Believe it or not, the ultimate skin goal (and best complexion compliment ever) for Korean women isn’t “baby,” “glass,” or even “honey” skin. In Seoul, nothing says K-beauty flawlessness quite like cloudless skin or malgeun pibu in Korean (see actresses Jung So Min and Chae Soo Bin for proof). What exactly does that mean? It’s skin that’s undeniably “clear, bright, and discoloration-free with a whisper of translucency,” like—you guessed it—a cloudless sky after the rain, explains Seoul-based dermatologist Kim Young Hoon. “It is a figurative way of calling out the overall health and condition of the skin,” he adds. “When it’s rough, dull, and tired it mimics the sky on a cloudy day that’s overcast and streaked with so much haze you can’t see the sun or stars.” While the backbone of cloudless skin is hydration, other factors like texture, clarity, and evenness play a huge role, too. Here, pro advice on how to tackle the four main issues that stand between you and clear, cloudless perfection.
The cause: While most of our skin cells (like millions a day!) shed normally, some get stuck and pile up over time to create an ashy, grey-ish cast on top of the skin’s surface making it look dreary.
The solution: When it comes to sloughing off dead skin cells, exfoliation is your best friend. But instead of defaulting to a grainy scrub or harsh chemical peel a few times a week, try restoring glow the K-beauty way with gentle daily exfoliation. A nighttime leave-on treatment with alpha hydroxy acids like Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask ($45), can loosen build up, fade discoloration, and even help prevent breakouts. Another smart addition to your glow-boosting arsenal is a twice-weekly splash mask that exfoliates and smoothes with the power of lactic acid. Choose Blithe Patting Splash Mask – Yellow Citrus & Honey if you have dry skin, Soothing Green Tea if you’re oily, and Rejuvenating Purple Berry if you’re looking for extra anti-aging oomph ($45 each). If you’re sensitive, try a gentle exfoliating treatment like Primary Raw DoYou 2-Step Milk Peeling Kit ($6), which lifts dry flakes, while simultaneously delivering a heavy dose of hydration.
Speaking of hydration, you’ll also want to get in the habit of moisturizing well not only in the AM and PM, but also throughout the day, since dewiness helps fight dullness, too. Our fix? A mini hydrating facial spray like Whamisa Mini Hydrating Double Layer Mist ($15) tossed on your desk or in your bag so you can literally #misteverywhere. If you can fit it in, consider doing a mid-day sheet mask like Common Labs Ggultamin C Real Jel Mask ($4) that brightens with vitamin C and peony extract. Wipe down skin quickly with a cleansing water, give skin a good slough by swiping on the exfoliating peel pad first, then sit back and relax while the antioxidant-rich, vitamin C- and peony-laced mask addresses a laundry list of cloudless skin obstacles: pigmentation, collagen production, and wrinkles at the same time.
The cause: Bacteria, dirt, and natural oils mingle with those aforementioned dead skin cells and have a party in your pores. The result of those ragers? Blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples.
The solution: “Daily cleansing is very important. If you don’t make sure to properly remove all the impurities and residue, you’re at a high risk for congestion,” says Dr. Kim. A hydrating, great-for-all-skin-types cleanser like Glow Recipe Blueberry Bounce Cleanser ($34), which can also be used as a 5-minute mask, relies on skin-refining AHAs to gently dissolve makeup, dirt, and grime. Beyond keeping the surface of your skin clean, using a deep-cleaning solution souped up with active ingredients like detoxifying charcoal (found in Lindsay Modeling Rubber Mask, $6) or purifying tea tree oil (like MD’s Pick Clarifying Water Rubber Mask, $9) will also help clean out buildup and excess oil. Used weekly, you’ll notice less shine, congestion, and fewer gaping pores.
The cause: Some of us have truly sensitive skin, but overdoing things with scratchy scrubs and aggressive ingredients can also cause an out-of-whack pH level that leaves you red, splotchy, and raw.
The solution: “It’s all about making sure your skin is in balance,” says Dr. Kim, who emphasizes the importance of repairing (and maintaining) the skin’s barrier—a protective layer and the first line of defense against aging. The first step to doing that: using the right cleanser and toner. Stick with non-stripping, alcohol-free, low-pH formulas like Make P:rem Safe Relief Cleansing Foam ($20) and ID.AZ Dermastic Essential Toner ($34). “If something leaves your skin red or irritated afterwards, it means that the product is too harsh,” warns Dr. Kim. Next, add in hydrators that contain natural moisturizing factors including glycerin (like in Make P:rem Cicapro Cream, $37) and hyaluronic acid (try LJH Grow Hyal B5 Ampoule, $33), as well as ceramides and jojoba oil (both found in Yuripibu Cellum Amiad Cream, $38) which all soothe redness, lock in moisture, and calm skin over time.
The cause: Free radicals from the sun, microscopic particles in the air, and hard water can all trigger inflammation in skin leading to dark spots, flakiness, and breakouts, says Dr. Kim. “Everything from environmental issues like changes in weather and pollution to lifestyle factors related to stress, diet, and alcohol cause the skin barrier to weaken and collapse, making it look cloudy.”
The solution: Your newest security measure against the elements is a serum that creates an invisible film of protection like Blithe InBetween Makeup Prep Essence ($38), which uses fermented soybeans, rice, and tomato leaf extract to strengthen the skin’s moisture barrier and prep it for flawless makeup at the same time. For added skinsurance, incorporate products with antioxidants like Whamisa by Glow Recipe Green Tea Moisturizer ($25), which scavenge and destroy damaging free radicals throughout the day. And don’t even think about forgetting SPF (we love the light-as-air protection of Make P:rem Blue Ray Sun Fluid ($38); no respectable Korean woman leaves the house without a solid coat and a sun stick to reapply. Equally important is what you eat and how you treat your body in the long run, so start guzzling water, try committing to a solid night’s rest every day, and pack your plate with antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies. New year, new glow—right?!