"I Had an Anti­-Ageing Routine at 11": The Fascinating Backstory of Korean Beauty

Amanda Montell
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SHESMISS

When Charlotte Cho stepped off her flight from Los Angeles to Seoul, South Korea, she hadn’t so much as washed her face in 13 hours. It was 2008, and she was 22 years old, on her way to start her first real job out of college. At that moment, her priorities didn’t exactly include cleanser. But in truth, they never really did. The daughter of two Korean Americans, Cho grew up in the ’90s in Hacienda Heights, a neighbourhood just east of L.A., where her beauty routine consisted of lip gloss and a deep tan.

“I wanted to be like Jennifer Aniston,” she says. “Very Americanised.”

Back then, Cho’s skincare routine, like most Americans in their early 20s, was nonexistent. “I thought skincare was something you thought of when you were much older and actually saw signs of ageing,” Cho explains, as we sit cross­-legged in a plush booth at Zinqué, a cafe in West Hollywood. “If I had acne breakouts, I just covered them up with makeup. None of my friends really knew about skincare either.”

After college, Cho took a public relationships position at Samsung, which brought her to Seoul. She didn’t speak the language, but she would learn. The next five years in Korea would end up changing not only Cho’s career path but her lifestyle and very definition of personal wellness. Her time in Seoul would inspire her to become a certified esthetician, write a book on Korean beauty, and create her own online boutique, Soko Glam, which offers the latest Korean skincare launches to American consumers. Cho says a Korean native could tell within two seconds of looking at her skin that she isn’t from Korea, but to my untrained eyes, it looks milky and flawless, like a painting.

Of course, we’ve all read time and time again about the divine mystery and superiority of Korean beauty products. We’ve welcomed BB creams and sheet masks into our everyday lives.

But this isn’t a story about products. It’s not even about women with pretty skin. This is a story about a culture where cleansing your face is as ingrained as washing your hands before you eat; where “family facialists” are as commonplace as family doctors; where men wearing makeup to the office is nothing out of the ordinary; and where having fair, supple skin has been a virtue for millennia.

If you’ve ever asked yourself what makes Korean skincare so next-­level, or why Korean women have such ageless skin, we finally have your answer. To decode the fascinating cultural backstory of Korean skincare, keep scrolling!

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