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Promoting K-beauty through the Fingertips - Makeup Artist Eun Jin Lee


Promoting K-beauty through the Fingertips - Makeup Artist Eun Jin Lee 


Eun Jin Lee


< pic 1 >Eun Jin Lee (left)



Eun Jin Lee first set out for Singapore in hopes of building up her career overseas. As of 2021, she is an office worker (with 15 years of experience in the financial sector) and a makeup artist. Lee began studying makeup, which she had always dreamed of doing, during her maternity leave. Wanting to make the most of her time, Lee entered a makeup academy, where she was so focused on learning that she gained the nickname “busy Korean mommy.” She remembers those months fondly as one of the most exciting times of her life. For the February issue of ACH Monthly, we sat down with Lee to hear more about how she is promoting K-beauty in Singapore through her second job as a makeup artist.



Q. Please introduce yourself to the readers of ACH Monthly.

Hello! My name is Eun Jin Lee. I am an office worker and a makeup artist who uses K-beauty techniques for Singaporean consumers. I also write a blog on Kakao Brunch on life in Singapore.


Q. Can you tell us why you moved to Singapore 15 years ago?

I was a senior at university just about to graduate when I was chosen for a project [operated by the Korea International Trade Association and the Ministry of Trade, Industry & Energy] on cultivating young workers for a career in trade. I suddenly had the chance to work as an intern in Singapore for six months. I was fascinated by Singapore, a place full of ambitious, hardworking people from diverse backgrounds from all over the world. I thought that it would be nice to stay here after graduating. As luck had it, I was hired by a global financial firm with an office in Singapore, where I have lived ever since as the head of corporate businesses in the Asia-Pacific.


Q. You are also a makeup artist. How did you decide to attend a makeup academy in Singapore?

I’ve always been interested in makeup. I loved watching makeup tutorials on YouTube and really wanted to take makeup classes. But because most classes are held during the day on weekdays, there was no way I could attend while having a day job, and leaving my job in order to attend makeup academy was not a viable option. Once I realized that my maternity leave coincided almost exactly with an academy semester, I decided to make the most of this rare opportunity, with full support from my family. It was not easy, and I was always pressed for time—I took my breast pump to classes. But I loved every moment, because I was studying the professional makeup techniques I’d always wanted to know more about.


Q. Are there any memorable incidents from your time at the makeup academy?

While I was still a student, I had the chance to give a makeup demo at a pop-up store. It was a collaboration event offered by a famous Singaporean online shopping mall and a Korean cosmetic brand. As a Korean, it was a satisfying experience because I was able to introduce makeup products as well as K-beauty techniques from my home country to a foreign audience. The demo was a success because there were a lot of people interested in K-beauty because of the Hallyu boom.


Q. Given that Singapore is famously multicultural and multi-ethnic, there must have been students from a wide range of backgrounds at the makeup academy. Are there any classmates you remember?

There was a Malaysian student who entered the academy at the same time that I did. She lived in Johor Bahru, which is very close to the Singapore-Malaysia border. She was crossing an international border every day just so that she could become a certified makeup artist. She always said that there are many Malaysians living in Johor Bahru who work in Singapore and that it was “nothing special,” but I was very impressed by the amount of effort she was willing to make in order to learn. There was also a Singaporean who was an ex-inmate. She was studying to be a makeup artist for a fresh start in life after her prison sentence, which made me realize the value of effort. 

   Everyone I met at the academy was there not because they were interested in makeup as a hobby but in order to gain new momentum for their lives. This motivated me to make the most of every minute and do my best to learn as much as I could.


Q. You are a makeup artist who is also good at styling hair. What made you want to learn how to style hair?

I believe that a good makeup artist needs to have an understanding of hair styling. The academy I attended offered hair classes alongside makeup classes, because most freelance makeup artists in Singapore do both makeup and hair. Hair styling was like a completely different world: practice is key, because the skills are all based on how well you can use your hands. At the academy, students worked in pairs to practice their hair skills on one another. Outside of classtime, I bought a mannequin called a “dolly head” that I kept at home to practice hair styling.


Q. Have you ever learned the makeup style of a country other than Singapore?

After finishing classes at the Singaporean academy, I studied Korean makeup. It’s not easy to find a place in Singapore to learn Korean-style makeup, and so I ended up taking private lessons from the director of a beauty parlor in Cheongdam-dong. It was a sort of short-term study abroad program — in my home country! — which I spent studying the latest Korean makeup trends. I also tried to find makeup trends that are popular with Korean women that can be used for non-Korean Asian women.


Q. Why did you learn both Singaporean and Korean makeup styles? Is there a makeup style of another country that you would like to learn in the future?

There are cases where Korean-style makeup does not suit Singaporean people, and many more cases of the opposite. If you know the styles of both countries, you can take only the aspects of each that you need and mix them for the best outcome. Makeup in general — not just for Singapore or Korea — is a fast-changing world: there are always new styles and trends each season. Therefore, in order to stay on top of the latest trends, you need to study them as soon as they appear. While studying, it’s also important to develop skills that are unique to you. 

   At the moment, I’m studying makeup styles for people with darker skin, such as Malaysians and Indians. The way in which you express skin tone is very different compared to the method used for East Asians. I want to keep learning different styles of makeup to make it easier to do international fashion shows, which often have models who are not only Asian but also Caucasian or of African descent.


Q. Is Korean-style makeup very different from Singaporean makeup?

Korean-style makeup is all about creating a natural-looking skin tone through a solid base, for which even differences of one millimeter are significant. On the other hand, there is no single “right way” to do makeup in Singapore, whose population is made up of many ethnicities. In other words, it’s important to know which points to pay attention to or emphasize for each ethnicity. For example, for a Chinese model, it is helpful to apply segmented, pre-cut fake eyelashes. But for an Indian model, who likely has naturally thick eyelashes, it’s much better to focus on curling than fake eyelashes. East Asians favor makeup that is subtle and natural, while Malaysians and Indians prefer to use bold colors to create a multi-dimensional look.



< pic 2 >Eun Jin Lee, doing the makeup for Priscilla Martin at the 2016 Miss Singapore contest


Q. You did makeup for Priscilla Martin, the 2016 Miss Singapore Global Beauty Queen. Can you tell us about that experience?

At the time, the Miss Singapore candidates thought I was an oddity because I was the only Korean out of all the makeup artists who were there. Priscilla was the first to approach me directly. I remember she said “Annyeonghasaeyo” in Korean. She was very interested in Korean dramas and K-pop. I think she asked me to do her makeup because she was also interested in K-beauty and what that would be like when applied by a Korean person. Despite the pressures of the competition, even during the busiest moments, I had fun because Priscilla was a good talker and knew how to put people at ease — it felt like working with an old friend, right from the start. I wanted to highlight Priscilla’s naturally-tanned skin. My efforts, fortunately, went over well with the judges. The Miss Singapore contest is still one of my most satisfying work experiences as a makeup artist.


Q. Is there a makeup-related event that you want to participate in or plan yourself in the future?

I once worked as a makeup artist at a Mother’s Day makeover event held by Bread Talk [a large Singaporean bakery franchise]. It was an event for older women who do not normally have a chance to get makeup done professionally. As a mom myself, the event was a wonderful experience because it made me think of my own mother in Korea. I want to take part in events for people who have unique life experiences or are socially disadvantaged. While in Singapore, I would like to do makeup demos for K-beauty showcases or a pop-up store to promote Korea’s beautiful makeup techniques to foreign consumers.


Q. Is there a makeup artist you think of as a role model?

In Korea, Jung Saem Mool. Among foreign makeup artists, I really respect Bobbi Brown.


Q. Do you have a makeup philosophy? Also, what is the phrase that you would like people to use alongside your name when referred to as a makeup artist?

There is no such thing as an ugly person. If you look closely at someone’s face, you will eventually find a special quality or advantageous feature. When I do makeup, I like to emphasize the person’s innate beauty rather than artificially cover a defect or turn the person into someone else. My goal is to help others to find a unique form of beauty through natural makeup. I would like people to refer to me in a professional setting as a “K-beauty expert in Southeast Asia” or “a makeup artist who gives people the gift of beautiful satisfaction.”


Q. There are many Koreans living in Singapore and other countries. Do you have any advice for them?

Throughout my years in Singapore, I was told many times, as a compliment, that Koreans are diligent. I believe that this positive generalization is the result of the many hardworking Koreans who have lived in Singapore thus far. I wish the best for all overseas Koreans who are doing their best to build a career and life for themselves far from home. For my part, I will do my best as a Korean makeup artist to publicize K-beauty far and wide in Singapore.