My Experience with Acne, the Korean Skincare Routine, and Feminism
by Noorhan Amani
For the past six years, I have struggled with acne. All throughout middle school, and now high school, this has caused me to feel extremely self-conscious of my face. The self-consciousness was only exacerbated when in the 6th grade, some boys from my class called me "pizza face". The words were a shock to me; before that point, I had not thought that people actually noticed my acne. I decided not to At the time, being an impressionable middle-schooler, the words bothered me, and I came home and told my mom that I wanted to get rid of my acne. My mom booked an appointment with my doctor, and I was prescribed some topical medication. I was also told to have a skincare routine. Ever since then, I have all kinds of products to manage my acne, from Proactiv to Neutrogena's Oil Free Acne Wash (Who else has tried these?). Nothing has completely gotten rid of my acne; I am still stuck with frequent breakouts on my forehead and jaw-line, and my once oily skin has turned into a dry, flaky, and tight mess because of my acne medications. In addition to my active breakouts and dry skin, I have to deal with the hyper-pigmentation and scarring left over from the acne on my tanned, South Asian skin.
Because of the myriad of skin issues my face is riddled with, in the past year, I have become extremely interested in skincare. I have spent time doing research on the different types of skincare products and ingredients that are necessary for healthy skin. While doing my research, I found out about the Korean skincare routine. Korean women take their skincare very seriously. According to Charlotte Cho, co-founder of Soko Glam, a Korean skincare website, and author of The Little Book of Skin Care, in Asia, and especially in Korea, taking care of one's skin is seen akin to looking after one's health. Thus, Korean women often go through a long, multi-step skincare routine that involves double-cleansing, exfoliating, toning, moisturizing with essences, emulsions, and creams, and sheet masks.
Though I did not adopt a full-on Korean skincare routine, I found the philosophy behind it quite interesting, and today, I spend a little more time each evening to take care of my skin. Though I still have not completely settled on the products in my skincare routine, my skin feels much more healthier and rejuvenated now.
A couple of months ago, while logging out of my email, I came across the title of an article that had the words, "Korean skincare routine" and "feminism, and so immediately caught my eye. Being an ardent feminist and an aficionado of the Korean skincare routine and the concept behind it, I was intrigued and clicked on the article.
As I read through the article, I found out that many feminist academics and scholars who adopted the Korean skincare routine viewed it as a form of empowerment and self-care. Adeline Koh, a professor of English and digital humanities at Stockton University, wrote a blog post in which she shared her thoughts of an elaborate skincare routine as "a form of self-care, instead of a patriarchal trap." She also wrote, "For many women, especially women of color, we’re often told that we are only useful, only valuable when we devote ourselves to others; that caring for ourselves in the last thing that we should consider."
Other academics have said similar things, praising/favoring the Korean skincare routine's emphasis on gentleness and ritual. Some have even said that following the Korean skincare routine has helped them fight depression with its meditative rituals.
After reading how many women considered their elaborate Korean-style skincare routines as act of feminism, I started pondering the issue myself. I realized I felt the same way; for me, my skincare routine is not something I dread to do. In fact, I look forward to it because it is the most relaxing time of day for me. With the stress of school, homework, AP exams, and extracurriculars, I have been overwhelmed lately, and the half hour I take every evening to do my skincare routine is calming and allows me to unwind. Performing my skincare routine also allows me to feel as if I am exercising control of my own body, making sure my skin is healthy the way I want it to be (though my skin is going crazy right now, I just broke out with six pimples on the right side of my face……). In a way, my skincare routine is a form of self-empowerment for me, and I believe that anything that allows a woman to feel empowered and in-control, is a feminist act.
What do you think? Can elaborate skincare routines, such as the Korean skincare routine, be considered acts of feminism?