Makgeolli is a traditional Korean fermented rice wine that tastes weird and looks like milk, but it's apparently good for your skin. This is why several skincare brands have been manufacturing their own makgeolli sheet masks. But some adventurous Asian beauty bloggers have taken things another step further by making their own DIY makgeolli sheet masks, which are literally pieces of cotton soaked in booze.
Now, after years of drinking and dealing with fickle breakouts, I've learned that alcohol never does good things for my skin. After a night (or afternoon, because brunch and sporting events happen sometimes, you know?) of drinking, my skin gets puffy and inflamed and it's not uncommon to find a new zit or two. Besides the alcohol I imbibe, I have been been trained to avoid any skincare products that contain alcohol, specifically toners, because they can dry out skin in a nasty way.
However, all the reviews I've seen of these homemade makgeolli masks are glowing, especially when it comes to making oily skin appear more matte — something I'm constantly struggling to achieve. There were no reports of excessively dried out skin, which seemed like a good sign. So is there something special about fermented rice that makes this DIY treatment actually work to leave my skin calmer and more matte, or will I wish I had just chugged the booze instead?
I went to my local convenience store to figure it out, once and for all.
If you've never been to Korea, let me tell you that the convenience stores here are on point and have every snack you could imagine, from honey butter-flavored potato chips to seven types of drinkable yogurt. But never have I ever gone to 7/11 to get a beauty product, let alone one that could be found next to cans of beer and bottles of soju, which is Korea's most popular alcoholic beverage.
For a long time, makgeolli was considered a drink for farmers and old people, and has only recently made a resurgence in the Korean palate, according to Vice. The recipe is pretty simple — fermented rice, yeast, and water — and the taste is somewhere between Bailey's and beer (a lightly carbonated beverage that definitely smells like alcohol but has the consistency and sweetness of skim milk). As far as the skincare benefits of makgeolli are concerned, it's the fermented rice that's the star here, which, according to Into The Gloss, supposedly has amino acids to keep skin firm and Vitamin B for brightening. At least... when you're drinking it.
DIY sheet masks are fairly popular in Korea, and you can purchase these dry cotton products at most beauty stores. This pack of 10 is from Olive Young, and is a much easier way of applying your own homemade sheet mask than trying to piece together a patchwork of soaked cotton swatches on your face. (But if you don't have these masks readily available, that method also totally works.)
I took out a single sheet mask, put it in a bowl, and then poured makgeolli over it until it was covered. I couldn't find specific instructions for how long to keep it in the booze for best effect, but I wanted to make sure it was sufficiently saturated.
After 15 minutes and a couple of unscientific pokes of the mask as it sat in the boozy bowl, I figured I was ready to go.
I prepped my face as I would for any sheet mask, by washing it with a cleanser and then applying toner. My skin was fairly calm, all things considered, and though I had some small breakouts on my chin and my forehead, there was nothing too vicious.
I took the sheet mask out of the bowl and lightly squeezed it out to remove the excess liquid before putting it onto my face. The smell was pungent, like I was taking a shot of vodka to the face, but quickly dissipated. I was then left with a piece of cotton soaked in a traditional Korean rice wine on my face. Most sheet masks should stay on for between 15 and 20 minutes, and my goal was to make it to the full 20.
Everything was fine until the 15 minute mark, at which point my face started to feel itchy and the mask felt like it was drying out. A few more minutes, and I wanted to scratch at my cheeks. When I touched the mask above my lip, it was bone dry. Since I was about to hit 20 minutes, I took off the mask. My face was a little sticky, but it was nothing too unusual and entirely comparable to the feeling of taking off a regular sheet mask.
The difference is almost imperceptible in these photos, but was stark in person. Immediately after removing the mask, my forehead and cheeks were matte, as if I had just patted them down with an oil blotting sheet or three, and my skin felt taut. What was most surprising was how long the effect lasted. Almost an hour after removing the mask, my skin was still matte and oil-free and felt weirdly clean. I didn't even wash my face or put on any moisturizer before going to bed a few hours later because I didn't feel like it was necessary.
When I woke up the next morning, I kind of regretted the decision to not put on moisturizer before going to sleep. My skin was definitely drier than normal, but really, my face wasn't any worse than the day before. There were no new breakouts and my forehead was slightly less oily, though there was definitely some shininess on my nose. However, it didn't seem like the makgeolli sheet mask transformed my skin in any real, lasting way.
Was This A Waste Of Booze?
The way I feel about a DIY makgeolli sheet mask is exactly the same way I feel about drinking makgeolli. I wouldn't not recommend it, but it wouldn't be the first thing I'd order at the bar... Or beauty store, or however this metaphor is going to work. This isn't the holy grail of DIY beauty hacks, but if you're in Korea and are looking for a quick way to get matte skin for a night out or a special event, I can think of worse things to do to your face. If you don't have easy access to makgeolli, however, don't go out of your way to find it for matter skin. Just use a pre-made makgeolli sheet mask instead, and drink some rice wine along with it.
Images: Maxine Builder