It may be time to switch from your American drugstore acne products to a Korean routine. Let Emily’s story guide you.
Look, no one ever truly likes high school. Sure, you like hanging out with friends and joining a club or a team, but everyone regrets at least one choice. Here are a few of mine: cutting my own bangs to get the Tumblr side-swept bangs, matching my skater beanies with my sweater, overplucking my eyebrows, and most importantly not taking good enough care of my skin.
After high school, I discovered K-beauty, and my skin was changed. On the left is me in high school using drugstore acne products and on the right is me today, using Korean products to tame my acne:
During freshman year of high school, there was not a single inch of my face that wasn’t red nor inhabited by pimples. Acne can really gnaw at self-esteem, and I was always afraid that people were staring at my zits. I constantly wanted to be the real life “be careful who you call ugly in high school” meme.
You see, high school is the period of time where you’re desperately waiting for that promised “glow-up.” You know what I’m talking about: that part of your life when you evolve from a pubescent child to a GROWN, flawless woman. Unfortunately, that glow-up doesn’t come overnight and you’ve got to make some changes yourself.
Believing the hype:
My skin became my priority in high school, but I didn’t have the knowledge to help it. Being the pubescent 15-year-old I was, the only information I had on skin care was whatever I found on TV and online, or from my friends who basically got their skin care information from the same places I did. Essentially, it was all marketing that sold me and I put all my hopes and dreams into drugstore products.
My go-to, holy grail cleanser was the Clean & Clear Deep Action Exfoliating Scrub, and I truly thought it was going to fix my life. I barely moisturized because I never had the need to do so before. When I saw new pimples appear, I anxiously used this product to clean my face. This cleanser is marketed as safe for daily use, and claims to leave the skin deeply cleansed and tingly. What I hoped for this product and many other drugstore products was a deep cleanse that would dry my pimples out and leave my skin clean. Yet, that never came to fruition.
Why the drugstore cleanser failed:
Part of the reason the product failed was that, as a daily cleanser, it meant that I was exfoliating every day. Unless you’re using a gentle exfoliator, like the My Skin Mentor Dr. G Peeling Gel, you should probably avoid exfoliating every day. This leads to over-exfoliation, a common mistake many people make because of how the skin feels smooth and tight after exfoliating. There is a myth that by exfoliating, the skin will clear up, but that’s not true, and can lead to more acne instead.
The idea that a single, magical product will fix all of our skin care issues, is exactly the type of marketing that makes it so easy to give in and buy these products. American skin care promises what we want to see: immediate results—smoother, cleaner skin to the touch right after application. “Clean skin” becomes defined by a tight feeling. We want to feel clean and the only way that happens is if there’s that minty-fresh feeling. Often that “clean feeling” comes from certain alcohols and harsh emulsifiers. Ingredients like this strip your skin of its natural oils.
Why using only one type of product won’t heal acne:
You may have oily or combination skin and think, good, the cleanser is keeping my oils at bay, what’s the problem? Well, when your skin is stripped of its natural oils, it will try to compensate by producing even more oils, which only makes your problem worse. It creates a vicious cycle where you try to fix your acne problem by using acne-targeted products, but those products produce more acne. You shouldn’t feel comfortable if your skin feels tight—if it’s tight, you need moisturizer.
What cleared my acne:
To start, I focused more on what drugstore skin care products often ignore: nourishment. When we both realized that my skin was getting worse, my mom gave me her moisturizers and less abrasive cleansers from higher-end Japanese skin care brands, like Shiseido and Tatcha. Japanese skin care’s approach focuses on nourishment and simple routines. Over the next few weeks, my skin was replenished with moisture, and my acne had—for the first time in a year—mostly cleared up.
Japanese skin care changed the way that I approached my skin. Like many others with skin issues, I wanted immediate results. However, products that promised immediate results often have harsh chemicals that, in the long run, hurt the skin’s barrier. The better approach is to treat the skin while also nurturing it. I came to realize that when it comes to skin care products, it’s ridiculous to expects results overnight. Remember, you’re working with an organ, not a robot.
My skin was generally clear after this change, but my wallet? Not very happy. It wasn’t until I started looking more into K-beauty that my skin began to look healthy and glow-y. The skin-first approach immediately drove my interest. While my skin was doing way better, it lacked a natural glow. I love a natural highlight (I used to reapply Colourpop Lunch Money twice a day!), but since I started to get into the 10-step routine, I haven’t had to reach reached for highlighters once.
What made Korean skin care such a game changer for me was the fact that it has many products at drugstore prices that actually have ingredients that nourish and treat the skin. Korean skin care puts a greater emphasis on keeping the skin balanced by looking at PH levels of products and ingredients that keep the skin’s moisture levels high.
My favorite products:
Currently, I am loving the RE:P Nutrinature Ultra Nourishing Cream as my night cream. I mean, “nourishing” is literally in the name. This product has helped reduce any flares that come up, while still maintaining intense hydration. It works to brighten up and calm skin, locking in its place as a holy grail in my skin care shrine.
I also love sheet masks. Look, I honestly thought sheet masks were a gimmick, but after sheet masking for a week straight, I was renewed. I got compliments from my friends, because I was literally glowing. The Leaders Moisturizing Recovery Mask particularly is next-level, since it’s made from bio-cellulose coconut gel and literally sticks to your face. I love popping this in the fridge and applying it on a warm summer day.
As for exfoliation, I still love how smooth and soft my skin feels right after exfoliating, but I do make sure that I am not over-exfoliating. I use the Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Lemon two to three times a week. Chemical exfoliators have been a game changer for me, as they work to remove dead skin cells. They’re powerful enough to get rid of bumpy skin, but sensitive enough so that my dry skin doesn’t react to it. If you happen to have really sensitive skin, I recommend the My Skin Mentor Dr. G Brightening Peeling Gel once or twice a week. It’s super gentle, but still gives you that satisfying texture.
When I have active breakouts, I slap on a Korean pimple patch and the pimple subsides so much faster. I love the Missha Speedy Solution Anti Trouble Patches. They provide a protective cover over pimples and tame them with a powerful combination of salicylic acid and tea tree oil. If you use the Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Spot Gel, think of these patches as a next level acne treatment that will get rid of the pimple ten times faster and won’t leave that annoying dry patch that remains on your skin for days after the pimple has cleared.
While I probably will never use drugstore products on my face again, this isn’t to say you have to fork out hundreds of dollars for good skin. There’s a lot of marketing that often reinforces the idea that good skin comes over night, but that’s the wrong mindset! Korean skin care is an amazing way to love your skin without breaking the bank. My biggest advice? Look at the ingredients that are in your products before you purchase them.