While Western cultures tend to think skincare is just another end-of-the-day necessity, in Korea taking care of your skin is something to be enjoyed - a mindset that’s soaked into their lifestyle.
In this interview we talk with Elisa Lee, a renowned K-Beauty expert who we’re proud to introduce as our “Asia Ambassador”. Elisa, based in Amsterdam, squeezes us in between 2 beauty events for coffee. She educates us on this so-called “high maintenance” Korean lifestyle and enlightens us: Are the Asian genes to blame for that glowing skin or are all those skincare-steps really worth it?!
Ok, let’s get this party started. You are clearly obsessed with K-beauty. What is it that drew your attention?
Even though I have Asian roots, the true love for K-Beauty started around 2010, when I lived there during my internship. I had to visit all their drug stores as all brands and trends are so different compared to the Netherlands. The first product I bought was a BB Cream, very new in Korea at the time, and non- existent in the Netherlands. Due to the the narrow assortment in the Netherlands and the predominantly orange undertone in the products compared to my Asian yellow undertone It was hard to find a good foundation in the Netherlands. BB Cream appeared to be the solution.
Before you knew it you were hooked on K-beauty and started a blog which turned out to be a multimedia platform. When and why did you decide to launch Soko Beauty?
I actually first had my own blog called ‘Memorable days’ and about 2 years ago I launched Soko Beauty (Soko Beauty stands for South Korean Beauty, red.). K-beauty is extremely popular in Asia and as the awareness of K-Beauty in Europe was so much less, I felt the urge to share it. Reviewing the constant releases of new products and trends never bores me. I do feel like the interest in K-Beauty is rising and I see trends from Korea finding its way to Europe more and more these days.. Still, it usually takes about 5 to 10 years for the trends to be listed here.
We know people write entire books about this question, but in short: What is, according to you, the biggest difference between Korean Beauty and Western beauty?
Compared to the fairly easy skin care regimen in the West, in Korea there are multiple steps in a routine (think 8 to 10 steps) each with a different purpose, both morning and evening. In Korea beauty is seen as a lifestyle and the industry is extremely fast when it comes to new product releases: Each quarter you can expect the newest ingredients, newest technologies and not to forget the cutest packaging. Also, in Korea they use many facial gadgets. For example they work with light devices to calm or brighten the skin and ice and skin rollers to achieve a V-shape (read: a slim and oval face that narrows down to a sharp chin with a refined jawline). Lastly, in Korean beauty the prices are very approachable while the quality of the products stays good. Love that about K-beauty.
“In Korea there are 8 to 10 steps in a routine, each with a different purpose, both morning and evening”
8 to 10 steps... You cannot argue that taking over a new 10-step Korean beauty routine at once can be a bit overwhelming. When you slowly want to introduce Korean beauty into your routine: What do you suggest to start with?
Always determine what your skin type is first, check what your skin needs and take it from there. Is your skin too dry? Do you have dark spots? Implementing K-beauty, I would suggest start using a double cleanser followed by a good toner, as its great for hydration.
Sorry, double cleanse? Isn’t one cleanser enough?
No, first an oil cleanser on wet skin to remove oil-based impurities, like your makeup, sunscreen and excess oil on your skin. Believe me, it’s such a soothing thing when you see the makeup coming off. Secondly, a water-based foam cleanser to remove water-based impurities, like sweat and dirt. Water and oil don’t mix, so you need to use both cleansers to really cleanse your skin.
Aren’t you ever afraid you use too many products? That you’ll damage your skin?
Haha no, I don’t just slap all types of products on my face. I have a combination-sensitive skin, so I have to be very careful. I first look into all ingredients, and after testing so many products I know exactly what my skin needs.
In your opinion: what do you think the perception of ‘beauty’ is in Korea?
In Korea, it’s all about a very clean skin and a healthy glow. No spots allowed. When it comes to makeup the focus is a nice red lip, straight brows and heavy colored eyeshadows, like you see in our pop culture. The current trend is orange eyeshadow - really popping! The orange brightens your complexion, you should try it!
We notice that sometimes people are scared to use Korean products because since it often says ‘whitening’ on the packaging.
There’s a big misperception when it comes to Korean beauty - Not all Korean products are focused on whitening. For example, brightening is focused on getting a nice glow while whitening is really for bleaching the skin.
We bet you receive many products. When testing products: What do you focus on?
Like I said before, with testing products I find it most important that it suits my skin type. I always try skincare products at least a month before writing a review about it. While reviewing I mainly look at the ingredients. Does it fit my skin tone? Can I combine it with other ingredients without harming my skin? I also tend to avoid whitening ingredients. I feel like people need more detailed information about what’s actually in these products. My advice is to always look at the first 5 ingredients - as these have the highest concentration.
Do you have examples of ingredients you preferably don’t use?
Stay away from too much alcohol, it dries your skin.
And when using beauty products - what is it that catches the eye?
I prefer scentless products and also the texture is very important to me. Snail slime has a nice bouncy texture for example.
Korean skincare seems to be famous for its extraordinary ingredients like this snail slime you mentioned. Which other ingredients are key to Korean skincare?
There are so many, but the following are currently the most popular: Centella asiatica, Propolis, Tea tree, Rose extract and Hyaluronic acid. I haven’t really tried really weird ones, but once a brand wanted to collaborate with me promoting seahorse extract for anti-aging. In the press release they sent me they demonstrated how they extracted the material. That was too much for me. I didn’t dare to try it.
“People need more detailed information about what’s actually in these products. My advice is to always look at the first 5 ingredients - as these have the highest concentration.”
Something completely different: How are you on the whole all natural trend?
I obviously look at it, but it’s not the most important to me. I did try certain all natural brands, but it's not very beneficial for my skin type.
We cannot deny Korean beauty products have the coolest and cutest packaging. What is it about the packaging Koreans love so much?
Korean brands keep on surprising me with their packaging. They often have collaborations with cute brands like The Simpsons and Coca-Cola. One time I received lipstick tins in the shape of a wine glass and an umbrella, so cool. Korean brands are always thinking of ways to improve the usage and experience of the product, for example with a better pump.
And now what we really want to know....What’s the best and the worst skin care advice you ever received?
Best advice I received was using sunscreen every single day, even in Winter, even if you are indoors. The sun can cause skin damage really quickly and I wish I knew this earlier so I could have avoided the dark spots.
And the worst advice?
Using exfoliating acids every single day. This advice wasn’t good for my skin. You need to build up the use of acids so your skin can get familiar with them. In the beginning acids were all new to me so I just followed the advice, which was a very bad thing for my skin… too harsh.
You already established to be on the list one of the most well known Korean beauty influencers. What’s next for you? What is your goal?
I would love to spread Korean beauty more and more: the products, the knowledge and the benefits. Korean beauty is still small within Europe and I am working on a project where I am going to make this bigger. But I can’t tell much about it yet. Stay tuned.
“ELISA’S TIP: The neck is the part where you age very easily - Always use your spare moisturizer on your neck or preferably extend your entire beauty routine to this part”.”