Three words: Toothpaste on pimples.
I know, I can feel you cringe. I once was naive and foolish, blindly believing any DIY acne solution that my desperate Google searches begot. I lived for that tight AF feeling post-face wash, and I recklessly ripped pore strips off my nose like there was no tomorrow. (To this day, I have a tiny broken capillary near my nose, a reminder of the time I once went violently overboard in attempting to uproot all of my blackheads. Oh, the horror.)
All I can say is, I’ve come a long way on my skincare journey, from stripping my face dry with high pH cleansers to defending my moisture barrier like my life depends on it with a full-blown, multi-step skincare routine.
But before we get into the good stuff, let’s start from the beginning, in all its angsty glory. Puberty came for me with guns blazing when I turned 11 in fifth grade, which meant my first alarming visit from Aunt Flo (thanks Mom for the warning!!), and a spell of embarrassing pre-teen acne that lasted through the latter part of middle school. Add braces on top of that + the ugliest school uniforms? Basically, I was a hot mess.
By the time I hit high school, my puberty-induced acne thankfully reduced dramatically, but I still wasn’t doing much of a skincare routine — and here are some truly mortifying photos of me in high school to prove it. Although the acne had cleared up, I struggled with super dry skin that often cracked and flaked, oily spots on my T-zone (which I now know was excess sebum production to make up for my dry-as-the-desert skin), and a dullness that seemed to radiate in its dullness. Is that even possible? I don’t know, but my skin definitely could have used some help in the brightening, glow-up department. My face in the right was just screaming for help.
Fast-forward to the latter part of my college years. My routine consisted of a drugstore cleanser (hello, Neutrogena), basic-as-it-gets moisturizer (oh hi, Cetaphil, I didn’t see you there), and an occasional sheet mask. I’m embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t wearing daily sunscreen at this point in my life, but fortunately, K-beauty came on my radar and I began to see the light.
I was familiar with Korean beauty products naturally because of my Korean background and frequent trips to Korea, but I didn’t have much knowledge of, or exposure to, the whole multi-step process. After doing some more research, I began shopping at a popular K-beauty e-tailer and slowly built my routine. I started out with all of the usual suspects: Son&Park Beauty Water, Banila Co. Clean It Zero, Missha The Time Revolution First Treatment Essence, COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence — my routine was like the poster child for the famed 10-step Korean skincare routine.
And just like that, I was in deep. Once I started writing for Beautytap a few years ago, I had all the more reason to dive even further into the sea of Korean beauty, learning all about the different steps of the routine, researching ingredients and skincare trends in Korea, and getting the opportunity to try a multitude of products. The past three years, my complexion went from dull and dehydrated to brighter, clearer, and more radiant.
It’s thanks to the ever-proliferating content available on Korean beauty and skincare — from books, blogs, videos, and even podcasts — as well as the amazing skincare community I connected with here and beyond that I was able to equip myself with tools to get my glow on. If you’re just starting out on your K-beauty journey, I highly recommend you hit this link and browse through the hundreds of articles here on Beautytap, many written by the top skincare and beauty bloggers in the Asian Beauty world.
Now that I have a few years of K-beauty experience under my belt, I feel confident in saying that I know my skin pretty well. She has a dry AF humor, gets moody and irritated at times, and likes to take sweet, pimply revenge when I indulge in too much sugar, dairy, or gluten. I can always count on her to host a few hormonal acne guests during that time of the month, and they always make a home along my chin and on my neck. But whenever blemishes or skin concerns arise, I can bounce back pretty quickly with my dependable skincare routine. Although I do use skincare acids and skintertaining products here and there, my main skincare philosophy is all about hydration and nourishment with layers and layers of rich toners, serums, and moisturizers.
Here are the staples in my routine:
* Once a week use of skincare acids, and I’ll also do a physical exfoliant with a scrub once every two-ish weeks (the Skinfood Black Sugar Strawberry Mask Wash Off is a great option and smells HEAVENLY). However, I do have to be careful using skincare acids because my dry skin seems to over-exfoliate easily. I alternate weeks using the COSRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid only on my T-zone with the Tiam My Signature C Source vitamin C serum.
* A hydrating, alcohol-free toner is a MUST, especially because I love to do at least two or three layers of toner daily. I’m currently using the Earth’s Recipe Energy Boosting Toner for both day and night. I’m running low, and it’s giving me anxiety.
* At least two or more essences/serums/ampoules that feature a favorite K-beauty ingredient, like snail mucin, propolis extract, hyaluronic acid, galactomyces ferment filtrate. Just give me ALL of it.
* Sheet mask sessions all week long! Lately with the dry weather, I’ve been sheet masking at least three times a week, and I especially will turn to masking when I notice a specific skin concern pop up (i.e. treating redness and blemishes with a sheet mask loaded with Centella asiatica extract).
* Emulsion, because I’ll take as many layers of moisture that I can get.
* Eye cream, because same.
* Facial oil, which proves to be a game-changer for my skin when it’s feeling particularly tight, malnourished, or lackluster.
* And finally, moisturizer. A barrier-protecting cream or sleeping pack for night and my trusty Eclado sunscreen for day will do.
And finally, here’s a gratuitous selfie to show you what my skin looks like as I write this story. By all means, my skin is not perfect. I’ve got a light layer of cushion foundation on to cover up a bit of redness and blemishes, and you can see that I’m sporting a COSRX Clear Fit Pimple Patch — but compared to just five years ago, I am so happy with the condition of my skin. It’s brighter, more even in skin tone, and has a healthy glow that was non-existent in my younger years.
Of course, there are days that I just want to collapse into bed with a full face of makeup on, and other days that I don’t treat my body with care (whether it be a lack of sleep, eating junk food, or drinking one too many margaritas), which ends up affecting my skin’s health. But as cliché as it sounds, it’s all about the journey: I’m constantly listening to my skin and my body, adapting my routine when seasons or environments change, and learning from other people’s routines and experiences.
Do you have a similar skincare evolution story? I’d love to hear how you got into K-beauty in the comments below!
All photos by the author.