5 Korean Beauty Secrets For Glowing Skin

It’s nearing the end of summer, and soon the weather will take a turn for the cooler. We’ll be entering that dreaded time of the year when the air turns brisk and skins turn dry.

How to combat this, you wonder? Inspiration comes from South Korea, today’s skincare leaders. They glow all year-round! You can’t help but wonder if the entire country has some kind of fountain of youth bottled up on their vanity tables.

Well, we’ve put in some research to answer those mystifying, age-defying questions, and here are the five open secrets behind their “chok-chok” (dewy, damp) skin. Read it and do (or dew)!

Sheet Masks

If you haven’t heard of or used a sheet mask by now, where have you been? We have movie stars photographed on vacation enjoying a cigarette and a sheet mask out on their hotel balcony making headlines. It’s that relevant.

Here’s the lowdown: sheet masks are thin, face-shaped, one-time-use masks that are packed with various essences and serums. You drape it over your face for 20 minutes (the time frame is very important because if you leave it on for too long, it will take on an adverse effect.) Follow this rule of thumb: Keep it on long enough to transfer the goodies and moisture onto your skin before the mask dries out. Otherwise, it will suck the moisture back from the skin.

Exfoliate + Steam

Korean exfoliating cloths
Korean exfoliating cloths

What’s the best way to achieve soft, baby-like skin, you ask? You brusquely slough off the old, flaky one. Or at least, that’s how you do it according to my grandmother in Seoul, who is 83 years young. She has the most beautiful, milky white skin that glows, the ideal mix of “chok-chok” and “teng-teng” (plump).

Every other day, my grandmother attends her neighborhood bathhouse, aka “jjim-jil-bang,” to partake in the true definition of the beauty-is-pain method of Korean body scrubbing. It’s a vulnerable, painful process, but I guarantee you, your skin will feel squeaky clean afterward.

Here’s the lowdown: you enter the bathhouse and take a quick shower and strip. You lay on a massage table where an elderly Korean lady comes and exfoliates the heck out of you with a prickly, lime-green exfoliating bath towel. You will be scrubbed down pink and raw and flecks of dirt and grime (“ddae”) will splay everywhere. Afterwards, you sit in a nice steaming bath and nurse your new baby skin. You will leave the bathhouse, anew and glowing.

Sound intense? I would take this method and tweak it for the face, but in a gentler manner, no more than two to three times a week. First, exfoliate, then steam and open up those wonderful pores. Lastly, slather on some serums and essences and soak it all in!

Eat Your Fermented Veggies

(Charles Haynes / Creative Commons)
(Charles Haynes / Creative Commons)

Kimchi is a staple in South Korean cuisine. You can eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner; you can eat it as it is, or simmer it for a stew, or even have it as a condiment to burger and fries. But it’s how you make it, and what it does for your skin, that makes it the most interesting.

The process can be labor intensive, but do it for the results. First, napa cabbage is layered with chilli pepper flakes, sugar, salt, green onions, grounded rice porridge, salted fermented shrimp, and depending on your preference, sometimes oysters or raw octopus. Then it goes into an airtight container and fermented for several days. It’s ready to eat when the kimchi starts to bubble as the bacteria happily chomps down on the sugar components. As the bubbling settles down, the kimchi will take on a pickled, ripe taste.

Turns out, this bacteria is good for you. Incorporating small amounts into your diet can clean out your gastronomical tract and heal inflamed skin, equaling beautiful on the inside, beautiful on the outside. If spices aren’t your thing, alternatives can be found with kombucha, yogurt with live cultures, and sauerkraut.

It’s easy as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9…aaaand 10.

As we’ve come to learn, it’s not an easy process to achieve luminous skin. Charlotte Cho, the founder of Soko Glam, one of the first e-commerce sites to introduce K-beauty products to the U.S, shared with ELLE her knowledge on the arduous but necessary process of achieving that envious glow:

I should warn you, it’s a whopping 10 steps daily to glowing, ethereal skin, so buck up.

1, 2, 3

Firstly, it’s important to understand that this entire process should begin with the cleanest canvas. Which means cleanse…then cleanse again. Cho suggests trying an oil based cleanser to start since “oil eliminates impurities without drying out your skin.” After this, you’ll cleanse one more time with another cleanser followed by exfoliation. But since daily exfoliation can be too harsh on the skin, rotate problem areas like cheeks or nose and exfoliate every other day.

4, 5, 6, 7

Now that you have a squeaky clean palate, splash some toner on it! It will balance the pH levels of your skin. When your pH levels get out of balance, your skin become more prone to flare-ups. Follow this by essence, then serums/ampoules. (Serums and ampoules are basically concentrated essences that focus on specific problem areas like anti-aging, collagen enhancing, uneven skin tone, etc.) Lastly, top off with a sheet mask (told you, super relevant!). Two or three times a week will work, and on your off nights, feel free to experiment. There are always new trending masks targeting different areas — lip masks, eye masks, and chin masks (no, seriously).

8, 9, 10

Now let’s focus on the eyes – the windows to the soul. Dab on some eye cream nightly, even if you think you don’t need it. It’s preventativeand your 57-year-old self will thank your 23-year-old self. Emulsion comes next, which is a liquidy lotion kind of thing. And lastly, you’ll seal in all the goodness with a thick, cream based lotion/mask. Hello, glow morning!

Be brave, very brave

(Andy Powell / Creative Commons)
(Andy Powell / Creative Commons)

Koreans are adventurous when it comes to their skincare — think base ingredients such as snail cream, bee pollen, cheese, egg and sheep oil, and pearl powder and extracts. What’s more? Products containing these ingredients fly off the shelves.

Snail cream: bountiful in hydraulic acid, which helps skin retain moisture. Snail mucin (a fancier-sounding version of mucus) also helps with fading dark spots and scars.

Bee pollen (propolis): high amount of vitamins and amino acids, which help stimulate collagen production.

Egg & sheep oil: a new way of extracting oil from eggs and sheep (without harming the sheep) have been discovered. Fatty acids and sebum both help skin stay hydrated and plump.

Pearl powder + extracts: rich in antioxidants, which help rebuild collagen.  

Cheese: contains lactic acid which helps remove dead cells, making room for newer ones and also contains natural protein that helps skin stay firm and hydrated.

Well, there you have it. Five semi-hard, laborious steps to glowing skin. To quote Ice-T: “pimpin ain’t easy.”