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Korean Skincare: A Story of Heritage, Love, and Self-Care

Every year, around this time, I’m inevitably encouraged by someone (usually brands! So meta.) to think about what I’m grateful for. And while considering gratitude simply because it’s the holidays can feel disingenuous, it is still a good exercise in reminding me to keep moving, even when everything else feels rotten.

This year, one thing I’m grateful is for my self-care routine, which brings me peace and respite from an otherwise overly stimulating day. But more specifically, I’m grateful for the woman who taught me my version of self-care and the culture it’s rooted in.

Korean beauty may have blown up in recent years, but I can confidently say my mom taught me some K-beauty tricks long before it was cool. The rice water-based serum you’re using? Seaweed in your products? Green tea for de-puffing your eyes? We were on that shit years ago.

Back when beauty was all about covering and blurring imperfections, my mom was the first to teach me about the importance of keeping the base canvas (the skin) healthy and supple, which is truly the core tenet of Korean beauty.

When I was a kid, she refused to let me put on her foundation or her rich moisturizers. Instead, she gifted me with other beauty secrets and ingredients rooted in our Korean heritage.

She taught me to freeze green tea into ice cubes to place on my eyes when I complained of puffiness. When she would wash our dinner rice, she’d save the milky water and use it to cleanse her face and mine.

She even knew to pick bongseonhwa flowers and muddle them into a paste that she would pack onto the tips of my fingers until my nails were stained a gorgeous orange-red. I’ve never seen a color like it in any nail polish bottle.

My mom also emphasized that what you place in your body is just as important, if not more, than what you place on it.

It was easy for her because the Korean diet naturally boasts skin-friendly ingredients, like kimchi (the fermentation and garlic promote anti-aging and clear skin), seaweed (soothes skin dulled from stress and fatigue), and dwenjang (contains vitamin E to repair and restore skin).

With years of eating ingredients under her belt, my mom barely has a wrinkle to be found on her face, and she doesn’t even use La Mer! That is some damn sorcery.

There’s something comforting about finding my roots in my self-care routine—like applying soybean-based eye cream as part of my 10-step skincare process and realizing I ate some for lunch and feeling proud because I’m taking care of my skin the way my momma taught me how!

For my mom, there was something about the ingredients in her culture that felt natural and good for her body. And they were. And she was grateful.

And so am I.

Photo via Soko Glam.

Do you have any self-care practices that you picked up from your family? Tell us in the comments!

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