Protect Your Skin The Korean Way

In South Korea, the latest obsession in skin care seems to be "face-locking." No, this isn't some kind of pop-and-lock massage technique, although that would be kind of cool. Formulas are touting their ability to fortify skin and create a secondary barrier to "lock in" all the products you’ve applied during your skin-care regimen. While I had never suspected that my products were just flying off my face after application, according to some brands that's apparently what’s happening.

One of the key factors in the aging process is the loss of moisture. As we age, skin deflates and wrinkles, and a mix of genetics, diet, and environmental factors help this evil process along. The skin barrier is our champion, and is made up of chains of little cells held together with lipids. Think of it as the red-rover line of defense against that precious water trying to escape. Sadly, external factors like pollution and UV rays weaken the barrier significantly.

I first picked up on makeup-as-face-armor a few years ago, when the Korean population was starting to grapple with mounting pollution and air-quality issues. Not to sound like a total doomsdayer, but pollution is like poison for your complexion — and what the sun doesn’t suck out in terms of moisture and skin structure, the winter months will rob you of with harsh winds and freezing temperatures. So, basically, a barrier is the answer your skin has been waiting for.

In Korea, technological innovations have pressed forward to the point where even your rice cooker is expected to do more than cook rice (mine makes yogurt, too). Technology answers the call of shielding your face, too. The new class of skin-care products, which I consider the Avengers of skin, protect your complexion in a multitude of ways — sunscreen to block out UV rays, antioxidants to combat free radicals, ceramides to fortify the skin barrier, and protective films that form another defensive layer on the face. Combined with a glow-seeking obsession over beautifully hydrated skin, this has resulted in a beauty arms race to keep skin plump and hydrated.

Bottom line: Security detail for your face is important. You can sneak this batch of products into any routine, so they'll serve and protect you. Click ahead to see our picks.

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If you immediately think of diapers when you hear "barrier cream," you’re not alone. These creams are topical, water-repelling formulas, typically used to stop chafing. They usually contain silicone or zinc oxide as the “surfactant emollient,” or barrier.

The Korean skin-care industry has taken the traditional concept of barrier creams and adapted it for application as a part of a skin regimen. On the face, the cream should go on as the very last product in your routine because in theory once it goes on, nothing comes in (not even water) or out. Ads for the creams often show water droplets rolling off the skin, demonstrating how effectively the product makes the skin impervious to any intrusions.

True to its name, TonyMoly Face Locking Cream is a thick gel that will lock down that moisture. This will be a comfort to anyone who’s taken the time to apply a slew of expensive skin-care products. This cream creates a physical barrier to ensure optimal absorption. In the winter months, it's amazing at protecting the face from harsh winds and overly aggressive heaters that can dry out the face.

TonyMoly Dust and the City Face Locking Cream, $25, available at TonyMoly.
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Sometimes your skin needs an added boost of moisture, especially in winter — which can feel like an all-out assault on your complexion. This mask makes use of bamboo to moisturize skin and help the skin barrier in its water-retaining function. Keeping one desk-side makes for a convenient quickie to throw on when needed throughout the day, and since it’s clear and you don't need to rub it in, you can avoid weird looks from coworkers.

Erborian Bamboo Waterlock Masque, $43, available at Sephora.
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Mists are an excellent way to keep skin hydrated continuously. Feeling a little parched? Get to spritzin'. This mist from Holika Holika is not your average spray. It’s formulated with mineral water, essential oils, and Osmopur, a protecting complex that the brand says shields skin from environmental irritants and pollution.

Holika Holika Dust Out All Day Long Mask Mist, $8.49, available at Korea Depart.
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This serum sends in the foot soldiers. Its cocktail of fermented oils contains amino acids and ceramides, which help to repair the skin barrier and boost the skin’s ability to retain water. The result is super-moisturized skin without a dry patch in sight.

Goodal Super Seed Oil Plus Moist Emulsion, $34, available at Soko Glam.
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Melting creams are hard balms that melt and emulsify when coming in contact with skin. This popular product has sold over 50,000 units in two weeks, and is famous for creating a dewy glow. It’s also a favorite of Korean actress Yeo-jeong Jo. Its lightweight formula contains a mistletoe-and-ceramide complex to fortify barrier function.

Goodal Moisture Barrier Cream, $35, available at Club Clio Professional.
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In Korea, the consensus is that wearing makeup is better for you than going out barefaced. Imagine living in a polluted city like Seoul, and you’ll understand. The idea is that makeup serves as a barrier to all the grit and grime in the air. Innisfree took this idea to the next level with its Dust Block foundation, which creates a protective film over skin. The coverage is natural; more like a tinted moisturizer. The texture is slightly watery, making it easy to apply. I also appreciate that it comes in a small container, as I usually end up chucking foundation before reaching the bottom.

Innisfree Smart Foundation Dust Block SPF 35 PA++, $4.73, available at Korea Depart.
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“Finishers,” or “finish creams,” are meant to be the last step of your routine; they boost the efficacy and absorption of the skin-care products used before them and prep skin for the makeup to come. Banila Co.’s finish cream, which has been featured on Korea’s top beauty show Get It Beauty, is well-known for its glow-inducing magic.

Banila Co. Moisturizing Finish Cream, $25.96, available at Korea Depart.
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Sulwhasoo was one of the first brands to introduce the concept of a finisher to the cosmetics industry. The Luminature Essential Finisher is packed with potent ingredients to increase your skin’s metabolism and enhance previously applied products. Even as a standalone product, this vial packs a skin-care punch. It contains concentrates of five roots of ginseng and the antioxidant benefits of 110 cups of green tea. That's a lot of tea — like, a-lot a lot. Its light, fluid formula glides on more like a serum than a cream, and lends a nice, illuminating glow.

Sulwhasoo Luminature Essential Finisher, $90, available at Sulwhasoo.
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At night, this cream from CNP Laboratory is a guardian angel. The rich, hydrating formula forms an impenetrable wall to moisture-sappers. Use it at the end of your p.m. skin-care routine, and you’ll wake up to beautifully plumped skin. I wouldn’t recommend it during the day, as it tends to pill disastrously if you try to put any makeup on top of it.

CNP Laboratory Hydro Intensive Cream, $38.25, available at Korea Depart.
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