Thursday, September 15, 2011

Korean Vanity

Or, the post wherein I outline how much time I waste for vanity's sake.

Koreans are, generally, very concerned with appearance, especially the ladies. Most women that I see have on make-up, have styled their hair, and are wearing outfits, rather than just clothes.

I am probably one of the least put-together women in my office, as I don't wear much jewelry (I really only wear earrings, and only when I remember to put them on), I don't switch out my purse very frequently (there's a girl in my office that has a different purse every single day, depending on what her outfit is), I don't blow out my hair, and I don't wear colored makeup. By "colored makeup," I mean eyeshadow or lipstick. On a daily basis, I have on base makeup (so my skin looks nice), eyeliner, and eyebrow pencil. I sometimes remember to put on blusher. I never wear lipstick, and I only put on eyeshadow twice or three times a year (you know, for all those times I go clubbing).

In LA, I was considered rather preppy and conservative, as far as my appearance goes. I wear heels and sandals, and my outfits are general some sort of sweater and either jeans or trousers. I don't wear t-shirts to work. I sometimes wear blouses, and every once in a blue moon, I'll wear sweats (yoga pants) with a hoodie (generally if I have to work on weekends). While my daily wardrobe was a little formal for the LA workplace, it's pretty much casual here in the Korean workplace.

There are women in my office that wear prom dresses to work. One girl had on a bridesmaid's dress one day, I swear. It was peach organza with fluffy sleeves and a full cocktail-length skirt. Who looks at that kind of dress in a store and thinks that she'll wear it to work?? Not me, that's for sure.

Most of the women at work wear makeup, have their nails done, and have some sort of processed hair (perms and dyes). They wear jewelry, carry girly bags, and will sacrifice comfort in order to wear tottering heels. Most women also have great skin, something I envy.

As I've watched TV, talked to co-workers, and just soaked in the vibe here, I've realized that good skin is earned. I always thought it was genetics, and while my mother has nice skin, I just figured that I was never going to have clear, even skin. I have sensitive combination skin, which is annoying to deal with, and I get a blemish here and there every couple weeks. Not only do I get those blemishes, but I have rather long-lasting scars, even when I don't pick at my spots. I always just resigned myself to cleansing very thoroughly, exfoliating every few days, and applying concealer when necessary. What else can one do, when one is fast approaching 30 with no sign of improvement in one's skin?

Turns out, one spends money. Korean women use time and money to get their skin to be better than it really is, and I was rather taken aback by the sheer amount of products and propaganda that bombards me from all angles.

Advertising is pervasive, especially in such a wired country, to the point that I have a hard time remembering that when I was back home, I wasn't too perturbed about my skin's condition. Here in Korea, there are commercials, billboards, and constant reminders that YOUR SKIN IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH. A couple examples:

Lim Su-Jeong (임수정), an actress and spokeswoman for SK-II (that's SK2 with Roman numerals), one of the pricier skincare lines. It's made in Japan, and Cate Blanchett is the international spokeswoman. (Cate Blanchett has ridiculously beautiful skin.) It's available for purchase in the U.S. at Bloomingdale's, here.
Song Hye-Gyo (송혜교) is also an actress and the spokeswoman for Laneige, a Korean skincare brand (under the Amore-Pacific umbrella, which contains a ton of cosmetic brands).

Korean ads focus on pale, luminous skin, and try to make it appear that their spokespeople aren't wearing any make-up at all. This somehow really gets to me (I must be part of the target audience) and makes me crave that kind of clear, glowing complexion.

I don't know if it's subliminal or just really clever marketing, but I've been all about skincare lately. I started off quite well, with good (cheap) intentions, at road shops (lower end cosmetic brands that have stand-alone shops all over the place) like the Face Shop, Skinfood, Innisfree, Missha, and TonyMoly. I still go to road shops to stock up on face masks and foam cleansers, and one of Innisfree's scrubs has completely won me over (the Jeju Volcanic Pore Scrub Foam, which is awesome and has replaced my St. Ives Apricot Scrub, which has been my exfoliating scrub for years and years).

However, I realized that I needed a new moisturizer, because my Shiseido Brightening Moisturizing Gel was almost out. Besides which, my sensitive skin forces me to switch moisturizers when the weather changes- the gel works really well in the summer, but isn't moisturizing enough when it gets cooler. So I moseyed over to Lotte Department Store, intending to buy the Protective Cream, which is part of the same line as the Moisturizing Gel ... and I got sucked into the wonder of cosmetic counters in Korea.

There are a LOT of brands. They promise to do a lot of things. I browsed, I wandered, I tried different things (the backs of my hands have never been so moisturized before) and then I fell into the steep trap of SK-II.

I've seen commercials and advertisements for this brand, which I had heard about years ago. It was always way, way too expensive for me to even consider purchasing, but my newfound obsession with skincare and a little bit more disposable income meant that I was shelling out quite a lot of money for some moisturizer. (Don't ask how much, I still treat the thing like it's made of pure gold.)

Since I still had toner (also called "skin" in Korea), I just bought the moisturizer and fled before I could spend any more money. Before I ran off, though, the salesgirl gave me samples of SK-II's toner and essence. The essence is quite famous, reputed to be "miracle water," with something called pitera, which apparently decreases wrinkles and increases elasticity.

The essence, while famous, smells odd. Not really bad, but it's weird. The toner's fine, whatever- it's a little more moisturizing than other toners, but it doesn't seem to be anything spectacular. The essence, though, while it might smell weird, really does seem to have an effect. It's runny, just a little bit more viscous than water, and then feels sort of sticky in a couple seconds, once it's on the skin. It absorbs really well and then helps with the moisturizer, which seems to kind of bind to the essence.

I've been using the samples of the toner, essence, and moisturizer (the girl gave me two samples of the same moisturizer that I bought, telling me to use the samples to test the product) for about a week, and my skin is much happier. The samples I got are larger than most samples, they're really more like travel-sized bottles, rather than those tiny sample bottles that are normally distributed. I'll probably be able to use the samples for at least another two weeks, if not longer.

Back in the States, I used to use Qiora (a sister brand to Shiseido) off-and-on, mostly because I saw a difference in my skin, but it wasn't radical enough for me to justify the price on a regular basis. So I would buy the stuff when my skin got out of control (dry and flaking on my cheeks, oily and angry in my T-zone), use it until I ran out, and then let my skin go off on its own. I would use Qiora, Clinique, Elizabeth Arden (which always made me feel like an old lady), Lancome (eye cream), Shiseido, Clean & Clear (I don't discriminate by price), and all kinds of other brands, swapping out products dependent on my mood and my skin's condition.

For the past month, I've been using masks quite regularly and cleansing my face as thoroughly as possible. Adding SK-II to the mix seems to have really made my skin relax and brighten up.

I don't have perfect skin, not at all, but I'm hoping that it continues to get better. I'm also questioning why I care so much (curses to your emphasis on complexion, Korea!); when in Rome....

My new favorite mask, which I just discovered yesterday, is from Innisfree. (I think it's my favorite road shop, their products seem to be the nicest.) It's some sort of brightening wrinkle-reducing formula, but the awesome thing is that the mask covers the entire face and wraps around the neck! It feels a little suffocating at first, and it's rather annoying to unfold and apply, but it's fine once it's on and I like that it includes the neck. It also fit really well- I don't like those masks with really small eye-holes or really big mouth-holes, because I'm picky that way. If I'm going to put on a mask for 15 - 20 minutes, it better cover all the skin on my face.

It's already Thursday, and thank goodness. I'm ready for my weekend escape to Daegu, where I will wreak havoc on my skin by eating unhealthy food and probably drinking. I doubt that I'll be leaving work anytime soon (it's just past 9:00 now), but I'm definitely leaving on time tomorrow, so I can catch my train.

Hooray for short weeks (even if they have long days)!