This is How Korean Women are Pollution-Proofing their Skin

When I lived in Seoul, there was one thing women were inordinately obsessed with when it came to skincare — pollution-proofing. In the Western beauty blogosphere, we’ve been told the sun is the unrivalled bogeyman, so we slather on sunscreen until we look like the extras of Twilight. But what about that other skin nemesis – pollution?

Why Korean Women are Obsessed with Anti-Pollution Skincare

Seoul isn’t exactly an oasis of clean air and Korean women are well aware of the damage pollution can do to their skin. Pollution releases particles such as free radicals that are tiny enough to penetrate deep into your pores. These free radicals have unpaired electrons so they scavenge some from your healthy, lovely cells resulting in the following:

Premature ageing: when your healthy cells lose electrons, your DNA becomes damaged, speeding up the ageing process. Eurgh.

Inflammation and hyperpigmentation: when free radicals swarm into your skin, your immune system assumes it’s under attack and activates your inflammatory pathways.

Acne: so it turns out all those smoke fumes aren’t exactly clean and they might be clogging up your pores. Not surprising, huh?

So far, it sounds pretty bleak and you may be thinking, “well, Kelly, I live in the city so do I just resign myself to looking like the first half of Benjamin Button or a delicious slice of pepperoni pizza?” The answer is no. Seoul’s residents have been crusading against the cosmetic effects of pollution by taking matters into their own (well-hydrated) hands.

Here’s what you should start/continue doing for pollution-resistant skin

Double-cleanse: I cannot stress the importance of double cleansing, especially if you wear makeup and/or live in a large city. Regularly de-gunking your skin is the first step toward pollution-proof skin. Free radicals be gone!

Do your night-time routine earlier: Korean women are religious about cleansing as soon as they get home from work, which cuts down the amount of time pollutants are clogging up their pores.

Anti-oxidants are your best friend: Antioxidants donate electrons to those pesky free radicals we mentioned earlier (the ones missing electrons). This neutralises them so they don’t bother your healthy cells for extra electrons. If you’re serious about fighting pollution, antioxidants need to be in the ingredient list somewhere in your skincare lineup, both AM and PM so that your skin’s protected 24/7. Some common antioxidants to look out for in K-beauty products include yuja, cactus plant, birch juice, ginseng, acai berry and green tea.

Mist that face: Face misting is BIG in Seoul. Part of this is for hydration, which is an important component of fighting pollution (see below). Another reason facial misting is popular is because it allows you to regularly load up your skin with antioxidants, by spraying it with facial mists that are full of them. An added benefit is they give you a gorgeous dewy look.

Hydrate: Pollution dehydrates your skin, which weakens it as a protective barrier and leads to all sorts of cosmetic problems. To counter this, make sure you’re using products that are rich in humectants (hydrating ingredients) such as hyaluronic acid or a recent K-beauty favourite – bamboo sap! And, of course, don’t forget the cardinal rule of skincare and drink plenty of water.

The products Korean women swear by

Now you know what to do, but what should you buy? Here are a few products that you can easily incorporate into your skincare routine. Click the product name for the full ingredient list.


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  1. Sulwhasoo Gentle Cleansing Foam ($$$)
  2. SU:M 37 Secret Essence ($$$$)
  3. The Face Shop Arsainte Eco-Therapy Moisturizer Hydratante ($)
  4. Innisfree Green Tea Mineral Mist ($$)


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  1. Banila Co Clean it Zero Purity ($$) 
  2. Caolian Freshly Chitosan Foam Cleanser ($$)
  3. Elizavecca Hey Piggy Carbonated Bubble Clay Mask ($)
  4. Etude House Dust Cut Facial Mist ($)


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  1. Blithe Anti-polluaging Himalayan Pink Salt Cleansing Water ($$)
  2. Cellnco Anti-Pollution Milk Sleeping Mask Ampoule ($)
  3. J.One Jelly Pack ($$$)
  4. Laneige Anti-Pollution Mask ($$$)


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  1. Neogen Green Tea Real Fresh Foam Cleanser ($$)
  2. Innisfree Green Tea Balancing Skin ($)
  3. Laneige All Day Anti-Pollution Defensor ($$$)
  4. Blithe Patting Splash Mask: Soothing and Healing Green Tea ($$$)

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