Korean beauty is more than just ten steps and sheet masks—it’s not just what you use, but how you think. From all my experience, this is what I’ve come to observe about Korean beauty and the mindset that drives it. The way your skin feels and looks is priority number one. But in Korea, skin culture goes beyond products, and both men and women will go to great lengths to protect and nurture their skin. Whether they use sun umbrellas to shield themselves from UVA rays or drink antioxidant tea to prevent premature aging (and they probably do both), Koreans recognize that skin care is a holistic practice. There are several individual steps that contribute to the overall goal of beautiful skin.
Skin First, Makeup Second
Instead of trying to cover up flaws with makeup and spot solutions, Koreans tend to focus on skin-care products that get at the root of conditions and treat problems before they start. Relying wholly on makeup not only looks unnatural, but it’s also a temporary fix to a long-lasting issue.
This mentality is exactly why Seoul street style is filled with women who expertly pull off the “no makeup makeup” look. With their skin-care game down pat, and their basic canvas prepped and primed, they can go outside with very minimal makeup and still look flawless.
Skin Care Is Not Just for Grown-Ups
When we’re kids, we’re taught proper hygiene, from brushing our teeth before we go to bed to washing our hands after using the bathroom. In Korea, kids are taught about skin care as well. Long before they even have to think about adolescent acne, they’re taught about everything from exfoliating and moisturizing to a generous application of SPF.
There’s a pretty big difference between this and what most Western cultures consider skin care. Prevention is way more effective than treatment. Most Koreans are using SPF way before age spots start to show up and are moisturizing long before they ever have to worry about wrinkles. They’re taught that, with some time and effort, you can be in control of your skin, instead of just sitting around and waiting for the day that it decides to sabotage you.
It’s Not Just What You Do, but How You Do It
While most people will put on a moisturizer and call it a day, Korean women use anywhere from six to ten products in their daily skin-care routine. And again, they’re not just reaching for whatever’s closest and slapping it on—the order in which the products are used is important, too!
When It Comes to Hydration, Go Deep and Go Often
Dewy, firm skin is the most sought-after beauty trait in South Korea. While Western society may tend to focus more on achieving a matte complexion, Korean women prep and prime their skin so that they are luminous and glowing. Dewy is the opposite of oily, though—it’s a fresh look, not a greasy one.
In addition to their daily and nightly routines, many South Koreans hydrate with facial mists and moisturizers several times throughout the day and combat drying air with humidifiers (which are frequently well-designed and almost art objects). For more concentrated hydration as needed, sheet masks and sleeping packs are used to give skin (and the person wearing it) a little pick-me-up.
It’s About Brightening, Not Bleaching
A bright glow is the end goal in your skin-care game. A lot of Korean skin-care products are labeled “whitening,” but this actually means “brightening.” Bright skin looks like it’s lit from within, and South Koreans love to enhance brightness with a little makeup hack. In other words, highlighters are a dewy girl’s best friend.
Skin Care Is Not Just a Luxury
Thanks to picky consumers and widespread demand, even the most innovative Korean skin-care products are usually affordable. There are skin-care shops on every corner (and even in the subway stations), so good skin is accessible to everyone, and you don’t have to automatically assume that it comes with an out-of-your-budget price tag. You can get effective ingredients and cutting-edge formulas—all wrapped in luxurious packaging—and still pay your rent.
Take Ownership of Your Skin—and Have Fun!
Your skin does not have to be a mystery. You can be in control of your skin, and you don’t have to wake up every morning wondering what might have appeared overnight. Yes, this is going to take a little time and effort on your part, but it doesn’t have to be drudgery. This is pampering, not cleaning the kitchen.