The science behind South Korean skincare for antiaging

In the field of longevity, the aesthetic aspects of aging are often overlooked. The first signs of aging are physical and most noticeable on the skin. As we age, the skin suffers from both internal and external causes of aging, leading to sagging, fine lines, and wrinkles.

While all aspects of aging is inevitable for now, there are some things we can do to slow the process, starting with an antiaging skincare routine. One of the most popular skincare on the market hails from South Korea, known as K-beauty, which promises glowing ‘glass skin’. So what is the science behind this skincare trend, or is it just down to good genes?  

What causes skin aging?

As the body’s largest organ, the skin provides a protective barrier against microbes and the elements, regulates body temperature, and enables sensations of touch, heat, and coldness. Skin comprises three layers:

  • The epidermis, the outermost layer that acts as a waterproof barrier
  • The dermis, which contains connective tissue, hair follicles, and sweat glands. This is also where melanocytes, which produce the skin’s colour, are located
  • The hypodermis, a deep layer made of fat and connective tissue [1].

Unfortunately, the skin is where the first signs of aging can be traced in its fine lines and wrinkles. Skin aging is characterised by sagging, wrinkles, and loss of elasticity. This is caused by both internal and external factors. Internal skin aging is an inevitable process driven by cellular senescence, genetic mutations, oxidative stress, free radicals, and chronic inflammation. This causes the phenotypes of thin, dry skin and wrinkles.

External aging on the other hand is caused by pollution, smoking, poor nutrition and sun exposure. This results in deep wrinkles, sagging, and rough texture. It is thought that the majority of skin aging is caused by external factors, which is lucky as these are largely avoidable! [2]. To erase the fine lines of time from the skin, we must target both the internal and external causes of aging.

South Korean skincare routine

The South Korean capital of Seoul has become an antiaging skincare mecca. Its founding principles are based on cleansing, nourishing, and moisturising the skin to repair its barrier and achieve the hallowed ‘glass skin’ look – a K-beauty trend of a luminous, almost glass-like complexion. These principles translate to K-beauty products, which have become coveted around the globe. K-beauty uses a combination of traditional skincare wisdom passed down through generations with cutting-edge Seoul tech, an integration of old and new that perhaps represents South Korea itself.

Daily skincare has been shown to increase skin regeneration, elasticity, and smoothness – reducing the signs of aging [3]. K-beauty skincare routines can be complicated, with lavish ingredients and seemingly endless steps. Stripping it down to the essential principles in a streamlined routine remains effective whilst ensuring you stick to a daily routine. A simplified K-beauty skincare routine would include the following:

  • A double cleanse is an essential first step in any skincare routine. This cleans the skin of dirt, oil and bacteria built up on its surface. First, use an oil- or micellar water-based cleanser to remove any makeup and obligatory sunscreen. Follow with a gentle cleansing face wash to remove remaining stubborn impurities and pollutants.
  • The main principle of K-beauty is to nourish the skin. To compensate for double cleansing, K-beauty routines follow with serious moisturising. The first step is an oil-based serum in a delicate dropper bottle. These contain powerful active ingredients that are absorbed into the skin and protect against internal and external damage. Common ingredients include antioxidants like vitamin C, green tea, resveratrol and retinol.
  • Following this with a heavier moisturiser hydrates the skin and locks in the serum.
  • The last, and most integral, step in any skincare routine is sunscreen. We are unwittingly exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays every day, even on cloudy days. Wearing a sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection of at least 30SPF and PA+++ certifications can counteract this.

The science behind antiaging skincare

The traditional ingredients and cutting-edge tech of K-beauty makes an effective pairing. But what about the science supporting it?

First off, cleansing removes makeup, dirt, oil and theoretically pollutants accumulated on the skin, without damaging the skin barrier. Considering that pollution directly causes external skin aging, this is a beneficial first step.

Second is serum. Many of the popular active ingredients found in serums have been scientifically validated to improve the signs of skin aging. The mechanism through which they do this is collagen production, the protein responsible for skin elasticity. Antioxidants neutralise free radicals on the skin that degrade collagen, as well as inducing the production of collagen themselves. Antioxidants like vitamin C and E, as well as green tea and aloe vera are good options.

It is important to look at the concentration of each antioxidant, anywhere between 5-15% has been shown to be effective. Interestingly, studies have shown that a combination of vitamin C and E works better than either alone. Equally, retinol (or vitamin A) has been shown to promote collagen production as well as work on the internal causes of skin aging [3]. Try using vitamin C and E during the day and retinol at night.

It is important to note that many Koreans combine their skincare with eating traditional collagen-rich diets. Indeed, it may be possible to delay skin aging through diet [3]. The most important source of antioxidants is provided by nutrition, so eat a balanced diet and look into supplements. Keeping your skin hydrated is key to preventing wrinkles, therefore using daily moisturiser, as well as drinking enough water, should also be prioritised.  

Lastly, long-term exposure to UV rays is thought to account for 80% of facial aging [2]. This causes a specific type of skin aging, known as photoaging. Wearing a daily sunscreen with a minimum of 30SPF and PA+++ certification effectively prevents this and is therefore the best preventative method for skin aging.



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