The outermost portion of our skin is generally made of 10 to 30 dead layers. Mine's at about -5 at the moment, because just before I sat down to write this piece, a Korean spa Jedi took a scouring pad to my body and proceeded to power-scrub as though possessed by the Force. She then doused me with warm milk, slathered me in puréed cucumber, and sent me home a new woman. Or at least one with unrecognizably silky, glowing skin.
Although not all Korean skincare (or K-beauty, as it's popularly known) is so extreme, it often shares two things with my evening's adventure: visible results and foodie roots. Or actually, some combination thereof. One of the highest compliments — indeed, one of the most sought-after results — within this esthetic ecosystem is "honey skin."
I was recently discussing the term with Sunju Hirsch, a Seoul-born and -bred superstylist at New York City's Rita Hazan Salon, where we browsed through endless pages of returns after plugging #꿀피부 (Korean for "honey skin") into an image search. "Look how incredibly smooth, spotless, and glowing everyone's skin is," she said. "That's the Korean ideal, and there's so much pressure to achieve it — even for professional success — that the country has produced some seriously effective skincare."
Of course, no one's going to endorse such pressure in the workplace — or any place, for that matter. But the resulting products are a different story. Having tried endless numbers of them at this point, I'm happy to share five kitchen-inspired favorites.
1. Belif's The True Cream Moisturizing Bomb, $38 at Sephora
Although it's great year-round (cushiony but not remotely sticky), Belif's The True Cream Moisturizing Bomb takes a turn for the heroic in winter. Fortified with olive-derived emulsifiers and an oat-derived soothing agent — among other ingredients that evoke a health-conscious grocery list — this Korean cult favorite essentially weatherproofs you. Or, used after the fact, makes your skin look and feel like the deep freeze and whipping winds were all figments of your imagination.
2. Intensive Hydrating Oil with Green Tea Seed, $45 at Innisfree
One of the biggest names in K-beauty, Innisfree recently opened its first U.S. outpost in New York City's Union Square, where fans who'd previously relied on e-commerce have been making pilgrimages to touch, smell, and even take classes. Unsurprisingly this time of year, one of the most beloved buys there is the Intensive Hydrating Oil with Green Tea Seed, an antioxidant-rich layer of, well, dew. Among other ingredients (including the namesake green tea), rice brain oil and extracts of orange, grapefruit, and tangerine contribute to the soft, velvety sheen these droplets bestow.
3. Yuza Sorbet, from $18 at Erborian
While Erborian has dedicated an entire collection of products to yuza — an antioxidant-rich Asian citrus also known as yuzu — the most delicious of the formulations is the Yuza Sorbet. And despite the presence of a few hydrating heavyweights (honey, sesame oil, and sweet almond oil), the sorbet creates a magically lightweight layer between you and the elements.
4. Face Sheet Masks, from $3 at The Crème Shop
Sometimes the fun factor draws you to a beauty product as much as anything else, and that's admittedly the case with The Crème Shop's sheet masks, which come in so many food "flavors" that even an attempted short list of standouts is long: Pumpkin Spice (to brighten and absorb oil); Raspberry Yogurt (to fight bacteria and exfoliate); Turmeric (to help offset discoloration and acne); Egg (to absorb excess oil and reduce the appearance of pores); Cold Brew (to boost circulation and reduce puffiness); and Charcoal Lemonade (to purge pores and combat blemishes).
5. Eyeconic Eye Cream, $80 at Amarte
A superfood smoothie for the thin, delicate skin around your eyes (and lips), Eyeconic Eye Cream blends ginkgo biloba nut extract, nutmeg extract, clove extract, grapefruit seed extract, and others into a super-nourishing but fast-absorbing wrinkle fighter. Bonus: The ergonomically pleasing pump, which helps with portion control (a little of this retinol-rich formulation goes a long way).