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How I Beat Acne with the Power of K-Beauty

My acne has never been an all over phenomenon, even as a teen. Instead, it was the freakier kind that lurks beneath the surface of the skin, swollen and bumpy and rarely coming to a head*. When a pimple would come to a head, it seemed to never heal, scabbing over and re-scabbing as I repeatedly picked at it. I would wonder why my skin never healed as I scrubbed at it each night with one of these things that literally looked like a pan scourer. I would wonder why my skin looked dull as I absentmindedly rubbed one pea sized dollop of cream onto my face and then dove into bed. I poked and picked at my face and wondered what was up with it, and yet somehow didn’t care much about how to go about fixing it. I preferred to spend my money on shoes.

In 2013, I owned one moisturizer. I discovered K-beauty in a fit of boredom, and then suddenly it took over my life. I read thousands of reddit posts, blogs, and articles about skincare. Then I read some more blogs, started learning basic Korean to help me decipher some other blogs, and found myself suddenly in possession of an arsenal of skincare knowledge. I started working at Glow Recipe in 2015, and now here we are- I’m ready to share my top tips and current routine for beating acne with the power of K-beauty. I’ll save you the time it took me to read all those blog posts and present you with the below!

*(I later learned that my acne is hormonal. If your acne shows up around just your neck and chin, is cystic, and skincare just doesn’t seem to be cutting it, I recommend you see a dermatologist who can help you find a happy medium between skincare and medication if necessary! I’ve been lucky and have been able to manage my acne with just topical skincare- others will have different needs completely and there’s no shame in either game!)


My dull, sad skin circa 2013


You can’t fake this #glow! Here I am now, rockin’ eye patches every day.

Tip 1: You’re gonna need an oil cleanser.

I’ve already written at length about why oil cleansers are essential, for all skin types. If you’re acne prone, though, I will go out on a limb and call oil cleansing Super Essential. These first cleansers, as they’re commonly referred to, help to dissolve oil based makeup and oily sebum. A foaming cleanser cannot remove 100% of makeup or sebum, which acne prone skin typically has an excess of. Remember to follow your cleansing oil with a low-pH foaming cleanser. Using a foaming cleanser with a low pH will help to keep the moisture barrier of your skin calm and healthy, helping to keep skin acne free by allowing skin to remain in it’s own healthy pH range. If you don’t wear makeup every day, I suggest doing an oil cleanse twice a week to deep cleanse the skin. You can leave your oil cleanser on for a few minutes, then gently massage your face to help grime dissolve and dislodge from pores. If you’re ready to jump on the double cleansing train, I’m a huge fan of the Blossom Jeju cleansing oil and Pink Camellia Blooming Cleanser – which clocks in at pH 5.5 for a perfectly balanced cleanse.

Tip 2: Savor that cleansing time!
(I recommend a full minute and a half of foam cleansing- just trust me.)

As a person with acne prone skin, I’ve found that cleansing can be disappointing sometimes, when you’re spending an extended period touching your face and feeling the bumps and lumps that are annoying and stressing you out on a daily basis. Try to remember that cleansing is actually super important, and you’re actively working to clean up and help those spots to heal as you’re gently massaging that beautiful, pH balanced cleanser into your skin. Take the time to take a mental inventory of what’s up with your skin today. Is the pimple on your chin smaller than yesterday? That’s amazing, and you should give yourself credit for that small victory. Once you’ve rinsed off your face, take a look at your skin to see if you’re experiencing any dark spots or scarring, and take stock of the spots that are fading. Each day, you’ll see a little progress. By doing these daily check-ins, you’ll be more aware of what’s happening and you’ll make skincare and masking decisions that are better informed.

Also, when you’re cleansing, remember to use just the pads of your fingers to create little circles all over your face. Be gentle and thorough.

Tip 3: Exfoliation is the key to clearer skin

Fellow skin-carer, I’m about to blow your mind: there are two different ways you can exfoliate.

Understanding exfoliation is the thing that changed my skin the most. When I was but a wee skincare baby, I used that terrifying pan scourer on my face. Now, I know that I have two options. Physical exfoliation is what you’ll get with a peeling gel, like the brightening one from Dr. G found here. Natural cellulose balls up with gentle massage, helping to loosen dead skin cells and lift them away from the skin for a gentle facial scrub. I use a peeling gel once to twice a week depending on how dull my skin is looking.

Chemical exfoliation involves the use of exfoliating compounds that you’d expect to see in peels at a dermatologist’s office, but formulated to be gentle enough for weekly use. AHA’s, or Alpha Hydroxy Acids, work on the surface of the skin to ‘unglue’ surface cells that are about to be shed naturally, helping to speed up their turnover. This means that AHA’s can help to fade dark spots, smooth the surface of the skin, and increase overall radiance. BHA’s, or Beta Hyrdroxy Acids, are able to work inside the pores, eating away at blackheads and breakouts. By using chemical exfoliators once every few days, you’ll be able to diminish acne and blackheads over time.

Because these exfoliators are drawing impurities closer to the skin’s surface, using them can result in a breakout or ‘purge’ of all of that gunk. Purging can last up to a month, but afterward, you’ll be dealing with skin that’s seriously clear and glowy. AHA + BHA are combined in some of our peeling wabs that should be used directly after cleansing on damp skin. I like to use an aqua peeler 3x per week in the evenings, waiting 10 minutes before continuing with my hydrating toner and the rest of my skincare.

Tip 4: Vitamin C is an acne-fighting miracle

Similar to AHA and BHA, Vitamin C can help the skin to combat acne by treating breakouts while eliminating free radical damage and boosting cell turnover. Vitamin C helps to lighten dark spots, acne scarring, and post inflammatory hyper pigmentation (PIH). Using a Vitamin C product as a booster once in a while can aid in skin’s collagen production, promoting dewier and more supple skin. I alternate between using an aqua peeler and a Squish + Bubble Peeling Pad from night to night, to cover all my bases.

Tip 5: Find the ingredients and textures your skin loves…

The ingredients that work for some people might not work for others. Tea Tree, for example, never helped my acne at all, while for other people it’s the only thing that will work. In fact, the LJH Tea Tree essence is an amazing acne busting product that I recommend all the time to other acne prone people with great success.

The only way to figure out what ingredients your skin and acne are improved by is to do a little research. Look at the ingredients in the products you’re sure help your skin already, then search for some different textures or variations on those. My acne reacts really well to honey and bee ingredients, so I incorporated the I’m From Honey mask into my routine to help soothe breakouts and nourish the skin, along with the Shara Shara Honey Bomb as a daily light moisturizing step. A key functionality of is that our search bar can be used for these types of searches- if I plug in Licorice, which can help brighten dark spots, I’m directed to products containing Licorice extract.

Tip 6: … and know which ingredients you can use to your advantage!

Licorice and niacinamide are two common ingredients featured in K-beauty products that will help lighten up dark spots and PIH, while Honey and propolis are both antibacterial wonder-ingredients that will soothe breakouts. Knowing your parsley from your sea kelp is helpful. A lot of my favorite masks, like the Whamisa Fruits and Tomato Hydrogel and Blossom Jeju Vitamin petal mask say right on their packages that they’ll help to brighten and soothe the skin. Take a moment when you’re checking out your skin and think about which mask or serum you should feature in your routine on any given day to help get your skin back on track.

Tip 7: Hydrating layers are your best friend

Move over, Karen. Angry red spots and enlarged pores can both be calmed and minimized with layers of hydration. I like to use a watery toner and first essence right after my exfoliators to plump up my skin and minimize any flakiness post breakout or sensitive patches. Watery textures are great because they help to moisturize, which you need, but they also don’t overwhelm or exacerbate the the skin when it’s in finicky breakout mode.

To apply any kind of essence, serum, or ampoule: keep in mind that a good method is smoothing the product between your palms and pressing your palms into your face evenly and gently, continuing until the product is no longer tacky before moving onto the next step of your routine. This helps your skin to absorb each of your products effectively, and minimizes irritation that comes from tugging and pulling at the skin.  It also helps you to take a moment to enjoy the act of caring for your skin.

Tip 8: Don’t touch your face.

Just don’t do it! Also, change your pillowcase every week for the obvious reasons. That way, you’re not laying your face on a bacteria laden surface every night.

Tip 9: This will take time.

Remember that healing and treating your skin is a process that unfortunately won’t happen overnight. My “acne journey” took about two years, and I still deal with the occasional pimple. My overall visage is way healthier, younger looking, and glowier- so I notice them a lot less. That’s the real power behind K-beauty and great skincare!

My current acne-busting routine:

In the mornings, I like to roll out of bed and do very little. I am known in our office to apply my makeup around 12pm. With great skincare comes very little need to do a lot of makeup-ing if you don’t want to!

In the AM:

At night, I go a little crazier:

If you’re curious about a specific product or ingredient, send me an email at Let me know in the comments what products you swear by for keeping acne at bay!

Get your Glow on,

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  • Katie May 7, 2018 2:52 pm

    So do you not moisturize? Is it not necessary with the oil? I just started using an oil and foam washer combo, but my skin seems to feel a bit tight after i rinse, and it seems like i need to lotion.

  • Palak Nov 3, 2017 3:06 am

    Great! I love the tips. I had acne problem and tried these 2 products. Results are just Amazing. Had heard a lot about Korean skin products, but never tried before these. Trust me people with Acne skin problems should go through this:

  • Grace May 7, 2017 12:39 pm

    I have hidden acne & some scars.. I want to change my skin care routine to get rid of these.. Can u kindly tell me specific products? I feel so ashamed of these acne

  • Yves’ (@adlinns) May 3, 2017 3:58 pm

    hi can i know what eye patches are you using? as i have been looking for eye patches, but mostly they have mixed reviews, which is why I'm still pending in buying one :(

  • Miki Gao Apr 24, 2017 9:37 am

    I had acne treatment last year. Since then I have been taking vitamins and green tea. I think it helps a lot. Thank you for your post. I am going to try these eye patches.

  • via Apr 23, 2017 9:34 am

    Hi! i really hope that i could get that healthy skin of yours :') if you can, may you help me to recommend best skin products for me? since i don't know much about korean skincare. my age is 23, i have a very oily and acne prone skin, and kind of sensitive. Also i have some acne spots that i really hate. Thank you so much! I hope you can help me out

  • Griffin Norton Mar 22, 2017 10:46 am

    I buy Dermalmd Blemish Serum every year and I use it on my body when a benzoyl peroxide would be too harsh on my skin especially around tender areas that the benzoyl might open up the wound of the acne but this covers it dries it out and keeps it from opening these acnes are from having hormonal imbalances especially female hormones and insulin resistant hormones.

  • Mary Feb 18, 2017 10:45 pm

    What kind of eyes patches are you using???? Is it good for dark circle??? Info please thanks :-)

  • Jazmin Oct 27, 2016 6:03 pm

    Hello there!!! So I've always been interested in Korean skincare and of course I've bought so many products including from here and many others sites. However, most products I've tried had broke me out from small whiteheads to huge cystic pimples. I feel frustrated buying products and for it not working on me at all. I've bought the whamisa flower toner and face cream based on all the raving reviews but both gave me really bad breakouts. My skin only breaks out when I use a new product that doesn't work out for me like foundation or skincare. Skin: Oily, Sensitive, Acne-Prone Age:19

    • GC Mar 30, 2017 6:49 am

      I'd suggest for you to switch to gentle (low ph) gel cleanser and lighweight/water/gel moisturizers. Can I ask which korean products you've tried and broke you out?

  • Kate Oct 22, 2016 8:35 am

    Hello! Thanks for a really informative post. I was wondering if you used any cleansers in the morning or just the toners? Thanks!

    • The Glow Recipe Team Oct 26, 2016 9:31 am

      Hi Kate! I really stick by a good double cleanse at night (see more here: and just a foaming cleanser in the morning, just to make sure my skincare starts with a clean canvas! The Blossom Jeju Pink Camellia Blooming Cleanser is a really lovely foaming cleanser that is great both night and day for all skin types.

  • Mariana Castro Sep 28, 2016 1:46 pm

    Hey there, I'm new to all of this so I'm bit confused, ? My face is covered with acne and I've tried so many products and they won't help at all so I ended up here I want to try some Korean products maybe that would work for my skin can u recommend anything??

  • Grace Sep 25, 2016 5:56 pm

    If I am using a dermatologist prescribed retinol treatment, where would I fit that into the routine? Thanks,

  • Alison Aug 18, 2016 12:47 am

    Hi Katie, I'm 39. Can you recommend a skin care routine that is anti-agin, acne fighting, and also on a budget? Thanks, -A

  • mcharak Jul 3, 2016 11:56 pm

    Hi! Thanks for the very helpful posting :) you mention using eye patches and I wanted to find out which ones you've found to be most effective. Appreciate your advice! Love GR!

  • mcharak Jul 3, 2016 11:55 pm

    Hello! You mention in this posting that you use eye patches for dark circles, any recommendations for ones that work well? Thanks for the post! I've added a bunch of these items to my routine :)

  • Heather Jul 1, 2016 5:32 am

    Absolutely loved this post! Just to clarify the steps, do you tone after using a sheet mask or before? I see that you have toning after applying sheet masks and was just curious since I normally see instructions to tone before sheet masks.

  • Julieta Gomez-Frittelli Jun 23, 2016 9:13 pm

    Thanks for the post! I've been itching to try some Korean skincare products for my acne issues, since American products have failed miserably and seem to have not updated at all in the last decade. One item you didn't list which seems to be an essential part of a Korean skincare routine otherwise is sunscreen. Also, some of the products say to especially make sure to use SPF protection after using AHA or BHA peelers. Can you recommend a sunscreen product that won't clog pores and exasperate the acne issue? Thanks!

    • GC Mar 30, 2017 6:42 am

      Hi! I can recommend Shiseido's Expert Sun Aging Protection Lotion Wetforce (it comes in SPF 30+ & 50+). Its non-comedogenic and has watery and very lightweight consistency. Just gently pat it in and it absorbs quickly. :)

  • Bailey Jun 21, 2016 4:36 pm

    Hi Kate! I'm using a AHA and BHA toner by Mizon followed by a AHA whitehead treatment by COSRX. Should I be using these on the same night or would this cause my skin to be overexpoliated? Thanks, loved your post!

  • Alexa Luke Sandidge Jun 17, 2016 10:37 am

    How can you tell if your skin is just purging and will be done after that or if it is still flaring up? Sometimes when you use a new product it is hard to tell if it is helping pull stuff out or making it worse. Should I wait a month after starting a new product/routine to see if it resolves?

    • The Glow Recipe Team Jun 20, 2016 11:34 am

      Hi Alexa, Great question! Acids such as BHA, AHA and Vitamin C are the only products that can cause a true purge, where deep seated impurities are being brought to the surface of the skin. When a different class of product (say a moisturizer) breaks you out, that can be a tell tale sign of an ingredient or texture that doesn't work for you. I recommend only adding one new product at a time so you can isolate which product is breaking you out or causing irritation.

  • Tialda Jun 15, 2016 1:25 pm

    What's the point to use a first essence? Can you explain that to me? And where tobput in my routine? - Double cleansing. - Bha (paula's choice) - toner - Essence - Serum - sheetmask - Eyecream - (sometimes) emulsion - moisturizer or sleepmask. Thanks!

    • The Glow Recipe Team Jun 20, 2016 11:27 am

      Hi Tialda! The idea behind first essences is that they're typically enriched with fermented ingredients that can help to soften and brighten the skin while helping to hydrate with a lightweight texture. The light hydration of your first few products actually helps everything else to sink in better! You'd use a First Essence after your toner! :)

  • Vita Jun 15, 2016 11:44 am

    Hi there, I am hoping you can make some recommendations for my skin: - Age - late 40s - Still prone to hormonal acne (responds well to tea tree oil for spot treatment) - My previously oily skin is now combo - still prone to SHINE, but medium dry, and lots of flaky skin on nose (esp in the winter), no matter how much I moisturize or exfoliate - Don't want to use more than 4 products on a daily basis; don't mind using add'l products every few days. Your wonderful site has so many products, I can't figure out how to get started. Thanks for any suggestions you might have!

    • The Glow Recipe Team Jun 20, 2016 11:25 am

      Hi there! My top 4 reco's for you would be an Aqua Peeler weekly, the Iceplant pressed serum, a hydrating toner like the Original Essence one from Whamisa and the LJH Tea Tree Essence!

    • The Glow Recipe Team Jun 15, 2016 10:16 am

      Hi Lisa! You can. As I mentioned in the post, an Aqua Peel formula contains AHA + BHA, and I alternate their use nightly with a Vit C serum. If you had a dedicated AHA and BHA, you could use them every other night, directly after cleansing! Let me know at if you have any other q's! :) -Katie

      • wang Jun 17, 2016 7:11 am

        can i use aha+bha with vit c serum? also if i wait 10mins wouldn't that dry out my skin? what did you mean that it would break me out or purge? so what happens when i break out? do i just continue using it?

        • GC Mar 30, 2017 6:27 am

          I suggest to wait for 30 mins in between aha and bha since it needs sometime to penetrate your pores and actually do its magic. These are all actives which are all PH dependent so I suggest for below for a night routine because of its time consuming aspect. Makeup Remover (optional) Oil Cleanser Facial Cleanser Balancing Toner Vitamin C Serum (20 mins wait) BHA (30 mins wait) AHA (30 mins wait) Essence Serum/Ampoule Sheet Mask (optional: 20 mins wait) Eye Cream Moisturizer Sleeping Pack (optional) IMO tho, I think it's too time consuming to use these 3 actives in one go. It can possibly cause overexfoliation too which is not good for your skin. I'd suggest to alternate vitamin c and bha/aha on your days of usage or your am/pm routine. (Depends with the frequency of your usage) I'll go out of my way to emphasizing on significance of using a good sunblock to protect your skin too because these particular actives make your skin photosensitive which persist for atleast a week (specifically for aha/bha) after application and leaving your skin bare without proper sun protection during use of these products will definitely do more damage to your skin. I'm only talking about a gist of what I know. Should you opt to find more information, here's a link that you can check out.

        • The Glow Recipe Team Jun 20, 2016 11:32 am

          You can use all three, yes! I recommend alternating and cycling through the three day by day. Waiting 10 minutes won't dry out the skin, but if yours is feeling tight, you can cut that wait to 5 minutes. The wait time with these acids is actually very important so that the product has time to work on the skin before other products are applied over them. A purge can only be caused by an exfoliating acid as it draws impurities from the skin- and yes, unfortunately you should just keep using your acids as you purge until it dies down. Impurities and clogs cannot surface otherwise. Email us at if you need any help!

  • World Traveler Jun 13, 2016 10:15 pm

    WIth your night time routine, are those products used in order as listed? My current order is as following but not sure if I need to swap any products order around? Innisfree Olive Oil Cleanser > Kojic Acid Soap > Benton Aloe BHA Toner > Missha FTE > Wishtrend 21.5% Vitamin C Serum > Tony Moly Eye Brightening Base > Etude House Collagen Emulsion > Missha Renew Snail Cream

    • The Glow Recipe Team Jun 15, 2016 10:19 am

      Hi! The products I mentioned are in the order of application I suggest. In your routine, I'd move the Vit C serum after cleansing, then follow it up with your Aloe BHA toner and FTE. Other than that, looks great! :) -Katie

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