From Sephora to CVS to brick-and-mortar brand stores like Innisfree and Nature Republic, Korean beauty products are increasingly common stateside. “K-beauty” gave us [getty src=”880455028″ width=”509″ height=”339″ tld=”com”]

Look at the ingredients
Many beauty brands market themselves to be “natural” and Korean ones are no exception. Nature Republic, Innisfree, The Face Shop, and Skin Food are just a handful of the mainstream brands whose products predominantly revolve around nature-inspired ingredients – at least in name and at face value. When you check the best sellers from the aforementioned brands, fillers and non-active ingredients, such as water, dimethicone, alcohol and a host of synthetic polymers come up high in the ingredients list. These ingredients aren’t necessarily harmful, but there’s nothing that specifies why they’re more natural than other ingredients.

Watch out for things that may cause skin issues rather than solve them. Korean skincare products are commonly fragranced, which can cause irritation. Denatured alcohol is another common product that gives products a very liquid, easy to spread consistency that can dry out skin.

The Korean beauty industry is known for churning out new products at a more rapid rate than Western brands, so where do you start your research? Christina of ChristinaHello, a Canada-based beauty blog with a focus on Korean brands, advises consumers to do their own research through independent blogs and sites like Reddit where “everyone is real and they’re not trying to sell you stuff.” Be aware of sponsored blog posts and gifted product features and try to find a mix of reviews before adding something to your cart.

Shop with reputable retailers
Many major Western retailers only stock about a dozen or so Korean brands, so those of us interested in K-beauty often get excited when we find a website that sells that super special snail cream we’ve had in mind. Being able to go to a brick-and-mortar K-beauty store is basically heaven, and it’s now quite common in cities with large Asian communities such as New York City and Los Angeles. That being said, we’re not out of the woods when it comes to imposters. Right in the heart of New York City’s Chinatown, consumers took to Yelp to warn others about a Nature Republic-branded shop that is unaffiliated with the real brand and sells knock-off products. Try to purchase only through retailers with positive reviews, both online and in-store, that have a history of good business practices.

Is it really K-beauty?
Western retailers, including Sephora, have run K-beauty marketing campaigns featuring Japanese brands alongside Korean brands. Companies like Bobbi Brown have tried to pass their skincare as somehow related to K-beauty. These brands are well-aware Korean beauty products are hot sellers, but simply slapping “K-beauty” on something does not make it any more effective. At best, it’s an oversight. At worst, it’s ignorance and cultural appropriation. Be aware of this type of marketing and, when appropriate, it might be worth contacting the offending brand to let them know where they went wrong.

Korean brands have successfully captured the attention and dreams of people around the world looking for the next best lotion or lipstick to enhance their look. It’s an achievement worth recognizing and there are undoubtedly many great products that fall under the K-beauty category. But as consumers, we owe it to ourselves to do a little digging beyond the marketing copy and see what we’re really buying and applying.