These Skincare & Makeup Lessons from K-Drama ‘Touch’ Made Me Look at Beauty Differently
It’s less about imperfections and more about externalizing hope. Oh, and of course, lots of sheet masks.
When I heard there was going to be a Korean drama about makeup, I was pretty excited. A crossover between two of my passions? Sign me up!
Watching Korean dramas has ignited my passion for skincare and Korean beauty. As a teenager, there’d been no one to guide me on the basics. My struggles with hormonal acne had me resorting to all sorts of dubious home remedies: toothpaste, apricot scrubs, lemon juice, all to no avail. My mother believed in cultivating inner beauty over outer beauty. And I agree — I value kindness and compassion and spending time with others. But without grooming, I’m basically a gorilla. I exaggerate, but until I started watching Korean dramas, I had no role models to consult and most of my friends were just as clueless.
Korean dramas opened the gateway to experimenting with skincare and taking pride in my appearance. I admired how polished the women looked and how it seemed normal for them to indulge in skincare and makeup. Even the “poor” characters could be seen slapping on cucumber masks.
After moving to Korea, I soon fell into the wonderland of the beauty industry and noted how beauty was seamlessly a part of everyday life. Couldn’t afford a family facialist? Why not visit the bathhouse (jjimjilbang) with friends for a fraction of the price and feel your skin glow in the aftermath of a hot bath? There’s a dark side to the industry of course, but the volume of information and innovations that demystify beauty made self-care seem fun and not daunting. So what lessons can a Korean drama about beauty have for us?
In the recent Korean drama Touch, perfectionist “geeenius” makeup artist Cha Jeong Hyeok (played by Joo Sang Wook) crosses paths with idol trainee Han Soo Yeon (Kim Bo Ra). When each of them suffers reversals in life that force them to redefine their dreams, they forge new visions and find themselves working together in the Korean makeup industry.
Though I wasn’t that sold on their “romance,” TBH — they work best as mentor-mentee — it was the humanity and solidarity of the supporting cast that really pulled the drama together. Touch may not have been perfect as a drama, but it showed that makeup and beauty can be enjoyed by people of all ages and stages. It also imparted a few tips I’ll be adopting into my own routine.
The foundation of makeup? Skincare, natch
Without healthy skin, makeup suffers. Rather than using makeup as a mechanism to conceal imperfections, the characters in Touch always address skin issues first. And it’s no surprise that, in a Korean drama, sheet masks play a crucial role in prepping the skin for makeup.
I’ve been skipping the sheet masks lately, but Touch reminded me how important they actually are. Sheet masks are the bread-and-butter of Asian beauty, and they do give skin a boost. My skin is combination, sensitive, and likes to act like a diva, so I generally use green tea face masks or one of the Etude House Air Therapy masks when I need a quickie mask.
No mask? Jyeong Hyeok recommends soaking cotton pads with toner and patching them on your face, leaving them on for 10 minutes for a similar effect. I recommend Purito Centella Green Level Calming Toner, but you can use any mild toner that works well on your skin.
SOS skincare: sweat it out and layer up — the masks, that is
Stress, allergies, skin reactions — these all call for SOS skincare mode. When her idol friend Kang Do Jin suffers an allergic reaction, Soo Yeon immediately goes into SOS mode. Her surprisingly budget-friendly tips? Exercise and layering the masks.
Exercise helps you sweat out the toxins, and I can testify as a gym convert that it also helps boost my mood and improve my productivity. My personal tip would be to include biodegradable facial wipes to wipe off excess sweat so it doesn’t get trapped in pores and lead to the breakouts you wanted to clear in the first place.
The next step in SOS skincare is a homemade mask over a sheet mask. I was intrigued to see this, because I usually don’t combine the two. Soo Yeon’s remedy mask involves mixing egg whites, flour, and gukija (wolfberry) powder, and layering that over a sheet mask. If you can’t find gukija powder, I recommend adding a pinch of turmeric for its clearing and brightening properties.
After prepping, frame the face
Eyebrows, as Jyeong Hyeok notes, are a vital step in his Ten Commandments of Makeup and the most important part of a beauty look — the “frame” of the face. Get the eyebrows wrong and the whole look goes awry. Following his cue, I found that taking a few minutes with a brow brush and gel really made a huge difference in making me look simultaneously more polished and alert.
More than makeup
Makeup sets the stage for stories to happen. Whether it’s employed in first dates, meeting the in-laws, or launching new trends, makeup is never divorced from the lives of the people who wear it. I’ve always thought of makeup as something that you wear to conceal imperfections. But wearing makeup is often not even about looking a certain way but feeling a certain way.
Soo Yeon illustrates this in a moving reflection on her mother. Even though Soo Yeon’s mother works all day in the family’s noodle restaurant, she still applies lipstick at the beginning of her hectic day. It’s a reminder of her past when she dreamed of being an actress, but it’s also a signal of hope in the present, a small symbolic gesture that helps her confront the day.
Touch shows how makeup can also be a tool in externalizing hope. Whether it’s helping a girl look fantastic when she breaks up with her boyfriend (“So he’ll regret it for the rest of his life,” says Jyeong Hyeok) or beautifying a terminally ill patient on her wedding day, Soo Yeon grows to realize makeup’s role beyond mere vanity.
The best makeup is a reflection of you
As Jyeong Hyeok notes, the best makeup is the one that suits you. It may take a bit of experimentation, may mean some investment of time. But watching Touch inspired me to re-think my stalled skincare practices and encouraged me to wear makeup that reflects my personality and values. Rather than splashing on random colors, relying on a Korean aesthetic of understated elegance has enabled me to actually enjoy makeup rather than feel intimidated by it. (BTW, this next video is me before K-dramas taught me passable makeup skills.)
Also, watching the “celebrity artists” of Touch inspired me to follow real-life Korean celebrity makeup artists like Jung Saem Mool, whose lovely, understated makeup look in this video is an easy introduction to the look most of my favorite Korean actresses wear on a regular basis.
Touch helped me see what makeup means to different people, how it can express hope for a future and inspire characters on their journeys. It re-ignited my passion for skincare and makeup by defining makeup as an art that contains numerous possibilities for creative expression.
And perhaps my favorite lesson from the Korean drama Touch? This important step of self-care: