When I was a kid, there was this weird educational toy that was advertised on TV all the time called the Wildlife Treasury—it was a bright green tool box that you were supposed to fill with the brand's proprietary trading cards, each of which featured a pictures and facts about a different animal. They were sold on subscription, basically: You got the box and two 24-packs to start, for the low-low price of $2.79, and then, unless you cancelled, the cards just kept coming, at a rate of 72 per month, until you had all 900. (I just ran the numbers through an inflation calculator and unless I've made a mistake somewhere, that's like $200 in today's dollars for something that, shipping costs aside, couldn't possibly have been worth more than $30.)
I'd seen the commercial about a million times without being even remotely tempted, but then one afternoon, while I was spread out on my parents' bed watching, I'm guessing, "Scooby Doo," I saw it again and it was like some kind of switch had been flipped in my head; I ran downstairs to beg my mom to order them. My brother, who'd apparently been tuned into the same program in the living room, joined the chorus. But when the cards and box arrived and were almost exactly as lame as they'd always seemed, I wondered if we'd been suckered by subliminal advertising, which was very big news in the schoolyard back then.
Well, a similar phenomenon seems to happen to me every so often as an adult, albeit with, generally, a far less disappointing denouement. For example, around a decade ago, I thought skinny jeans were absolutely horrible until all at once I didn't; now they're all I own and even though I know, intellectually, that they're kind of out again, I'm still waiting to feel it. More recently, the thing that I went from ignoring to needing pretty much overnight was my very own ten-step Korean skincare regimen.
You know what I'm talking about, right? Over the last year or so, there have been many blogs and magazines claiming a) that everyone in South Korea has perfect skin and b) that it's due not to genetics but rather to their incredibly elaborate end-of-day cleansing and treatment routines. The number ten, as far as I can tell, was settled on kind of randomly; it's just as often eight or nine, with a thrice-weekly bonus round or two. First you wash your face with an oil cleanser, followed by a foaming cleanser, and then you apply toner, essence, a serum or three, eye cream, and moisturizer, all in quick succession. (The extras that get you to ten or twelve are usually some kind of exfoliant—as far as I can tell, in Korea they're more partial to physical exfoliants like scrubs than chemical exfoliants like peels—plus mud masks and sheet masks.)
Anyway, at first, I thought it sounded kind of ridiculous. But then, suddenly, the idea became ridiculously attractive. Part of the shift, no doubt, can be attributed to the fact that during that time period I went from being beyond exhausted because I had a baby to slightly less so because she turned into a toddler. (Not that that's a cakewalk, mind you, but purely in terms of how much sleep/evening free time you get, it's a big improvement.) So, in February, I navigated over to the two sites most often mentioned in various posts/articles, Soko Glam and Peach and Lily, and began to put together my own multi-step system. (Full disclosure: Those are referral links, which will give you 20% and 10$ off, respectively, when you place your first order at those sites, and which, if you use them, will give me some store credit. But that's not influencing me here, I swear.) Peach and Lily will actually email you recommendations if you tell them about your skin, although depending on how busy they are you may have to wait a while. So I got them to do that, and then looked at the ready-made ten-step kits that each store sells for various skin types, and also just kind of thought about what looked appealing.
From Soko Glam, I ended up buying an oil cleanser called Clean It Zero Purity, a sort of hybrid product called Son + Park Beauty Water that can be used as either a toner or as a cleansing water/freshener (very handy if you, like me, shower in the morning but don't put on makeup until you have somewhere to go—I do a swipe of this stuff and then add a bit of moisturizer before putting on foundation and whatnot, to create a smooth, as a real beauty editor would say, canvas), a calming mud mask from a brand called R:EP, a moisturizer that's made with honest to god snail slime (supposedly a big thing in Korean skincare) called Missha Super Aqua Cell Renew Snail Cream, some tiny dots to put on your pimples overnight to make them go away from COSRX, and, last and unfortunately least, the 7-Day Sheet Mask Challenge Set. The mask pack is the only purchase I regret; it's a sampler, so you don't know what you're going to get, and four of the seven masks they sent me happened to be inappropriate for my skin type. (There were two green tea masks, which I can't use because I'm too sensitive, an olive oil mask, which I can't use because any kind of oil besides a cleanser, apparently, gives me acne, and a collagen lip mask which just seems gross.) Everything else, though, is 100% great—the oil cleanser actually begins as kind of a cream, so it's super easy to use and feels lovely and I've been recommending it to everyone, and the mud mask and patches together made a zit that I could have sworn was going to be cystic just vanish instead.
From Peach and Lily, I got Aromatica's Sea Daffodil Cleansing Mousse, another mud mask, two Cremorlab Sheet Masks (which, I forgot to say, were also a part of the combo that banished the above-mentioned zit from my face, and also left me feeling very smooth), an ampoule made from propolis, which bees make, and, finally, an essence made from freaking maple sap called May Coop Raw Sauce. Again, all pretty great—my only complaint is that the Raw Sauce bottle is tall, thin, and made of glass, so while I haven't broken it yet, I'm sure that's coming. A couple of weeks ago, Peach and Lily had a 30% off everything sale so I went back and bought a lot MORE stuff—like, a lot, that's what's pictured at the top of this paragraph—most of which I haven't even gotten around to trying yet because you are only supposed to add one new product every few days so that, if you have a reaction to anything, you know what's causing it. (In that sense, it's exactly like introducing new foods to a tiny baby.)
Anyway. One thing you've probably noticed is that, unless you are already up on this, you haven't heard of any of these brands—in America, for the most part, we're not subject to their ad campaigns, and in that sense, they're all basically the opposite of the much-ballyhooed Wildlife Treasury cards. And, ironically, I think that might be part of what makes them so attractive; aside from what I can glean from the price points, packaging, and the products themselves, I don't have any preconceived notions about their quality and what they're capable of. It's all very exciting! (Enough big American and European companies are now making oil cleansers, serums, and Korean-style toners—which balance your PH, rather than stripping your skin like Sea Breeze used to—that you could probably construct a whole regimen consisting only of products that are available at Sephora, if that's your preference. Fresh, for example, is all over this stuff.)
The more-is-more vibe appeals to me right now, too; I've settled into a twelve-step routine, and although it's maybe crazy and slightly pointless, it makes me feel as though I can have it all in a good way, like, glowing skin and fewer spots or wrinkles, as opposed to in the way that people typically mean when they say that these days, where "all" equals a job and a baby and a partner and not enough time in which to juggle everything, although I have all that too. As for results, I don't know. I've been doing this for a couple of months, give or take, and while I'm certainly into it, nobody has stopped me on the street to ask if I've ever thought about being a model. My husband says my skin looks nicer, but then I think maybe he kind of has to say that, unless he doesn't and he's actually supposed to be claiming that there's been no change because it's been perfect from day one. My mother said she didn't notice any change, but again: mothers, husbands. It's not very scientific. But then, what we think is beautiful almost never is. There's always a heavy dose of woo-woo and projection and, just, opinions, so why should this be any different?—Lauren