Hubert Burda Media

Korean Dermatologist’s Skincare Secrets

We ask Dr Kim, of Seoul’s ID Dermatology hospital, everything you ever wanted to know about the celebrated Korean approach to flawless skin.

When I first walk into the gleaming building of ID Dermatology, having been escorted over from its mammoth parent, the ID Plastic Surgery Hospital, I’m not entirely sure what my experience with Dr Min-Joo Kim, celebrated dermatologist-to-the-stars, will be, except that it is one that I cannot miss in my soujourn to Seoul. Will I be blown away by her immaculate visage – plump, glowing, juicy with hyaluronics and, as the Koreans are wont to call it, smooth as boiled-egg white?

I’m not very far off, as of course she’s impeccably made-up, with all the artistry for which the Koreans are renowned. I sit down and Kim gives my face a discreet but firm once-over. She then laughs and says, “You’ll have to excuse me. I love looking at skin. It’s such an important feature. When you look at anybody’s face, it’s the first thing I see.”

Obviously, this is exactly what I want to hear, so we jump straight into her explanation of the tricks she has up her sleeves and the secrets she’s willing to impart about the Korean obsession with beauty, Korean women, Korean technology and all the magic it can yield.

Biggest skin concerns among her clients

According to Kim, more than 90 percent of clients come to her for lifting and whitening. “While a lot of patients across the UK, US and Asia each have their specific requirements, we’re renowned for specialising in lifting and ultherapy, so many probably come here knowing that that is what they will get.”

Unfortunately, international patients can only make infrequent trips for skin maintenance – unlike Koreans, who come at their leisure and for multiple visits. “Multiple visits are actually more effective,” she says, “but as foreign patients – who usually only have a few days and want to complete treatment in one – can’t come so frequently, we prepare lifting and brightening treatments where results are immediately visible.”

Going to the dermatologist is as normal as going to the supermarket

“As you know,” says Kim, “Korean people are very interested in obtaining skincare and good skin, so visiting their dermatologist is more habit than chore. Korean patients check their faces very frequently, so when they see even the faintest issue, scar or pigmentation, they head to the clinic straight away.”

According to her, the Korean secret to clear, healthy skin is quite simple: catch any problems at the earliest stage.

ID Dermatology Korean Beauty
ID Dermatology

The 10-step method is not the way

The routine introducing the K-beauty phenomenon may have taken the world by storm, but Kim debunks the marketing ploy. She insists that the 10 ten-step method is not the best way for healthy skin and can even contribute to folliculitis and lead to pimples.

“Three to four skincare products are enough I think – maximum five or six,” she says. “I wouldn’t recommend more than that, and particularly if the products are too rich in texture, which makes your skin more greasy or oily. I myself use three to four steps after cleansing – toner, lotion, eye cream and moisturiser.”

According to her, the most important aspect of a skincare routine is water-oil balance. “The secret to perfect skin is to correct it in the earliest stage,” she says, “but even more important than a visit to the dermatologist are sunscreen and moisturiser. Water-oil balance is the most important thing for your skin. It’s also less expensive than coming to see me.”

What about oil?

Kim doesn’t agree with those who worship at the altar of the oil cleanse. “If you have healthy skin,” she says, “I fully recommend using oil. It’s very effective in removing a full face of make-up. However, if you have acne or folliculitis I’d recommend avoiding it, as it aggravates sebum production. In that case use a cream, lotion, micellar water, whatever, just not oil. If you must use it, use oil as a spot cleanse, for your eyes or lips, but not the entire face.”

At the fountain of youth are ultrasound and lasers

Huh? You wouldn’t be the first to be confused by the notion of using ultrasound beyond a pregnant belly, but ultrasound therapy (aka ultherapy) has been around for a while and Koreans – hard-core skincare experts that they are – have been harnessing and perfecting this technique for a number of years. Kim is arguably the capital’s best practitioner, honing her technique to incomparable precision.

“Because there are so many cases and so many customers interested in beauty products and lasers,” she says, “I’ve developed my skill and technique through practice. What’s interesting is that while most lasers are made in Israel or the US, they’re mostly used in Korea. As you know, Korean women are interested in new technology. They’re not afraid to try the new ‘something’ and they don’t hesitate when new techniques are developed for their faces. This is why I have so many patients with whom I can develop my skills – to the extent that people from Israel and the US come to me, despite the fact that they come from where these lasers are made.”

Using ultrasound, ultherapy targets a thin strip of skin between the subcutaneous layer and muscle. With roughly 400 beams into the face, the treatment helps to stimulate collagen and elastic-tissue production that can help lift, tighten and tone skin. Having seen the effects myself, I can testify that it could potentially negate the need for invasive surgery.

Dr Kim
Dr Kim

Beauty is in the hand of the dermatologist

What’s considered beautiful in South Korea has shifted from having big eyes and a high nose, with the golden ratio between eye, nose and ear, to youthful faces. In order to look younger, lifting has become a key criterion and, thanks to Kim’s ability to wield magic with Ultherapy and Thermage, all of which encourage collagen production and lifting, ID Dermatology is seeing more patients than ever.

When I ask Dr Kim for examples of the crazy lengths people go to in their quest for youth, she strongly warns against all the methods she’s about to mention. “Korean women are happy to use anything,” she says. “We’ve harnessed the properties of bee venom, snail mucus and seaweed, so they want to just try anything to see if it helps or not.

“Do you know the deep-fried pig’s skin that we eat? That has a lot of collagen in it and lots of women rub it into their face. I absolutely advise against that, because it aggravates the skin and can cause acne and dermatitis. It also can’t be absorbed into the skin. So it’s pointless. Don’t do it!

“Another one is that they crush oral vitamin capsules into powder and put it on to the face. Of course, it’s unhygienic and possibly a health hazard, but they do it because they’re that into skincare. Everyone should avoid doing this too. It’s harmful.”

Bonus massage tip

Arising from my personal predilection for a nice facial massage with lovely emollient creams and oils after work, I ask Dr Kim about her massage secrets – only to have her debunk my favourite hobby.

“It does help with circulation for about 20 minutes and circulation does help with lifting and brightening, but if you do massage with oils it can induce problems like acne. So just do it gently and softly without oil. You may use cream or lotion, but not oil. A good way to lift is to firmly rub your lifting pressure points. Find the point where your cheekbone meets your ear and press the indent just above it. Do it every day to maintain youthful lifted skin.”