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korean essence and other asian beauty secrets

style + fashion

the art of getting dressed.

korean essence and other asian beauty secrets

Caitlin Surakitbanharn

these days, there is much to-do about the secrets of multi-step korean and japanese skin care.  korean and japanese girls have gorgeous porcelain skin that glows from within, it's undeniable.  it's alluring to the point where, after living in Tokyo for two years...i started getting curious. i strayed from my american made products and started dabbling in the japanese drug-store dreamland.  

i have problem skin.  it is oily, prone to breakouts, and just in general, i was a slave to my mineral powder and cover-up.  i had a good dermatologist in NYC who helped me turn it around a little bit with the help of some Rx creams and gels...but if i stopped for a week, it would be back to awful-land. i desperately wanted to heal my skin for real, not just temporarily.  

then we started going to japanese onsen, which are those glam natural hot springs in japan that are super picturesque and the water just pipes up from the volcanic mountains and it's PACKED with minerals.  after the first onsen trip, i realized my skin looked....GORGEOUS.  it was glowing. it faded back to normal after about 3 days.  then the next time we went...it was even better.  it lasted for 3 or 4 days.  and at these hot springs, the water leaves deposits of zinc and sulfur on the rocks...and i saw women rubbing their fingers in the deposits, making a paste, and then spreading it all over their faces like a mask. 

me soaking in the healing waters at Takaragawa Onsen in Japan.

me soaking in the healing waters at Takaragawa Onsen in Japan.

and then at the gym in the locker room back in Tokyo, the women had such elaborate skin care routines.  face wash, serums, creams, lotions, scrubs, etc.  every single day.

and then i decided the asians are on to something and their beautiful skin wasn't genetic.  they've figured some kind of secret out in their products.  and i was going to figure it out.  i stopped using my prescription face gels and started researching and experimenting.  and i did figure it out.  i'm now at the point where i don't wear any makeup anymore.  my days of being a slave to my mineral powder...are DONE.  

the full Korean skin care routine is 10 steps. remove eye make-up (I use Nivea cleansing wipes), the cleanse, the exfoliation, toner, essence, ampoule, sheet mask, eye cream, moisturizer, night cream.  you aren't meant to do them all every day...for example: only exfoliate once a week, sheet mask once a week.  i don't use toner (i hate the dryness), and i don't use ampoules, and no eye cream for me yet.  i feel my eyes are OK with my current routine.  so there's a video below and a full detailed explanation as well!

first, i changed my face lotion.  i was a user of Cerave lotions.  they worked fine but then i ran out.  they don't sell anything even remotely close to something you'd find at Walgreens in Japan... so i had to just take a deep breath and bust out my best katakana reading skills and pick one.  so i picked Kao Biore Moisture Jelly.  it's a thin "gel" lotion, not a cream, and it is extremely light but very moisturizing.  all asian skin care lotions are this thin gel, it's more hydrating and penetrates the skin better.  as soon as i started using it, i noticed my skin looked fuller, more plump, more moisturized.  i was feeling confident.  it's hard to find outside Japan, but here is a similar one!

next, i changed my face wash.  again, i used Cerave face wash.  but it was time to make a jump.  while we were visiting the onsen i've pictured above, they had this beautiful jet black bamboo charcoal soap at the sinks.  it smells like hinoki wood (a very distinct Japanese smell, and people who've lived in Japan...melt into a puddle of nostalgia when smelling it!), and at that moment, i'd forgotten my regular face wash.  so i just went for it and tried it.  and OMG MY SKIN YOU GUYS.  my skin was SO clean.  turns out, bamboo charcoal pulls dirt from your skin like a magnet.  so i bought some in the gift shop. 2 bars.  and my life was forever changed.  then i ordered like 50 bars on Japanese Amazon and i'm still livin' off it.  yep.  i wash my face with bar soap.

at this point, i was doing well.  my skin was still breaking out occasionally (mostly hormonally around my period, despite being on birth control), but it was better.  then i discovered Cure Aqua Gel.  this stuff is like crazy Asian magic.  it's a clear gel fluid that you squirt into your hands and then rub onto your dry face.  and then ALL the dead skin on your face LITERALLY FALLS OFF.  like you start shedding nasty, dead skin immediately.  and then you rinse up and your face is brand new.  i'd discovered asian exfoliation.  my skin cleared up even more.  not perfect of course but i'd say...when i moved to Japan my skin was a 2.  at this point, it was at a 7.

so then i moved to Bangkok.  BKK is awesome but tough on the skin.  tons of pollution, vicious sun and extreme sweatiness.  i was still doing my exfoliation (every other day), my great lotion, and my bar soap.  my skin was holding steady at a 7.   the most important thing i learned from Thai women is the importance of NOT putting your face in the sun.  the Japanese women avoid the sun like the plague and i always thought...that's kind of nuts.  but then in Bangkok i GOT IT.  if i kept my face covered (with a hat or umbrella), it broke out way less.  

now we're in Australia.  then i discovered the most important and pivotal part of asian skin care.  THE ESSENCE CREAM.  i was in an asian beauty store and this Korean guy was like "try the snail essence cream you will love it."  and i don't know why but i looked at this guy and suddenly believed him.  so i bought it.  snails.  like little dudes with shells... they secrete this slime...and the Koreans have basically bottled it in cream form. i was nervous..usually new things make me break out.  but i read that snail creams are anti-bacterial and also have some positive effects on acne scarring.  i started using it twice a day and YOU GUYS. BOOM.  my skin is at a 9.  the essence cream is the KEY.  it's to the point now where i am literally not wearing make-up anymore.  not a single drop.

next: the sheet masks.  they're these little face masks made of thin tissue paper and DRENCHED in one of the essences.  i obviously use the snail mask, but there are TONS.  pearl, placenta, black charcoal, vitamin A, vitamin E, green tea extract, etc.  the masks go on forever.  but i love the snail one.  you wear it for 20 minutes, peel it off, rub the excess fluid in, and you are GLOWING.  below is the before, the mask, and the after.  my skin looks noticeably more amazing.  they're great for a little boost.

i finally feel like i've cracked the asian skin care secrets.  the number one rule is: stay out of the sun.  next, you need a face wash that cleans deeply (black charcoal), you need to exfoliate weekly, you need to find a super essence that works with your skin type (snail for me), you need a light gel moisturizer, and oh hey..drink tons of water!  

OH...and for the final secret: THE LITTLE KOREAN CIRCLES.  check out my video below :-)