Secrets I Learned In A Top Korean Makeup School

After 13 years as a pro makeup artist, Chuchie Ledesma unlearned many things when she got into the prestigious makeup masterclass at Korea's Jung Saem Mool Art & Academy.
Reading Time: 8 minutes

“No excuse[s],” whispered Kim Sojeong, one of the assistant instructors at JungSaemmool Academy and a former student. “You have to find a way,” she added when she saw that I was struggling to seamlessly cover up my model’s pimple and I had started coming up with reasons why it wasn’t working.

I told her that my model, who was also my classmate, wore a pimple patch before our session, and that’s why the concealer wouldn’t stick around the area where the patch adhesive once was. Even after I’d thoroughly cleaned it, the concealer just wouldn’t cooperate. Impatience might have gotten the best of me, so I started blaming the pimple patch.

When I couldn’t get the coverage right, I called the attention of my K-drama makeup instructor and senior director at JungSaemmool Inspiration WEST branch, Park Sun Mi, to help me. A few targeted and gentle brush strokes here and there (no use of sponge or fingers, by the way–just a small concealer brush), and the pesky red pimple disappeared as if it were photoshopped right before my eyes.

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I looked at Kim Sojeong, who was standing behind me, and mouthed “Wow.” To which she replied in jest, “See? No excuse[s].”

Hearing those words, albeit well-intentioned and gently said, suddenly reminded me why K-beauty is lightyears ahead of the game when it comes to the youthful, fresh, and flawless ‘no-makeup’ makeup look. It’s all about the technique.

It was just a week’s worth of intensive K-beauty training and yet my entire makeup game completely changed. And I’ve been doing makeup professionally for x years!

From the angle at which I hold my brushes to the way I see every single person’s face, and up to the types of cosmetics I mix and match, I can say I learned at great length and my skills have significantly improved. I can never look at makeup artistry the same way I did before I stepped into the academy.

You’re probably curious, so let me share with you some of the reasons why.

Makeup artistry is all about art–and science. 

They go hand in hand. The makeup masterclass highlighted the necessary integration of artistry and science in the creation of makeup products and in the way they are applied. Because, according to Jung Saemmool herself, understanding the composition, pigments, formulations, and even the color’s relation to our personal color is crucial to achieving any desired makeup look. And it definitely makes sense!

I remember a time when we were doing K-wedding makeup, and the instructor and vice president at Jung Saemmool Inspiration, Sohn Juhee, came by my makeup station and asked me why I chose a pinkish blush and mixed it with a hint of peach and lilac. Caught off guard, I shyly replied that I just saw and felt it would look good on my skin, but I really  didn’t have an explanation why. She simply nodded her head in acknowledgment and told me it looked good, but that I shouldn’t have added the lilac blush.

Later on, during our Special Personal Color class taught by Master Jung Saemmool at the end of the course, I learned that the reason why pink blush looked good on me was because I had red-brown eyes. She mentioned that people with red-brown eyes like mine would look well with a pinkish wash of eyeshadow or deeper shades of red lip colors. Having dark brown or black hair could also help in bringing out my best features because it complements the colors on my face.

Putting it simply, makeup artistry isn’t just about following the latest trends, but is more a careful study of color theory, human anatomy, and a little bit of math for symmetry and proportion, to know the right makeup that works.

The tiniest detail matters. 

While Western beauty is big on colors, K-beauty is all about the details. I saw this when Sohn Juhee showed us her false eyelash application technique that made it undetectable to the naked eye and on camera. It was accurately and intricately placed one by one that even she would sometimes wonder where she attached the false lashes.

Her technique helped me rid of the annoying lash bands that would often show during extreme close-up beauty shoots and wedding portraits we do with my clients. Doing this also made my clients’ eyes feel more comfortable during the entire time they were wearing the false eyelashes.

Speaking of detail, during our K-drama class, Park Sun Mi emphasized how the actors should not look like they’re wearing makeup–even if they are. One wrong technique will ruin the theme or the vibe of the look, so the application should be intentional, precise, and thorough. She even shared a few makeup hacks that prove how the simplest detail can change everything and make a makeup artist’s life so much easier during filming.

For example, since the actor’s tears naturally flow from the inner corner of the eyes, the eyeliner should be applied just on the outer corners of the eyes to prevent it from smudging. The length and the direction of the flick of an actress’s eyeliner determines if she’ll look like a villain or an innocent protagonist. Lastly, it is best to avoid applying too many skincare products beforehand, so the makeup doesn’t slide off the face and so that it lasts longer.

Remember that the skin is a living and breathing complex canvas. 

In South Korea, the emphasis is on skincare as the foundation of makeup. A flawless canvas begins with well-prepped and healthy skin. Learning the importance of skincare routines and priming the skin before makeup application was a game-changer for me.

The academy had a class dedicated solely to skin prep and base application, and we spent a whole day just learning about it. Our instructor for K-base and senior manager at Jung Saemmool Inspiration WEST branch, Lee Seo Ah, walked us through the Korean way of prepping the skin. As I mentioned, every single detail matters. We were taught that massaging the face and gently tapping on the products can help the skin absorb it better.

My favorite part was when we were asked to prep each other’s faces. A steamed towel was placed on my face while my partner gently pressed on my face’s massaging points to help with blood circulation. It was a relaxing session that I didn’t want to end.

Now, for the base, one of the interesting techniques I learned from Lee Seo Ah was that she didn’t apply the same amount of foundation or concealer on all parts of the face. We have what the academy calls the “thin zone,” which encompasses the T-zone, the outer part of the face, and the area between the brows, under the eyes, and around the sides of the mouth. Our skin around this area is thin, so small amounts of products should be applied to avoid caking and creasing.

And then there’s also the “thick zone,” which are the areas around the cheekbones, the jawline, and the chin. This is where our skin is thicker so ideally, a thicker amount of products should and could be applied to create dimension. We were also taught that a concealer’s melting point in relation to the temperature of our skin can make or break a look!

Suffice it to say, my brain melted after this class and it was only our first day. It was extremely technical but in my opinion, it was exactly what we needed to up our makeup game. Creating the perfect canvas is essential and the masterclass honed my skills in achieving a flawless base through precise foundation application–ensuring that it enhances rather than masks the skin.

Embrace the natural face shape and features.  

Tailoring makeup to suit different face shapes and features is essential for a flattering look, and Jung Saemmool is an advocate of this. She would rather enhance the natural shape and curves of the face, instead of totally altering it through makeup. Because of this, learning more about the Korean way of contouring, highlighting, and blush application specific to various face shapes was enlightening.

During the entire course, I was made to understand that one signature K-beauty technique is the way they apply their subtle blush that begins at the center of the face–yes, no matter what your face shape is. This doesn’t mean that we can’t apply our blushes according to our face shapes to help improve or sculpt it. We are always free to do so, so don’t worry.

It’s just that, contrary to what we’re usually taught at most makeup schools and tutorials, the Korean way of applying the blush on the center of the cheeks while gently blending it as you pull the brush outward creates a softer and more natural, youthful look. It’s a minute change in technique but you’ll see the difference!

During our K-wedding class, Sohn Juhee explained this further. By applying the blush on the middle of the cheeks (think Lottie and Pikachu, but with a well-blended blush!) and lightly blending it outwards, you are already subtly sculpting your face by putting attention to the center of it. Doing this helps your face not look too flat or wide even without using a bronzer or contour powder. This technique also just shows how much Korean makeup artists value the youthful look without trying to alter the natural facial features.

Learning the hard parts can help make one a master.

This one is my favorite and it stuck with me the most. I just overheard my K-pop makeup teacher and freelance main instructor at the JungSaemmool Academy, Jenny Hyun, say this when my classmate asked her why we were made to do the base first before the colorful eye makeup that’s prone to mess-ups and fall-outs.

Her response was so good that I had to ask her again the next day. Here’s what she said: “Because if we do the foundation after the eye, we get used to having a fall-out and we can’t really control the brush. We teach our students to do the hardest part first, which is the base, and then shadows, to get control over the brushes. So, [students] understand that ‘Oh I used this kind of stroke and it doesn’t create more fallouts or maybe it creates less fallout’. We are teaching our students techniques [that lead to] less fallouts, so we don’t go over with the base [again] after the foundation… We train them with a harder technique.”

Add to that, at the last day of our class, Jung Saemmool shared what her mom told her, and this is what inspired her to become the master that she is today: “Masters [of the craft] will make people wonder what you applied on the face and how you did it because it will look seamless and easy to do.”

I’m a client-first type of makeup artist in the sense that I make sure my client looks like herself, only younger and fresher, and so I really appreciated the makeup philosophy of Jung Saemmool which values uniqueness. She reiterated how “less is more,” and her respect for one’s natural beauty and facial features–bringing this out, instead of changing it to suit society’s standard of beauty. 

If you would like to know more about the academy or you’d want to enroll in any of their makeup classes, you may visit their website or their Instagram page: @jsmacademy. They’re on YouTube, too.

Collage by Dannah Valdezco. Golden oval baroque style picture frame isolated cutout on transparent by © Kislev. Female Hand Holding a Makeup Brush by ©  Icons8 Photos. Makeup Products by © Africa images. Skincare Products by © Julia Pomodoro. Modern Classroom Interior by © imaginima. Young Asian beauty woman pony tail hair with korean makeup style by © Auttapol Tatiyarat. Vintage Vanity Table by © Odua Images. Via

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