Glass skin is a Korean beauty trend that first went viral in 2017 and one that, as consumers become ever more aware and knowledgeable about skincare, continues to attract interest.
You might think glass skin so impossibly perfect that it looks Photoshopped, and that it’s something only celebrities and influencers can hope to achieve. Not so.
Glass skin is simply your skin at its healthiest; it is about making it appear smooth, plump and radiant. The trick is taking the time to get to know your skin and what it needs, and to consistently treat it how it needs to be treated.
The most important thing to remember about skincare is that it needs to be tailored for each person. What works for your best friend or even a sibling may not work for you. The principles remain the same, however.
The foundation of any K-beauty skincare routine is clean skin, which is especially important at night. In the morning, a gentle cleanse with a gel or cream product may suffice, but in the evening after a day of being out and about and wearing make-up or sunscreen, it’s essential to do a first cleanse with an oil or balm cleanser.
Many with oily skin will resist using an oil cleanser, but the truth is oil attracts oil.
By first using an oil cleanser or a balm one that emulsifies, you’re not only drawing out all the make-up, you’re also – in time – reducing the oiliness of your skin. Follow with a second cleanse using a cleanser that suits your skin type, and gently pat dry with a towel.
The same way oily-skinned people avoid oil cleansers, those with dry skin often avoid exfoliants. The key is to use exfoliants in moderation, and pick a form that works for you.
Exfoliating helps reduce the accumulation of product or dead skin cells, which will help you achieve the smoothness that’s part of glass skin. It will also help products to reach and treat your epidermis and dermis better, so you’re not wasting their ingredients.
Ideally, if your skin can handle it, you should use a gentle physical exfoliant (the ones with scrubbies you can feel) once or twice a week, but do remember to be gentle.
You should also try to work into your daily routine a product with chemical exfoliants containing AHA (alpha hydroxy acids), BHA (beta hydroxy acids) or PHA (polyhydroxy acids) ingredients.
One of the best ways to do this is to use a toner with such ingredients in its formula.
Chemical exfoliants are gentler than physical ones and, used consistently, will help resurface the skin and reduce any texture you might have.
The same way we need to treat ourselves to a staycation or a decadent dessert every once in a while, your skin should also get a treat once or twice a week.
Alternate between a detoxifying or resurfacing mask, such as the Drunk Elephant TLC Sukari Babyfacial or the Sand & Sky Australian Pink Clay Flash Perfection Exfoliating Treatment, and a nourishing one like the Fresh Black Tea Instant Perfecting Mask or La Mer The Treatment Lotion Hydrating Mask throughout the week.
Remember to follow up right away with your basic skincare routine to lock in the goodness.
While the amount of hydration needed differs for everyone, the basis of glass skin is well-hydrated skin. For this, it’s important to seek out a basic routine that works for you.
The reason the most elaborate K-beauty routine involves so many steps isn’t extravagance – it is to slowly introduce as much hydration to the skin as it can stand.
You don’t need to do following treatment every day – who has the time?
But once a week (or whenever you can) as a self-care treat, cleanse your face and, while you’re watching an episode of your favourite show, spend 20 minutes applying layer after layer of an essence to your face with clean hands.
While your skin is still damp from cleansing, pour a bit of essence into your palms and pat it onto your face and neck. Don’t wait for it to dry completely; the whole point is to keep your skin damp and repeat.
You’ll still want to top it off with your moisturiser, or even a beauty oil to really lock in the hydration while you sleep.
There’s no escaping it: sun damage wreaks havoc on your skin. From discolouration to dehydration that leads to excessive oiliness, clogged pores and blemishes, the sun isn’t your skin’s friend.
So to achieve glass skin, it’s best to incorporate a product with an SPF (sun protection factor) that works for you.
If you have oily skin, you may prefer a chemical formula that feels more lightweight. Luckily for those of us in Asia, Korean and Japanese sunscreens have perfected the art of barely there SPF.
However, if your skin leans a bit more sensitive, you may have to use a physical formula instead, but increasingly there are physical sunscreens on the market that aren’t heavy or greasy.
As with anything to do with our skin, don’t be impatient and try not to get frustrated. It takes a while to settle on a regime that speaks to your skin type. Also, don’t forget that your regime might require tweaking depending on the weather and climate you’re in.
It also takes a while to fall into a routine and to stick to it, but consistency is key.
Take your time to create a basic skincare routine that involves a first cleanse, second cleanse, toner, essence, serum, moisturiser and sunscreen, and add in supplementary treatments as necessary.
Your skin is your body’s biggest organ: treat it as such and in time you’ll be looking at beautifully healthy glass skin in your reflection.
Ingredients to look out for to achieve glass skin
The holy trinity of hydroxy acids, these are your saviours in “ungluing” dull, dead skin cells and resurfacing the skin.
AHAs, which are water soluble, such as glycolic acid and lactic acid, can help with signs of ageing and texture, as well as hydration.
Meanwhile, BHAs that are oil soluble and can penetrate deeper into the skin, such as salicylic acid, help address problems most commonly experienced by those of us with oily skin, such as blackheads and acne.
Finally, PHAs work similarly to AHAs but have bigger molecules, which makes them a gentler option. If you’ve not played with hydroxy acids before, PHAs might be the place to start.
A recent skincare darling, niacinamide is probably already in some of your products , but more deliberate use can really benefit your skin. A form of vitamin B3, which is an essential nutrient for your skin, this ingredient can treat concerns including acne and eczema.
In fact, niacinamide has many benefits: it helps your skin build a barrier, which helps you retain hydration, an absolute must for glass skin; soothes redness and inflammation; protects against sun damage; and minimises fine lines and wrinkles.
Commonly said to be able to retain 1,000 times its own weight in water, hyaluronic acid is fantastic for humid places.
If you use this ingredient, make sure to apply it while your skin is still damp and immediately lock it in with an occlusive moisturiser so the water molecules it attracts won’t evaporate from your skin.
When conditions are less humid and it can’t attract moisture from the air, it’ll draw it from somewhere else – your skin – and that’s not what we want.
If you want healthy skin, this is a non-negotiable ingredient in your skincare routine. Vitamin C is a mighty antioxidant and defends your skin against free radicals . It also encourages your skin’s natural regeneration, and an efficient cell turnover process is what you want for consistently clear, untextured skin.
To really let vitamin C shine, you should absolutely pair it with SPF during the day. Vitamin C boosts sun protection and helps you avoid burns, wrinkles, discolouration and collagen loss.
An absolute titan in skincare, retinol is a vitamin A derivative that helps with skin turnover, which reduces signs of ageing as well as acne.
With consistent use over time, it stimulates the production of collagen (a protein that binds tissues) and elasticity, and keeps plumper cells closer to the surface of the skin for a more youthful appearance.
It’s inevitable we lose collagen as we age, but instead of ingesting or slapping collagen on your face and hoping it’ll do something, what you want to do instead is to encourage your skin to produce it itself.
Peptides are made up of amino acids that penetrate the skin, trick it into thinking it has lost collagen, and stimulate collagen production.
Naturally present in our skin, ceramides are lipids that bind surface skin cells together.
A common ingredient in many moisturisers, they help strengthen the skin barrier, prevent transepidermal water loss (water loss from the skin), and help skin retain hydration and moisture.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.