As I spent more time with my coworkers outside the office, I found out many of my female colleagues looked younger than they actually were, and even my male colleagues seemed to know more about skin care than I did. It wasn’t unusual for a super manly guy to have a bottle of SPF and some hand cream at his desk, and almost everyone had their own personal humidifier to keep the cold winter air from drying out their skin.
Outside the office, skin-care culture was just as prevalent. Every street corner in Seoul was lined with cosmetics shops. On my daily walk home from work, I’d pass dozens of windows filled with creams and treatments, and entering through the doors was like walking into a candy shop of mysteries. There were remedies for everything, from treating dark circles, to reducing breakouts along the chin, to CC creams that made you look flawless and natural while protecting your skin, to little gel caps that you could smooth out over your nose to get rid of blackheads. I pored through dozens of sheet masks made with rice, royal jelly, or even fermented yeast! These at-home spa facials in a packet were less than the cost of a subway ride, and they were made even more enticing by their cute and sophisticated packaging. There were potions and ingredients I’d never heard of before, like creams infused with snail extract to help fade acne scars, or snake venom to plump and firm the skin.
Everything was inexpensive, and I’d spend hours in the shops, inspired to try different formulas and test the various concoctions. Even when I had a bagful of new products in my hand, I still had a list in my head of what I wanted to try next.
With so many brands and products offered, I zoned in on trying to find the best and pestered my Korean friends about their skin-care routines and the products that achieved the best results for them. I dug for information myself, going through Korean beauty blogs and watching my new favorite program, a beauty-dedicated cable show called Get It Beauty, which seemed to always be on in the background wherever I was. I also had teachers and allies in the shop clerks, who, despite being younger than me (or were they?), were incredibly knowledgeable about skin-care products and techniques.
The fact that skin was a priority was apparent in many day-to-day interactions. On an elevator ride up to my apartment, I eavesdropped as an older man greeted the lady standing next to me. He said to her in Korean, “Your skin looks amazing today!”
As much as I could with my peripheral vision, I examined this so-called amazing skin, which really was dewy and bright and belonged to a woman who looked to be in her late twenties, even though she could have been decades older.
Her skin was so flawless and pore-less, almost perfect, and her reaction showed just how much pride she took in her complexion. Her eyes widened with pleasure and she giggled at the compliment, her hand politely covering her mouth.
There were two takeaways from observing this interaction in the elevator.
First, the fact that he even noticed her skin was mind-boggling. What American man would have? Second, her reaction was pure bliss. She might as well have won the lottery.
After that elevator incident, I began to notice beautiful skin everywhere I turned. So many faces I saw were silky and even. I envied how fresh and dewy they looked and wondered what these women did to keep their skin from being dull or flaky.
I know what you’re thinking right now, because I thought it, too: its genes, dummy. They’re all born with it! But the skeptic in me was silenced every time I looked in the mirror: I was full-blooded Korean, and I was as dull and flaky as a potato. I knew I needed to start taking active steps to take care of my skin, even overhaul my regimen if needed.
Four weeks after landing in Korea, I had my own humidifier at my desk, and instead of looking forward to a glass of wine after work, I found myself genuinely excited about going home and washing my face. You know what they say: When in Seoul, do as the Koreans do.
Source: Charlotte Cho’s Book – “The Little Book of Skin Care”