The woman in the photo below is 39 years old. This image wasn’t retouched or photoshopped—that’s what her skin looks like.
We’ll give you a moment to process that. All good? Now, let us introduce you to Lee Sa-Bi, a South Korean model, actress, and the first native Korean to pose for Playboy.
How can a 39-year-old’s skin possibly be this perfect? We’ve all heard about the superiority of Korean skincare routines, and most of us have sampled bits of it from lines like AmorePacific and Belif. But we wanted to take a closer look at the real skincare routine of someone with skin as youthful as Sa-Bi’s.
So with the help of fabulous translator Alicia Yoon, the founder of Peach & Lily, we spoke with the clear-skinned model. She told us the specifics of everything she uses—from toners to sheet masks and beyond. Trust us when we say her routine does not disappoint.
Before we get into products, let’s talk about the deeper side of skincare. “A big part of it is a healthy lifestyle—eating fresh, organic foods, exercising regularly (mostly by running around outside in the fresh air), and sleeping well,” says Sa-Bi. “To me, skincare was never about looking pretty or wearing a lot of makeup. Skincare was always about being healthy and taking care of yourself.”
Sa-Bi says that for her, as for many women in Korea, there has always been a “soothing, ritual-like” element to skincare. “Growing up, I saw my mother washing her face with rice water, which has nourishing and brightening benefits,” she describes. “It was all very ritualistic. The first batch of rice water is thrown out, and the second batch is used. Then, just water is used to rinse off thoroughly. I grew up doing this, too, because I saw my mother doing it. It was all a part of learning how to take care of yourself.”
Sa-Bi’s Korean skincare routine has grown and evolved since then. To find out her secrets, keep scrolling!
As for Sa-Bi’s current Korean-based skincare routine, she says she’s become much more industrious now that she’s in her 30s. “In your 20s, you’re focused on prevention, which, of course, takes effort, patience, and consistency,” she says. “But in my 30s, I’m definitely more information-driven when it comes to skincare. I want to know and understand what I’m putting on my skin.”
Sa-Bi says that looking at women in their 40s, it’s easy to tell who took care of their skin in their 30s and who didn’t. She’s determined to fall into the former category. So where does Sa-Bi find her products? It’s a good question, considering Korea’s massive beauty market. “There are exceptional Korean beauty brands, and they’re getting more amazing by the day,” she says.
Places like Seoul’s touristy Myeong-dong neighborhood offer hundreds of beauty shops hocking the industry’s latest launches. “These stores have fun products, usually very affordable, but they’re not the places I would shop,” says Sa-Bi. “Locals, especially those a bit more serious about their skincare, typically shop specialty brands that can be found in spas, dermatologist offices, and smaller boutiques.”
According to Sa-Bi, these brands contain superior ingredients and formulations that work miracles on a variety of skin concerns. “It takes effort to get to know the brands and the ingredients, just as it does for what you eat,” she says. “I think the same kind of knowledge should be applied to what you’re putting on your skin.”
Armed with knowledge, Sa-Bi has put together a comprehensive, customized skincare routine of her own. Want to know what she uses to get such a flawless complexion? Here are her must-have products!
“I always make sure to double-cleanse. For days that I’m on air or have a photo shoot, I have so much makeup on that a lengthier but still-gentle double-cleanse is mandatory, no matter how tired I am or when I’m done shooting or filming. I massage thoroughly and ensure all my makeup is removed.”
Start with an oil cleanser and follow up with a water-based one, such as Cremorlab T.E.N. Cremor Gentle Foaming Cleanser ($32).
“Now, because it’s spring, I’ve changed my whole Korean-inspired skincare routine to one that focuses on brightening. I’m currently obsessed with the Shangpree Bitgoa line, [the toner in particular] because it boosts radiance with really amazing ingredients. This spa is really well-known for making some of the most beloved products by women looking for serious skincare.”
“Since not all brightening lines are as hydrating as a hydration-focused line, I make sure I’m also using a lot of collagen-rich products since they have moisturizing properties. I also make sure I take my collagen pills, vitamin C, and skin probiotics.”
Shop the collagen supplement Byrdie editor love below.
“For sunblock, I wear two kinds always, even if I stay indoors. I do this since you can get sun damage through UV lights and via sunlight through the windows as well. I love being outdoors, though, and am always very active and will work up a sweat when I work out, so I use waterproof sunscreens and sunscreens that protect you from pollutants as well. I really like the lightweight protection Mizon’s sunscreen gives me.” Also try Aromatica Natural Tinted Sun-Cream ($25).
“For the last eight years, I have done a sheet mask every night, no matter what. I have done this without skipping even one day. You can call me a sheet mask connoisseur for sure. I have tried thousands of masks, and I love the instant and deep hydration and glow sheet masks provide. If you do it daily, you also see long-term benefits. I have to say, Peach & Lily carries some of the best sheet masks. The Cremorlab sheet masks and Shangpree masks, in general, are phenomenal.”
“In addition, once a week, I go to my dermatologist to receive nourishing facials with vitamin-rich treatments. In Korea, it’s not as pricey or involved to receive these treatments, so it’s a pretty common practice. Even men will go for consistent facials and treatments.”
“I also drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and healthy. I know that a big part of having healthy skin comes from what you eat and how you live. Taking care of your skin means taking care of your overall health. Beautiful skin is an outcome of a healthy lifestyle: eating well, sleeping well, and exercising enough, and, of course, using products with great ingredients that are right for your skin type. It’s about also your attitude toward life—embracing the future, embracing getting older, and having a great attitude at each stage of life.”
Want to know more about Korean skincare? Check out this in-depth look at the country’s beauty backstory.