Eight Skin-Transforming Secrets from a Korean Facialist

Korean skincare products are a staple on American vanities, and our routines are constantly expanding to accommodate the next big k-beauty discovery. But the truth is, we’re still way behind on the country’s newest innovations, and there’s no one more knowledgeable about caring for skin than a highly-trained Korean skincare expert. Ahead, eight skin-changing secrets from Araceli Elchami, the lead aesthetician at Sulwhasoo.

1. One cleanse is never, ever enough.

The leaders of the skincare world are thorough: “Korean skincare rituals begin with double cleansing: use an oil-based cleanser to remove makeup, sunscreen and other oil-based impurities, then follow up with a cleansing foam or soap to clean out the pores,” says Elchami. If you’re in a rush and have approximately 60 seconds before Pilates starts without you, combine the two with an oil-in-micellar formula to dislodge stubborn mascara and erase every trace of makeup.

2. Yes, waters, emulsions, and refiners all serve their own purpose.

Each one has a specific consistency and serves a different purpose. A water, the most lightweight of the bunch, replenishes nutrition and hydration after cleansing, while a refiner addresses texture issues to refine pores, improve skin clarity, and smooth texture. Emulsions, the heaviest out of the three, feel closer to a milk than a cream. This hydration step balances oil and moisture to ensure your skin actually absorbs the skincare products that follow.

3. The order you apply your products is everything.

Layering is the key to maximum efficacy: if your skin is primed to absorb your products, they’ll work even better. And easy way to remember the steps? Go lightest to thickest in terms of texture. One step you might be skipping, according to Elchami, is balancing: “In this step, you should use a water followed by an emulsion to balance out the oil and moisture levels in the skin, which maximizes the skin’s potential to absorb nutrients. Then you can move on to your concentrated active treatments which come in the form of serums, essences, and ampoules. These are designed to address specific concerns.” To seal in all that moisture, apply your eye cream, face cream, and face oil last, which will create a barrier to lock in and protect the active products against environmental aggressors.

4. Supplements are the next big thing in skin health.

“One of things I notice becoming really popular in Korea is taking skincare vitamins or supplements,” says Elchami. She’s not surprised, though, as her training taught her that many skin ailments are derived from an unhealthy gut. “Beautiful skin truly starts from the inside out,” she says. If your diet is lacking in micronutrients, a skin supplement can help fill in the gaps.

5. Exfoliate with caution.

“Korean women are very strategic about exfoliation to ensure skin balance. They know that is important to remove dead skin, but they also know that they have to be gentle about it,” says Elchami. This means having more awareness about your skin on a day-to-day basis. Rather than following one set routine, Korean women choose and adjust their exfoliating products (like powders, masks, and retinols) based on their skin’s concerns and need on any given day, week, or month. Korean skincare has also developed innovation to include water activated enzyme exfoliators, which are popular because the enzymes remove the dead skin without damaging the healthy skin underneath.

6. Facial massage is the secret to a contoured face, and you can do it at home.

It’s not just for relaxation. “Massage has so many benefits, it’s one of the most important parts of skincare certification in Korea. They have such an advanced technique that can make you look much younger without fillers and Botox,” says Elchami. Aside from manipulating the appearance of your face, massage improves skin’s health by applying physical stimulation to the muscles, promoting circulation of blood and lymph and vessels, strengthening skin capillaries to promote active delivery of oxygen and nutrition to the cells. It’s also incredibly anti-aging, as it can promote tension and elasticity of connective tissues and prevent wrinkles.

“Apply gentle pressure from the chin upwards, tapping gently around the eyes, and always remember to massage opposite direction of the wrinkle lines,” says Elchami. While a DIY massage is great for daily maintenance, she highly recommends seeking a professional trained aesthetician for deeper contouring and detoxifying effects. Their prowess ensures the correct amount of pressure is applied during the treatment, so your skin isn’t overworked.

7. Jade rollers are so last year.

Elchami says there’s been a shift in the most popular tools for clearer complexions and lymphatic drainage. “Contouring rollers have always been widely popular amongst Koreans, but I’ve noticed that LED face masks are all the craze now,” she says. The robotic-looking masks help improve skin tone, stimulate collagen production, and kill acne-causing bacteria by using red or blue light.

8. Skin health is tied to overall health.

More than just tips or tricks, Korean men and women view skincare in a more symbiotic way. According to Elchami, they approach it from a holistic health perspective, not just from an aesthetic place. “Being the largest organ, skin concerns are connected to internal health concerns. Skincare is an extension of a holistic, balanced lifestyle, and diet. Whereas Americans tend to view skincare as more aesthetic, Korean rituals are essential to give ourselves back all the energy we give out,” she says. An easy first step: slow down your routine and use it as a moment to recharge mentally.

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