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How Soko Glam’s Charlotte Cho brought Korean beauty to America

Love a Korean sheet mask and some snail mucin? You have Soko Glam’s founder Charlotte Cho to thank.

How Soko Glam’s Charlotte Cho brought Korean beauty to America
[Photo: courtesy of Soko Glam]

Charlotte Cho, co-founder of the breakout skincare marketplace Soko Glam, wasn’t always a Korean beauty guru. “Growing up in Southern California, I didn’t know the basics of skincare nor did I have a skincare routine,” she says. “After living in Korea working at Samsung, I learned about the Korean skincare philosophy and saw my skin transform for the better—from dull to bright and glowing.” That experience was enough to inspire Cho to get her esthetician license and kick-start a new (and now very successful) business: Soko Glam, a seven-year-old e-commerce company (with a new brick-and-mortar outpost) that sells more than 60 South Korean skincare brands. “I wanted to share the Korean beauty and skincare philosophy with the world,” Cho says. “I knew I had to start from the beginning, through skincare education.”

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Although Korean brands such as Faceshop and Missha had entered the U.S. market in earlier decades, there were few resources to help Americans connect to and understand how to use products such as sheet masks. As a Korean-American, Cho helped bridge that gap. “Through Soko Glam, we were able to make Korean beauty mainstream in the U.S. and upended the beauty industry,” Cho says. One of the key changes, she says, is that Americans are just as interested in skincare education and routines as they are buying and applying cosmetics—if not more.

And the numbers prove it. In 2014, Korean beauty exports stood at a total of $1.7 billion; by 2017, the country was exporting $5 billion worth of goods, according to a CNBC report. The same report also found that skincare is the largest product category and the fastest-growing product category in the beauty industry.

Korean beauty introduced entirely new products to American consumers, including stick cleansers and sheet masks, and innovative ingredients, such as snail mucin, fermented yeast, and centella asiatica. “Even the textures which Korean products have are unique, making the daily skincare ritual enjoyable,” Cho says. “Korean cosmetics companies have pushed the envelope of skincare innovation, while other Western companies were slower to do so. They were reliant on legacy formulas that were unchanged for decades. Now Western beauty companies look to South Korea not only for inspiration, but they also have started to manufacture their new products in Korea and at a quicker pace.”

Charlotte Cho, founder and CEO of Soko Glam [Photo: courtesy of Soko Glam]
Cho also credits Korean companies with championing the idea of customizable beauty products, tailored to specific skin concerns, types, and goals. “The traditional Western skincare approach has been more of a one-size-fits-all model,” she says, “with less focus on prevention and education. Korean beauty products are created with very gentle, natural formulations.” Many products are grounded in the philosophy that you don’t have to use harsh or strong ingredients to see results. That means little to no acid content, low pH, plant-based ingredients, and products that are suited for sensitive skin types.

[Photo: courtesy of Soko Glam]
Cho says U.S. consumers have come to trust Korean beauty brands—and Soko Glam as an important resource. “With most of our customers reaching out to us to get a skin consultation and recommendations,” she says, “trust is an important asset that we’ve built the past seven years.”

Here’s a peek at Cho’s own Korean beauty routine:

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“My skincare concerns are fine lines, hyperpigmentation, and hormonal acne,” she says. “For these concerns, I’m a big fan of oil cleansers, hydrating toners, and vitamin C.” Her favorite products in her daily routine include the Cosrx Triple C Serum (a 21.5% pure ascorbic acid formulation that will help fade brown spots and hyperpigmentation) and the Acwell Licorice pH Balancing toner: “It not only cleanses impurities from your skin and hydrates your skin, but it is also infused with natural licorice extracts that will even out your skin tone,” she says. She also swears by the Then I Met You Cleansing Duo, a two-step cleansing process that gently removes oil- and water-based impurities with powerful antioxidants, such as seaberry oils and rice extracts, leaving skin soft, clean, and guarded from premature aging and breakouts.

Soko Glam is currently offering 15% off all the winners of the company’s 2019 Best of K-Beauty awards. Additionally, all purchases $125 and above will receive an assorted sheet mask set for free. The sale runs until October 17.

Code to use at checkout is BEST15.

Fast Company may receive revenue for some links to products on our site.

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