Love affair with sun protection
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.
The variety of sunproof products available in the Korean market is wide, ranging from portable parasols to neck-covering hats, arm sleeves and sunblock-infused make-up.
Many consumers are more than willing to forgo 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 bodies, leaving many foreigners to wonder why the streets are dotted with shadows on the sunniest of days.
What's more, parasols these days no longer come in bright, summery colours but in darker tones like navy and black - colours that better deflect sunlight and ensure full protection from ultraviolet rays.
But despite the rising number of sun-kissed celebrities such as Lee Hyori and Sistar's Hyorin, the majority of Korean women still favour a pearly white complexion over a brown glaze.
According to research this year from the Seoul National University Boramae Hospital, some 41.4 per cent 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.
For some women, skin health is the most important factor.
"I've been told that UV rays are the main cause of skin ageing," 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 make-up industry's "cushion" boom, a phenomenon that is slowly spreading among international beauty gurus as well.
First released by cosmetics giant AmorePacific's Iope brand, the Air Cushion foundation features a tinted sunblock that can be patted onto the face using a cushion-like sponge applicator. Boasting 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.
But protection from the sun 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 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 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."
Easily removable and portable, the sleeves are favoured mostly by male vacationers who engage in outdoor activities and by workers who labour for long hours outdoors, the Mohen manager explained.
Children are no exception to the sun-shielding phenomenon. Many mothers, for example, have started purchasing sun caps with back flaps that cover the napes of their young kids' necks.
"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-repelling children's sunglasses to protect growing corneas and child rash guards. No one wears bikinis any more - they may be cute, but they're too risky."
THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK