It’s late at night and just finished binge watching “Get it Beauty”, one of several Korean TV shows (my favourite tv show actually) devoted to vetting beauty products. It’s the wildly popular and successful CJ E&M cable show fully dedicated to discussing Korean beauty tips and beauty trends. It was hosted by former Miss Korea Honey Lee (Lee Ha Nui) and she explores all of the hottest trends in Korea. They spotlight different makeup and skincare gurus and share their various how-tos. She wanted to make sure the audience gets the best from the best! I learn so much from every single episode. Every episode of this show has different theme and topic that the advices and tips given are based on it. So fun and interesting right? There’s also one session on the show and it’s called “Blind Test”. A featured Make Up Artist of the day will have one model and demonstrate a makeover on her, while the product names are being kept and not shown until the audiences pick which one is the best of all the tested products. This session is very helpful and interesting because you will judge the item based on its performance, not from the price or the brand! It’s often proved in this test that cheap items aren’t always worse than the more expensive ones. And also at the last part, they ask a random girl from the audience and give her a makeover but this time the makeup artist shows what he or she is using, with the benefits while she’s doing the makeover.

I also get so excited on every episode especially when they bring on special guests from K-pop groups and even celebrities themselves sharing their beauty secrets to a talking mirror. Yep, famous Korean stars or actresses are featured in the show and they will discuss what products they are wearing or their favourite items. Most of the audience love this session because sometimes, admit it, we wonder what is it the actresses/singers are wearing when they’re on stage because they simply look gorgeous! Indeed, we cannot physically be at the backstage and ask them directly ‘what was that lipstick’ so this session of Get It Beauty is wonderful and waited by many people! This exercise: the testing and retesting of the products on the backs of their hands, stretching towelettes, smell them, call on audience members to comment, and nod seriously at one another’s detailed observations—is not taken lightly in a country that made BB creams (all-in-one “beauty balms”) the biggest international cosmetics phenomenon in years, requires head shots on job applications, is one of the world’s cosmetic-surgery capitals, and is home to women with the most extensive skincare regimen on the planet.Korean women are notoriously picky about their skincare. They definitely KNOW Beauty and take it VERY seriously.

These are just some important points (and differences between Korean and Western skincare) of the Korean skincare approach and why it’s so effective:

Focus on hydration. Skin hydration is a key component of the Korean skincare approach. It refers to moisture from water, as opposed to oils, and the idea is that hydrated skin is healthy skin. Well-hydrated skin functions better, and in the long term, its more resistant to outside factors that cause aging. In short term, hydrated skin appears fresh, resilient, translucent , and smooth. Dewy, luminous, firm skin is the most sought after beauty trait in South Korea. While Western society may tend to focus more on achieving a matte, oil free face, South Koreans firmly believe in hydrating with facial mists, combat drying air with humidifiers (which I super love as they’re so well designed and cute), moisturising several times during the day and generously to chase wrinkles away. Even though many Korean moisturising products are dominated by water and humectant ingredients, there are also wonderfully emollient oils and occlusives in a multitude Korean formulas. Those products are often designed to be applied later in the routine, in order to seal in the beneficial hydrating ingredients and the skin-plumping humectants.

Skincare VS Makeup. South Korea’s beauty industry is enormous, spanning both skincare and cosmetics. But far more money is spent on skincare products than on cosmetics, a result of the very smart cultural philosophy that beauty begins with healthy skin. Instead of trying to cover up potential issues with makeup, Koreans tend to focus on skincare products to get at the root of the problem instead. Relying wholly on makeup not only looks unnatural but it’s also a temporary band-aid for a long-term complication. Nothing beats obtaining — and maintaining— clear, bright, luminous skin. YEP the ideal state for skin in Korea is dewy, clear, smooth, resilient, and luminous. You can get a more nuanced understanding of what exemplifies a perfect complexion in Korea by understanding some of the recently emerging terms used to define this optimal state. For example my favourite word “chok-chok” that describes skin that is bouncy and moist; and “taeng-taeng” is used to describe skin that is firm and smooth.

Korean women are really obsessed with how to properly cleanse their skin  because they know it’s the first step  toward the final goal:  a healthy, dewey and soft glow. It’s a big SIN for Korean men/women to neglect their cleansing routine. For many Korean women, a proper cleanse is a double cleanse, which means  a first round with an oil-based cleanser, then a second with a water-based one (foam cleanser). The result is a squeaky clean face with unclogged pores and smoother skin. I’m going to talk about it more on my next post…

Layer, layer, layer. In the West, the standard routine tends to be a three-step process of cleansing, toning, and moisturising . More skin-savvy women may have four-step routine that also includes a serum. In contrast, a Korean skincare routine can have anywhere between five to twelve steps in the morning and evening. It seems excessive by comparison, and it may even sound like it would overwhelm the skin with moisture. But it’s not overwhelming, thanks to the tendency towards lighter formulation of Korean products, which lean more on water and humectants to provide moisture than they do on emollient oils and occlusives. The “layering” technique touted by Korean beauty enthusiasts involves a series of products massaged or patted into the skin, ranging from lightest to heaviest. Each step holds a distinct purpose: prep, renew, treat, hydrate, protect. There is actually a solid logic behind such an elaborate, multi-product approach. One advantage is the ability to customise your routine based on your skin’s daily needs. If you know you’ll be spending a lot of time in a dry environment one day and a humid environment the next, it’s easy to adjust your skincare to accommodate those environmental changes. It’s also easy to customise a Korean skincare routine to treat specific concerns such as acne, raging, or hyper pigmentation. Having a multistep routine composed of light layers means you can have multiple products in your lineup that are each designed to provide targeted treatment for skincare concerns. If you have more than one skincare concern— and most people do—you can layer on individual serums that are each fine-turned to effectively treat a specific concern, rather than having to rely on a product that tries to do it all. Additionally, having individual products to treat these concerns means that once your concerns change, you’re not replacing your entire routine— you’re replacing a single product.

It’s about “Brightening”, not “Bleaching”. I think nearly every brand based in Korea has at least one skincare line devoted to “whitening”. There are many misconceptions outside of Korea regarding this phenomenon, but first things first : no the Korean beauty landscape is interchangeable with  with the word “brightening”. Whitening products are designed to even out skin tone and address hyper pigmentation due to the overproduction of melanin in damaged areas of the skin. Most Korean “whitening” products are safe for people of all skin tones to use and don’t have actual bleach on them. The ingredients used in mass-market whitening skincare products specifically target discoloured areas either by exfoliation, which helps expedite the creation of new, healthy skin by increasing the rate of cell turnover to reveal newer, healthier cells, or by inhibiting the enzyme tyrosine, which controls melanin production and causes hyper pigmentation in areas of the skin that have been damaged. This also include the lightening of the skin that has been tanned by the sun, which is, in fact, a form of sun damage. It just so happens to be a form of sun damage that has been embraced as a beauty standard in many parts of the world over the past century. Interestingly, the fist and foremost visible signs of aging with us Asian women aren’t lines or wrinkles— they are hyper pigmentation and dullness. The ideal healthy complexion is skin that is smooth, hydrated, even-toned, and luminous, and most products labelled as “whitening” can help anyone achieve this state, including deeper skin tones. A bright glow is the end goal in your skin-care game. Bright skin looks like its lit from within.

“ Sunscreen” is the most important word in Skincare. As important as the desire for an even skin tone is the emphasis on sun protection. Again, suntanned skin is damaged skin, and in Korea, a suntan is not the beauty goal than it is in other parts of the world. It’s a very advantageous view when it comes to anti-aging. Sun damage, in addition to elevating the risk of skin cancer, is also the primary cause of visible signs go aging such as lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone. Because sun protection is such a high priority in Asian markets, a lot of effort has been made to produce highly effective, cosmetically elegant sunscreen in a broad selection of formulas including creams, mists, gels, and essences. Furthermore, there is a lot of value placed on broad spectrum protection in Korean formulas- meaning these sun-protection products tend to be highly effective against both UVB (B stands for burning) rays and UVA (as in aging ray)rays. UVA rays are responsible for cancer and premature aging and UVB rays are responsible for sunburn. In Korea, from an early age, they are taught from moisturising to exfoliation to generous applying of the SPF, children learn that with some time and effort, you can be in control of your skin. Sunscreen is the last step and the most important one, because it’s all about prevention. If you neglect your sun care, twenty to thirty years from now you might regret it (think age spots, wrinkles, and sagging skin). Scary. I always believe that the key to really flawless skin on your 30’s, is you practice a good skincare routine on your 20’s. The key to flawless skin on your 40’s is when you have a good skincare routine on your 30’s. So it’s not too late!


I think since I’ve adopted the Korean skincare approach, using high quality and effective products, my skin’s health, clarity, luminosity is the best it’s ever been! Dewey not oily! Now you may ask, if you could use non-Korean products in a Korean-style routine? Well contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to use Korean products exclusively in order to benefit from a Korean-style skincare approach. You can achieve wonderful results by using whatever you have at home, or have access to wherever you are. Korean products are amazing but the skincare approach is about much more than the geographic origins of your cream. The Korean skincare philosophy is about prioritising  your skin as your most important asset, I call it "weapon" hahah. Focussing on moisture, and building a highly customised routine of light, hydrating layers that target specific concerns. Just take ownership of your skin and have fun!

Love and Light,

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