When I first learned about K-beauty, it wasn't called K-beauty. I simply knew it as beauty advice from my Korean mom, and much of her skincare counsel, in my young mind, was overkill. Who needs to put on sunscreen every day? Why can't I pop that zit on my forehead? Do I really need to see a dermatologist?
But over the years, I've learned, as many children do, that mom actually knows best, and in my case, that old adage is especially true when it comes to skincare. As I continue to learn and write about beauty, I've realized many of the K-beauty tips and tricks I read about online and in magazines are the very same things my mom told me to do when I was 12. (It doesn't hurt that my mom is also a licensed esthetician and works in a dermatologist's office, so she knows her stuff on a semi-professional level, too.)
My mom has been on that K-beauty grind since she was a young girl growing up in Seoul, and I definitely got the beauty bug from her. So in honor of my mother, and all the great advice she's given to me, here are seven of the best K-beauty lessons I've picked up from her.
1. Stick To A Routine
When my mom comes home from work, one of the first things she does is wash her face. She has a routine that she follows every morning and night, without fail, and she's imparted the importance of washing one's face every single night to me as well.
This also means making time to take care of yourself, even if it means going to a Korean spa like Spa Castle once a month to relax and exfoliate. This lesson of self-care, and sticking to a skincare regimen, is one I've really taken to heart.
2. Keep It Natural
Though my mom let me play around with makeup when I was growing up, even letting me experiment on her with stage makeup techniques I picked up at theater camp, she's something of a no makeup-makeup expert: Foundation with some filled-in eyebrows, plus a bit of mascara and maybe a nude gloss if she's feeling flirty.
The Korean style of makeup tends towards dewy skin rather than heavy contour, and my mom has taught me that this style of minimalist makeup can still make a big impact.
3. Don't Be Afraid Of Mayo
This tip actually comes from my grandma, who might be one of the most stylish ladies I know, even as she gracefully enters her 90s. She was babysitting me once while my parents were on vacation, and as I was innocently watching Nickelodeon, she snuck up behind me and plopped a handful of mayo on top of my scalp, rubbing it through my hair.
This was not a prank, even though I started wailing. Rather, it was her tried and true method for making my hair shinier, and though it was disgusting, it worked. Kind of. (I think I was kicking and screaming too much to really get the full effect, to be honest.)
Long story short, neither my grandma nor my mom are afraid to use unconventional ingredients in their beauty routines, even if they come from the pantry. If a product works, it works, so don't freak out about how "gross" it might be.
4. Seek Professional Advice
Though there are some things that are easy to do at home, like painting your nails or tweezing your brows, there are certain others that are better left to an expert, like waxing your eyebrows or cutting your bangs or dealing with zits. My mom isn't shy about seeking professional advice when it's necessary.
It's common in Korea to take weekly trips to the esthetician or local spa to get a hydrating facial or just slough off all the excess dead skin on your body. My mom is the person who drags me to see a pro, even if I stubbornly believe I can do a lot of the same things at home. Usually I can't, and I end up doing more harm than good. So even if these treatments are more expensive than doing the same thing at home, they're usually worth it if within your budget.
5. Know When To Splurge
In the same vein as seeing a pro, sometimes you need to spend a bit to make sure you're getting high-quality products, especially when it's something you're using on your body every, single day.
Most of the time, my mom opts for drugstore beauty brands. But there are times when she thinks it's worthwhile to pay a premium for a skincare or beauty product. For instance, it's worthwhile to splurge on nail polish that's free of the so-called toxic trio of harmful chemicals or a non-comedogenic foundation that perfectly matches for your skin color.
Again, it's OK to spend a little more on the one serum you know you'll love rather than buy up eight comparable essences that you're ambivalent about.
6. Slather On Sunscreen
My mom tells the story about how, once, when she was a teenager in Seoul, she and her friends were hanging out in a park during the summertime, slathered in olive oil, so they could get a little tan. She regrets that decision to this day.
The biggest advocate for sun protection in my life is my mother, who has always insisted that I slather my face with sunscreen whenever I leave the house. Part of that stems from Korean culture, where tanning is generally frowned upon. But my mom also doesn't want me to damage my skin and get skin cancer or anything.
As a kid, I hated the smell and thought hats were totally lame, but now I understand that my mom was right about this whole sun protection thing all along, as moms often are.
7. Never Touch Your Face
The most important piece of skincare and beauty advice my mother has ever given me is to stop touching my face. Don't pick at zits. Don't rub at your nose. Wash your hands before putting on sunscreen.
As a kid, being told to stop fidgeting felt intolerable. As an adult, I still get chided when I bring my hand up to my face. But keeping your skin healthy and balanced should be the first priority when it comes to beauty, and touching your face usually does you no favors. So just don't do it, though I sometimes still need my mom to remind me of that.
Thanks for helping me understand K-beauty, Mom, and for reminding me that skin comes first. I promise to stop picking at my face because, well, you were right.
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Images: Maxine Builder