For some, summer might mean a time to strip down and get toasty in the sun; Koreans, however, have developed a myriad of ingenious ways to shield themselves as much as possible from the harsh rays.
Granted, the aversion to sun may not be as great as it is in China, where vacationers frequently don “face-kinis” -- rubber masks that cover the skin of the entire face -- when going to the beach, according to recent news reports.
A woman veils her face with a scarf to escape the sun in this July 2015 photo (Yonhap)
Even so, the variety of sunproof, functional products available in the Korean market are many and wide, ranging from portable parasols to neck-covering hats, arm sleeves and sunblock-infused makeup. Many consumers are more than willing to forego the pleasures of basking in the sun if it means preventing skin damage or tanning.
Numerous Korean women, for example, use parasols in the summer to shroud their entire bodies, leaving many foreigners to wonder why the streets are dotted with shadows on the sunniest of days.
Protesters at Seoul Station Plaza shield their faces from the sun with hats and scarves last month. (Yonhap)
“I thought it was interesting that they used umbrellas for the sun,” said Louisa Studman, an Australian university student who spent a month in Korea on an internship. Never having seen sun-screening parasols before, she naturally assumed that they were umbrellas for the rainy weather. “No one does that at home.”
What is more, parasols these days no longer come in bright, summery colors but in darker tones like navy and black -- colors that better deflect sunlight and ensure full protection from ultraviolet rays.
Two men in this July 2015 photo cover their faces as they lie by at the Han River bank (Yonhap)
“More people wear sunscreen (in Australia) in the past few decades because there have been big campaigns about protecting yourself from the sun,” Studman said, though adding that this is only a recent and an unpopular practice, with people still opting for a healthy-looking tan over actual skin precautions.
Things are much the other way around in Korea, it seems. Despite the rising number of sun-kissed celebrities such as Lee Hyori and Sistar’s Hyorin, the majority of Korean women still favor a pearly white complexion over a brown glaze.
According to 2015 research conducted by the Seoul National University Boramae Hospital, some 41.4 percent of women surveyed replied that they applied sunblock religiously, citing “prevention against spots and blemishes” and “to avoid getting a tan” as the top reasons.
A staggering variety of sunblock is available at local cosmetic brands, from the traditional lotion formula to spray, powder and even gel. (Rumy Doo/The Korea Herald)
For some women, skin health is the most important factor.
“I’ve been told that UV rays are the main cause of skin aging,” said Yoon Ho-soo, a 27-year-old, pale-skinned law school student who takes care to apply sunscreen even when studying indoors. “The rays can penetrate through windows as well, I hear. I have thin skin and hair that burns really easily, so I try to be extra careful.”
Such photosensitivity among the female population is partly what gave rise to the Korean makeup industry’s “cushion” boom -- a phenomenon that is slowly spreading amongst international beauty gurus as well.
First released by cosmetics giant AmorePacific’s brand Iope, the Air Cushion foundation features a tinted sunblock that can be patted onto the face using a cushion-like sponge applicator. Allowing skin coverage and easy UV ray protection at once, the cushion foundation exploded in popularity around 2012 and continues to be a bestseller for many cosmetic brands.
The Air Cushion EX compact foundation by brand Iope (Iope)
But sun precaution is by no means limited to gender or age.
Among the older male population, one much-sought item is the arm sleeve. The tube-shaped pieces that wrap around the lower part of the arm are made from a special fabric that provides cooling effects and UV ray protection.
“The arm sleeve fad started around 2011,” said Kim Cha-sun, manager at Mohen Korea, a manufacturer of UV ray-proof arm sleeves and other functional outdoor gear.
“During the summer, all our machines run full-blast to make arm sleeves and nothing else. We sell about 100,000 pairs every year,” Kim said of the products’ popularity.
Easily removable and portable, the sleeves are favored mostly by male vacationers who engage in outdoor activities and by workers who labor for long hours outdoors, Kim explained.
(Left) A child in a Baby Banz flap cap, which covers the nape of the neck (Baby Banz Korea); Arm sleeves (Adidas)
Children are no exception to the sun-shielding phenomenon. Many mothers, for example, have started purchasing sun caps with backside flaps that cover the nape of their young kid’s neck.
“Parents these days are extra attentive to their babies’ skin health, and not just (to) the skin on the face,” said Jung Min-yong, department head at Baby Banz Korea, which imports the flap caps from Australia.
“We also sell UV ray-repellent children’s sunglasses to protect growing corneas and child rash guards. No one wears bikinis anymore -- they may be cute, but they’re too risky.”
By Rumy Doo (firstname.lastname@example.org