How Do Korean Women Brighten Their Skin

I never knew how much Korean skin was glorified until I became more active on social media. In a world where growing up Asian was once a nuisance (and still is in Western society), there now seems to be a K-craze where everything Korean is put on a pedestal as something to aspire to – even “looking Korean” (when you’re a different Asian ethnicity) is viewed as a compliment of the highest order. The insidious nature of these types of compliments points to the Korean beauty industry’s dark side, but that’s a whole topic I’ll save for a different post perhaps. Korea’s obsession with beauty and excellence (its reputation as the biggest plastic surgery capitol in the world initially made the world look down on South Korea) has gradually led to the country becoming the global reference in the beauty industry. All eyes are on Korea, especially the seemingly perfect skin Korean women don. And the biggest question seems to be how Korean women brighten their skin.


The Basics: Good Skincare & Sunscreen

To keep hyperpigmentation from every happening, you need to have the basics of good skincare down. Most importantly, wearing sunscreen 365 days a year, re-applying every few hours (as UV filters break down and stop working after a few hours) and generally staying out of the sun.

DIY Face Masks

A popular skincare mask that generations of Korean women have done at home is a very thinly sliced cucumber mask. You take a cucumber and slice it transparently thin and apply all over the face. Multiple layers can be applied and they must be allowed to sit on the face for at least a few hours to really work. Generally, you’re supposed to remove them once you’ve noticed they’ve started to dry out.

Cucumbers have brightening and soothing properties thanks to the vitamins and antioxidants in them.

Warning: Some people have skin that’s allergic to cucumbers and will experience a reaction. Do not use if this is you.

Rice Water

Anything rice will help brighten skin (and help with acne). Simply soak any rice for half an hour in water or boil for a few minutes over the stove if you’re short on time. Apply the solution to your skin like a toner.

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You can also use rice flour to create a paste for added benefits.

If this sounds like too much work, use this K-Beauty rice product instead as a mask overnight.

What to buy:

Laser Treatments

Korean women brighten their skin with laser treatments (ie IPL laser and CO2 laser). Of course, this is only an option if you have the money to afford more expensive treatments.

If professional laser sessions are out of your budget, there are laser devices you can purchase that bring the technology into your home.

The most well-known skin laser for at-home use is the LYMA Laser, which is used by celebs who can afford the $2700 price tag.

A more affordable at-home laser is the JOVS Black DPL Photorejuvenation laser which has a “Whiten” mode. Both these devices have global shipping.

How to Lighten Dark Spots

This is the question that has plagued me all my adult life thanks to all the sun damage the California sun and obsession with tan skin caused growing up.

What I’ve learned through experience is that it’s very difficult to completely get rid of dark spots without resorting to advanced methods and putting in a ton of effort. If it were easy we would all be walking around with perfect even skin tone like children do. Perfect skin is wasted on children?.

I don’t believe there is ever going to be ONE thing that will get rid of dark spots. It takes a 360 degree holistic inside and out approach in my opinion.

To make things simple, I’ve drafted out an example plan you can implement to lighten dark spots. A sort of checklist so to speak.

  • Supplements
  • Skincare
  • Sunscreen
  • *Treatments*

The first three (supplements, skincare, sunscreen) are the basics that you need to maintain year round, but they’re not actually going to get rid of dark spots. It’s going to lay the groundwork for your treatments to actually be effective AND help prevent more dark spots from forming. If your skin reacts very positively though, some people find theirs fade just be following the basics. Most of us aren’t that lucky though.

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Supplements to Fight Dark Spots

These are the supplements I recommend incorporating into your wellness routine to fight hyperpigmentation. (Always consult with your doctor. I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice!)

  • Polypodium leucotomos: This is a fern native to South America that helps protect the skin from UV damage. A study found that taking Polypodium leucotomos extract 240mg taken twice daily for 60 days was a safe and effective means for reducing the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation.
  • Glutathione: Glutathione is the most important low molecular-weight antioxidant synthesized in cells and studies have shown it lowers the melanin index.

What to buy:


Please do not overdo these and incorporate them gently into your routine. You absolutely need these skincare ingredients in your routine to fight hyperpigmentation:

  • Vitamin C serum: Use daily in the morning (some people are too sensitive to Vitamin C and have adverse skin reactions)
  • Retinol serum: Use nightly
  • Exfoliators

I would even go so far as to say that a strong exfoliator is more important than a retinol depending on your age. You need to take off the dead skin cells in order to attack the hyperpigmentation at the source. Again, proceed with caution and don’t overdo it either as you may wreak havoc on your skin by disjointing your skin barrier.

What to buy:


Not wearing sunscreen is just sabotaging your skin everyday, allowing current dark spots to worsen and new ones to form.

Use an SPF 50 when going outdoors and an SPF 15 or 30 when staying indoors.

When outdoors, you *must* re-apply every few hours. Sunscreen begins to break down as soon as it is in contact with UV rays. If you think it’s a one and done application and you’re protected throughout the day, think again! Your man who doesn’t have a single dark spot and was born with 30% more collagen in his skin than you might be able to get away with that, but you cannot!

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What to buy:

Treatments for Dark Spots

Now that we’ve got the daily maintenance down as the foundational groundwork for removing dark spots, we get into the heavy hitters.

  • Medium Chemical Peel (downtime required): This essentially removes your top layer of skin. It’s like a start over button so you can begin life again with new skin (that you shall and will protect from sun damage and new dark spots!). If you work at a front-facing or office job, you’ll need to take some days off on days 3-4 when the peeling is the worst.
  • Laser (which laser is best will depend on the dermatologist looking at your skin and making their recommendation based on their professional analysis): Wealthier Koreans and celebrities have tons of money at their disposal to get all kinds of laser treatments regularly to keep their skin looking a certain way.


Please note these treatments are not for everyone and you must always consult with a professional.

More Ways Koreans Lighten Their Skin

Using Foundation that’s Shades Lighter

Korean women use foundation that’s 1-2 shades lighter than their skin tone. Faking a different skin tone means you can’t forget the neck and under the ears. If you don’t actually live in South Korea and don’t see real Koreans everyday (Koreans can be tan too), then you’re only seeing them through a digital screen and how they’re represented on social media, edited visuals and TV shows. Everything can be faked with makeup.


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