We know everyone’s jumping on the K-beauty bandwagon. But with the barrage of shiny new things coming from South Korea, there’s a lot of technology, innovation and information to sift through. Enter Charlotte Cho, an expert on all things K-beauty and author of The Little Book of Skin Care: Korean Beauty Secrets for Healthy, Glowing Skin. The book works as a beginner’s guide to Korean beauty and breaks down the basics of skincare. Since I’m a K-everything lover (K-dramas, K-pop, K-beauty—the holy trinity), I dove right in. I also picked out what I think are the five most important lessons with tips on how to incorporate them into your own beauty routine. Here’s how to get your Korean skincare game on lock.
Lesson #1: Know your water from your oil
Double-cleansing isn’t a new concept, but many people don’t really know what it really means. The first step to a multi-step Korean skincare routine, it involves using an oil-based cleanser first (since oil attracts oil), and then a water-based one (H20 grabs the sweat and dirt). It’s what takes all the gunk off–the makeup, excess sebum, impurities, etc.
My routine: I love washing my face! Said no one ever. So why even bother double-cleansing? Here’s the thing. Once you start doing it, and the one day don’t, you’ll notice a big difference and never make the same mistake again. These days, I’m using Burt’s Bees Cleansing Oil and NeoStrata Cleansing Foaming Water. Because I embrace the multi-step process (or, because I’m probably paranoid), I triple-cleanse by going over my face one more time with micellar water and a cotton pad.
Lesson #2: It’s not just about what you apply but how you apply it.
“Tap in your essence, pat on your eye cream, dab on your cushion compact—because slathering isn’t always the best approach,” writes Cho in her book. In other words, don’t treat your skin like pots and pans. You don’t need to scrub or polish it vigourously.
My routine: After a trip to Tokyo, where I received the most amazing facial during which the facialist reverently worked the contours of my face, I decided to do the same for myself (albeit with decidedly less skill). No more slathering for me unless it’s a rich body salve.
Lesson #3: Perfect your chok chok (dewy skin).
Korean women aspire to achieve chok chok, which means dewy or moist skin. It’s a bit counterintuitive to the matte skin obsession here in North America, but in countries like South Korea and Japan, dewiness is #goals. It also takes work and care. Cho has a great analogy: “Think of your skin as your favourite leather shoe. Without properly maintaining the leather with a polish, the leather will eventually start to crack or even start peeling. The shoe’s texture will be rough and its colour will be lackluster. No one wants her face to look like an old shoe.”
My routine: Because I’m anti-old shoe and want to look like the actresses in my fave K-dramas (see Shin Min-ah and Jun Ji-hyun), I’m all about hydration, which plays a big role in dewiness. That means day and night creams, serums, oils, emulsions, sleeping packs and face masks. If it hydrates, I’m in. If it has hyaluronic acid, even better.
Checking to see my chok-chok
Lesson #4: Make the most out of your sheet masks.
That excess serum on your sheet mask? Don’t let it go to waste! Apply it on your neck, décolleté and the back of your hands, says Cho. There are two kinds of sheet masks: those made from cotton fibers and ones made from hydrogel. If you want extra hydration, look for hydrogel which are 100% water soluble and melt from the heat on your skin.
My routine: Sheet masks are the ultimate way to get results and get them quick. If I have an important event the next day, I’ll prep my skin with a brightening mask (the ones from Shiseido and Look Beauty are my faves). If I’ve been on a plane, I’ll mask as soon as I check into the hotel. In short, I keep a mask on me at all times because you never know when you’ll need them.
Lesson #5: Know your essences from your emulsions.
Essences, emulsions, ampoules, serums and boosters are just some of the products that make up the multi-step Korean skincare routine. But you don’t have to use them all. Study up the differences so you know what you need and why. Essences have a watery consistency and are packed with active ingredients that penetrate deeply and boost the efficacy of what you apply after. Ampoules, serums and boosters, on the other hand, are thicker and have a more potent concentration of ingredients, explains Cho. Then there are emulsions, another K-beauty phenomenon, that’re similar to a lighter moisturizer .
My routine: My skincare routine during winter is a lot more stacked with a booster, essence, emulsion, oil and moisturizer. Otherwise, I stick to serums and moisturizers, sometimes incorporating a booster or an essence when my skin is in desperate need of some TLC.