When Charlotte Cho, the California native behind cult beauty e-retailer Soko Glam, moved to Seoul for five years after college, she experienced some serious culture shock—but it wasn’t the food or customs that surprised her; rather, it was the way people treated their bodies.
“Western cultures tend to think skin care is about as much fun as flossing your teeth, just another end-of-the-day chore to rush through before bed,” she says. “But in Korea, taking care of your skin is something to be enjoyed. It isn’t just beauty or vanity, but an investment in your well-being.”
For all the (sometimes dubious or unsavory) extremes of the skin-care industry, this principle is a rather attractive one. And it’s what led Cho to become a board-certified aesthetician and launch her online shop curating the best of Korean beauty products.
It’s also what inspired much of the insightful advice in her new book, The Little Book of Skin Care: Korean Beauty Secrets for Healthy Glowing Skin, in which she shares the secrets she’s learned since her first face-to-face encounter.
Here are seven easy-to-follow tips that Cho swears will overhaul your skin-care routine (no plane ticket necessary). —Ann Abel
1. Brand loyalty is overrated
Korean women are always looking for the next best product—which is a good thing, because it keeps beauty companies on their toes, raises the bar on innovation, and makes things better for all of us. Using a product that you’re not obsessed with, even though you love the brand’s other products? Don’t feel guilty if you reach for something else on your next foray to the beauty counter.
2. But cute is not overrated
It’s totally okay to judge a product for dark under-eye circles by its cartoon kitty cat cover or a mascara by its dinosaur drawing packaging. Of course, good quality is the first priority; but if a product works well, why shouldn’t it look cute too? The way Cho sees it, well-designed products are more fun and they reinforce the idea that skin care isn’t just a chore, but something to be enjoyed.
3. It’s not just what you own, but how you use it
Cleansers, exfoliators, toners, essences, serums, ampoules, boosters, eye creams, masks, moisturizers, sunscreens…. According to Cho, Korean women favor using several targeted products over just one multitasker. And that’s not all: Each product is applied in a specific sequence (lightest to heaviest consistency) and with specific techniques (tapping, patting, and dabbing are each considered different approaches). Even if your daily skin routine doesn’t run upwards of 10 products, play around with the items you do have to make sure that you’re applying them right and maximizing their benefits.
4. Try a double cleanse
There’s a big difference between cleansing and cleansing thoroughly. Many Western facialist also recommend washing your face twice, first with an oil-based cleanser (which we’re big fans of, too) and then with a water-based one. Oil likes oil, so an oil cleanser can help break down and remove excess sebum and oil-based impurities like makeup, silicones (eek!), and sunscreen. A second, water-based cleanser will remove sweat, dirt, or water-based debris that’s still hanging around.
5. When it comes to hydration, go deep and go often
Dewy skin is the most sought-after beauty trait in Korea (think luminous and fresh). In addition to following daily and nightly moisturizing routines, many Koreans hydrate with facial mists and moisturizers throughout the day, use humidifiers to combat drying air, and load up on hydrating sheet masks and sleeping packs. In other words, think outside the tube when it comes to hydration.
6. Always wear sunscreen
We really mean it this time. Most of our sun exposure doesn’t come from the beach or entire days spent lounging outside, but rather from everyday sun exposure that adds up over time. Even on a 10-minute walk around the block, your face is vulnerable to sun damage (spots, sagging, lines, you name it). And that’s not all: UVA rays, the no-burn yet dangerous ones, also go right through windows in homes, cars, and especially airplanes. So apply sunscreen religiously—and remember that sunscreens only work for a few hours, so yes, keep that bottle handy so you can reapply.
7. Skin care is not just a luxury
Thanks to picky customers and widespread demand, many of even the most innovative Korean skin-care products are usually affordable. And, no, not just the little face sheets. Even natural moisturizers for acne or brightening won’t cost more than your Netflix bill. Good skin is accessible to everyone, Cho says.
Beauty nerds and book nerds unite: We also can’t stop reading Adina Grigore’s book Skin Cleanse, who basically throws out the concept of skin type—it’s a true beauty game-changer.
(Photos: Soko Glam/Harper Collins)
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