In so many ways, when I moved to Seoul, I didn’t know what to expect at all. One thing I wasn’t worried about, though: stuffing my face. That was definitely going to happen, and I thoroughly looked forward to it.
Growing up in L.A., whether you wanted Korean BBQ, bibimbap, or copious amounts of kimchi, the local Korean restaurants did not disappoint. I’d always enjoyed Korean cuisine growing up, and seeking out the authentic versions of my favorite dishes was high on my Seoul bucket list.
But as much as I had a good handle on the grub and the chopsticks, there were still new culinary subtleties that I started to pick up on. For example, banchan was not just an amuse-bouche, much less decor for the table, my aunt and uncle explained. Rather, it could make or break the main dish. The banchan served was so important to the harmony of the dish as a whole, they said, that if a restaurant specializing in oxtail soup didn’t have good kimchi and kkakdugi (spicy radish) to pair with it, then that restaurant was surely not long for this world.
Since all banchan was not created equal, my palate soon developed so that I knew what was bomb banchan or just mediocre. Also, unlike spinach dip or an onion blossom, you could gorge on banchan and not feel a shred of guilt. You were just consuming lots of fresh and fermented veggies, an essential part of Korea’s health-focused culture.
#sokosecret: Many Korean people believe that fermented foods, such as kimchi, are rich in beneficial bacteria, powerful antioxidants, and enzymes that help with digestion and boost the immune system.
But the healthy effects of my new Korean lifestyle didn’t stop at side dishes. When I worked at Samsung, my colleagues would ask me to join them on a walk along a landscaped trail that meandered not far from our office building. Originally, I interpreted these requests to be romantic gestures, but then I noticed that almost everyone in the company was out in pairs or small groups, walking off their lunch.
From yoga to hikes (which were taken seriously in head-to-toe professional hiking gear, not like L.A. hikes where you stroll up a hill in flipflops) to eating right, Koreans seemed to take their overall well-being as seriously as they took their skin care.
Obviously, while not everything about Korean culture was the healthiest (like late-night soju-drinking sessions or the heavy pork belly consumption), it was still clear to me that many people—whatever their age or gender— made a concerted effort to be knowledgeable about what was good for them and took steps to invest in and care for their bodies. This wasn’t a fad diet culture, as people seemed to understand and be okay with the fact that it might be twenty or thirty years before they reaped the benefits of what they were doing now. Instant gratification be damned—it will be worth it.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T Your Body
The basic truth: You can’t respect your skin but trash your body and still expect to look radiant. I’ve said before that skin care is more than skin deep, and I’ll say it again here. These are just a few tips for overall health that can have a major impact on your skin as well.
Drink a Lot of Water
Your body is about 60 percent water, so it makes sense that health authorities recommend drinking six to eight eight-ounce glasses a day (depending on if you exercise a lot). It keeps your immune system in tip-top shape, and it’s hard to find a healthy complexion on an unhealthy body.
Water is also connected to our blood circulation, which helps keep skin looking bright and fresh. But don’t overestimate the benefits of drinking water. I’ve heard this a million times: “I drink so much water. I don’t know why my skin is still so dehydrated all the time!” Here’s the deal: Water trickles down to your skin last. In other words, the water you drink is going to go to your kidneys, lungs, heart, and everything else first. You’re not going to suddenly achieve plump, hydrated skin by drinking a lot of water, because our bodies are just not that simple. You get the best results when you drink enough water and hydrate your skin topically with humectants that bind moisture to the skin.
Your skin will mirror what you eat. Eating a balanced diet is the optimal way to keep your body healthy, and it will also be reflected on the outside. So eat less of those things that end in -os (Cheetos, Doritos, Haribos) and more yogurts, greens, fish, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein.
But as with drinking water, what you eat won’t immediately improve your skin. Should you be eating an avocado or drinking green tea for the sake of your skin? Sure, the fatty acids and antioxidants are great sources of nutrition for your body as a whole. Like water, all the nutrients you get from food will be distributed to your vital organs first and then your skin. But in my book (and remember, this is my book!) this is just all the more reason to eat well, so that your mind and entire body (including your skin) are feeling nourished and in their optimal states.
Get Tons of Z’s
Go ahead, knock yourself out: Sleeping is one of the best things you can do for your skin. From running Soko Glam to writing this book to watching Running Man marathons (I can’t help it! Have you seen this show?), I’m no stranger to sleep deprivation. When I don’t get enough sleep, my body wastes no time in letting me know I’ve been very bad to it. I’m not as alert during the day and I get a lot of comments like, “Dude, you look tired.” But aside from just being groggy and not that much fun when you’re sleep deprived, the skin consequences range from puffy eyes to dark circles and even increased acne.
Why is getting seven to eight hours of deep sleep essential to your skin’s health? While you rest, your body repairs itself. During sleep, blood flows toward the skin (rather than your body’s core, as it does when you’re awake), and it brings oxygen to the skin. Also, sleep is when amino acid molecules build more collagen and fluid and toxins are drained.
Now you’re probably thinking about puffy eyes, which most of us have had to battle after pulling an all-nighter in college or a late-night job/school/boyfriend-related crying session. So what causes eyes to be puffy and, more important, how do we get rid of them?
While some of it can be hereditary (thank your parents), a lot of us do notice puffiness under the eyes after a night of tossing and turning. When we don’t get enough sleep, or enough good sleep, excess fluid near the skin isn’t transported to the bladder to be excreted; it sticks around in your face. There’s less fat in the area right under your eyes, so water retention is more apparent, and dark circles are specifically the result of lack of blood flow to the skin.
Sleep deprivation also weakens the skin barrier function (the immune system that blocks out bad bacteria and other foreign substances), which can lead to skin disorders like eczema and accelerate signs of aging.
Aw, stress. A lot of us have been here: You have a weird ailment, your doctor takes your temperature, pokes and prods you, and then says definitively, “It’s stress. You need to reduce your stress.” And then you’re just sitting there thinking, that can’t be right.
But your doctor is right; stress is something that we all have to learn to manage. It can make a significant impact on your overall health, and in your skin it shows in things like breakouts and premature aging.
How stress affects your body breaks down like this: Stress (including trauma, pain, illness, or just an everyday situation) causes your body to release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which are supposed to increase your energy and help you deal with whatever stressful situation is at hand. However, high levels of these hormones for a prolonged period of time weakens the epidermal barrier, which aggravates existing conditions or delays wound healing. When cortisol levels rise, sebaceous glands produce more oil. So this is why, when you’re already stressed about trying to look your best—right before a date with a cute boy, or when you find out it will rain on your outdoor wedding—a big fat honker of a pimple decides to land on your nose.
Want proof? Look no further than our presidential figures. I’m teased a lot by my friends (and my husband) about my crush on President Obama. But after seven years in office, President Obama looks like he’s aged twenty years—you can see gray hair, deep wrinkles, and skin that just looks less plump and more sallow. While I still think he’s the cutest out of all our presidents, it’s proof enough that stress can do a number on your skin. Obama might not get a chance to chill out anytime soon, but you should definitely do what you can.