You Are What You Eat: Why a Korean Diet Can Be as Effective as the Famed 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine

From protein to kimchi, beauty from the inside out is real.

by Sally Kim


Growing up in Korea, I was surrounded by seas of lotions, creams and moisturizers everywhere I went—I never second-guessed the importance of skincare. But, despite the craze today around the 10-step Korean skincare routine, the obsession with applying topical product after product, and all the different ingredients popping up (from snail oil to gold-infused creme), the only Korean skincare ritual that my family passed down to me is the one spoken about the least: the Korean diet.

For those who aren’t familiar, Korean cuisine is always a balanced meal of grilled protein and rice (never bread), with lots of various fermented vegetables such as kimchi and miso paste.

Kimchi, a fermented, pickled cabbage almost iconic in our culture, is dense with minerals, vitamins A, B and C, fat-free and most importantly, loaded with probiotics, a gut-friendly bacteria that takes shelter in your stomach after ingestion. And what probiotics do for our health and our skin, is almost immeasurable: our stomach, the so-called “second brain,” is actually the ruler of our overall health. And when our stomach is off, our skin takes a beating almost immediately. But with probiotics, our stomach is able to fend off a lot of what causes these problems, and gets our skin to its optimal condition.

What’s more, Koreans consume a lot of collagen-based dishes and soups. Think of collagen as the gatekeeper of moisture in our cells, a “wall” to keep our cells hydrated so they don’t lose structure or lead to weaker, stretchier, and thinner skin i.e. wrinkles, fine lines, dry skin, cellulite, and the loss of structure in your hair follicles (integral to holding on to your hair). Ingesting collagen facilitates new regeneration of skin, muscle, bones and joint cells, which is something my mother and grandmother never let me forget if I ever decided to be picky with my food.

At this point, most of us know that what we put into our body directly translates to how we look and feel. But I do think that most of us either like to conveniently forget, or underestimate just how much what you ingest, translates to your skin. If you take a second to trace some of our most frustrating skin and hair problems to their roots, you would find yourself circling back to your stomach and liver, two of our most stressed out, hungover organs.

Despite being entrenched in this Korean skincare diet, I didn’t always put two and two together. I always ignored the immediate link between pizza date-nights to morning after pimples, and rarely thought about eating the “right” type of foods. I focused mostly on putting extra eye cream on nights following a tough day, and religiously spent hundreds of dollars monthly on massages, facials, and more and more products.

The realization of just how important diet is to the health of my skin actually only occurred to me one day in my early twenties when I got burned from hot oil. I turned to silicone patches, topical creams and ointments to ensure that my skin would heal but saw little improvement.

So, I decided to try making my treatment an inside job and started taking 20 grams of collagen every day, hoping for its regenerative and healing benefits. Sure, I hated the taste of it, but I stuck to it. Though it should never become the only path to healing skin, in my personal experience, I started noticing a dramatic change not just on my arms, face and hair a month after I started my daily intake. My eyelashes, brows and hair got so much thicker, and my skin, once chronically dry, didn’t need as much topical attention as it used to, 10-Step Korean skincare routine, or otherwise.

And that was when it hit me. Our moms were right all along—when it comes to skincare, it really is what’s underneath, and inside, that counts.

Sally Kim is the founder of the collagen and probiotics powder Crushed Tonic.

The Ultimate Shopping Guide to the Best New Beauty Products for Fall

That santal scent that everyone wears just met its match. Rodin’s unisex eau de toilette blurs gender lines with geranium, the ever-popular men’s flower, and iris, an Upper East Side lady’s go-to.

Rodin 3, $170, nordstrom.com

Trade in your summer lip oil for this autumnal option, which conditions lips, while imparting a shiny tint.

Chantecaille Lip Sleek, $38, neimanmarcus.com

Virtue’s formula packs bioidentical keratin that sticks where strands need it, rather than washing down the drain.

Virtue Recovery Shampoo and Conditioner, from $15 – 40, virtuelabs.com

After burning herself in the kitchen, founder Sally Kim blended the perfect cocktail of marine collagen, probiotics, and biotin to heal burns from the inside. The matcha flavor makes for an easy antioxidant-packed swap for that afternoon coffee.

Crushed Tonic, $115 for 30 crushes, crushedtonic.com

Danish beauty vet Avonda Urben set out to share a bit Scandinavia’s carefree culture with some very practical products. The pH balanced wash cleanses, tones and soothes the bikini area, because skin is skin.

The Perfect V VV Cream Gentle Wash, $21, theperfectv.com

The grab-and-go ease of a foundation stick never meant that blending would be easy. Luckily for us, Nars added an antimicrobial blender to the other side of their matte formula that can be washed or replaced as needed. Let the taxi makeup application commence.

NARS Velvet Matte Foundation Stick, $45, sephora.com

Because brushing your teeth should be as ritualized as the rest of your routine, Aesop added their own chic variety to the mix with sea buckthorn to soothe gums.

Aesop Toothpaste, $17, aesop.com

Wearing skirts after Labor Day just got less stress-inducing. The botanical blend will brighten and bronze gambs for a subtle gleam.

Votre Vu Silk Stockings, $38, votrevu.com (available in September)

Ben Gorhman keeps making scent easier to sport. A drop of the alcohol-based formula quashes bacteria, for an aromatic post-subway application.

Byredo Vetvyer Rinse-Free Hand Wash, $30, neimanmarcus.com

As air pollution is an ever-growing issue, Verso’s mist acts as a magnet for skin aging particles, and can be spritzed on either a clean face or a fully painted one.

Verso Anti-Pollution Mist, $47, barneys.com


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