Meet Whitney Bae. She’s a woman full of personality who lives in South Korea and documents her life on YouTube. Here, we chat with her about living in Seoul, her favorite K-beauty products, and her best advice to people who want to become a famous YouTuber like her.
“Whitney Bae” is from Illinois. After receiving a degree in computer engineering, she decided to take a engineering job in Seoul seven years ago. She fell in love with with Korean culture and living in the country so she started her own YouTube channel to document her life. Now she has close to 400,000 subscribers and people regularly tune in for her weekly videos.
In our conversation, we discuss what it’s like being an American living in Seoul and her favorite K-beauty products.
Let’s start by talking about your story and how you ventured into the YouTube world and into becoming a Korean beauty influencer.
I moved to Korea seven years ago. At first, when I came here, I was just working. That didn’t work out like I thought it would. I had always wanted to do YouTube, so I just took a chance and I just started doing it. I really didn’t think that many people would watch. My goal was 15,000 subscribers, but then people just kept watching so I was like, maybe I should just go for this. I just kept doing it.
I never expected to do K-beauty ever in my entire life, so I just did some stuff just to experience because I was curious, and then I did a couple of beauty parodies because beauty here in Korea is huge. It’s everywhere you go, it’s everywhere you look, so it was funny to do parodies of beauty things.
Then I got to work with the makeup artist Jung Saemmool. I think that’s when people started to take me more seriously so I had to take myself more seriously. I started to try to learn more about Korean makeup and Korean skin care. So now, I still do my little jokes, but now I also do Korean style makeup and beauty properly.
When you first started dabbling in K-beauty, what was the first thing that drew you to it?
I loved the natural makeup because I don’t like to wear makeup and if I have to wear makeup, I want it to look natural. I love bold makeup, but for myself, I just want something that’s very natural. I want people to be like “Did she do makeup or did she not do makeup?”, but still have this charm about me. That’s totally what it’s all about.
What are some of the best products you’ve found in Korea that help you create that look?
I actually went to makeup school in Korea for two weeks, which was one of the craziest experiences of my life. They teach you there that if you have a good skin care routine then your makeup looks a lot better. The most important thing that they emphasize is to wash your face properly, do a two step cleansing process, use toner, use essence, and use moisturizer. I had never used a toner before. I’d never used essence. So I just started using toner, essence, and good moisturizer and I feel like it preps my skin to make my makeup look better.
When I put my foundation on, even if it’s just a little, people are like “Oh, your skin is glowing” because the makeup has a good base to reflect off of. I’d never thought of makeup as being complicated, and it doesn’t need to be, but when you learn those kinds of little things, it’s pretty interesting. It’s really simple but it does really help to bring out a healthy glow.
Is it hard to find shades that match your skin tone?
It’s impossible. Everything is also always sold out, so I actually order stuff online or when I go back [to the US], I’ll stock up. And I think that’s what most foreigners do here. The shades really are just not dark enough. I just prepare because I’m a very small minority [in Korea] so I do understand why they don’t have my shades. I just try to invest when I can.
What foundation do you like to use?
Right now, I’m using the Estée Lauder foundation. And I’m also using Makeup Forever.
You said that when you first got to Korea you were overwhelmed with all the skin care options. What did your routine start off as and what does it look like now?
When I first got here, I just tried everything. Anything that looked different. I would go to Skinfood and they would be like “Here is an organic, all natural, product,” and I’d be like “OK, I’ll just try it.” So I would just try all the different cleansers and it didn’t really work out for me because I had really bad acne.
So I went to an esthetician and she told me do a double cleanse, use toner, and use essence. That’s good enough. Put on a little moisturizer after and that’s it. So that’s what I do. At night, I can use a little snail cream. I use a face mask at night. It’s kind of just about how my skin is feeling, but the basics are cleanser, essence, toner, moisturizer. If I’m feeling like my skin is more dry, then I’ll use more snail cream or a face mask. But my skin is not flawless—it’s a work in progress.
What are the current products you love?
Right now, I love the Benton Snail Bee High Content Skin Toner, the Jung Saem Mool toner and essence, the Neogen Bio Peel Gauze Peeling Wine, the Klairs Vitamin C Serum, and Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Moisturizer.
What were the main acne tips you learned from your Korean esthetician?
My skin was not clean. I slept in my makeup. I just wasn’t taking care of my skin. I was touching my face a lot. I started using COSRX. That helped a lot. Their pimple patches were really good for me. I just started using products that would target those trouble areas and it helped a lot.
But mostly, it was just you know not taking care of my skin, or eating too much candy, you know, a lot of stuff that I was putting into my body made it worse. I had to change my diet and my routine at night.
A lot of people who aren’t Asian are very hesitant to try Asian skin care, especially when it comes to acids because a lot of times on packaging it’ll say “brightening” or “whitening,” which might be concerning, but you’ve used those products, right?
Yeah. At first I was the same way. I was like, “I don’t want this to bleach my skin,” but I just asked the ladies in the shops, I was like, “What does this mean?” and they said it’s for dark spots or red spots, and it’ll lighten them up. And I talked to my esthetician, and she said it’d be good for me because I have a lot of dark spots and it would calm down those cells, so it’s mostly for my dark spots. My skin is not getting lighter using these brightening products. So it’s not bleach. I understand why people would be freaked out by it but if you have those issues, it can help.
You’ve tried a ton of interesting beauty trends, especially living in Korea. What’s the craziest trend you’ve tried?
I don’t know if this is a Korean beauty trend, but I tried to make a slime mask because slime was trending. So it’s corn starch, water, and something else. It was just so weird. It felt so weird and it smelled like corn and I hated it. It was a fun idea but I looked absolutely crazy. And I actually posted it online. That was pretty weird.
What kind of makeup do you wear every day?
These days, I’ve just been doing very natural makeup. I just do foundation, just a little eyeshadow, and lots of mascara and lip color. I want to do more at some point, but I just throw it on really fast. My favorite eyeliner is the Clio Waterproof Pen Liner. I also like like Etude House’s mascara. I’m using Etude House’s eyeshadows right now. I using an eyebrow pencil from Missha, that’s also pretty good. I do use a lot of Korean makeup, just not foundation. Bbia has these creamy lip glosses that I really, really like. It stays on for a long time and people always ask for the color. The colors are mixtures, like pinkish-purples. They’re really cute.
What is one Korean skin care or beauty trend that you wish people in America would do?
This is just my personal preference, but I like the natural eyebrows. Some eyebrows I see out there just take up too much space and become the point on the face. To each his own, but I like how in Korea, the eyebrows aren’t the main point. I know it shapes your face but it’s not sticking out. But that’s just my preference.
What is it like living in Korea versus living in the States?
Sometimes it’s really not that different because there’s a huge American influence here. When you go down the street, there’s American fast food places like Popeyes and Taco Bell, so you definitely can feel at home. Also, a lot of people here do speak English. But I guess, when you get to the cultural stuff, that’s when it’s a different country. I came here right after college so when I came here I had to make friends all over again. For me, just living in Korea, my friends are here. I have a group of friends and a good community here.
I do like America though because it’s my country and my culture and I understand the jokes there. Everybody can understand me. I love American food. I love Korean food too, but it’s so hard to get Mexican food here. I haven’t had good Mexican food since last summer. I just want good guacamole, you know? You never realize the struggle until you’re like wait, there’s no salsa here?
What is your best advice for your viewers who look up to you and maybe want to be an influencer like you? How do you deal with any negativity?
I think you have to know yourself and that’s not easy to do. It takes a while. I wouldn’t say I really felt confident in myself until the last two to three years, maybe. I think everyone really needs to take time to figure out who you are and what you’re good at and what you’re able to do and what you’re able to contribute. Once you are confident in that, then people can’t really bring you down because you know who you are. You just have to live in your truth and know who you are.