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January 13, 2016

Why Do So Many Asian Beauty Products Mention Jeju Island?

As someone who has recently (as in the last 6-8 months) taken the plunge into Asian beauty, I spend an absurd amount of time scouring the internet for info. What can I say, I like rabbit holes. *shrug* My nerdiness makes me want to know ~all the things~, so my spare time has quickly been filled up by reading blog posts and reddit discussions old and new, seeking out trustworthy sources of products and information, and endless amounts of scrolling through site after site in order to understand who has the best prices on what (the discount diva in me strikes again, did someone say ‘free shipping’?) and to get a better feel for what’s out there and what I might want to try next. In all of my nights spent scrolling through TK, RRS, and about 20 other sellers, I’ve seen numerous references to Jeju Island, but its significance to AB is rarely explained outside of promotional info. So, a curious-kitten mission took shape and now here we are, trying to answer the question: What’s the deal with Jeju Island and how does it relate to beauty products?

Jeju Island is located off the coast of South Korea.

Jeju Island (제주도) is a South Korean island, located just south of the mainland in the Korea Strait. It has gone by many names over the years, but you’re most likely to see it referred to as Jeju Island or Jejudo. The island was formed by a volcanic eruption around 2 million years ago, which gives the island some interesting geographic features, such as lava tubes and an abundance of volcanic soil. It’s well known for its natural beauty, and has been named as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The primary industries of the island are agriculture and fishing, which is where it begins to intersect with Asian beauty.

Many cosmetics companies source ingredients from Jeju Island due to the optimal growing conditions, especially the famed purity of Jeju Island, and in some cases, the choice to obtain ingredients from Jeju Island is also influenced by the vibrant folklore, which sometimes plays a role in the marketing of products that feature ingredients from Jeju Island.

Volcanic ash soil on Jeju Island. Source

Volcanic Ash Soil

Volcanic ash soil is what’s left behind long after a volcano has erupted. It’s a porous, lightweight soil, that is usually dark brown in color, and which possesses a higher concentration and diversity of minerals than other soils (“Unique Properties of Volcanic Ash Soils”, Nanzyo, 2002). According to the 20th World Congress of Soil Science,

“Jeju volcanic ash soils become good soils to grow crops because of greater organic matter contents/CEC, better moisture retention and soil aeration.” Source

To put it into plain terms, growing crops in volcanic soil means plants receive more nutrition due to the higher mineral content and the moisture retention of the volcanic ash. Because the volcanic ash is porous, it also helps plants to grow deeper roots. This, along with the relatively mild, humid subtropical climate and lack of pollution lend themselves to excellent harvests of a number of ingredients which are used in many beauty treatments. Growing in volcanic ash soil in the right conditions makes better plants; better plants make better ingredients; and better ingredients make better skincare. It turns out, there’s some legitimacy to the claim that ingredients from Jejudo are superior.

The Mythology of Jeju Island

The rich mythology and the natural beauty of Jeju Island (especially the low level of pollution) also makes for great marketing, and cosmetic companies aren’t hesitating to make good use of it. Although Jeju island has only become a major trend in Korean beauty in the past year or so, major manufacturers have been sourcing ingredients from Jeju Island for quite some time, as is the case with the beauty giant AmorePacific, Korea’s largest cosmetics company, who has owned a green tea farm on the island since 1979. In addition to green tea, Jeju Island also supplies AmorePacific with the red ginseng and bamboo sap used in their skincare products.

AmorePacific explains how it began its relationship with Jeju Island:

Five centuries ago, on the magnificent Pacific Island known as Island of the Gods, a raging volcano left in its wake the most nutrient-rich soil imaginable. Believed to be a gift of the Goddess Yul-ryeo, from this fertile, fruitful soil was grown the most desirable green tea in all of Asia. Tales of its potency were legendary: emissaries traveled for days to reserve and conserve harvests; Asian princesses rubbed the leaf’s powerful essence on their face to maintain their youth.

Six decades ago one man, Sung-Hwan-Suh, had the foresight and perseverance to study the remarkable benefits of these life-giving plants. He pledged to share the amazing antioxidant benefits of these indigenous Korean botanicals with the world.
From South Korea’s Jeju Island, he began what today is his bespoke company’s journey to unearth and evolve this unique, revolutionary science. From this proud heritage, AMOREPACIFIC conceives and achieves strikingly efficacious skincare. Source

The myth that AmorePacific is referencing is an origin myth from the mainland. A more common legend from the people of Jejudo, who developed a culture and mythology different from that of the mainland, is the legend of Grandmother Seolmundae. There are many versions of this myth, and additional stories about Seolmundae, but the version commonly accepted by scholars as being the most accurate is that Seolmundae was a giant goddess who created the island, and who now supports the island by letting it sit atop her body while she watches over the people of Jejudo. Source

Jeju Island in Skincare Products

One of Innisfree’s Jeju-oriented product lines. Source

Innisfree (owned by AmorePacific) also has close ties to Jeju Island. Being an eco-friendly brand, the purity of Jeju ingredients plays an even larger role in the brand’s marketing. Many of the products mention ingredients from Jeju Island, such as the Innisfree Orchid range, which contains an antioxidant obtained from orchid grown on Jeju Island. Innisfree also has a mineral water range which uses water from the Sanbang moutain hot springs on Jeju Island, and a volcanic range which features the mineral-rich volcanic scoria (a type of porous rock similar to pumice) from Jeju. Of course, since Innisfree is owned by AmorePacific, they use green tea from the same farm on Jejudo in their Green Tea Line. Finally, the Jeju Bija range uses bija grown on Jeju. Additionally, the Gamgyul tangerine (native to Jejudo), camellia petals, barley, nutmeg, and several sea plants used in Innisfree products are all sourced from Jeju Island and the surrounding waters. Source

Source

One of the most trendy products in Asian Beauty over the past couple of months has been the Blossom Jeju Pink Camellia Soombi Essence Serum, which also uses camellia from Jeju Island. Other well-known brands that use botanical ingredients from Jeju Island include C20 (in the Vitamin Sleep 9 to 5 Crema), PureHeal, Aritaum (the aloe used in their products is grown on Jeju), Ciracle, Its Skin, Mamonde, Mizon, and Nature Republic. You may have also seen Jeju Island mentioned on the SKINFOOD Jeju Tangerine sheet mask, The Face Shop’s Jeju Volcanic line, and The Yeon’s Hallabang line.

The material for konjac sponges is also often sourced from Jeju Island by a number of brands, such as Innisfree, Chica Y Chico, and Boscia.

Horse oil? Also (sometimes) from Jeju Island. The Samsung Mayu Horse Oil Cream uses oil from the horses raised on Jeju Island who, like everything else from Jeju Island, are supposedly more pure. The oil in the Guerisson 9 Complex that’s been the star of the horse oil trend, however, is sourced from Germany.

So what does Jeju Island have to do with Asian beauty products? Damn near everything in a field that’s so heavily driven by ingredients. In the world of beauty products, Jeju Island has become synonymous with purity, and to include the name of Jeju Island on a product indicates quality.

Have you used any products with ingredients from Jeju Island? Let me know in the comments down below.

AmorePacific’s Green Tea farm on Jeju Island. Source

If you’re interested in learning more about Jeju Island, check out some of these links:

  • Tricia Ong from VainGloriousYou took a trip to Jeju Island with Innisfree to get a behind-the-scenes look at their facilities on Jeju Island. She has some amazing photos and information about the ingredients Innisfree uses. I highly recommend reading her post!
  • AmorePacific is working on an amazing project to protect the natural resources of Jeju Island and increase the benefits to the local community, who have suffered losses lately due to an increase in Chinese companies setting up shop on Jeju Island and taking business from the locals. Tourism has become an increasingly important industry on Jeju Island, and I love that AmorePacific is taking steps to protect the community.
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