It’s been a few years since Korean skin care first landed on our radars (also known as our Twitter and Instagram feeds), but the beauty world’s collective fascination for all things K-beauty shows no signs of slowing down. Korean skin care is known for its groundbreaking formulations, surprising ingredients and flatlay-ready packaging. It got us obsessed with sheet masks, introduced us to bee venom and snail mucin and even prompted us to google words like “chok-chok,” “ampoule” and “essence.” And thanks to makeup artist Ellie Choi’s now-viral skin care routine—and accompanying selfie showcasing her impeccably smooth, translucent skin—another term has been added to the ever-expanding K-beauty lexicon: glass skin.
What Is Glass Skin?
“Glass skin is a term for exceptionally smooth, even-toned and lustrous skin that’s so flawless it has the appearance of glass,” says skin care blogger and K-beauty expert Jude Chao. “It’s simply a clear and elegant way of describing a certain type of enviable complexion,” she adds. Like its predecessors “honey” and “dewy” skin, glass skin aims for an intensely moisturized skin that gives off an almost transparent complexion and a “very youthful, lit-from-within glow,” adds K-beauty and skin care blogger Sheryll Donerson.
How to Get Glass Skin
While some skin care trends are focused on particular products that promise instant visible results, achieving glass skin requires a multi-dimensional approach, says Chao. “The surface of the skin must be extremely smooth, without bumps or rough texture. Directly beneath the surface, there should be a large amount of water in order to create the moist and lustrous appearance that catches and reflects light. Finally, the skin should look plump and firm,” Chao explains.
Achieving this coveted dream-like visage requires “a consistent skin care routine consisting of a cleanser, toner, serum, exfoliator and a hydrating moisturizer,” says Donerson. And because intense hydration lies at the core of a glass skin regimen, Chao recommends opting for “watery products with humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin and considering using either multiple layers of one hydrating product or several layers of different ones,” she explains. K-beauty staples like toners, essences and sheet masks are the most effective hydrators, according to Chao.
Below is a step-by-step guide on how to achieve clear, glowing, glass-like skin.
Step 1: Double cleanse
Asian skin care introduced us to double cleansing, and we haven’t looked back since. A clean canvas is a must when it comes to your skin care routine, especially at night when your face has collected all that dirt, grease and makeup residue. Start with a cleansing oil or micellar water for your first cleanse, then follow with a gentle foam wash or cream cleanser.
Step 2: Exfoliate
We can’t talk clear and smooth skin without mentioning exfoliation. “Whether using a physical exfoliator (such as crushed walnut or gentle jojoba beads) or a chemical type (like glycolic or lactic acid), this step will slough away dead skin cells that dull skin and clog pores,” says beauty chemist and skin care expert David Pollock, founder of JustAskDavid.com. Don’t overdo it, though. Two to three times weekly is ideal to avoid irritations, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Step 3: Tone
Traditional toners are often ignored because some find them to be too drying, but in Korean skin care, they take on an entirely different role. K-beauty toners are formulated with refreshing and moisture-enhancing ingredients (like green tea, galactomyces, ginseng and floral water) and are applied not only to restore the skin’s pH levels but also to provide base hydration and allow better absorption of oncoming products. “Layering is key here to achieving the extremely hydrated skin that’s necessary for glass skin, so the 7 Skin Method—applying up to seven layers of toner to your skin—in general, works well for this,” explains Chao.
Step 4: Add an essence
Essences, the less-concentrated relatives of serums, tend to be more lightweight and watery in consistency (a cross between serums and toners). Like targeted treatments, they’re formulated to address skin concerns like pigmentation and redness but with the added purpose of delivering mega moisture and hydration.
Step 5: Treat with a serum or ampoule
The Korean counterpart of serums, ampoules typically contain a higher concentration of multitasking active ingredients. “[These] concentrated actives help nourish the skin, reverse signs of aging and promote collagen to help provide firmness, minimize pores and even out skin tone,” explains Pollock. Some ampoules are only meant to be used over a certain period of time (to target skin emergencies), so for daily use, switch to a hydrating serum with moisture-boosting ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides and vitamin E. “For structural firmness, vitamin C and retinoids will encourage collagen production most effectively,” adds Chao.
Step 6: Moisturize
Moisturizing is a no-brainer in any skin care routine, but when you’re aiming for that luminescent look, you’ll want to reach for one that is lightweight yet packs maximum moisture. Look for nourishing botanical extracts, powerful hydrators and antioxidants. Cica, which is short for centella asiatica or gotu kola, is a sought-after ingredient in Korean skin care because of its healing, anti-aging and barrier-restoring properties.
Step 7: Apply an eye cream
You can’t make glass skin happen if you’re rocking dry patches and bags under your eyes. Pollock recommends adding an eye cream or serum to nourish the fragile eye area that tends to be drier than the rest of your face (and that regular moisturizers may not be able to fully quench.)
Step 8: Seal with a face oil (daytime only)
Adding a face oil is the ultimate finisher for your glass skin routine. Not only is it a fantastic way to nourish your skin and seal in moisture, but it also protects against the daily stressors that destroy our skin barrier. Plus, it doesn’t need to be a step all on its own. Alternatively, consider adding a few drops to your serum or moisturizer daily. Whichever you choose, just remember it should always come last! While you can add oil to other layers, no other layers can penetrate oil—so you’ll be wasting perfectly good products thereafter (unless it’s SPF!).
Step 9: Use SPF (daytime only)
Without skin that’s protected from the sun’s rays, consider your glass skin dreams positively dashed. This is because no matter how many steps you have in your skincare regimen, put simply: Skin that’s weathered from UV rays won’t shine. SPF is a year-round must. And one with the right ingredients—think lightweight formula and lots of moisture—is the best solution here.
Step 10: Sheet Masks
K-beauty has given us some of the best skin care tips and tricks, but masks are arguably the ones the beauty world is most obsessed with. It’s hardly surprising; a skincare step where you have no choice but to kick back and relax for a while—what’s not to love? Add to that, they also happen to be the easiest way to soothe the skin, repair damage and lock in and replenish moisture. Within 10-20 minutes, you can enjoy healthier skin and a brightened complexion to boot. We’d recommend doing this 2-3 times per week.
Is Glass Skin Easy to Achieve?
Those #glassskin photos on your feed may be all the motivation you need to hop on this K-beauty trend, but it’s important to remember that there is no shortcut to achieving flawless, ethereal-looking skin. And if there’s one thing that Korean skin care has taught us, it’s that great skin goes beyond cult products or buzzworthy trends: It requires consistency and commitment to your skin care regimen. “So many times, we want to rush from product to product, but I really think the skin benefits [more] from longer-term use of a few items like a hydrating toner or essence and a really good moisturizer,” says Donerson, adding that sleep, diet and exercise also play a huge role in your skin’s health.
And while there is definitely no harm in trying out trends and discovering what works, Chao says keeping achievable goals and realistic expectations are just as important. “Skin condition isn’t the same thing as clothing silhouettes or makeup colors. It isn’t easy to change one’s skin type in the first place,” says Chao. Her advice? Focus on building a solid skin care routine that will help you “feel more comfortable and happy in your own skin” instead of fixating on fads or getting caught up in unattainable goals.
After all, when it comes down to it, the quest for a glass-like complexion is really just another way of striving for clear, healthy and youthful-looking skin.
Lifestyle Factors for Getting Glass Skin
As Donerson suggests, our glass skin goal goes well beyond our skincare regimen. If we don’t look after ourselves with a healthy and balanced lifestyle, it won’t matter what products we’re using. Here are some habits that can help us achieve long-term skin contentment:
- Sleep: They don’t call it beauty sleep for nothing! We all know that feeling of waking up after a sleepless night with a sore, swollen and puffy face, and it’s not a good feeling. A good night’s rest will help your skin’s blood flow to increase, rebuilding collagen and rejuvenating itself from the inside out. That’s what helps with the glass skin effect: plump, supple skin with lots of elasticity.
- Exercise: Everyone talks about that post-workout glow, but how exactly does it work? Well, from a brisk walk to a cardio workout, every time our heart is pumping, blood is bringing oxygen and nutrients to our skin cells. It’s that healthy circulation that helps to keep our skin looking bright and full of life, as opposed to dry, dull and lacklustre.
- Healthy fats: A healthy diet helps our bodies in many ways, but it’s vitally important for our skin, too. And if you’re serious about getting that glassy glow, healthy fats are where it’s at. From cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna, to the millennial masterpiece that is the avocado, they’ll keep your skin looking and feeling hydrated, moisturized and supple.
- Fruit, vegetables and nuts: Fruits and vegetables are always a good thing, but they’re especially handy for achieving a glass skin glow. Choose leafy greens, peppers, blueberries, grapes and nuts for foods that are high in antioxidants. They’ll boost your body’s ability to fight against free radicals and bring your skin powerful anti-ageing benefits.
Glass Skin Tips for Your Skin Type
When it comes to achieving your glass skin goals, it’s not a 'one approach to suit all' kinda-thing. It has to be tailored to you and your skin type, with the products that are best suited to your needs.
- Sensitive skin - One of the benefits of the K-beauty world and the glass skin movement is those gentle ingredients suited to sensitive skin. Look out for mild, sulfate-free cleansers and products with naturally soothing properties such as green tea, ginseng and chamomile extracts.
- Oily/combination skin - With oily skin, always go for light, gentle cleansers that won’t over-strip your skin, and don’t over-exfoliate or you could do more damage. If you’re tempted to forgo the face oil in these steps (why put more oil on oil, right?), our advice is don’t. A face oil can actually help to regulate sebum, which is the oily substance produced by your sebaceous glands.
- Acne-prone skin - Finally, if your skin is partial to breakouts, look for an exfoliator or serum that has salicylic acid in it. This works by penetrating skin more deeply than water-soluble formulas, and can loosen old, dead skin so that new skin can surface.