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Entering an impressive skyscraper in the heart of Gangnam, I pinched myself that visiting the Neogen skin care office in Seoul wasn’t a dream. And to remember not to be a total fangirl at my favourite skin care brand.
Erin Hong, who works in Neogen’s marketing department and is the face of Neogen Derma TV, was the perfect host throughout our meeting. She’s also a huge fan of Korean actor Gong Yoo (more on that later). Best friend for life right there.
What’s not to love about Neogen? Neogen stands for ‘new generation’ and Erin describes the brand as ‘innovative, authentic and effective.’ She says, ‘At Neogen we only develop safe and effective products for the skin. We often reformulate products and redesign them after receiving customer feedback.’ It’s this dedication to creating high-quality skincare that makes them an international success.
Before coming to Neogen, Erin worked with lots of beauty brands, such as Innisfree and Clio on brand image and planned their concepts.
In 2000, CEO Young Wook Choi created Outin Futures, home to Neogen and their other brands including Neogen Dermalogy, Neogen Code 9 and Agecure (anti-ageing skin care). SUR.MEDIC+ is another Neogen brand and RE:P is a brand that focuses on eco-friendly and clean beauty. Neogen has also worked with Amorepacific brands like Mamonde as well as AHC, Dr. Jart and The Face Shop.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any flagship Neogen stores in South Korea but luckily, Neogen is available in Olive Young across the country. Imagine a world with a flagship Neogen store… I’d never leave!
A guided tour of the Neogen office included the on-site lab where experts create formulas. Super exciting seeing Neogen behind the scenes! Erin explains, ‘What you’re seeing is very rare and you couldn’t see that at other beauty companies. It’s one of the things we’re so proud of.’
‘The good thing about having a lab here is that when clients visit, we can immediately produce samples. Other Korean companies have labs in rural areas, which are difficult to get to,’ she says.
Erin excitedly opened my British themed care package and we began our interview with a few cans of Korean aloe vera juice. See, she’s always thinking about getting a glow even with her choice of beverage!
Erin is horrified when I recall an experience with a major beauty brand in the UK. During a makeover, the assistant questioned my daily use of sun cream and firmly said I didn’t need to use it every day; that an SPF15 primer was sufficient.
She says, ‘That’s shocking! Sun care is always so important, even if you think you look good, sun damage will eventually catch up with you. You might think you’re not burned but it’s the unseen damage that’s also harmful. The sun can really damage our skin.’
Approving of my use of UPF clothing and accessories, she says that’s normal in Korea. Erin adds, ‘In Korea we hate having direct sunlight on our skin and always use a small umbrella to protect our skin. When you start to age, your skin will have wrinkles and that’s why if you compare the same age of Western and Korean women, Koreans don’t have as many wrinkles and their skin glows.’
She goes on to say that people might think their skin is flawless when they’re in their 20s but if you don’t treat your skin at an early stage and wear sun cream regularly, it will ultimately affect how your skin ages. ‘Without sunscreen, your skin ages faster. Early prevention is always better than waiting until it’s too late,’ she says with a smile.
‘I’m in love with the Neogen Day-Light Protection Sunscreen SPF 50+ PA+++ that you adore because it has amazing ingredients. It’s a combination of a physical sunscreen and a chemical sunscreen. It has a gorgeous texture and is so lightweight on the skin. She adds, ‘It’s great for outdoor activities or if you’re travelling but it might be a little strong for indoor activities, so for that I’d recommend using a lower SPF, perhaps 30 or 40.’
Erin was involved in the development process for the A-Clear line. It focuses on using K-beauty to help acne-prone skin by including an appropriate amount of salicylic acid and tea tree to ensure you get the benefits without causing skin sensitivity.
‘In Korea, there are regulations about the percentage of salicylic acid in products and we can’t use above 0.4%,which is a smaller amount than in the UK and USA,’ she tells me. ‘However, those countries don’t have such regulations so they can go up to 3-5%. Many international beauty brands focus on using a higher level of salicylic acid, which can be very effective but because Koreans want to treat their skin well, Korean brands user a lower percentage.’
What first interested you in beauty and skin care?
I was into makeup and beauty at high school. Unlike other Korean schoolgirls, who have at least one bias from their favourite K-pop groups, I wasn’t really into K-pop at the time. K-pop idols all have good skin though. During high school, I was part of a hip hop dance group and wore dramatic stage makeup. My love for skin care started when I graduated from university.
Do you think high school girls now know more about Korean skincare?
Most of it comes from admiring having good skin because K-pop is quite a thing, particularly in younger girls. Also, their mom’s generation is really into caring for their daughters, starting from their skin. It’s also a cultural thing in Korean to want to look beautiful.
Beauty brands offer good value products that appeal to younger girls. If I needed skin care products during high school, I went to Innisfree and Etude House to ask staff for recommendations and how to treat skin care concerns. They always kindly explained how to treat my skin.
What was the first skin care product that you used?
It was the Black Sugar Mask Wash Off from Skinfood. This introduced me to the concept of skin care and I wanted to experience the physical benefits of removing dead skin cells. Before that, I used whatever skin care products my mom used.
Do you have any skin care inspirations?
I used to get inspiration from Get it Beauty. They analyse products in detail and discuss harmful ingredients to see if they’re ok to use. They made me fascinated to know whether or not certain ingredients were good for the skin. Lots of people interested in K-beauty got inspiration from them because they found the best skin care products. After watching their channel, I used torun into Olive Young looking for their recommended products, which had already sold out!
Now, because I know a lot about all of these ingredients, I get visual inspiration from beauty brands like Tamburins (Gentle Monster’s beauty brand) and Huxley. Both create amazing visual concepts and skin care products.
What’s your first year at Neogen been like?
I’ve been here for just over a year and it’s been very busy because we have lots of brands to look after. I’ve had so many amazing learning experiences, particularly with skin care ingredients. Because our company really focuses on using good ingredients, there’s a lot of research involved and now I know how to treat skin very well.
If I wasn’t at Neogen, I don’t think I’d be as interested in skin care. I really work on my skin as much as possible because if I’m attending meetings, it’s important my skin looks good because I’m representing Neogen.
What are your top five skin care items?
Definitely cleansing oil, cleansing foam (I can’t live without a double cleanse because I wear quite heavy make up), a toner pad, essence and sunscreen. I think if you layer a good amount of essence that you can sometimes skip a moisturiser.
Any tips for glowing skin?
Apply skin care gently, don’t rub or pull on your skin. People often pull their skin up when applying skin care, particularly with cleansing oil. I touch my skin as if I’m touching a baby’s skin and I’m gentle with it, trying not to cause any wrinkles. A gentle touch will encourage glowing skin, that’s why I use a cleansing oil or balm as the first step cleanser.
After double cleansing, I wipe away impurities with a toner pad then use a good essence. This helps my skin glow even if I skip moisturiser. I do two or three layers of essence to hydrate my skin.
It depends on what my skin is like. If I’m suffering from acne or rosacea or any hormonal acne under my chin, I use a certain ampoule to target that area. I avoid cleansing wipes because they don’t properly clean your skin. They’re convenient but I hate using them. Your skin will always feel boosted with a cleansing oil rather than relying on a cleansing wipe.
Why do you think Korean skincare is so popular outside of Korea?
I have friends who love K-beauty and they started with an interest in Korean culture and K-pop music. Korean groups all have perfect glowing skin, particularly the girl groups, along with amazing makeup. People who admire these bands want to find out more about the products they use to get the same radiant glow.
What are your favourite skin care ingredients?
If I’m trying to look for a good moisturising product, I check if it contains hyaluronic acid. I studied about this ingredient and at Neogen we invest in using the best hyaluronic acid. We work closely with a company from Germany and they have the biotechnology to create amazing hyaluronic acid particles. Because I know the ingredient itself is really good on the skin, if I see a product with hyaluronic acid in it, I make sure it’s in the first line of the ingredients list.
I love mugwort because of the healing scent and how it boosts my skin. The I’m From Mugwort Mask is really good. I’m currently using the toner from the same range. For protecting my skin’s barrier, I prefer jojoba oil. I’m also a fan of vitamin B3 (niacinamide), I prefer it to vitamin C. Vitamin B3 contains an amazing peptide to care for your skin and target wrinkles. Peptides contains lots of collagen to moisturise the skin as well as brightening skin.
What’s the bestselling Neogen product?
You’ll probably know this! The Neogen Day-Light Protection Sunscreen SPF 50+ PA+++ and Neogen gauze peeling pads are really popular. These exfoliating pads are great for sensitive skin and are a hero item in the Neogen range. The Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine Pads are the bestsellers.
The original version included an artificial wine fragrance but we recently reformulated them with a natural scent to make them more gentle. Unlike the previous version, which needed to be washed off, the essence can be left on the skin and it’s very hydrating.
We have three different versions: wine, lemon and green tea. Wine has anti-wrinkle and anti-ageing benefits, lemon is for brightening and green tea is for soothing. The Neogen Green Tea Real Fresh Foam Cleanser is another bestseller. It’s an innovative product because it lathers really well to gently cleanse skin. Many beauty brands want to copy the packaging and the formula but not successfully.
The Real Cica cleansing line is amazing too. The Real Cica Micellar Cleansing Oil is my favourite. It’s so lightweight and ideal for everyone, even if you don’t like cleansing oils.
How long have you known Joan Kim?
We’ve known each other for about five years, we met through a mutual friend. She used to be an English teacher and told me about her Kbeauty YouTube channel that she’d just started, which was super exciting because not many people were talking about K-beauty at the time, certainly not on YouTube. I’m so proud of her.
We collaborated with her because she’s very supportive of our brand and we wanted to do something fun together. Joan is very genuine and gives her honest opinion about what she uses on her skin. She’s very hands on with her approach and was really involved with the creation of Neogen x Joan Kim moisturiser, Vita Duo Cream, from the naming to the packaging.
Are there any makeup or skin care trends you don’t like?
I really hate matte skin. Korean girls don’t go for matte skin. Something else I’m not a fan of is the ‘one day one sheet mask’ trend, which involves using a sheet mask once a day. A lot of beauty brands recommend using sheet masks once or twice a week to treat your skin but I feel like Korean celebrities started this daily sheet mask trend three or four years ago. People went crazy for this trend and a lot of my friends bought cheap sheet masks to use daily.
Sheet masks are an important skin care step but I can’t do it daily. I feel it’s too much to use one every morning or night. You’ll still get lots of moisture and hydration if you layer a good amount of essence and cream on your skin. I think sheet masks can be saved for important days.
Is there any one product you’d use for the rest of your life?
I can’t live without essence. If I travel and I realise I don’t have enough essence in my travel bag, I will go to a skin care shop immediately to buy one. I’ll look at the ingredients list to see what it contains and buy it. Essence is the must step for achieving glowing skin because it helps your skin stay hydrated.
Whenever I travel, I pack travel size products but I take a full size bottle of essence in case I run out! If you apply essence well, you won’t get any dry patches on your skin, even if you’re applying a matte foundation.
Where do you like to shop for skin care?
I shop mostly in Olive Young shops because they have pretty much everything that I use. If I’m searching for a good product, I would go to Garosu-Gil, where they have beauty brand flagship stores – it’s where I check out the latest trends. If anything pops up, I will try it and buy it.
What are Neogen’s plans for the future?
We’re trying to expand our business globally and domestically and want to collaborate more with influencers.
Favourite Korean drama?
I loved Goblin. I enjoyed Gong Yoo’s previous drama, Coffee Prince. That’s my favourite Korean drama. It came out quite a while ago but the main actor Gong Yoo looks so good in it! [editor’s note: it’s at this point we both swoon over Goblin actor Gong Yoo]
Actually, it was only after this drama aired that cafes appeared in Korea. Before, Korea wasn’t really into coffee and there weren’t any cool looking cafes. Now there’s a great cafe culture here thanks to Coffee Prince!
Favourite K-pop band?
I don’t have a favourite band but I love WINNER, BLACKPINK, Red Velvet and BTS. I really like 10cm too, their voices are amazing.
I have so many! I love everything, including pasta, kimchi and Korean barbecue. It’s my favourite thing in the entire world with some soju.
Sheet masks or wash off masks?
I love both because they have different benefits: sheet masks hydrate the skin and wash off masks improve skin texture. If you’re suffering from dull, tired skin or rough texture, a wash off mask is amazing for that.
Before leaving, Erin generously hands me a selection of products from the Neogen brand. Knowing how much I adore the Neogen Day-Light Protection Sunscreen SPF 50+ PA+++, she even included it in the goodie bag. She’s a real gem.
Keep reading the blog and discover my reviews of the above Neogen products!