Inside the Mind-Blowing Skincare Routine of a Korean Model

Updated 06/16/19
Product Disclosure

The woman in the photo above is 39 years old. This image wasn’t retouched or photoshopped—that’s what her skin looks like. Take a moment to process that.

All good?

Now, who is this ageless beauty, and how can we all have what she's having? She's Lee Sa-Bi, a South Korean model, actress, and the first native Korean to pose for Playboy.

We’ve all heard about the superiority of Korean skincare routines. Most of us have sampled bits of it from lines like AmorePacific and Belif and are familiar with the famous 10-step regimen:

  1. Oil cleanser
  2. Foam cleanser
  3. Exfoliator
  4. Toner
  5. Essence
  6. Serum/ampoule
  7. Sheet mask
  8. Eye cream
  9. Moisturizer
  10. Night cream (for a nighttime routine) or sunscreen (for a morning routine)

We wanted to take a closer look at the real skincare routine of someone with skin as youthful as Sa-Bi’s. With the help of fabulous translator Alicia Yoon, founder of Peach & Lily, we spoke with the fresh-faced model, who shares nine side steps you should incorporate into your routine for the best results.

Keep scrolling to find out about her comprehensive, customized skincare routine, including her must-have products—from toners to sheet masks to supplements—that she uses to get a flawless complexion. Trust: Her advice does not disappoint.

1. Start Treating Skin Care As a Holistic Practice

“A big part of [Korean skin care] 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, skin care was never about looking pretty or wearing a lot of makeup. [It] 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 skin care. “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.”

2. Source Your Products Carefully

@peachandlily

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 skin care. I want to know and understand what I’m putting on my skin.”

Faith Xue

So, where does Sa-Bi find her products? 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 skin care, typically shop specialty brands that can be found in spas, dermatologists' offices, and smaller boutiques.”

Faith Xue

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.” 

3. Double-Cleanse Without Fail

Banila Clean It Zero Cleansing Balm
Banila Clean It Zero Cleansing Balm $24
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“I always make sure to double-cleanse. For days that I’m on air or have a photoshoot, 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).

Cremorlab T.E.N. Cremor Cleansing Gel Oil $38
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4. Brighten With Customized Ingredients

“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 skin care.”

Shangpree Bitgoa Hue Essence Toner $57
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5. Hydrate With Ingestibles

Nature’s Bounty Advanced Collagen Skin Care Formula $17
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“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 editors love below.

Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides
Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides $25
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6. Protect Skin Indoors and Out

“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).

Mizon UV Sun Protection Cream
Mizon UV Sun Protection Cream $26
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Lagom Sun Gel $27
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7. Treat With Nightly Sheet Masks

“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.”

Cremorlab Herb Tea Pure Calming Mask $6
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Shangpree Marine Jewel Illuminating Mask
Shangpree Marine Jewel Illuminating Mask $6
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8. Nourish With In-Office Treatments

Lee Sa-Bi

“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.”

9. Hydrate From the Inside Out

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“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 skin care? Check out this in-depth look at the country’s beauty backstory.

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