For most of my adolescence and young adulthood, I saw my skin as an adversary that needed to be tamed and broken. As someone who did not have naturally good skin, I was always struggling with issues of breakouts, oiliness, or on the other hand, dryness and dehydration. I thought that the best way to deal with my problematic skin was to blast it with various chemicals in my efforts to beat it into submission.
It was only when, as an adult, a friend told me that she thought Korean beauty products were the most advanced in the world, did I discover a different way to do skincare. That is, I discovered the care part of skincare, the part that had always eluded me.
To me, K-Beauty is about caring for and nurturing your skin. About reviving it, rather than attacking it. Korean beauty products often emphasize the importance of restoring the moisture balance in the skin, and of nourishing it with antioxidants and vitamins. The emphasis on giving your skin what it needed to thrive was a completely new idea to me.
In the process of learning how to cultivate the health of my skin, there were two distinctive elements of K-Beauty that changed the way I thought about skincare.
1. The Importance of Water (Hydration)
In the immortal words of Zoolander, “Water is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty.” Never is this more true than in K-Beauty. Every step in a properly designed K-Beauty skincare routine is about retaining and restoring the essence of beauty in your skin, water. The dewiness and plumpness of moisturized, healthy skin, known as chok chok, is the most coveted quality in K-Beauty.
The aspect of K-Beauty that made the biggest difference to my skin was its emphasis on hydrating layers. Korean beauty has entire categories of hydrating products that are mostly unknown or underemphasized in Western skincare. For instance, toners in Western skincare tend to be astringent and cleansing, whereas in Korean skincare they tend to be hydrating and prepare your skin to absorb subsequent hydrating products.
First essences, essences, mists, serums, oil-essences, are all examples of products that replenish the water content of the skin. And by layering these products, I was able to restore the moisture in my skin in a way that I had never been able to do with just a cream. This is the reason you so often hear of the 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine. It’s not about doing 10 steps just for the sake of using a ridiculous number of skincare products. The reason for the 10 steps is to gently cleanse and then layer on many hydrating layers to deeply saturate and plump up the skin.
2. The Importance of Taking Time for Self-Care
I grew up with the mentality that the more multi-tasking a product was, the better. If I could get a cream that was also an SPF, that was also an anti-aging treatment, that could also pick up my dry-cleaning, great! But the multi-step Korean skincare routine flies in the face of multi-tasking, one-step products. There are few multi-tasking products in a 10-step routine. Instead, each product does one thing really, really well. No shortcuts here! Seeing improvements in my skin while using an intentional nightly routine has convinced me that patience pays off. Aside from the mere skincare benefits of a multi-step skincare routine (not necessarily 10 steps; I’m very supportive of doing whatever works for you), doing this kind of lengthy beauty routine every night also forces you to take time out to care for yourself. You can’t do a 10-step routine in three minutes (though it doesn’t have to take hours either). Whereas when I was younger, skincare was an afterthought, a night cream I slapped on seconds before falling asleep, now skincare has become a thoughtful ritual that I consistently make time for.
The psychological benefits for me have been significant. The nightly ritual helps me to feel present, and to feel that I’m deliberately valuing myself, and only myself. In a lifestyle that places demands on me daily as a woman, as a mom, as an employee, as a friend, and as a wife, it is incredibly refreshing to spend a half hour every day doing something just for myself. With K-Beauty, skincare becomes self-care.