Around October last year, I decided to kick my skincare game up a notch. I’ve never had really bad skin, but as I’m pretty sure everyone does, I focused on my flaws and what made it imperfect. Some of my biggest pet peeves about my skin were (and still are) its oiliness and enlarged pores across the nose and cheeks, and I decided towards the end of 2018 that enough was enough, and I was gonna make my skin perfect! (Yes, yes, forgive 2018 Rhianna – she was bold and hopeful). That resolution led me to Korean skincare, otherwise known as K-Beauty, and I quickly became hooked. (Check out my starter guide for K-Beauty newbies here!)
South Korea has an embedded culture of good skincare. From the moment you’re born to the moment you die, taking care of your skin is a given, whether you’re 5 or 95, male or female. It’s not vain, it’s not “girly”, it’s not silly or frivolous – it’s on the same level as taking care of yourself through a healthy diet and lifestyle. Skincare is almost the equivalent of going to the gym, but for the face!
So what have I learned over my six months with K-Beauty so far?
Not all skincare is created equal
I’ve always been interested in skincare, so I knew the basics – don’t use SLS on your face, avoid comedogenic ingredients, avoid alcohols – that kind of thing. But what I’ve begun to learn over the last six months is what ingredients actually are. This means that when I’m navigating the skincare minefield of high street beauty stores, I can say confidently whether a product is good for the skin or not just by reading the chains of long chemical names listed on the back of it.
How did I do this? To start off with, my boyfriend (who has unwittingly also become some kind of amateur dermatologist these past few months) found a great website called CosDNA, where you can type in a product and it will list the ingredients with a traffic light system for how good they are for the skin, and also tell you what each ingredient actually is. So for example, I now know that the Tremella Fuciformis Extract in my Neogen Real Fresh Form Green Tea Cleanser is a moisturising ingredient, and comes from mushrooms! It’s so useful!
This sounds pretty obvious, but I didn’t actually realise that the order things are listed on the back of the products are based on highest to lowest quantity within the product. Learning this means I can get the best quality versions of what I’m looking for – coupled with learning the chemical names from the point above, I now know that if I’m looking for a moisturiser with a high vitamin C and hyaluronic acid content, I need to be looking for sodium ascorbate/ascorbyl/ascorbic acid and sodium hyaluronate listed in the first two lines of ingredients!
Not all alcohols are bad alcohols
I always thought alcohols were an absolute no-no in skincare, and would put a product back on the shelf if it listed it. However, some alcohols are actually good for the skin. These are known as fatty alcohols. How do you spot the good from the bad? Well, the good ones are cetyl, stearyl and cetearyl alcohol. These are usually derived from fruit or plant sources, and are very nourishing for the skin. On the other hand, denatured alcohol (listed commonly as alcohol denat), SD alcohol or isopropyl alcohol are bad. To quote Paula’s Choice; “these types of volatile alcohols give products a quick-drying finish, immediately degrease skin, and feel weightless on skin, so it’s easy to see their appeal, especially for those with oily skin. But those short term benefits end up with negative long term consequences.
When you see these names of alcohol listed among the first six ingredients on an ingredient label, without question they will aggravate and be cruel to skin. No way around that, it’s simply bad for all skin types. Consequences include dryness, erosion of the surface of skin (that’s really bad for skin), and a strain on how skin replenishes, renews, and rejuvenates itself. Alcohol just weakens everything about skin.”
Find out more about alcohols for skin in the full article from Paula’s Choice here.
Blackheads vs sebaceous filaments
For years, I’ve had what I thought were blackheads on my nose. I tried strips, scrubs, powders, masks, you name it, and it did not work. They weren’t super obvious blackheads so it could be worse, I reasoned with myself. But since they bugged me, I got a blackhead extractor tool and gave it a go to NO AVAIL. Cue a Google search and a revelation – I don’t have blackheads! In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had one! I have sebaceous filaments. These are little things that carry sebum through to the surface of the skin. They’re literally meant to be there, and blackhead extraction won’t work because, well, it’s not a blackhead!
Because my skin is oily, mine were slightly more obvious. To decrease the appearance of sebaceous filaments, I just needed to focus on oil control. Since doing this, they’re basically invisible. I can go out with no make up on and not care! Wahoo!
Want to know more about the difference between blackheads and sebaceous filaments? Check out this handy article.
The importance of layering, not just for K-Beauty but for skincare in general
Your skincare products should go on from lightest to heaviest, hence why you start with a toner and end with a moisturiser (or an SPF if we’re going outdoors ;)) This means the products can work the best way they can, enhance the effectiveness of the next product you layer on, and penetrate your skin most effectively.
SPF, its ratings, application frequency and how it can be convenient to reapply
Now, I was already aware of the importance of SPF, not just for anti-aging but for skin health, but what I didn’t realise was how often you need to reapply it. When I turned 20, I had a strange mini meltdown about being “old” and discovering that wearing daily SPF was touted as the way to keep your skin smooth and youthful. I’d whack it on in the morning before my make up and that’d be it all day. Since starting K-Beauty, I’ve discovered that really, you’re supposed to apply it every 2 hours if you’re gonna be in the sun. But who wants to smear their make up around their face every two hours?!
Not me! But luckily, there’s a way around it! Korean make up companies usually have a cushion compact in their ranges – a foundation compact that combines foundation with moisturiser and SPF 50 PA ++++ sun protection! It goes on like a foundation and voila, you’ve topped up your make up and protected your skin! Since I work an office job, I just reapply before I head out for lunch since I’m indoors the rest of the time. (I use a Missha compact in shade 23, which is right for my skin, which is on the paler side of olive. My friend who is blonde and paler than me uses shade 21)
Another thing I learned was about SPF ratings. I already knew you should look for broad spectrum sun lotions with a star rating of 4 or 5 at least, but I had no idea what PA was. Commonly used in Asian sunscreens, PA measures the UVA rays (the ones that penetrate deeper into the skin and cause aging), whilst Western sunscreens measure SPF based on UVB (the shorter rays that hit the surface layers of the skin and cause burning). Ideally, you want a sunscreen that has both SPF and PA ratings (with the highest being ++++!)
You don’t have to look super matte all the time – K-Beauty loves dewiness!
The mention of cushion compacts above brings me to this point – healthy skin doesn’t have to be super matte! As someone who struggles with oiliness, it’s almost second nature to me to blot my nose with oil blotting wipes or some tissue at the vaguest hint of oil formation, but being so focused on this meant that I didn’t realise what dewiness was.
Dewiness comes from having healthy skin. Your skin looks plump and glowy, but not super matte. If you touch it, it’s not oily, but it has a slight shine to it. It’s almost like natural highlights. And guess what? That’s good! It means your skin is in tip-top shape! Koreans even have a term for it – “chok chok”! They strive to have this natural dewiness, so any foundations they use tend to have a dewier finish than Western ones, which tend to make you matte. If that’s not your cup of tea, you can always dust over your face with some finishing powder after you’ve applied!
Oiliness doesn’t mean your skin is moisturised
Who else mistakenly thought this? I grew up thinking that my oiliness meant I didn’t need to moisturise, when in fact, I probably needed to moisturise more than most. Oil is your body’s way of saying “there’s no moisture in this skin! I’ll push some sebum through to help moisturise it!” If you want your body to stop doing that, you need to put the moisture on yourself. I moisturise morning and night, and top up with hyaluronic acid serums, sheet masks and sleeping packs, and my oiliness has reduced considerably. I find I get slightly oily around the sides of my nose by lunch time, then I just blot and I’m set for the rest of the day. Makes a change from having to blot pretty much every two hours!
Pay attention to what your skin is telling you
I was always quite guilty of looking in the mirror, observing that I had a spot/oily patch/dry patch and going: “How annoying! I hope that goes soon!” before carrying on with the exact same cleansing routine. Totally nonsensical, when you think about it! I now have a selection of cleansers and moisturisers on rotation, and I switch depending how my skin is day-to-day. I start the day with a gentle, sensitive skin cleanser (Neogen Green Tea Real Fresh Foam, if you’re interested!), then in the evening, I use either a cream-based cleanser if my skin is drier, or a foam-based cleanser if it’s oilier. I then adjust the rest of my routine accordingly – dryness means sheet masks, sleeping packs, moisturisers with ingredients like shea, coconut and collagen, whilst oiliness means lighter formulas to deliver moisture without enhancing oiliness.
The 10 step K-Beauty routine doesn’t have to be time consuming
If I tell people I follow a 10 step skincare routine, they look at me like I’ve just said I’m married to Mr Bean and I think the Queen’s a robot. They either think I’m supremely vain, or have too much time on my hands. I’m here to tell you that I’m neither!
A 10 step routine from cleansing to nourishing to moisturising does not have to take very long, and is there as a guideline – you don’t need to do every step each day. The component steps of the 10 step K-beauty routine are:
- Oil cleanser
- Water cleanser
- Sheet mask
- Eye cream
- Moisturiser/sleeping pack
(Check out my starter guide to K-Beauty here).
Realistically, on a daily basis, my routine looks like this (the ones in italics are the ones I plan to do every day, but can be kinda lazy about…):
- Water cleanser
- Eye cream
- Oil cleanser (to get rid of make up)
- Water cleanser (to actually wash my face)
- Eye cream
Then about twice a week, I try to do a sheet mask and a sleeping pack. All in all, the morning routine takes me about 15 minutes tops, then the evening one I kind of dawdle with as I use it to relax before bed…but realistically, I reckon I could do it in about 15 minutes too. So really, it’s half an hour out of your day, and if you consider it the equivalent of going to the gym for your face, is it really a waste of time?! So that quells the myth that I have too much time on my hands. And as for anyone who thinks I’m vain, a) skin is the largest organ in the human body so I’m gonna take care of it, and b) we’ll see who’s calling me vain when I’ve pulled a Paul Rudd and not aged since I was 25 😉
The joy of double cleansing
This is something that I’d never heard of, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have got on board with because I always thought oily skin meant staying away from oils for the face. Nope! Oil cleansers are fab for oily skin. I use an oil cleanser to get rid of any leftover make up, dirt or SPF on my face, and it’s so gentle you can even use it around your eyes to remove last traces of mascara. Then I wash it off and follow up with a water-based cleanser. Cue contented sighing and stroking of your clean, smooth face!
The serenity of a sheet mask (and face point masks)
I had used sheet masks before discovering K-Beauty, but not religiously. I now use them once to twice a week, and they make my skin feel so healthy! I’ve also been using Mediheal’s BT21 Face Point Masks, which yes, I mainly bought because they were affiliated with BTS and had cute packaging, but have actually been saviours for the dry patches on my combo skin! The face point masks are like little stickers around two inches high, and you can just stick them over dry patches like targetted mini sheet masks. I’ve also forayed into making my very own mini sheet masks, which you can view some super easy recipes for here!
Korean Italy Towels
Omg, these are a REVELATION. They don’t look like much, but you scrub your body down with one of these then apply some moisturiser and your skin will feel baby-soft. Honestly, my skin’s never been this smooth in all my life! (Do NOT use these on your face though, they’re far too abrasive!) These are the ones I bought!
K-Beauty is highly affordable – and super cute!
Because skincare is considered something that everyone should do, Korean companies make their packaging so cute you’re dying to use it! From cute characters to collaborations with Disney, chocolate bar brands and more, I’ve been tempted to buy products purely based on their packaging waaaay too many times! And if you shop in the right places, Korean skincare is super affordable and oftentimes cheaper than its Western counterparts. I personally use YesStyle or Amazon for my K-Beauty purchases!