Frisky Q&A: Charlotte Cho Shares Her Korean Beauty Secrets

Given how trendy and expansive Korean skincare has become globally, it was only a matter of time before a book was written about it. And starting today, skincare fanatics can add a handy sink-side companion to their bathroom shelf. Enter Charlotte Cho, co-proprietor of K-beauty e-commerce site Soko Glam and author of The Little Book of Skin Care: Korean Beauty Secrets for Healthy, Glowing Skin (William Morrow/HarperCollins), to dish on the best tried-and-true tutorials and digestible breakdown of the scientific-sounding ingredients you need to know for the dewiest of faces.

In actuality,The Little Book of Skin Care is anything but a small read. There’s a lot to take in from these pages, from understanding the infamous “10-step skincare routine,” to tossing the products that contain harmful chemicals, to mastering the Korean double cleanse (more on that later). Like an epidermal superhero, Cho dispels common myths left and right, such as how great skin comes purely from genetics or why witch hazel is not all it’s cracked up to be. And beyond beauty, Cho goes into far-flung corners of Korean culture and shares her favorite K-dramas, food dishes, hotspots, and more, which could easily inspire a trip over to Seoul, undoubtedly the trendiest international city in recent history.

Ahead, we chat with Cho about the best products for first-time dabblers, how frequent travelers can pamper on the road, and how skin care is anything but a skin deep issue. The Little Book of Skin Care: Korean Beauty Secrets for Healthy, Glowing Skin is out today.

The Frisky: You grew up in Cali, worked in Seoul, and now live in NYC. How do you think living in this particular city has changed your skin care routine?

Charlotte Cho: Great question! Environmental conditions have so much to do with the look and health of your skin. Living in Manhattan means a lot of walking and exposure to the elements. Since moving to NYC, I make sure to “double cleanse” daily to get all that pollution off my face that collects throughout the day.

A double cleanse starts with a oil-based cleanser like the Banila Co Clean it Zero to remove SPF and makeup and ends with a water-based cleanser like the Benton Honest Cleansing Foam to clean away dirt and sweat.Pollution contains free radicals, which break down elastin and collagen, resulting in wrinkles. So don’t forget to cleanse every morning and night!

Because I’m a pretty typical New Yorker who’s always pressed for time, I like to use multi-tasking products like the RE:P Nutrinature All-in-one Multi-Item which combines toner, essence, and lotion in a single product. If I multitask when I’m in a rush, why shouldn’t my products?

How has your blog Soko Glam evolved since it first started?

I started blogging when K-beauty was still essentially unheard of in the U.S. It was something I knew and loved, and wanted other people to love it too. Blogging was a way for me to make that happen, so I did so on The K-Beauty Log, now called THE KLOG. Soko Glam is an extension of that. It started as a place for me to showcase the best selection of products coming out of Korea and give people who aren’t from there the chance to get the products themselves. That’s still true, but now we have more than ever. In addition to my personal picks, we have what’s most popular as well as what’s up-and-coming.

Have you noticed your readers also evolving over the years?

Many of the blog’s regular readers and Soko Glam’s customers are those who’ve stuck with me from the beginning (I see you!), and even more are new K-beauty converts seeking solutions for whatever skin care issue they might be facing. Soko Glam and THE KLOG has evolved from being my personal passion project into a community where people who are ultra-passionate share their beauty knowledge and get excited about skin care. It’s so exciting to me to see just how adventurous they are when it comes to Korean beauty. In fact, people refer to us as their “skin care bible” for the in-depth skin tips and tutorials, product reviews, and exclusive interviews with beauty experts. And after following our tips, many have shared that they’ve received so many compliments from others about their skin!

What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about skin care?

The phrase “dermatologist-recommended” is written on countless of brands. Take this marketing phrase with a grain of salt, because anyone can endorse a product if they pay for it; it definitely doesn’t mean the product is magical or is going to be a perfect fit for everyone’s unique skin type and concerns. And for the men out there, there is no such thing as a male skin-care line. Skin is skin, and you should shop by skin type or skin concerns. Most of the time, the only difference between “men’s” skin care and “women’s” skin care is the packaging and fragrance.

What do you think is more important, the AM or PM routine? (Do you find yourself spending more time on one or the other?)

That’s a tough one, because both are equally important for the health of your skin! In the morning, you shouldn’t walk out that door without applying sunscreen like the Goodal Mild Protect Watery Sun Cream. Even with a few minutes of sun exposure, UVA and UVB rays can damage collagen fibers, contributing to sagging and wrinkles. The worst case scenario is that you can get skin cancer, which is actually more prevalent than people realize. It’s the most common cancer, accounting for nearly half of all cancer cases in the United States.

In the evening, cleansing your skin is important. A combination of makeup, bacteria and excess sebum can lead to breakouts. And as I mentioned before, the pollution that collects on the skin throughout the day contains free radicals, which break down elastin and collagen, causing wrinkles.

You call out plenty of products in the book … but which are the products you absolutely can’t live without?

My current skin care routine includes the Neogen Fresh Foam Cleanser in Green Tea. It’s formulated with green tea extracts (instead of water) and has real green tea leaves at the base of the cleanser so you can get most out of the antioxidants. The fluffy foam feels heavenly on my skin. It’s such a great way to start and end my day. The Son & Park Beauty Water is also a current favorite Korean skincare product that multi-tasks, so it cuts down on some of my steps in the routine. It’s a micellar water that tones, cleanses, and exfoliates. Like many Korean toners, it’s formulated with gentle, hydrating ingredients. Many Korean celebrities and models use this religiously, as do I!

What is your advice for the frequent traveler who may not be able to bring all of her products with her? (Do you have a personal solution for this dilemma?)

There are so many amazing Korean beauty products that are travel-friendly. The RE:P Organic Cotton Treatment Toning Pad are travel-friendly pads soaked with damask rose, tea tree, and calendula extracts to lightly hydrate skin and restore pH balance. The Skinfood Brown Rice Cleansing Tissues are amazing oil-based cleansing tissues that help breakdown any oil-based debris (such as pollution, makeup, and excess sebum) like a charm! They’re so easy to use and one of my favorite travel-friendly Korean beauty products. If you’re on a budget, I recommend hoarding samples you get when shopping for cosmetics. Those are so lightweight and can usually last a few days. Or, you can always use travel-sized bottles to dispense your products in.

If someone is trying Korean products for the first time and don’t want to be overwhelmed, where would you recommend they start?

Adventurous ingredients is what makes K-beauty so interesting and innovative. Moisturizers such as the Benton Snail Bee Lotion are formulated with snail mucin and bee venom extracts, which plump up fine lines and restore hydration. Also look out for fermented yeast extract, that is found in the Missha First Treatment Essence. Essences are a very popular Korean skin care category that treat the skin by increasing cellular turnover. It makes skin bright and even.