Facial skin takes the brunt of the elements -- hot or cold, wet or dry -- and is worth extra attention. South Korean skin care is known for an elaborate, multistep routine that nurtures youthful skin with a proactive and consistent approach. But high-end Korean beauty products are pricey -- a set with all the components easily reaches into the triple-digits. Instead, use these 10 skin-care tips and products to replicate the vaunted Korean beauty routine at a fraction of the cost. (Consult a dermatologist before making any drastic changes to your skin-care regimen.)
Beauty and skin-care products won't hide fatigue, dehydration, or sun damage regardless of the price. They're helpful only when used atop a foundation of healthy skin. That means drinking plenty of water to keep the body hydrated and getting plenty of rest so the body can rebuild. Be sure to use sunscreen with a minimum SPF 15 to protect against sun damage. Healthy habits can build supple skin that more easily absorbs ingredients in skin-care products.
The Korean cleansing routine differs from the American approach. While Americans typically use makeup remover and wipes, many Korean beauty gurus subscribe to a double cleansing. The first wash calls for an oil-based cleanser to remove makeup followed by a second wash with a gentle cleanser to grab leftover makeup, dirt, and oil. The face is then patted dry with a face towel (not the one used to dry hands).
As the body ages, the skin begins to lose elasticity and tightness. Rubbing or tugging, especially with rough towels, doesn't help -- it only creates friction. A few seconds each day may not seem like much, but decades of abrasive tugging and wiping add up. Korean beauty gurus never use force on their faces. They dab their fingers with warm serums and creams (the warmth makes for easier absorption) and gently pat their faces and necks. A video from makeup expert Michelle Phan is a good how-to guide to nightly application.
Compared with American astringents and toners, which have a high alcohol content, so-called "refreshers" are gentle. Some contain natural ingredients to help restore the skin's pH balance and ready the skin to better absorb serums and creams applied later. Some Korean women pat a few drops of refresher on their faces with their fingers and others use cotton pads. Skin Food Peach Sake Toner ($9 on Amazon) and The Face Shop Chia Seed Water 100 Toner ($14 on Amazon) are both gentle and highly rated refreshers.
Drinking water and using a daily moisturizer certainly help the body stay hydrated, but a sheet mask once or twice a week is a big boost. Sheet masks are one-time, disposable masks that have been soaked in vitamins and antioxidants, with cutouts for the eyes, nose, and mouth. Set directly on the face, the ingredients transfer in about 15 minutes. The Dermal Collagen Essence Mask, made with green tea extract, costs $10 for a pack of 10 on Amazon and garners 4.5 stars from reviewers. DIY facial recipes made from ingredients found in the kitchen are cheaper and may be just as effective.
Americans emphasize exercise to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but all those workouts don't do much for facial muscles. Some Korean women do vocal exercises to keep those muscles in shape. Facial massages, which help tone and shape muscles and skin, are a no-cost way to accomplish the same thing. Grab a favorite nighttime cream or moisturizer and try it yourself. Follow a Korean facial beauty massage tutorial on the Marie Claire website or a Tanaka face self-massage on YouTube.
For many women, the usual skin-care routine consists of makeup removal, cleansing, applying toner, moisturizer, and perhaps one or two prevention creams. In the Korean beauty routine, a concentrated liquid known as essence is one of the most important steps. It's loaded with active ingredients that energize and encourage skin cell renewal. Texture and thickness vary by brand, so it may feel like a thick serum or a light lotion. Amazon carries several that cost less than $20 and earn solid reviews; Benton Snail Bee High Content Essence ($16) and Etude House Pearl Aura Brightening Essence ($17) are two examples.
The skin is affected by more than the weather -- diet and nutrients also play a critical role. Koreans swear by kimchi, fermented spicy cabbage and vegetables. One serving provides a large dose of vitamin C (important for collagen production) along with vitamin A, calcium, iron, and others. Some Korean women assert that kimchi boosts skin elasticity. An easy path to healthy skin, then, is eating more kimchi (or at least more vitamin C) and other foods that are reportedly good for your skin, such as olive oil, dark chocolate, kale, and sardines.
Exfoliation is important for skin cell turnover, removing dirt and oil, and unclogging pores. That said, it's easy to overdo. Some Korean beauty experts, such as Charlotte Cho, founder of Soko Glam, recommend exfoliating twice a month at most, and concentrating on oily spots with blackheads. It's easy to concoct a scrub at home (think oatmeal or sugar) or purchase an inexpensive one online, such as the Skin Food Black Sugar Mask Wash Off ($7 on Amazon).
Many Korean beauty gurus believe that makeup removal and facial cleansing should take the same amount of time as putting on makeup. Rather than rushing through their routines, they meticulously layer on product after product. High-end potions aren't necessary to a successful Korean beauty routine, but patience is. In other words, invest the time and commit to the proper care.