The premier skincare expert shares tips for getting that dewy glow.
In the who’s who of the beauty world, Alicia Yoon is the foremost expert on Korean skincare. Intimidatingly educated, Yoon’s career trajectory has taken her from training as an esthetician in Korea to getting an Ivy League degree to landing a consulting job at a formidable global investment firm to enrolling in another Ivy business school to—catch your breath—launching Peach & Lily, the industry’s go-to resource for tracking down the best Korean skincare products. We asked Yoon the most important question of all: How do we get skin as dewy as hers? BECKY PEDERSON
First, what is your #1 skin concern?
For me, I’m perpetually suffering from jet lag. I travel to Korea every six weeks and fly all over the US when I’m home, and since I work with international clients I take a lot of phone calls in the middle of the night. Basically, I sleep very few hours and my skin is always in stress mode. On top of that, I have naturally dry skin—I have eczema—so I know I have to have a very thoughtful regimen just to keep my skin at neutral.
Can you walk us through your personal routine?
1. In the mornings, I start off with a tiny dab of Erborian Solid Cleansing Oil, which is actually a balm that transforms into a gentle oil cleanser on contact. I do this because when you’re sleeping, a lot of sebum is released as your skin metabolizes. Sometimes, toxins are also released and comingle with the sebum, and when that mixture interacts with the sun, free radicals can form. So it’s important to get it off in the morning.
I always follow up with a water-based cleanser. Just something mild and nourishing and not drying. Jurlique Herbal Recovery Antioxidant Cleansing Mousse is one of my favorites. Something many people don’t realize is that K-Beauty rituals don’t always involve all-Korean products. Jurlique embodies many of the principles Korean skincare-savvy people seek—they use natural ingredients organically grown on their farm in Australia, so you know their formulas won’t strip your skin.
2. After that, I’ll use a toner that’s formulated for dry skin. Like many Korean women, I love Caudalie’s Moisturizing Toner. Toners not only balance your skin’s pH, they also have some sort of hydrating agent. This one kick-starts your whole moisturizing process.
Then I absolutely always use an essence. I love essences because they prep your skin for every other step. This is something I learned in beauty school that really stuck with me: “Your skin is like a sponge. When it’s brittle and dry, anything that moves across its surface will crack it.” Not only does dehydrated skin make it harder to absorb products, but you’re prone to infections—you can get acne more easily, for example.
Essences are great because they’re really formulated for all skin types, plus they are all formulated with a less concentrated active ingredient—just like something you’d find in a serum or cream. So it’s not just about hydration; it’s also about getting some extra benefits. I like to recommend May Coop Raw Sauce as a great choice for newbies.
3. The serums, ampoules, and face oils come next for me. I really only use an ampoule when my skin is in serious crisis mode. But I always personally use a face oil because I know I need to help keep my moisture barrier strong. I like to mix in an argan oil with a serum that’s humectant-rich. I usually pick something with hyaluronic acid over something with glycerin. Other than that, this is where my routine gets customizable and really changes based on the season and whatever my lifestyle is like at the time.
The other thing I always use is a serum that focuses on firming. One thing dermatologists tell me that because my skin is so dry, it breaks down collagen faster and I’m more prone to sagging. It’s important for me to focus on that now because once my skin does start to sag, there won’t be much I can do about it outside of getting a facelift.
The ingredients I really like are anything with collagen, peptides, or vitamin C ester. Collagen is a bit controversial as to whether the particles are effectively used by the skin. There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence by women who swear by it, but there are not a lot of clinical studies. But for me, because I need all the help I can get, I use treatments with collagen year-round just in case. My skin actually used to react poorly to vitamin C ester, but your skin type changes as you age. Now that I’m in my 30s, Dr. Perricone’s Vitamin C Ester 15 works great for me. I always use a few treatment products in this step, but this is the one I’m never without.
4. And then I’ll do a cream. In the morning, I’ll usually do a very light, water-based gel moisturizer. Because I do so many other steps, by the time I get to my moisturizer, I don’t need anything heavy even though I’m super dry. I rotate through a few, but one I really like right now is Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Cream. Come winter, it’s different—I’ll swap out for a heavier night cream. But even then, it’s not as heavy as it would be if I weren’t doing those other steps.
At night, about once a week I’ll switch out my night cream with an overnight sleeping mask. I really like those because I do see the difference. I know it’s formulated to actually go work while you’re sleeping, unlike a normal moisturizer that’s just supposed to keep everything sealed in.
5. I always finish off with—what else?—a finisher. I love all the AmorePacific Cushion Compacts, but especially the Resort Collection Sun Protection Cushion. The formulation is completely lightweight and buildable while providing plenty of coverage. It’s an easy way to incorporate SPF into your daily beauty routine, and it’s nice to be able to reapply SPF throughout the day in a way that doesn’t change your makeup—really, you’re just touching up your makeup. I love that this product doesn’t cake or flake; instead, it leaves skin looking radiant and dewy.
That’s a lot! Do you have any tips for people who are just dipping their toes into a K-Beauty routine?
The first thing is, don’t change everything and go nuts. Not only because your skin might react poorly, but because you won’t really know exactly what you’re responding to. You need to get to know your skin.
Introduce one new element at a time. Three weeks is about how long it takes to see if anything is happening. Once those three weeks are over, you can infuse a new element or switch to something else. Sometimes the results are hard to see, but if you’re really paying attention, you should be able to. Taking pictures helps.
If you’re looking for new products, there are three things you should really focus on doing well. The first is SPF. Damage from the sun is a very real thing, and once that damage is done, it is hard to reverse. Preventative skincare is so much easier to do than reparative skincare. SPF is a small daily habit, but it can be the difference between healthy skin and visibly damaged skin in your 40s and beyond. Find a good one that works for you.
Number two is proper cleansing. First, thorough cleansing—ensuring that oil-based impurities are removed from your skin gently. I find that a lot of people think exfoliating is the same as cleansing. But you’re really just stripping your face dry if you over-exfoliate. Instead, you want to gently coax impurities out of your pores. Use an oil-based cleanser because a lot of water-based cleansers can actually push impurities further down into your pores.
You also want to make sure you’re not causing more damage—over scrubbing, tugging, pulling, stripping your skin dry. Being careful can go a very long way.
The third thing is hydration. The environment of your skin will keep everything else functioning better. Everyone uses skincare products to fight signs of aging, but if your skin is dehydrated, your products can only do so much. That’s the #1 benefit of using an essence.
If you’ve already got a solid routine down, I’d suggest experimenting with serums via sheet masks. Like I mentioned, they’re not pricey and a fun way to test different things out. You’ll see skin really glow when it’s intensely hydrated.
And what about maintenance things, like peels?
In terms of exfoliation, I’ll do a peel only once or twice a week—I don’t have too many issues with oiliness or enlarged pores. I don’t do too many pore packs for those reasons, but for anyone who wants to address those things, the Hot/Cool Pore Pack Duo from Caolion is really great.
And finally, there are sheet masks. I really, really like sheet masks. They’re easy, portable, and a nice little treat. But the main reason I like sheet masks is because they keep my skincare routine very customizable in a very inexpensive way. I think of sheet masks as these à la carte serums.
I know my core serums need to focus on hydration and firming. But sometimes, I’ll look at my skin and think, “It’s just not as radiant today.” I don’t want to go out and buy a whole serum that focuses on dullness because that’s usually not my problem, but I’ll want a single treatment that day.
I always keep 20 to 30 sheet masks in my home that all have different formulations. It’s a very empowering feeling; I can always give my skin exactly what it’s “craving.” And I’ll do them on my long-haul flights, very shamelessly on the plane.
Is there one universal product that works for everyone?
Skincare really needs to be adjusted to both your personal lifestyle and the seasons. I would encourage people to experiment a lot, be adventurous, but be observant about what’s really working during the summer months and what’s working during the winter months. And also, how your skin is reacting to things as you age and as your lifestyle changes.
That said, I would recommend to everyone to get an essence. That is a product that will fit into any kind of routine you currently maintain. It can applied on any skin type and it’s easy to use—you just pat it on with your hands, a cotton pad, whatever—and it will just help all your other products perform better.