K-Beauty, by definition, is an umbrella term for skincare products and rituals that are derived from South Korea. As someone who lived in South Korea for four years in my teaching days, I can tell you that beauty over there is visible and felt.
In Korea, something as simple as showering after the gym becomes a little luxury. Most of us here at home would take a towel, soap, and lotion to the shower and off we’d go. Korean women shower with a carton of milk – meaning they rinse their bodies with milk as their final rinse – this a normal routine for them, and so is using 10 skincare products as part of their skincare regimen. So, what are the main differences between K-Beauty and Western beauty and what can we learn from these differences?
1. Different skin needs
Big cosmetic brands – Lancome, Dior, Chanel – cater to the Asian market by developing beauty products exclusively for the needs of Asian women. As someone who worked in the beauty department of a major department store here in Canada and is well-versed with the most popular brands, I saw products in Korea that I haven’t seen before. The main goal of Korean women is to have smooth, pale, translucent skin – the paler the better – so many products have a lightening, brightening, and “whitening” focus. For example, Lancome had a full “whitening” line in South Korea, which I had never seen in Canada. This “whitening” focus is definitely not what we’re after in North America where having translucent pale skin can be associated with poor health.
2. Different beauty ideals
Korean women do not worship the sun as we do in North America. They try to avoid it at all costs, and so they carry umbrellas everywhere they go rain or shine! We do know that the sun can cause premature aging, sunspots, and wrinkles on the skin, but it can also reflect on the Asian cultural ideals of beauty – light, porcelain skin is preferred and seen as more beautiful than tanned. Historically in China, pale skin was prized as the most beautiful and this was adopted by other Asian countries. Rough hands and dark skin meant you worked the land. This sun avoidance contributes to Korean women’s beautiful porcelain complexions and explains the focus of K-Beauty products. SPF is a crucial part of K-Beauty.
3. Time given to beauty rituals
Korea women use a multi-product system of skincare and it could be up to 10 different skincare products and they take time to apply it all! What exactly goes into a 10-step beauty regimen? Think of every beauty product you have ever used put together! Here are the ten in the order they’re applied: makeup remover, the double cleanse method (cleansing with an oil cleanser and then a foam, gel or milk cleanser), an exfoliant, a toner, an essence, a sheet mask, eye cream, moisturizer and of course the daytime SPF.
I don’t know that we would have time to do this routine twice a day here in North America, as we tend to be, workaholic multi-taskers and minimalists with our beauty regimens. Seriously, I just want to go to bed when my day is done. The green beauty movement has also encouraged us to cut back on products and be more conscious of ingredients and packaging – a less-is-more type of philosophy.
4. Exotic skincare ingredients
A further look into K-Beauty products shows that it’s not only the multi-step beauty routines that are different, but also the exotic ingredients that we wouldn’t use as more people in North America strive for a vegan lifestyle. Exotic ingredients like snail mucin aka snail slime (secretions from slugs or snails, specifically under stress) are used in Korean skincare products. Snail mucin is said to lighten dark spots, plumpen the skin and relax muscle fibers that play a role in creating wrinkles. I know women do some wild things for beauty, but not sure how many of us would go for this type of ingredient. Would you? I’d love to know your thoughts.
How can we jump on some K-Beauty rituals?
Despite the differences in products, ingredients and every day rituals, we can definitely take a page or two out of a Korean woman’s beauty book. Here are some of my suggestions that are doable and can easily be integrated into your current beauty regimen.
1. Dedicate time for your skin
No matter how busy life gets, try to dedicate at least 10 minutes to yourself and your skin before going to bed. You don’t have to double-cleanse every night, but you should at least remove your makeup and moisturize. Oil cleansing is a gentle and effective way to remove makeup, dirt, and sunscreen from the face. Oil cleansers will leave your skin soft and nourished. Tip: You can skip the moisturizer a couple of times a week as the oils from the oil cleanser are often enough to moisturize the skin without an additional product. Make sure to leave the oil cleanser on for a good 10 minutes (kind of like a mask) so the oils can penetrate the skin and reap the benefits.
2. Max out hydration on your skin
Korean women mist their skin throughout the 10 step skincare process with flower water or tonic. Korean women cleanse and they mist. Next, they add their serum and they mist. Then they add their moisturizer and they mist. They also never dry their face with a towel. If you want to keep your face plump and hydrated, why soak up any water with a towel? What do you do instead? Wash your face and then flick the water off with your fingers. Then, apply the rest of your skincare products on damp skin. Don’t forget to mist before you start. There are so many beautiful facial mists out there. Choose one with a smell you love and mist religiously!
3. Protect your skin from the sun
Some sun is great for the skin, but don’t overdo it. Protect your face from the sun daily with a facial sun cream of at least an SPF 25-30. I wrote a blog on what to look for in a good SPF for sun protection. Active SPF ingredients but also for inactive nourishing ingredients are important to consider when shopping for a sunscreen. About 80% of your sunscreen is made of inactive ingredients! Korean women are right. Sun exposure can cause a lot of icky things to happen to our skin. So, take a page from their book and wear SPF daily even if you’re sitting in front of your computer. That’s light exposure too!
You can also:
- cover up with a stylish hat
- wear sunglasses
- seek shade when the sun is at its peak between noon and 3 pm.
If you want to watch me chat about my experience with beauty in South Korea Check out the youtube video . I hope you have enjoyed this subject as much as I have today. If you have any questions, pop them in the comments below or reach out to me!
I look forward to discussing this further with you if you want to try some of these different ideas.