Style

The K-Beauty Way to Treat Acne Is Actually Genius

It's all about hydration.

Caroline Tompkins / Getty
By Alicia Yoon

The Korean approach to skincare is all about treating the skin gently and holistically to achieve long-lasting results. The approach to acne is no different. Instead of simply focusing on just the acne itself (as in: spot-treating breakouts as they occur or dousing the skin with harsh acids), the K-beauty approach considers the whole skin ecosystem holistically. This can go a long way in improving acne over the long-term. Here are five things to consider when approaching acne from a K-beauty perspective.

Double cleansing

In Korea, double cleansing is a tried-and-true cleansing method to help keep skin at its healthiest. Dermatologists and estheticians in Korea emphasize proper cleansing as one of the foundational pillars of skin health, including keeping breakouts at bay. It may seem counter intuitive, but for those with oily skin, it’s especially important to use an oil cleanser. As water and oil repel each other, K-beauty devotees believe that only using a water-based cleanser can potentially push impurities deeper into pores. Conversely, oil cleansers work by gently dissolving the oil-based impurities and the sebum that traps them in the pores, then lifting them out. Try using a light oil cleanser that leaves no residue in the evenings to melt away excess sebum and impurities, then follow up with a gentle, pH-respecting water-based cleanser that is also formulated to treat acne.

Hydration, hydration, hydration

Korean skincare is all about maximizing hydration in the skin, because dehydrated skin can trigger or exacerbate so many skin issues — including breakouts. Essentially, when your skin is dehydrated, it can kick-start an inflammatory process that can lead to more excess sebum and less cell turnover. That combination creates a prime condition for breakouts to occur. Keeping your skin well hydrated (which is referencing the water content within skin and not whether the surface of the skin is dry or oily) is not just great for overall skin health, but can help create an environment to curb breakouts. Incorporating quick-absorbing essences that are formulated to drench your skin with hydration is an easy way to add deep hydration to your routine, no matter your skin type. May Coop Raw Sauce is an award-winning Korean Beauty classic favorite for long-lasting hydration.

Respecting the Skin Barrier

Our skin barrier plays a vital function in keeping good things, like water, inside our skin and the bad things, like problematic bacteria, from causing breakouts. It can also be compromised by a variety of factors, including overdoing it on actives, harsh ingredients, or products that have a pH that is too high (or extremely low). For example, salicylic acid. This popular acne-fighting ingredient is used in Korea as well, but it’s important to not overdo it. The Peach Slices Acne Skincare Routine includes a cleanser, toner, and moisturizer that all contain this hero ingredient, but additionally, in true K-Beauty form, all the products incorporate hydrating and calming ingredients too. Remember: more is not always more when it comes to skin health, and overdoing it on acne-fighting ingredients can only make your acne worse. Always make sure to combine any acids with hydrating and fortifying products that help balance your skin barrier.

To keep the skin barrier in optimal condition to help prevent breakouts, it’s key to keep an eye out on your overall skincare routine and evaluate if there are products that are too harsh. Are you using an acid or physical exfoliator too many times a week and noticing a rough, reddened skin texture afterwards? That means your skin barrier is weakened. If the skin barrier is compromised, try avoiding actives for the time being and incorporate ceramides, the building blocks of the skin, through gentle products like Cerave Daily Moisturizing Lotion or the SkinMedica TNS Ceramide Treatment Cream to help restore the skin barrier.

Pimple Protection

Acne patches are a big deal in Korea because they’re easy to use and effective. They work by creating a moist healing environment and a protective covering over the breakout to speed up the recovery process. Not all patches are created alike and the thickness and adhering-ability can impact the experience greatly. Some patches also come with specific formulas incorporated into the patches and some may also include tiny points for deeper delivery of ingredients. The Peach & Lily Deep Blemish Microdarts contain a medley of ingredients like salicylic acid, tea tree, niacinamide, cica and hyaluronic acid formulated into 176 “microdarts” that deliver the ingredients deep into the skin—a great option for those painful breakouts brewing below the skin.

Blemish Hyperpigmentation

Anyone who’s felt relief after seeing their breakout healed only to see a dark spot or acne scar left behind knows that it’s a vicious cycle. Similarly to how acne is approached, addressing hyperpigmentation can also see huge benefits from incorporating hydrating and calming ingredients, rather than just using brightening ingredients like niacinamide or Vitamin C. Hydrated, soothed skin and anti-inflammatory ingredients can also help overactive melanocytes stay calmer, thereby helping to reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation. Try using hydrators and soothing formulas, like the Tosowoong Propolis Brightening Essence alongside your brightening ingredients to address any post-acne hyperpigmentation.