Directly from the office of four dermatologists in Seoul, South Korea, you’ll learn how one maintains “mochi” skin and another doesn’t dry her face off with a towel.
The epicenter of K-beauty can be pinpointed to one neighborhood in Seoul, South Korea: Gangnam. It’s like the Little Italy of dermatology and plastic surgery. You can’t walk half a block without losing count of how many clinics you’ve passed. Hundreds of Koreans stop into them almost once a week to keep their complexions in peak, poreless condition. Whether it’s offering medical-grade facials, injectables, laser treatments, or product recommendations for their patients’ multi-step routines, the dermatologists of Seoul are basically the gatekeepers of glass skin.
Needless to say, I made it my mission to get some dermatologists to tell me their personal skin-care routines while I was in Seoul back in February — just as we’ve done with stateside medical professionals. What do they do to their equally as radiant complexions every morning and once they get home from a long day of perfecting others’? Luckily, four happily obliged, and I learned about regimens as simple as slathering on a serum and moisturizer and some as extensive as going through four steps before continuously layering on a cream until they fall asleep.
No matter how many steps they go through day in and day out, the truth is all will tell you that no product — fine line-smoothing, plumping, brightening, or otherwise — is as effective as an injectable or laser treatment.
Choi Bo Youn
Meet the director and head dermatologist at Dr. Skinny Clinic. Choi is a mother of two and often appears on Korean TV shows focusing on health. Her popular clinic sees several K-pop artists, broadcasters, and actors as patients.
Although her complexion appears dewy and radiant to me, Choi swears she has dry skin. Her mix of Korean and Western products are to thank for maintaining her glow on a day-to-day basis, but she also indulges monthly in an injectable not available in the U.S.
When Choi heads to her bathroom sink in the morning, she skips facial cleanser in favor of only splashing her face with warm water. Cleansers can strip skin of moisture, and if you thoroughly cleansed the night before, there is no need to when you wake up.
While her skin is still wet, Choi pats on a moisturizing toner, specifically the Clarins Toning Lotion with Camomile, to ensure skin stays as hydrated as possible and keep it from drying out. If she does dry her skin with a towel, though, Choi makes sure to put on toner within 30 seconds after doing so.
Then, Choi seals in all the moisture she added to her skin with the A Repair Cream from Korean brand Cellapy. “I used to use all different kinds of creams — one for my eyes, one for my forehead, one for everywhere else,” she says. “Then, I realized [the combination] might give me acne, so I cut down to just one.”
Last, but not least, she tops everything off with sunscreen. If you need a suggestion, try the Dr. G’s Airy Skin Up Sun, which is an Allure Korea editor pick.
After work, Choi starts off her nighttime skin-care regimen with deep cleansing. First, she massages a cleansing cream onto dry skin to melt away her makeup. (My favorite at the moment is the Sioris Cleanse Me Softly Milk Cleanser.) Then, she gently wipes the product off with a towel and follows up with a foam cleanser from Korean dermatologist brand DMS, which she loves because it doesn’t leave her skin feeling parched.
Next, she reaches for the same toner and serum from Clarins. Choi’s moisturizer choice changes at night, though. She prefers a cream formulated with two powerhouse ingredients: vitamin C and retinol. If she doesn’t go to sleep right after doing her skin-care routine, she continuously anoints her skin with the cream until she gets into bed. While you sleep, the product might move around or get removed to ensure your skin says moisturized throughout the night, Choi explains. Any time her skin feels dry, she puts it on to prevent wrinkles.
Once a week, Choi gives herself an at-home peel with Exuviance’s Performance Peel AP25, which sloughs away dull, dead skin cells with gentle polyhydroxy acids. “It doesn’t give you redness,” she notes.
For the deepest possible hydration and fine line-smoothing benefits, Choi gets Filorga NCTF 135HA once a month. Better known as the “Chanel injection” among Koreans, a solution of hyaluronic acid and amino acids, as well as vitamins A, B, C, and E is injected all over the face just below the surface of the skin. After two weeks, skin starts looking brighter, smoother, and plumper as it helps stimulate collagen production. Sadly, the injectable isn’t offered in America, but if you’re even in Seoul, you can easily make an appointment with Choi to try it out on Eunogo.
Ban Jae Yong
Banonbagi Dermatology sees patients from all over the world, so Ban Jae Yong is constantly seeking out the latest and greatest treatments available not only for his patients but also for himself. “I’m 50,” he shares. “The reason I look younger than my age is I give my skin constant care and get Thermage.” (More on the latter to come.)
Ban kicks off his A.M. skin-care regimen with face wash. Then, he has a Banonagi-approved lineup of products. The clinic has its own line of products that Ban helped formulate, so he doesn’t look any further than what he knows works.
First, he layers the Milk Thistle Repair Toner on damp skin. “Make sure you apply it before your skin gets dry,” he says. “It’s very crucial.”
The Milk Thistle Repair Serum is added next. Cica is one of the star ingredients of the product line. The calming herb is known for its versatility. Ban lists off repairing, brightening, smoothing, and moisturizing as some of its benefits, so the serum is sort of a cure-all for his skin.
The last step is the most important step, according to Ban: sunscreen. “It’s number one against aging,” he says. There’s even a Milk Thistle Repair Sunscreen. It’s so moisturizing that Ban skips moisturizer in the morning.
After showering, Ban flies through his two-step routine. A brightening serum infused with alpha arbutin goes on his skin first. (The Ordinary’s Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA is a stateside alternative.) Then, he slathers on moisturizer, namely the Banobagi Milk Thistle Repair Cream. That’s it.
Based on the condition of his skin, Ban slaps on a smoothing, brightening, or calming sheet mask on a weekly basis.
Every month, he gets two different in-office treatments. For tightening up his skin, he gets Thermage. The non-invasive radiofrequency treatment has been a part of his skin-care routine for the past three years.
He’s also a Derma Shine Balance devotee. Similar to Aqua Gold in America, Derma Shine Balance uses a special multi-injector, microneedle-like gun to plunge hyaluronic acid (and occasionally Botox and vitamin C) below the skin’s surface in larger areas at a time than individual Chanel injections or Skin Botox. Ban says its brightening, smoothing, and hydrating effects give him “mochi skin,” which is a supple, poreless complexion.
Also, Ban gets skin booster injections every quarter based on whatever the most trendy option is at the moment. Now, it’s Rejuran, which is extracted from the DNA of salmon sperm. It helps skin heal quicker and boosts elasticity.
Hwang Jong Ik
Hwang starts off his day by washing his face with a cleansing foam. Instead of toner and essence, he prefers aftershave next.
Then, Hwang gets to what he considers the most important step, his go-to moisturizer of five years from Korean brand Physiogel. He didn’t share the exact one he uses, but the Daily Moisture Therapy Intensive Facial Cream is the most popular. Because he doesn’t wear makeup, he can easily put it on two to three times throughout the day to keep his skin at peak hydration levels while at work. And lastly, he too completes his routine with sunscreen.
At night, “Everything’s the same as the morning, except I also put on a brightening, wrinkle-free ointment that was prescribed to me,” Hwang says. Its active ingredients are tretinoin, which is a vitamin A derivative found in prescription retinol, and hydroquinone, which evens out skin tone and decreases hyperpigmentation.
Once a week, Hwang makes an appointment for himself at ID Dermatology for a treatment I’ve never heard of before called iontophoresis. An ultrasound-like machine uses “positive and negative charges to completely absorb ampoules into the skin,” he explains. The results include increased elasticity, brightening, and moisturizing, Hwang says.
Cho Yun Joo
A couple of my friends who live in Seoul see Cho Yun Joo once a week for laser treatments, so I joined them to get one too. While I was there, I asked Cho to share her skin-care routine, of course.
Like the other dermatologists I talked to, Cho is diligent about keeping her skin hydrated. However, her reasoning draws back to high school. She used to break out a lot, so now she loads up on moisturizer to help her skin produce less oil. “If you have dry skin, your skin will produce more oil to protect your skin,” she explains. “So I like to put a lot of moisture on.”
For her morning facial cleansing, Cho is also Team Just Water. Next, she spritzes on “a lot” of toner. She decants a moisturizing formula into a spray bottle because she believes this toner delivery system penetrates the skin better than rubbing it on. (The Kopari Coconut Rose Toner is a good pre-packaged option.)
A classic K-beauty product follows up toner: a sheet mask. “There are really good masks in Korea that you can use every day,” Cho says. She prefers sheet masks to wash-off ones as they are more moisturizing. Her favorite is from a Korean dermatologist brand that isn’t available in the U.S. “Usually, I don’t really use high-quality products because I see lasers are the best,” Cho admits. “So I use Korean products that come to our clinic that we use it in our clinic. You probably haven’t heard of it.”
After taking off the sheet mask, she massages her skin with a moisturizer and sunscreen.
Because of the high levels of fine dust particles in the air in Seoul, Cho is serious about double cleansing. The first step of her must-have duo is cleansing oil. The second is foam cleanser. Sometimes, she follows them up with a gentle scrub with fine granules, like the Klairs Youthful Glow Sugar Mask.
Essence and moisturizer are next in line. Cho stresses she uses a lot of the latter. To give you an idea of just how much she’s going through on a daily basis, she tells me she has to restock her moisturizer twice a month.
“Yesterday, I did Chanel and lasers all over my skin,” Cho laughs when I ask her about her weekly and monthly treatments. Her favorite laser is called Alma, which uses radiofrequency to tighten and smooth skin, because it’s pain-free. “It’s not very aggressive or irritating,” she says. “The downtime is very low, so you can do it every two weeks.” In the past, she also did Fraxel for acne scarring.