#Makeup Monday Guest Post: How K-Beauty Restored My Faith in Skincare – WOC Guest Post


I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color.

If you’d like to submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration, email me at gettenure@gmail.com. I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, makeup and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here.

Today’s post is by Dr. Shahla Khan

Shahla Khan is an author, blogger and YouTuber when she isn’t teaching or researching. Life forced her to convert to feminism and she never looked back since.  She tweets from @ShahlaSparkle. 


Working for a Phd is not a bed of roses even for the best, most genius of us. Some people deal with it well with just a few bumps along the way while others like me are not so lucky.

My primary supervisor abandoning me in the middle of my studies for a better job elsewhere, threw me down the depression spiral. Things went so bad, the mental illness took toll on the physical health too. The impact that I am going to talk about in this article is the one on my face, my skin.

In my twenties my skin was super perfect. Even during puberty I never had acne. No scars. No pores. Just perfect radiant olive skin. In the above picture for example, I have some eyeshadow and some gloss on. There’s no foundation or mascara or layers of concealers. Nothing.

For some reason I could not maintain this effortless natural skin as the Phd took its toll on me. I started having cystic acne and my pores on my cheeks and nose were visibly enlarged.

It came as a shock and I completely stopped taking any pictures. My self esteem drastically reduced. No matter how much I told myself not to attach my self worth to my outer appearance, I’d be lying if I say it didn’t matter. Because for some reason if at any point I didn’t notice, I come from a family where my mom and sister would leave no chance to point out the slightest bit of imperfections on my face.

Being the youngest at home I’m at the receiving end of this game. They assume I’m always going to remain young and never grow old. So any white hair or any scar on the skin is instantly pointed out. They aren’t ill-intentioned, just too used to seeing me a certain way and then they see me differently, they can’t hide but react.

I got worried and started trying some of the well known skincare products in the market.

Now these are products people swear by so by no means these are scammy.

I tried:

I even expanded to The Ordinary products

  • Niacinamide
  • Peel off mask
  • Alpha arbutin

None of these worked.

The acne kept recurring. The scars wouldn’t even lighten. The skin looked dull. Pores enlarged and clogged and I cannot even describe the hyper pigmentation.

It’s not like none of these worked. The expensive brands like Estee Lauder, Dior and Lancome are great when your skin has no ‘trouble areas’. They’d give you the luxurious feel and probably a placebo but not work wonders. It didn’t for me. The Dior moisturisers for example, they have all these fancy descriptions but since I have an oily T zone and slightly dry cheeks, it produces so much oil on my face it feels like an oil well in Iraq.

I tried the Origins ranges with a lot of conviction, people saying all these great things about them. But unfortunately, not one of their products actually made any difference at all. There’s only one product that somewhat suited my skin, the Planscription serum that came as a sample. It didn’t produce oil and moisturised without stickiness. I know its main purpose is to help with wrinkles but in a sample pack I don’t think there’s enough to see if any wrinkles could be fixed, also I don’t have any yet. Up until then my hunt was only to find something that controlled the sebum, the first step to solve the pores and the acne issue.

I tried The Ordinary Skincare with even more hopes. The raving reviews and the YouTube sensation was just too promising. I ordered few products based on my skin issues. Sadly, not one worked. It may have worked if it stayed on my skin but for some reason none of these products actually stay on my skin. Just a few minutes after application, they begin to rub off. I thought at least the peeling mask, the red one making so much sensation on Youtube would work. But the problem is that it can be applied on unbroken skin only. My skin was already suffering from acne and I could not use the product as much as it suggested.

Then I came across a skincare concept that changed my life: Korean Beauty brands

Korean beauty or K-Beauty is not just a bunch of products, its a philosophy. Seriously, they have books written on this subject and I felt like I had been living in a cave that for all these years I had no clue such magical things existed.

K-Beauty is simple:

  1. Exclude all harmful substances such as alcohol, parabens, artificial fragrances and colours etc.
  2. Keeping the ingredient list as brief as possible so that you get more of the key ingredient, hence the targeted benefit.
  3. The widest range of natural flowers, fruits, plants and acids produced naturally in nature.
  4. Innovative kinds of products that are fun to use and don’t feel like chores; ampoules, serums, sheet masks, essences, sleeping packs etc.
  5. And the best thing; affordable.

I discovered revolutionary things like the pH level of the skin, the proper way to use a toner isn’t just wiping it off your face, that cleansing your face is a crucial step of skincare as important as brushing your teeth.  K-beauty is based on a 10 step skincare routine, the convenience and fun of using mask sheets and actual skin healing products that turned my skincare upside down.

Let me give you a brief list of the top best holy-grail of all the products I tried:

1- Some By Mi Miracle Toner

I think this was a total game changer for me. It’s full name is AHA-BHA-PHA 30 Days Miracle Toner. Tea tree is the key ingredient of this toner and it has a low pH which keeps the acidity of the skin in check, hence probably the control of acne. It perfectly provides a gentle chemical exfoliation and it has become the foundation of my skincare. I am waiting for the serum of the same range to be delivered too. The 30 days claim made in the name of the product is not a scam.

2- The Face Shop Rice Water Cleansing Oil

I had never ever used an oil based cleanser before and this was something I was too excited to try. The best part of using this product is that it does not strip your skin off the natural oils that your skin barrier needs. Of the uncountable reviews on this product on several websites, I have not read one person complain about this. Certainly worth a try.

3- Secret Key Starting Treatment Essence

Essences are somethings I had never tried before either. But in short I can tell you, the whole ‘glass skin’ hype on YouTube; it’s achievable by layering this in the night. Just pure magic.

4- CosrX blackhead power liquid and poreless power liquid

These are 2 wonder products from CosrX. All their products are highly rated but since I tried only these two, I can see why these are so famous. There are millions of products out there that claim to reduce pores but rarely any work. This won’t make your pores disappear because obviously skin has pores. But it will control sebum and make pores manageable. The blackhead liquid melts dirt stuck deep in your pores and clears it out.

5- Secret Key Starting Treatment Sleeping Pack

There is a reason why ‘beauty sleep’ is a thing. And how wonderful it is when you have a secret to wake up to a face that is actually glowing and not like you just fought a monster. The texture of this night pack is a gel consistency and quickly melts in your skin. The packaging is so luxurious, you’d think it may be a £50 plus dollar product. There’s plenty in a huge tub and you only use very little, a pea sized amount at a time. I can’t say enough nice things about it, you have to try it to feel that glow and plumpness in your skin when you wake up next morning.

I am not saying that any of the other luxury brands from French companies or Origins, Lush, Neutrogena and The Ordinary are useless. Of course they may work for people hence they are widely sold. But they failed me terribly. Not to mention a Dior or a Lancome that I could buy for about £50 plus, I could afford 5 magical, change creating, mind-blowing K-Beauty products at that price. When I was desperate, I didn’t even mind spending and got the top few from Dior, Estee lauder and Lancome. Only if they were worth it.

None of them could control sebum hence none worked on enlargement of my pores and ultimately they failed. After about 6 months of using a combination of K-Beauty products, I am close to my pre-depression face. I no longer need foundation and concealer to cover everything before I leave the house and am brave enough to take a selfie once in a while.

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.


#Makeup Monday Guest Post: How K-Beauty Restored My Faith in Skincare – WOC Guest Post — 1 Comment

  1. I loved this post and felt like I can completely relate. The stress of grad school and its toll on my skin, fitness and everything has taken a hit at my confidence. I have heard of the Korean Beauty lines and know they have become the hype in skincare but never took it seriously. This post is pushing me to try it myself. Loved this read, thank you!

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