5 K-Beauty Lessons That Changed My Skin

sulwhasoo flat lay

Yes, K-beauty has introduced me to some amazing skin care lines, like Sulwhasoo, but the K-beauty lessons that have changed my skin forever have nothing to do with the products themselves. Read on!


In a way, I’ve grown up with K-beauty. My mom is Korean, after all, and my earliest lessons, from how to apply eyeliner to DIY cucumber facials, were all passed down from her. I got my first professional facial with my mom — at a strip mall storefront in a Korean enclave of southern California, packed with middle-aged Korean women all far too well-to-do for that part of town. Though the pink-uniformed facialists were all speaking a language I only knew to the extent that its vocabulary involved survival (eating, sleeping), I entrusted them for two hours with my 19-year-old face.

Back then, I didn’t realize that my mother was establishing the foundation for good skin care habits for her daughter. In truth, being the know-it-all teen that I was, I ignored most of her early edicts (“Cover your face from the sun! Don’t scrub so hard!”). Of course, like most things mom said, I now see the wisdom in them and often regret that I didn’t heed her warnings earlier.

But it’s never too late to change your skin, as I’ve learned in the last few years since I’ve embraced K-beauty wholeheartedly. I’ve always thought that at a certain point, it would be about slowing the deterioration of all the damage you’ve incurred in your younger years, and to some extent that’s true. But I’ve also seen a reversal — an actual reversal, not just a slowing down — of some of my skin issues since I’ve incorporated some important K-beauty lessons into my regimen. And lest you think I’m talking about K-beauty products, let me be clear: Most of the K-beauty lessons I’ve learned have nothing to do with specific beauty products or brands — they’re practices anyone can incorporate.


K-beauty Lesson 1: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

What I used to do: Dry it out, dry it out, dry it out. At least, that’s what I thought I had to do to kill pimples and sop up the oil on my nose.

What I do now: From hydrating toners to serums with moisture-binding ingredients to sleeping masks, I ensure that my skin —both the oily and dry parts of it — are constantly hydrated. For me, hydration is a multi-step process and not just, say, a thick moisturizer. My facial cleanser doesn’t contain SLS to prevent stripping; I immediately kick-start the hydration process with a facial mist or hydrating toner as soon as I finish cleansing; and I ensure my serums contain humectants (which draw water into the skin) like aloe, honey, and hyaluronic acid.

I never realized how dehydrated my skin was (because how oily your skin is is different from the amount of water in your skin), and once I started really hydrating it, 365 days a year, I’ve noticed that my fine lines and creases have plumped up. In fact, my first big-time wrinkle by my mouth (and no, it’s not a “smile line”) has all but disappeared.


my skin care regimen: double cleansing


K-beauty Lesson 2: Do the double

What I used to do: The single. With a foam cleanser. And probably one with sodium laureth sulfates (since it made my face feel all squeaky clean).

What I do now: Sure, everyone double cleanses now. Even the all-American brand Neutrogena is advertising double cleansing. But double cleansing is relatively new to me — I was incorporating hydrating toners and all manner of sophisticated serums long before I was double cleansing. Now that I know better, I don’t know how I lived without it. The squeaky clean feeling has always been the Holy Grail for me, but I never thought that I could feel clean — truly clean — and hydrated and soft, without a hint of tightness in my skin. Today, I’ll alternate between oil cleansers and micellar waters as my first step to remove makeup, depending on how my skin feels, and then cleanse with a non-SLS cleanser. It’s a vital step in my regimen that has helped my skin to look plumped and taeng taeng, despite age-related volume loss.


K-beauty Lesson 3: Pat it all in 

What I used to do: What every American woman did before 2010: swipe, smear, rub. 

What I do now: Pat at every single step of my routine. I pat in the shower (Blithe Patting Splash Mask, I’m looking at you), I pat after I sheet mask, I even pat after I wash my face (just till it’s no longer dripping — what, you think I have all day?). Not only does patting prevent me from pulling on my delicate skin, it helps my skin care absorb faster, which is important since, yes, I am one of those with a 10+ step skin care regimen.

I’ve extended this genius patting trick to my body lotion — seriously, even the thickest, gooiest body cream absorbs in seconds. I even pat on my foundation, because nothing gets my foundation to “melt” into my skin as seamlessly as patting it in with my fingers — not a Beauty Blender, nothing. (You’ll also be saving product.) Try it. You’ll be hooked.


K-beauty Lesson 4: A facial can cover a multitude of sins

What I used to do: Um, nothing.

What I do now: Stayed up a bit too late? Went to town on that bag of cheddar-jalapeño chips? Got into a screaming fight with your bestie? Yeah, a facial’s got you covered.

Any time stress comes calling (read: every day), our skin shows it. Maybe not immediately, but it will. In those unusually dark circles. In that not-that-time-of-the-month pimple. In a sallowness that no amount of strobing will alleviate.

I know — a facial? Really? Shouldn’t I be going to a dermatologist, a psychologist, an extreme SoulCycle session at the very least?

Perhaps. But for me, regular facials have changed my life, not just my complexion. Facials are a must for most Korean women, as important a part of their skin care regimen as an essence. For me, my facial is a time for me to unwind, breathe deep, de-stress. It’s my meditation time, a time when I clear my thoughts of looming deadlines and personal anxieties. A time when I can relish in the extended facial massage by my Korean facialist at Gloria Skin Care, when contours are carved out and lymphatic drainage the order of the day, when kneading knuckles and palms and fingertips are the only sensations I need to focus on. For me, this is the ultimate in luxury. And the ensuing endorphin rush has probably not only done more to decrease my stress (and thereby increase my immune response, which affects every cell in my body, skin cells included) but, I suspect, is more responsible for my post-facial glow than any cream mask my facialist can apply.


ljh tea tree soothing mask review


K-beauty Lesson 5: When in doubt, sheet mask it

What I used to do: If I was lucky (and remembered), I’d sheet mask once or twice a month.

What I do now: My most recent K-beauty lesson was a doozy. I detailed my experience in this post, but let me sum it up for you. After a massive breakout — the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since law school — I halfheartedly decided to give LJH’s new Tea Tree Soothing Mask a go, totally not expecting anything other than an opportunity to soothe my depressed mood. After two sessions with the mask, spaced a day apart, and not having done anything differently in my routine, not only had my half dozen pimples decreased significantly in size and redness, well on their way to healing, the throbbing, painful cystic monster (pimple just makes it sound so benign) on my chin simply … stopped. Ceased. Halted. It died. And that never happens.

Lesson learned. Sheet masks aren’t a luxury. They’re a necessity. Imagine if I sheet masked once or even twice a week? Every day? Forget the dermatologist, psychologist, or SoulCycle — it’s enough to make me feel like I wouldn’t need my facialist anymore.

Well, almost. Because no one can knead the stress out of you like a middle-aged Korean woman.


Originally published on Glow Recipe.



14 thoughts on “5 K-Beauty Lessons That Changed My Skin

  1. zllvs says:

    I love your post! So interesting, so many lessons! I must apply them into my skincare routine: like now, for example, I have done my routine but yet I see I could add this blessing night pack to really hydrate my skin all night long. Forgetful? Yes, absolutely. I have it in the refrigerator (trying to save it with some other items from the terrible heat harming conditions)

    I cleanse with an oil and then Benton Foam. If I have not had any makeup, then I only use Benton foam. In the mornings just water or Low Ph foam by Cosrx. I think it is alright but I don’t use a mist, I go ahead and pat on my skin this Benton toner with aloe, which I think it is hydrating.

    But I have two questions, and I would like your advice:

    1. Which foam cleansers without sls is best for combination and sensitive skin?
    2. Am I doing it right by applying Benton toner as an hydrating toner?

    Now, I will go and pat my face with the sleeping pack 🙂

    Thanks! And I love your posts!


    • AnnaMPark says:

      Thanks so much!

      The Benton aloe toner (with BHA, right?) sounds amazing — I’m actually going to have to try it. It uses aloe leaf water as its base instead of water, so that helps not to dilute the other ingredients. You don’t have to use a mist — I do because I wash my face in a different bathroom, so I want to be sure to hydrate my skin immediately before I head over to my vanity to start my skin care routine. Patting with the toner after washing is perfect!

      It sounds like you’re right on with the Benton Foaming Cleanser — no SLS, lots of botanical extracts, and the surfactants in the cleanser get a 1 on EWG (low hazard). To be honest, I don’t spend too much on a cleanser — you wash it right off so any skin-loving ingredients don’t get a chance to do their stuff on your skin. I’m fairly easygoing about my cleansers — as long as they don’t have SLS, I’m good. I do use a foam cleanser at night after removing makeup (Cremorlab Whipping Cream Cleanser or Dr. Jart Dermaclear Micro Foam), but for mornings and non-makeup days, I prefer a non-foaming cleanser with some salicylic acid to help with my hormonal acne. Right now, I love Murad Time Release Acne Cleanser for its encapsulated salicylic acid, which purportedly doesn’t rinse off and works on your skin for up to 8 hours. It’s non-drying, which helps with my combination skin.

      And yes, definitely add a night pack to your routine! It’s really made a difference in the hydration of my skin.


      • zllvs says:

        Hello Dear Ann, thanks a bunch for all this wise advices!
        I now know I am doing right with my routine regarding toner and foam cleanser. Yes, the Benton toner you mention is the one I use. It is so great, so I thank you for telling me about the good things it does. Also about the foam cleanser I seem to do the cleansing it alright as well. I don’t have acne but I have about five blackheads very tiny on my cheeks and I am being patient about trying to remove them without actually using any tool. I also exfoliate with Skinmiso Peeling Gel because it’s made also for delicate/sensitive skins. It doesn’t irritate. So probably with patience they will go away. I am thinking of buying a bottle of either Cosrx or Mizon Aha Bha toner since I am reading so many great reviews about them. But that is another subject 😀

        Again Thanks so much for your time! It’s been a great advice from you. xoxoxo


        • AnnaMPark says:

          Hi Carmen! Blackheads are definitely tough — even if I (gently) squeeze mine out, they always come back because the pores are enlarged. Peeling gels are definitely the way to go for gentle physical exfoliation, but a chemical exfoliant is (surprisingly) an even more gentle way to exfoliate. I use Cosrx BHA toner and it’s super gentle because it uses willow bark, a milder form of salicylic acid — it’s a good one to start with if you’ve never used chemical exfoliants. It doesn’t make my bigger blackheads go away, but I do feel like it keeps smaller ones at bay.

          Liked by 1 person

          • zllvs says:

            I am going to try it. It will be the first time I use a chemical exfoliator. I’ve been waiting for a long time I guess. Have a beautiful day 😀 and Thanks again 🙂


  2. outofmythoughts says:

    Yes! I love patting as well. It makes a big difference. I heard someone say that you should wait for each step of your skincare to absorb before you move on to the next step. What do you think about that? Ah, the sheet mask. Can’t seem to do them at all. Maybe if I could warm them up somehow. 🙂


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