readers!

From left to right, days 1 – 4 Post Peel: still nothing dramatic happening.

Day 5 saw a bit of peeling in the folds of skin around the toes

Day 6 is when the magic really started happening

12. Day 6 Post Peel

From day 7, I basically trailed dead skin wherever I went so I stuck to wearing socks and shoes.

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You aren’t supposed to pick at the skin to help it come off but I found a bit of gentle rubbing in the shower was good. After all the dead skin went away, I had wonderfully soft feet – but that’s the one thing I forgot to take a picture of! Ooops!

We’ll take it down a notch from the grossness in the next post, I promise!

 

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K Beauty: The Reprise

We’ve already talked about the immense industry that is Korean Beauty but now I want to tell you about the particular products (and where I buy them) that I have found indispensable.

You may or may not know that I am a creature of habit. I don’t like to change things unnecessarily and I did have it in my head that I would continue to bring my favourite face washes, creams and general skin care routine from home on our many visits back to London. Also, Boots has recently opened in Seoul (you can even shop online if you speak Korean) which one would think would help me (certainly it will for Soap & Glory and Boots Tea Tree Oil ranges which I will continue to purchase in tandem with the Korean stuff) but – and it’s a big one – skin care products from home don’t cut the mustard here.

On a lot of my female oriented Facebook groups, you read about women who’ve had major breakouts and issues with their hair upon moving here. Partly its the change in water, but also I think it stems from the fact that products you bring from home don’t target the specific issues that your skin will have here. It has definitely taken some trial and error to figure out what suits me and my sensitive, eczema-prone skin best, so I’m sure that you’ll go through a similar process but here’s a list of my faves as a starting point. DISCLAIMER: I don’t follow the actual 12-step Korean Beauty Regime that is famous-world over but do a bit of googling and you’ll find no end of videos and blogs dedicated to the routine!

Face Wash & Scrub 

One of my regular beauty stops is Innisfree. You’ll find concessions at every large supermarket that you go to and there are standalone-stores in Square One, opposite Daiso Sinsong-Ro and in NC Cube. Everywhere. One of the assistants in the store opposite Daiso Sinsong-Ro speaks some English, so you can (and should) sign up for the loyalty card – she just needs your mobile and ARC to help you do it, and although I haven’t figured out how to use the points yet, I know that every time you spend 10,000KRW, you get a discount of 3,000KRW. As at many skin care stores, whenever you buy something they give you some free samples of other products in the range or things that they think you might use based on what you’ve bought so it’s a good way to try out new things!

I’ve started buying the Jeju Volcanic Pore Cleansing Foam and Scrub Foam from Innisfree. About 8,000KRW won, they do leave you feeling squeaky clean without over-drying (So important, especially in winter) and ready for the rest of the routine. I don’t often bother to Google Translate the directions for use on these things, and just use them as I would products from home and that seems to do the trick.

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Another scrub that I totally loved – and smelt good enough to eat – was the Tony Moly Black Sugar Face Mask Scrub. This one I did translate – apply to dry skin and leave on as a mask for 10 minutes and then rinse off in the shower. This scrub was really nice and exfoliating, but I found it left a bit of a yellowy residue on my face, even after rinsing. It was nothing some swipes of toner couldn’t cope with, but it probably isn’t ideal if you are in a rush in the morning. Also, a couple of the branches that I popped into recently have been out of stock – I don’t know if this is a permanent thing or not, but it might be. Apparently SkinFood do a Black Sugar Face Mask Scrub that is highly rated as well and is probably a good substitute.

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Toner 

Not a lot to say on this front – toner is toner. The simplest one that I’ve found is from Nature Republic (again, you’ll find branches everywhere and it’s a great spot for buying sheet masks in bulk – usually a buy 10 get 10 free deal to be found) that comes in a nice pump bottle. If you’re a Micellar Water fan, you can get a pretty huge bottle from Lotte for about 9,000KRW. I don’t have a picture of it as I’m still working my way through my London stock but it seems to get pretty good reviews.

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Serum

So I understand that face serum is considered a solution that is used to cure specific problem. There are some people who use it to reduce the fine lines, dark spots and wrinkles. Other than this, it is also used to prevent acne and bring the brightness to facial skin. I never used to use it and actually stumbled across this one when I was looking for a local dupe for Benefit’s Porefessional Primer and, although it doesn’t work as a primer (actual substitute found below), I don’t feel quite right unless is layered on under my moisturiser. This serum is from Etude House – more of a makeup store than skin care, but again, with some fun lip balms and nail polishes that make it worth a visit.

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Peeling Gel

Is anyone else as weirdly obsessed with Peeling Gels as I am? I am seriously fascinated by the amount of dead skin that gently falls away and it seems that no amount of exfoliating can match this simple process. Couple with the fact that, at least in Songdo, you don’t seem to be able to get proper extraction/cleansing facials, I find a peeling gel invaluable in giving your skin a bit of TLC after all the dust and pollution from the outside world. For years I’ve used Obey Your Body peeling gel – as instructed, apply to dry skin with fingertips in a circular motion, leave to sit for a while and wash off. There is debate as to whether one should use it at night, as you can end up with dead skin stuck to your face but I use it pre-shower when I am washing my hair – I figure the shower makes sure that any dead skin is washed off properly and that none of the product is stuck in my hairline. Anyway, this was one thing that when I introduced it into my regime actually gained me compliments on my skin so I was happy to stick to importing it until it mysteriously went out of stock everywhere, and seems only to be available on eBay for hundreds of dollars. Luckily the fact that Korean skin care is such a big deal means that there are a lot of reviews in English online and lo and behold, Tony Moly proved to be my saviour with this little gem:

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Primer 

So yes, Benefit Porefessional is available here, but it costs so much more than it used to at home that it hurts me to buy it. But, Primer, right? So again, I hit up the English reviews online and Innisfree seemed to stand out amongst the crowd. A little goes a long way with this guy making it great value for money and whilst it isn’t as instantly awesome as the original, it is certainly a good dupe that’s kind to the wallet and skin!

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Face Cream 

Each to their own on this front but I’ve tried a lot of different creams – some are too watery and thin, some are too drying etc and this moisturiser from Innisfree (told you the loyalty card was worth it) seems to be perfect for me. It’s a bit on the heavy side – great for winter or when the A/C is on full blast drying you out but I use the tiniest amount post-serum and stay skin-hydrated all day. The other thing I do more regularly here is, on a day that I’m not going out, use coconut oil instead of moisturiser for some deep hydration – whilst that would have been too much for my skin in London, it is actually a good skin-boost every few weeks here.

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Trouble-Shooting

Korean women have flawless, poreless beautiful skin that you could stare at for hours (no, just me? OK then…) but in the event a blemish should rear its ugly head, spot patches are a big thing here – and available in supermarkets, skin care stores, and even Daiso! Of course it is a bit weird when you first clock one on someone’s face, but by and large they aren’t noticeable and can be covered up with a little foundation or concealer if you really want to. Especially great on the under-the-skin-cystic-acne-type spots, if you put it on clean dry skin overnight, you’ll notice the patch has gone cloudy when you take it off and the spot is noticeably reduced in size. For any white heads, my fail safe still is and will always be Mario Badescue’s drying lotion – I buy it on Beautybay.com who ship to Korea reasonably fast.

 

Makeup

Make-up is a tricky one. You do get all the big name brands here, MAC, NARS, Bobbi Brown etc and things which aren’t quite so skin tone specific are readily available – lipsticks in a range of colours, highlighter, bronzer, blusher but when it comes to foundations, BB creams, concealers etc, the Korean standard of PALE PALE PALE skin prevails and I’ve been told that even the fairest of fair people can struggle to find a true match here. In store, assistants tend to push you towards colours that make you look fairer as well, so personally, I’ve been doing my make up shopping abroad. The same products are also slightly cheaper outside of Korea, yeah, sorry, I can’t help much on the make up front!

Well that’s that for what I use from here. I am still using up my charcoal face mask from home (also, origins is available here and their Clear Improvement Mask is still the best I’ve ever tried) or I try out the various sheet masks that come free with my other purchases, so I don’t have a steady recommendation on that front… yet!

Aside from the specialist skin care stores mentioned here, you can also check out Olive Young, Watsons and LOHB for both products that you might be more familiar with from home and local goodies!

Next week…. Foot Peels – not for the faint-hearted or squeamish as I fully intend to give you a day by day photo diary of what happens to gross feet to make them beautiful again!!

Aaannnddd Reee-lax

UPDATE: As of 30th September 2017, Mr Kin has closed his shop and now only does House-calls. You can use the same contact details as before… 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a bunch of stereotypes in your mind before you make the move over to Songdo and you’ll very quickly be disabused of most of those. I mean, some of them – Asia being the land of multi-story buildings with lots of bright lights for example – do prove to be true in Seoul, and even other areas of Incheon (Bupyeong comes to mind) but not so in the manicured streets of Songdo. Dream city is the closest that you get to that view of Asia in South Korea, but even still, its pretty tame – at least compared to my imagination.

I also expected cheap mani/pedis – **imitates buzzer** and in fact, the nail treatments here are more expensive and without all the nice soak in warm water / foot scrub elements that you have come to expect from home. And massages. I really thought we would be able to get good, firm massages regularly without paying an arm and a leg. Well, yes, places exist, but to be honest, when Raj and I went to look at them, they all felt a bit on the seedy side and we weren’t so comfortable trying them out. Plus, all my back issues mean that I need a reasonable level of English to be spoken so that I can make the various aches and pains clear. The other option, massages at the spa in the Sheraton, are supposed to be good, but definitely comes at a price.

Well not so any more. Through all my various Facebook group memberships, I glean a lot of (not entirely always useful) information but then popped up this gem:

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I had heard about a place near Cinder Bar / The Prau that was good for massages, so when I saw this post, I decided it was meant to be. Post-board-meeting-massages here we come. I called Mr. Kim and made the appointment for a Saturday morning at 1030. Now, whilst his English is excellent, there was a bit of confusion about the timing, as when I showed up for my appointment, he thought I had said 12. No matter, he rallied and was there with his partner in about 10 minutes but knowing this, I’d probably advise people to send a text or Kakao to confirm the appointment.

We had opted for 1 hour Swedish Massages and, I think because he felt bad about the confusion in timing, he threw in some hot stones as well – Uh-May-Zing! I didn’t even realise how much time was going by and really felt thoroughly beaten into shape post massage. You can specify whether you want to be in a single room or don’t mind sharing and as promised on the poster, there was a 10% discount for having a morning appointment.

So what are you waiting for? Get on the blower and book a massage – you’ll thank me later I promise!

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We followed our massages with a weekend in Seoul – the Louis Vuitton Exhibition at Dongdaemun Design Plaza, burgers at ShakeShack, Dinner at Julios, a movie at the Charlotte Theatre in the Lotte Cinema (Myeongdong) and a visit to an 8 STOREY DAISO made for a great weekend… and another post for another day!

 

Nikko, Yamazaki & Nara

Following last night’s little rant about a mere handful of things going on in the world which all leave me indescribably sad, I thought I would lift the tone by returning to my current favourite topic. Japan.

This blog seems to have taken a turn for the travel-blog, rather than one of my musings but I suspect that as I end my missive to Japan, things will return to normal, so bear with me dear folks.

Right, so, I’m combining a few of the day and half-day trips that we did (using our trusty JR Passes) – I could quite easily wax lyrical about each place in a post of its own, but your comfort and interest is at the forefront of my mind (somewhat) and so brevity is the order of the day.

On Saturday, the sun was shining and we planned to take our first Shinkansen. Now, as much as I love Japan, I super-super love the Shinkansen. Granted I only managed to stay awake on one of the Shinkansen (I even love to say the word..) trips we did but wowowowowow. Anyhow, my first Shinkansen experience was to Nikko. We’d heard many good things about the place and it didn’t disappoint. The initial sunshine of the day waned a little, so we didn’t spend the whole day there, but we did visit the Shrines Tosho-gu and Futarasan. I can imagine that when the weather is more consistent, Nikko would be a glorious place to spend a couple of nights.. and that is on the agenda for my next trip. The evening consisted of dinner with friends in Shibuya and the all important viewing of Captain America: Civil War, followed by a little stroll and the easy-peasy reservation of our seats on the Shinkansen (there is that word again) to Kyoto from Shinigawa station.

Jumping forward a few days, we spent Tuesday visiting the Yamazaki (or Kamikaze, as i kept, rather Freudian-ly kept saying) distillery and the temples of Nara. As we only realised the distillery was so close to Kyoto rather late in the day, we were unable to get a space on the tour – this books out months in advance, so plan ahead and make the most of it. We were however able to wander through the museum and try a few of the more choice whiskeys, which made for a most pleasant morning! A word to the wise for you whiskey aficionados out there: Yamazaki 18 is near impossible to buy. A bartender in Kyoto told us that most bars send their staff out to remote countryside liquor stores on the off-chance that there is a bottle in stock and nobody has realised it’s worth. The distillery had none left to sell and nor did any of the stores or bars we went to. I believe that a few years ago there was a dramatization of the Whiskey Industry in Japan, which increased popularity and led to ginormous sales and the current low stock situation. So enjoy the drink when you find it in bars but set your sights a little lower when planning which bottle to take home!

From Yamazaki, we went back to Kyoto and took a local train (no Shinkansen today, sigh) to Nara. If you head to bus stop 2, you’ll get to the Todaiji Temple Complex. The main sight, the Todaiji Temple itself is of huge historical significance in Japan. Constructed in 752, it was the head temple of all provincial Buddhist temples. At the time, Nara was considered the capital of Japan but the growth of the Todaiji temple meant that the capital was moved to Nagaoka in 784, to reduce the influence of the temple of the governmental affairs.

We then wandered uphill to Kasuga Taisha – unfortunately slightly too late to go inside, but we hung around the front and snapped a few pictures nonetheless, and I met one of my favourite trees of Japan.

Dinner was Ramen at Ippudo (more about this in the Kyoto post) and a little wander through the streets of Gion, which evoke all the traditional feelings that one associates with Kyoto. Tonight was the night of drinks at the wonderful Finlandia, but I’ll tell you more about that next time..

 

Korean Beauty Kings & Queens

Korean beauty and skincare is in a class of its own. I know there have been tons of blogs and vlogs already about the (in)famous 12-step-skincare routine, carried out twice daily, but it really wasn’t until I got here that I realised just how serious a business it is.

There are masks for EVERY eventuality – I wouldn’t be surprised to find one that calms the nerves after your pet disappears – with all sorts of ingredients. And they come in this weird sheet, with the eyes, nose and mouth all cut out. You stick it on your face and just have to sit around and wait for it to dry. If, as I am wont to do, you wander around doing bits and pieces while you wait for the mask to work its magic, it will invariably slip off. I hear that once the mask is dry, many women (and men) will spritz their face to reactivate the mask and then wait some more.

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And then there was the day I saw this in a store and thought the whole industry had gone way too far….

Pore Strips

Closer investigation made me realise that the nose strips are intended to give you “skin as clean as a baby’s” and not for use on babies but talk about misleading.

Haircuts are cheap – well, comparative to the cost of everything else here – and well priced enough that I’m definitely considering weekly blow-drys :-).

The mani/pedi culture here varies. A manicure with regular nail polish is reasonably priced and the attention to detail is amazing. Change the varnish to gel, and the price triples (but then, so does the durability) and there are no end of nail salons to try out. Pedicures here strange. Unless you specific request a scrub, it isn’t part of the routine. And if you think that a pedicure will always come with a nice foot soak and massage, guess again. A nice touch is the gift pack you get at the end of your treatment:

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As well as the face masks, there are hand masks and foot masks and who knows what else. Personally, I don’t have the patience to use everything as they should be but I am having fun trying out the various gloopy bits and pieces that I find and I am sure that there will be no end to the treasures to come…