Korean Skin Care for Black and Brown Women: Is It Safe to Try?
Korean skin care is infamous in the beauty world. Fans of the multi-step beauty routine swear by its results. They claim clear, hydrated, soft and even skin. Since there's such an emphasis on "whitening" or "porcelain, glowing" skin in Korean culture, many women of color are hesitant to give said products a try. The concerns are valid. You'd never want to be mislead into thinking that your daily moisturizer is secretly stripping your skin of its precious melanin! On the other hand, Korean men and women alike are known for their meticulous attention to UV protection, hydration and cleansing. These concepts are universal. Your skin is the largest organ your body has, so taking a few extra steps to protect it can, and will go a very long way.
In a day, your skin comes into contact with all sorts of bacteria and pollutants, and on top of that our diet, hormones and lifestyle also come into play. Let's be honest, everyone wants clear, healthy skin. The problem lies in the fact that we don't always know where to start!
Why are most WOC hesitant to try K-Beauty?
The emphasis on "whitening" is often misunderstood and deters WOC from trying the products. This is a misnomer. According to Siraad Dirshe, a beauty editor for Essence magazine:
"Due to factors such as sun exposure, stress and just living here on good ‘ol planet Earth, our skin can begin to experience hyper-pigmentation or our complexions can start to look a bit dull – hello freckles, sun spots, and acne scars.
The ingredients, such as vitamin C, licorice-root extract or mulberry extract, in these whitening products help to gently break down the melanin clusters that cause unwanted freckles or spots and even out the skin tone by getting rid of dead skin cells by helping the skin renew itself.
Unlike true whitening products these creams, lotions and serums do not contain a bleaching agent that strip pigmentation from the skin. Most are made with all natural ingredients. After checking the labels of countless whitening products in some of my favorite beauty stores, I have yet to see bleach included in the ingredients – even after the translation. That means that the majority of these cleansers, creams and serums are safe to use daily and by anyone, no matter your skin color, looking to fade dark spots, scars, or even out their skin tone."
When you walk into Sephora and check out the Korean beauty section, you may be turned off at first by the prices. Perhaps you're on a Dove soap and tea tree oil budget, and paying 25€ for sunscreen doesn't seem feasible. For the true diehards, shopping online or buying wholesale (once you firgure out what you need of course) helps to cut down on the costs!
The language can sometimes be intimidating. Do I really want to smear snail mucus on my face for 15 minutes? What is a serum? How do I know what an amouple does versus an essence? I know that without guides like this one, I wouldn't know where to start either!
Many traditional Korean beauty routines have upwards of 10 steps! 10 steps sounds like a whole lot of steps when you're coming home after a night on the town, or rushing out the door in the morning to catch your train, right? Here's what you should know: you don't have to perform all ten steps everyday, let alone in general! For those interested in what those 10 steps include, you can check them all out here.
My Experience as a WOC with K-Beauty
Context: I used to have super sensitive skin, but it's gotten less fickle with time. I am extremely prone to hyper-pigmentation. That means, if I even look at a blemish, it'll probably leave a mark. I first gave Korean beauty a try because I'm a fan of Siraad's who I actually met while she was traveling in Spain. I trust her with all things beauty, and wanted to see what the hype was about.
There's a brand I've been using lately called Lagom. I've been using their cleaner and cellus deep moisture cream. I also use sheet masks weekly and wear SPF daily. Lagom is great because the quality of the products and ingredients is evident in the results. The moisturizer leaves my skin hydrated, and soft, and never oily or heavy. I use it at night before bed, and I know for a fact that it will come in handy during the dry, long, Madrid winters.
I adore sheet masks because there is literally a mask for any type of skin issue: dryness, red spots, pimples, acne, hydration, sun exposure, etc. They are a refreshing moment of self-care that I look forward to. Plus, there are some that look like pandas, and I mean, what late twenty-something doesn't want to look like a panda or a bear for 15 minutes? Duh.
Sunscreen. It's not just for White people who turn into tomatoes while on holiday in Ibiza. It has changed my life. Really. Lagom has several options for sunscreens which you can check out here. I use Rituals SPF 50 on a daily basis and not only is the scent subtle and pleasant, it doesn't leave any white residue! Let the church say...
Exfoliating is something that's also key in the K-beauty routine. My favorites usually come from Lush, because they're my day-1. More about my unhealthy obsession with Lush here.
How to Get Started?
DON'T throw away every single beauty product you currently own.
DO start incorporating new items into your rotation.
DON'T just buy the most expensive / popular product you can find.
DO research, and understand your skin's needs before you drop 20 dollars on a 2ml moisturizer.
DO ask questions, read reviews, and ingredients. The K-Beauty world is also a community. There are forums and blogs dedicated solely to said topics, so get involved.
DO be open to trying new products even if they may seem strange at first. Licorice brightening serum? Sure! Why not?
In the end, everyone's skin has different needs that are not only affected by their hormones, genetics and environment, but also their diet. There's no magic formula that is a one-size-fits-all solution to skin care. What I aim to do however is let WOC know that Korean beauty is much more inclusive than we think. I also want to see all my other melanin sisters and brothers looking like Angela Bassett, and let's be real, if you don't have Angela money, at the very least, start investing in a skincare routine that works. And for the love of all things good, please, please, wear sunscreen! If it can melt a glacier, it can affect your skin!
Have you tried K-Beauty yet? What are your thoughts?
Danni, Community + Content Director at Las Morenas de España, is a twenty-something, Chicago native currently residing in Madrid. Lover of language, words, and travel, she's managed to combine all of her passions through her work. In her free time, you can find her exploring the winding streets of Madrid, hunting down good flight deals, planning her next adventure and writing & researching for LMDES. Danni loves spicy food, natural hair, music and of course, her wonderful husband. If you need to find her, she’s the girl with huge hair and her face buried in her Kindle.