What I Learned About Skin Care From My Half-Korean Heritage

January 25, 2016 THE KLOG

My skin is a wild card. I’m pretty sure my skin type is combination-oily. I’m half Korean and Filipino, so I’m more olive toned than fair. I use NARS concealer in Ginger, but I tan ridiculously easily in the summertime so that's a seasonal shade for me.  I have most of my freckles on my right cheekbone, and I’m a fan of my lips when they’re moisturized.  My brows are a bit sparse, but Anastasia handles that. My workaholic tendencies have blessed me with perpetual eye bags, which I treat with anything (currently, it’s refrigerated hydrogel patches and Korres Eye Cream). This is my face.  


I used to have a very unhealthy relationship with my skin. For starters, I grew up in a community that couldn’t guess my ethnicity. The halfies can relate with me on this one—you know, constantly answering the question, “Um, what are you?”  

With my Korean friends and family, my sister and I were the tan kids who heard “Wow—you’re so dark!” like it was a bad thing.  With my Filipino side, we were the overachiever cousins with small eyes and short lashes. With everyone else, we got that extra one to two second stare from people trying to guess what we are (alien emoji here). That’s where the identity crisis started. As a standard of beauty, I was told to use papaya soap to make my skin lighter, zap my freckles, apply makeup this way to make my eyes appear bigger. My relentlessly loving parents told me to ignore everyone and embrace my heritage. But needless to say, I still felt so disconnected with myself, and I never really respected my skin.  

Fast forward to today. It took a lot of time (re: crying), experimentation (re: bad haircuts and amateur makeup attempts), and learning the fundamentals of appreciating my culture to start looking in the mirror and being okay. I wish I accepted this earlier. I wish I could talk my 6-year-old self with low self-esteem and remind myself that for better or for worse, I am my skin.

So, looking back, I understand the circumstances under which some of the negative and seriously naive comments were made—it was a way different cultural and social environment where it’s okay to be nosey and blunt about other people’s looks. It’s totally bad manners but it happens.  

But now, I owe a lot of my new confidence to you guys. I mean, everything you read in the news now celebrates real beauty of an impressive slew of today’s #girlbosses. There are so many powerful messages out there. Strong is the new skinny? Representing women of color? Anti-body shaming? No-filter selfies? It’s all here! Long story short, I feel beautiful in my skin today. It wasn’t overnight. Before I could even realize it, my family’s skincare habits actually played a huge part in some of my beauty philosophies.

For starters, I love a good cucumber facial, the same way my mom made for my sister and I growing up. Just chop thinly sliced cucumbers, around 2-3mm thick, and apply on your face for 30 minutes. When we were kids, we only lasted 5 minutes due to our impatience, or even sometimes turning over and falling asleep leaving cucumber all over our pillows.  Oops.  Cucumbers are alkaline, and the natural brightening agents also help with scarring. If you stick them in the fridge, they soothe swollen eyes too. Do this after any nights you spend crying (or eating salty food late at night).  

Me (Left) My sister, Noelle, (Right)

Also, the smell of ginseng still gives me instant nostalgia, thanks to Bioglo’s Red Ginseng Scrub that my grandma gave me as a gift one year.  Since then, I was hooked!  The scrub’s scent is heavenly—floral jasmine balanced with an herbal hint of ginseng root—it’s actually pretty unisex.  I started buying these in bulk to stock up, or to give them as gifts (eBay might be the best place to find it online). After years of using this like a bad habit, it was probably the closest thing I had to a signature scent, which I’m not mad about.  

Sometimes, we also recreated a Korean jjimjilbang scrub massage right at home.  Dip an exfoliating towel in a small tub of warm water mixed with Epsom salts then rub the towel with some Irish Spring bar soap (it has to be Irish Spring!) before massaging onto your skin and watch the dead skin scrape right off (trust me, you’ll be in shock).  Quite literally, you’re shedding a layer of skin off, so this massage always made me feel new and had a cathartic effect to it. Imagine doing this in your bathroom while burning candles and blasting Mariah Carey’s classics. Ahhh, so good!

Through my own identity issues, through monthly breakouts, and through days when I just felt like crap for no reason, these rituals were reminders that my skin and I should be loved until it was an intrinsic idea to me—until I start to like what I once disliked about my skin. I mean honestly, having a year-round tan is pretty freaking great. My skin color is a reminder that my two very different parents fell in love.  And I love my freckles, so I stopped using foundation altogether (turns out people are “frecking” themselves for the same effect).  And as Vogue said about eye bags, “Dark circles under the eyes can be one of the most moving things on a human face.”  

I know self-esteem can always feel like work-in-progress. I know some days we feel like Karlie Kloss, and other days we feel like the gum stuck to Karlie’s shoe—that’s balance for you. It could also just be Mercury in retrograde.  But truly, women today amaze me with the kind of confidence and badass-ness they all carry themselves with. Seriously, we’re running companies, pushing boundaries, and creating a new frontier here.  Doesn’t it make sense to own up to and proudly rock our skin no matter the color, age or skin type? Sure, there are tough days, but in the end it’s nothing a good facial and nap can’t fix.  Pamper yourself like you mean it, and everything else comes easy after that. Like I’d say to my 6-year-old self: for better or for worse.

—Mia Reyes


Mia Carina Reyes is a digital marketing and creative consultant. She likes podcasts, pretending she can surf, and fried chicken way too much. She's based in Los Angeles, but she's probably the only Angeleno that never really got into yoga and kale smoothies. Follow Mia on Twitter & Instagram: @itsmiacarina

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Soko Glam co-founder and chief curator. Licensed esthetician sharing the love of all things K-beauty.

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