If there’s one set of secrets we’re dying to glean from Korean women, it’s how to emulate that lit-from-within glow. Although the K-beauty trend known as “glass skin” has been coveted by the country’s women for decades, it’s only made way across the pond in the last year or so—but from the looks of our Instagram feed, it doesn’t look like we’re going to forget its commandments any time soon.
“Glass skin stands for skin that is translucent, luminous and firmed up to the point where pores are barely visible,” explains Alicia Yoon, skin care guru and founder of K-beauty brand Peach & Lily. “This is what our skin is like when we're very young, but over time, with sun damage, even if we don't have dark spots showing on the surface of our skin yet, the hyperpigmentation lies underneath and leads to somewhat cloudy, less translucent skin.”
In essence, it’s that porcelain-perfect, dewy-to-the-max skin that exudes youthfulness. That’s perhaps its most alluring quality—it requires no injections or incisions, no lasers or lifts, but rather the time-honored ritual of caring for your skin inside and out. “What's great about the glass skin goal is that it truly touches upon all aspects of skin health—sufficient hydration, reducing inflammation, firmer skin, and brighter skin—so it's really just shorthand for optimally healthy skin,” says Yoon.
It's an aspirational goal, for sure, but as you work towards achieving it, you'll notice a difference every step of the way. If you’re like us and are dying to claim this glow as your own, here’s a beginner’s guide to acquiring “glass skin,” according to the pros.
Thoroughly cleanse the skin
In K-beauty, this step is referred to as “double cleansing.” The goal is to deep clean your pores without stripping too much oil. You do this by first by using an oil-based cleanser, like Yuri Pibu Grante Cleansing Oil, ($37; glowrecipe.com), on dry skin. “Rinse with lukewarm water, which breaks down residue better than cold, then do your second cleanse with a hydrating formula like our Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser,” explains Sarah Lee, co-founder of Glow Recipe. For a super-smooth complexion, she recommends taking special care to dissolve every trace of makeup, oil, sweat, dirt, and pollutants before calling it a night.
According to the experts, you can’t achieve glass skin without proper exfoliation. “This means not being too aggressive, as that could damage the skin barrier leading to a host of issues and quite the opposite of glass skin,” explains Yoon. “However, not exfoliating enough results in clogged skin and less product absorption.” She loves the Eco Your Skin Bedside Mask ($26; peachandlily.com), which uses alpha and beta hydroxy acids to gently exfoliate while you sleep. “It has a light and creamy texture and is infused with a lot of soothing and hydrating ingredients, so you wake up with not just exfoliated and soft skin, but also very hydrated and supple skin.”
Whether or not you live in the city, protecting your skin from the environmental toxins surrounding you—dirt, smoke, gas, heavy metals, exhaust fumes—is a fundamental step in achieving healthy skin. All of these atmospheric pollutants leave your skin inflamed, which then leads to accelerated aging, more lines and less luminosity, says Yoon. For this reason, she recommends using an anti-inflammatory toner that has hydrating properties, like Atoclassic Soothing Real Tonic Moist Mist ($19; bergdorfgoodman.com).
Good hydration is paramount in achieving glass skin. Yoon recommends Eco Your Skin Layering Essence ($25; peachandlily.com), a favorite among her A-list clients. “It's especially formulated to absorb into skin very quickly and completely and layers so well that at the spa, they spray an entire bag of this essence onto skin,” she says. “For at-home use, you empty the bag into the empty toner bottle it comes with, and you can see how much your skin wants each day.” You can layer once for a daily refresh or use the whole bottle for a mask-like dose. For glass skin, she recommends using about 10 layers.
Don’t reach for the highlighter
Highlighters have become a mainstay of a makeup lover’s vanity in recent years—and we love them—but glass skin is all about a natural finish achieved solely through good skin care habits. If you need a little extra glow around the key highlight areas (think cheeks, temples, brows, cupid's bow), Lee suggests strobing with a hydrating balm like their Blithe Gold Apricot Pressed Serum ($49; glowrepicpe.com).
Add brightening products
Another element of achieving glass skin is using products that brighten. “The translucency isn't just from decreasing the visible dark spots, but from helping to brighten up the ‘inner skin,’ too,” adds Yoon. “When you look under an imaging device, you can see the sun damage beneath the outer layer of the skin and that all leads to less translucency.” She recommends Femmue Lumière Vital C serum ($88; peachandlily.com), which uses stabilized vitamin C to lighten dark spots, increase radiance, and refine the skin’s texture.
Use a firming serum
Skin that is free of pores is impossible to achieve, but Yoon says that firming the skin can help create a smoother, "poreless" appearance. The Mizon Peptide 500 ($35; amazon.com) is a silky serum with many different plumping peptides that she says will strengthen skin elasticity and make it look tauter.
Slather on SPF
The most important step to achieving healthy, glowing skin like the Koreans do is without a doubt avoiding sun damage (Koreans wear floppy hats to avoid getting dark spots). So, in rain or shine, slather on that SPF with a broad spectrum of at least 50+ protection. Also, Angela Jia Kim, founder of Savor Beauty and Spas, urges her clients not to pick at their skin to prevent scarring and dark patches.
Take it step by step
All in all, the key to glass skin is the acceptance of the notion that skin care shouldn't be a chore. Yoon recommends taking it one step at a time, starting with proper hydration. “Once you have that down pat, a week or so later, add in a gentle exfoliator, and then add in a firming product,” she says. “Finally, add in the brightening product and, over a couple months, even with one new element at a time, your skin will look dramatically more glass-like.” Of course, along the way, you'll see major improvements, too!