In drama “Scarlet Heart Ryeo”, fourth prince So (actor Lee Jun Ki) wears a mask to cover a “hideous” knife scar on his face. He’s feared and shunned not only because of his ruthless killings but also because of the scar.
While the story about the fourth prince’s scar is a fiction created by the writer of Scarlet Heart Ryeo, it is no fiction that beauty was highly valued in the Goryeo era (Year 918~1392). K-beauty’s global popularity may be recent, but its history surely isn’t! Let’s take a look at how Korean women and men made themselves more beautiful hundreds of years ago.
The “barely there” make-up style Korean make-up is characterized by existed even in the Goryeo era.
High status women lightly powdered their faces but did not use pink color on their cheeks, preferring a natural style of make-up. They drew their eyebrows long and thin, and bathed 3-4 times a day, prioritizing hygiene and cleanliness.
To make their skin smooth and white, they bathed in hot water filled with petals, or washed their faces with rice water. Calamus, a plant often used to make medicine, was boiled, the water used to wash their hair to keep it smooth and lustrous. Those who could afford to do so carried about silk scented pouches (which served as perfume).
Courtesans (considered to be low status women), on the other hand, wore heavy, strong make-up.
While men may not have used as much make-up, men also made sure to take care of their skin and even wore accessories like long drop earrings.
Various beauty tools were used as well. Mirrors made of mercury were widely popular among women, and tweezers to trim fingernails.
While beauty standards and trends may have changed slightly throughout the Goryeo period, one prevailing emphasis was on the importance of bringing out one’s natural beauty, instead of drastically changing one’s appearance. Both men and women also worked hard to not only work on their physical appearances, but present themselves as well put-together, elegant and sophisticated people.
It’s interesting learning about about beauty methods and standards of the Goryeo era, a period in Korean history in which beauty was a highly prized and sought after. The standards of this era seem to have influenced that of present day Korea as well. “투명 메이크업” (literal translation: “transparent make-up”), one that emphasizes skin care and minimal make-up that will bring out one’s best features, is still popular in Korea even today.
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Cheers, Han Seol 🙂