5 Beauty Lessons from My Mom I Should Have Listened To
Growing up, my mom was relentless about repeating beauty best practices to me every chance she got. I may have repeatedly not listened to them back then, but I sure do today. In an ode to moms who just want the best for us and our skin, here are the 5 beauty lessons from Mom that I definitely follow now.
I called it nagging. My mom called it love.
Ever since I could remember, my Korean mom harped on the importance of taking care of my skin. Nothing — from too much makeup to pimples not yet visible to any naked eye but hers — was off her radar. She wasn’t a licensed dermatologist, but she sure did talk like one!
Now that I’m in the throes of anti-aging woes and am actually seeing the adverse effects of not heeding my mother’s loving nagging, I regretfully realize that I definitely should’ve listened to her a lot earlier.
So in honor of Mother’s Day, here’s my confession of beauty lessons taught by my mom — who by the way has milky, baby soft skin — that I’m willingly admitting she was right about.
1. “Exfoliate your body with the Korean scrubbing mitt!”
Loofah? What’s a loofah? While growing up, there was never a lush loofah in sight in my house. My mom didn’t believe in soft, sudsy showers. She was all about scrubbing the crap out of (aka exfoliating) our bodies with these scratchy wash cloths.
They came in a variety of forms — some were designed like actual gloves while others were square-shaped with an insert for the hands. My mom was convinced nothing else could slough off the dirt and grime building up on our young, “I just rode my bike around the block 50 times” sweaty skin.
When I reached an age old enough to realize other options existed, I desperately wanted to use a pink, poofy loofah like the ones hanging in my friends’ showers. But now that I’ve had plenty of years’ experience with a variety of body scrubs and washcloths, I can honestly own up to the fact that my mom was right — there’s nothing as fast, easy, effective, and cheap as the Korean scrubbing mitts when it comes to manually exfoliating the body.
These are the same infamous and abrasive mitts used at Korean spas where the strongest Korean ladies buff ddae (dirt, dead skin, and who knows what else) off your skin. While I’m all for these spa sessions, why not keep the mitts handy in your own home so you can enjoy clean, fresh skin even in between jjimjilbang outings?
Now my bathroom cabinet is always stocked with these nifty mitts and loofahs because body exfoliation is so key to glowing skin (and because they come in bulk). Regularly removing old or dead body skin cells helps prevent bacne (back acne) and breakouts on other oil-prone areas like the chest and back of the neck. It also deters the formation of ingrown hairs after waxing or shaving. Just like facial exfoliation, body exfoliation also leaves skin softer to the touch and skin tone more even.
2. “Always wear SPF and sunglasses!”
You know the stereotypical — but often true — image of the sun-phobic Korean woman? She’s decked out head to toe in UV-shielding gear, including a visor Lady Gaga would be proud of, a mask for the lower face, a neck covering, and gloves. Think Cheon Song Yi’s incognito jogging ajumma outfit in My Love from Another Star, and that is my mom’s daily off-duty uniform, no joke.
Hence the reason why I couldn’t take her seriously every time she warned me about the dangers of the sun and not wearing SPF or sunglasses. I thought she was being way too dramatic. Even when I started driving, my mom packed my glove compartment with elbow-length gloves and mock neck wraps, saying it was never too early to look out for my skin. Of course, they’d never see the light of day, and much to my mom’s horror, I’d lay out for hours with friends and go baking in tanning beds. I could cry just thinking about it. I can also now readily concede that my mom was onto something.
It’s not news that sun exposure is scientifically proven to cause skin cancer. It’s also a major culprit in the premature aging of skin, from wrinkles and dryness to sun spots and rough texture. Unfortunately, these aren’t just problems that we should start dealing with when we see the need for anti-aging products. Sun care is best when started at an early age since skin has an eerily good memory. In other words, the UV damage our skin suffered from childhood will show up later as signs of premature aging, which we mistake as “normal” aging but is actually very preventable.
Thankfully, wearing SPF is a lot easier today as there’s a lot more variety and personalization in sunscreens. Meaning, I don’t have to settle for greasy, white streaks just to protect myself from the sun’s rays.
As for sunglasses, as my mom used to say, they’re like SPF for your eyes. The sun’s UV rays also harm the eyes, possibly leading to retina damage (which eventually impairs vision), tissue growth that changes the curvature of the eyeball, and cataracts. Not only can sunnies with both UVA and UVB protection help prevent such damage, they can also fend off premature aging of the skin around the eyes. This area has the most delicate, thin skin, leaving it vulnerable to more wrinkles and sun spots.
Today, I’ve done a 180. OK, maybe a 150. I’m nowhere near my mom’s anti-sun getup, but I commend her for it and feel that could be me in the distant future. You won’t ever find me out during the day without sunscreen and shades. If it’s a sunny day, I’ll even drive wearing the gloves and mock neck cover-ups my mom still leaves in my car!
3. “Don’t pluck your eyebrows!”
Man, how I wish I had listened to my mom on this one! I used to have what they called “hamburger patties” — thick, bushy, straight eyebrows. Sounds like a dream come true today, but back in the ’90s when a pencil thin arch was in, my patties were a nightmare. Needless to say, I was quite the tweezer-happy one, against my mom’s wishes.
She used to buy me packs of pastel-colored brow razors, telling me that if I must play around with my brows, at least use a razor so that I’m not yanking out the “root” of my hair and beating up the follicles.
I now am paying for my “carpe diem” actions with sparse, thin brows that I have to shade in every day. It turns out over-plucking (guilty) can damage hair follicles, leading to the thinning of hair and even stopping growth. Other factors like genetics, hormones, diet, health, and the constant applying and removing of brow makeup also play into how full brows are and how well they grow back, but plucking them sure doesn’t help the cause.
4. “Stop making funny faces if you don’t want to permanently look like that!”
Scowling, snickering, and scrunching our noses — all these childhood antics are silly and harmless, but there is some truth to this old wives’ tale. No, your face obviously won’t instantly freeze in that position, but regularly repeated movement of muscles cause the overlying skin to develop lines over time. Hence the formation of laugh lines and crow’s feet.
The funny faces we made as kids won’t cause wrinkles right then and there since we’re abounding with collagen and elasticity in our youth. Yet as we age, collagen and elastin weaken and decrease, so a consistent facial expression only aggravates the breakdown of collagen in that specific region. This leads to permanent wrinkles and lines that deepen with continued movement.
I’m living proof of this sad phenomenon. I have four (three on good days) telltale vertical lines between my brows from when I unknowingly frown while I’m concentrating or sleeping, which is more than half my day. What seems like 500 wrinkles also surface on my nose when I smile, laugh, or make the slightest sniffing movement, and I’m pretty sure they’re the residual effect of the very nerdy way I used to hoist up my eyeglasses over the years. I would scrunch my nose instead of using my hands to raise my specs while studying or working. Super geeky, I know.
5. “Wash up right when you get home”
My mom was relentless about this. From the moment I stepped through the door to the moment I washed up, she’d tell me every 10 minutes or so to go wash my face. She couldn’t understand how I could mosey about the house with the day’s makeup and oil still on my face. She swore by her golden rule — “Come home and cleanse before you do anything else” — because it decreased the time that dirt and cosmetics clogged up pores while increasing the time that beneficial ingredients nourished skin. It was also a way to make sure not to commit the cardinal sin of sleeping with makeup on.
I knew then as I do now that my mom was right. But out of pure laziness and the possibility of stepping out again, I’d rarely listen. There were too many nights when I’d accidentally fall asleep and wake up the next morning to black streaks of mascara on my pillow.
Today, I cherish my evening skincare routine a lot more than I did when I was younger, but it’s not any less tiring. It takes a lot of willpower and fear of bad skin to get me to wash up much earlier than bedtime. But the trouble is worth it, considering that makeup, dirt, and dead skin cells clog pores overnight, which causes breakouts and dullness. All the built-up gunk can also weaken skin’s natural barrier and lead to premature aging. At this point in my life, I’m thankful for any ways I can help prevent the uphill battle of aging skin.
Turns out mother does know best! What are some of the beauty lessons from mom you heard growing up that you wish you had listened to or that you still keep to this day?