Welcome to Soko Secret! Here, we shine a light on the people living in Korea who inspire us. Straight from the streets of Seoul, their approach to beauty and style will impress you. Woojong Yi is a 25-year-old Korean-American YouTuber and life coach who inspires people with his unwavering positivity. We chatted with him about his personal beauty routine.
Since he’s always on camera, Woojong is the perfect guy to gain some insight on a Korean man’s beauty routine. Here, he shares his skin care routine and the only two things he thinks both men and women should care about in their beauty routine.
Tell us about yourself.
I was born and raised in the States, in the suburban area of DC, in Fairfax, Virginia. I initially came to Korea to become an actor but once I was in the industry, I realized it wasn’t for me. It wasn’t life fulfilling work, especially since I’m a Christian, I didn’t see it align with what I wanted out of life. So I redirected my plans and decided to be a life coach. It’s a much better fit for me.
How did you become a life coach?
Ever since I was little, I was always a leader. I wasn’t afraid to take charge. It was a natural, innate ability to lead people. I carried this over when I was in the U.S. military as well. And when I got out of the military and was pursuing acting, it was weird to go from being a leader to auditioning for roles. When I decided to be a motivational speaker, it was a natural transition. When you’re a leader, you’re all about inspiring your subordinates or motivating them and getting them to rally for a purpose.
What year did you come to Korea?
Does it feel like it’s only been a year or does it feel like it’s been longer?
It feels weird because it feels like I landed here last week. The procession of time here is going slow even though it’s a fast-paced society.
Do you care about taking care of your skin? Is it important to you?
Before, I didn’t even know what SPF was. I never used lotion. But when I came to Korea, I was educated on how important skin is, especially when it shows up on the screen, and how the sun gives you sun spots and premature aging. I was like, holy crap.
What is your skin type?
I used to go to a dermatologist and they said my skin type is normal. I thought it was dry, but turns out, it was dry because I never put lotion on.
When you first got to Korea, you were surprised by all the terms thrown around and skin care stuff. Who taught you about skin care or how did you go about research?
It was a process. I learned bits here and there from the whole assortment of people—from my manager, YouTube friends, to skin care guru friends who would go off about toner, essence, and all that stuff. At first, I was like, yeah, let me do all of it! I was doing a 9-step skin care. But fast forward to now and all I do is water and lotion, if I remember. I just put on body lotion on my face but that’s not good, so I need to fix that.
What do you notice is different about men’s skin care in the U.S. vs. Korea?
The biggest difference is that Korean-Americans are tan as heck. I used to be really tan as well, but in Korea guys are a lot paler. I learned that it’s because guys in Korea use SPF, which minimizes the melatonin in the skin that makes you dark. But us in America don’t care.
When I was in America, I took pride in the fact that people thought I was Filipino. I was like, Yeah, I like it. I’d go intentionally shirtless tanning at the beach just to get darker. But in Korea, guys wear skin suits to the beach so they don’t get dark. They wear hats that cover up the face. So the biggest difference in skin care is that Korean guys here know what SPF is. But the ones in America, we just don’t care.
Woojong Yi in America
Why do Korean guys not like to tan? Is not being tan better looking or do they not want to harm their skin?
I think it’s because exposure to the sun has a huge list of adverse effects, like negative consequences. The one they don’t like the most is premature aging. They just don’t want wrinkles. I mean to be honest, nobody wants wrinkles—that’s why the Botox industry is booming.
So do guys not care as much about wrinkles in the U.S.?
I think it’s cultural. In America, tanning is seen as healthy, while in Korea, they see another spectrum of consequences of sun exposure, like liver spots. I see both sides of the argument, but in Korea, my skin got brightened by 10 shades. I look at my old photos from a year ago and I can’t recognize myself. I naturally got lighter from living here. It’s pretty crazy.
So Korean men care a lot more about anti-aging. Do they also use more steps typically or is it the same?
It depends. The K-pop idol type men that a lot of Westerners stereotype Korean men as is only a small fraction of the population. A lot of my guy friends are just like me. They just do lotion, if they remember.
But then I have Korean guy friends who are idols and models and they have intense skin care routines, like morning and night cleansing and face masks. But if we’re talking statistics, nine out of ten Korean guys probably just do lotion and then in the summertime, put on SPF. But that’s still a huge difference between Koreans and Americans because I think a lot of American guys don’t even do lotion.
So Korean guys only put on SPF if they go to the beach in the summer or is it every day in the summer, or is it every day of the year?
It really depends. I would say my Korean guy friends who are single don’t do any skin care at all. But the ones who are in relationships, I think because Korean women, their counterparts, are a lot more enthusiastic about skin care, so they kind of pressure their boyfriends in a nice way like, Come on, just put some lotion on for me, so my guy friends feel like they have to do skin care.
But if we’re talking about summer versus winter, most Korean guys do put on SPF on their own in the summertime because the sun here is not a joke, especially with how humid it gets. It’s a sticky mess.
Did anyone in your family teach you anything about skin care?
My parents are both American. My dad is one of those dudes who used to go in a Speedo and sun tan on his deck with baby oil so he can get darker. So that’s what I saw growing up. My mom doesn’t do skin care, either. I just got her a sleeping mask from Korea and she was like, how do I use it? I thought it was pretty funny because I’m teaching her now.
Are you the first one in your family to live in Korea?
Yes. My entire family immigrated in the ’80s and they never looked back.
So normally, you just put on body lotion. But what about those days when you used to do a 9-step routine?
I don’t want to come off as arrogant, but I think I have great skin without trying. But in America, my idea of moisturizing my skin was aloe vera. That was all I did. Aloe vera sometimes in the winter, that’s it.
But in Korea, if I were to do a proper routine, I like to start off by doing an oil cleanse to wash off the SPF and the dirt. After that, I tone my skin with the Skinfood Premium Tomato Whitening Toner so I can prep so my skin to soak in all the necessary ingredients. Then I put on droplets of essence, like the Skinfood Premium Tomato Whitening Essence, and if I have problems on my skin, I use a vitamin C drop, like the Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Serum. I also like the Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Serum. I really like this one. And then a liquidy moisturizer—these days I’ve been using the one from Nature’s Republic, the Aqua Max, or the Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Cream.
By the way, I learned this from Charlotte, I wait one minute between each step for the products to properly soak in. Then I put on SPF. Because my skin isn’t sensitive, I can literally slap anything on it, but at Daiso or Watsons, I get the cheapest SPF I can find. I’m using Entia’s Smile Sun Perfect. It was like $2 and it has SPF 50+++.
This is on a good day, if I know I’m going to be out and about. But on a normal day, it sounds bad, but I don’t do anything. But I think it’s gonna catch up to me. One of those days, I’m gonna wake up with wrinkles and wish I had taken better care of my skin.
Is Klairs your favorite brand?
My favorite brand would be Innisfree. I’ve only tried their face masks and I love them.
What do you think men need to spend more attention to than women when it comes to skin care?
There’s only two things men and women need to focus on: good skin and good eyebrows. The reason why I say good eyebrows is that there are Korean guys walking around here with Neanderthal eyebrows, like unibrows. If everyone took the time to take care of their eyebrows a little bit, the world would be a better place. Now, I’m guilty as charged, since I used to not do my eyebrows either, but since then, I’ve been educated.
What kind of products do you use to do your brows or do you just pluck them?
I don’t use any brow products, but when I get a haircut, they shave the ends for me, because I get wizard-looking brows.
That’s surprising because many people think Korean guys are so into grooming.
Here’s where Korean guys are really precise about: their hair. I was so shocked because when I lived in America, I always buzzed my hair. A haircut was five minutes long. I got a haircut yesterday, and it took an hour and 20 minutes just to trim my hair. When Korean guys get ready in the morning, 80 percent of their morning routine is their hair and 20 percent is skin.
They’re really into blow drying and curling, and all that. I’m not conventional because if any Korean guy watches, he’d think I’m an idiot, and it’s true, I don’t do what Korean guys do. But ever since I grew out my hair, I went from doing nothing with my hair to now conditioning my hair. Before, I didn’t know what conditioner was, and you were lucky if I even used shampoo because I didn’t have hair, I just shaved it.
What tools do Korean guys use to take care of their hair?
Even the Korean guy friends I have who are like sitting around in their underwear all day playing Starcraft or League of Legends have to dry their hair, so a hair dryer is a Korean guy’s most important tool. And every Korean guy has a wax or a pomade or a clay.
Do you have a hair routine?
You know how Gongyu in The Goblin has longish hair and a part in the middle? I’m in the awkward phase of growing it out to be that length, and my hair stylist told me I need one more inch. My hair grows abnormally fast, so maybe in two months, I’ll get a perm, and I’ll have Gongyu hair. But for now, I wear a hat to cover it up. Even when a girl gets a bob and decides she doesn’t like it, she’ll grow it back out. Even girls can relate to me on this one—like how awkward it is to grow out your hair.
How do you style it?
I have straight hair that’s not oily and it’s neither fine nor thick. So when I come out of the shower, I don’t believe in towel-drying or blow drying. Not because I care about that damaging my hair, but because what I do is when it’s wet, I get a comb, split it down in the middle, and let it air dry. I swear it looks exactly like a guy who spent an hour doing his hair.
Is that a typical Korean guy thing to do?
No. I slept over at a lot of my guy friends’ houses before and everyone from K-pop idols to models to gamers, none of them do it my way. It’s really funny. Even if someone doesn’t care about clothes or what society says, they still care about their hair. They blow dry it, tease it, blow dry it again. It’s seriously an art.