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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