Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Antioxidants, Retinols, and other active ingredients: a major discourse on the Western and Asian notions of skincare

It never ceased to amaze me the differences of Asian and Western skincare. Being an Asian who was born in the US but travels back to Asia frequently, I grew up under this difference. My grandmother, an Asian from head to toe always told me the Asian way of skincare, and my mother, a scientist in US always told me the American way. Both have gorgeous skin, so I never really knew who to listen to. Now that I've grown up, I have two dermatology doctors, one in the US, and one in Korea (the Korean one cannot really be defined as a dermatology doctor because this occupation is not prevalent in Korea, but he is a very well respected beauty specialist). I've hired them so that I can have beautiful skin, and finally know whether my mother or grandmother is correct, and guess what? I was only introduced to more controversies.

My American dermatologist has always told me to use tons of active ingredients in my skincare. He started me off with antioxidants when I was 16, plans on starting my retinol care when I am 27 and using a peptides cream when I turn 33. He introduced me to Benzoyl Peroxide, Sulfur, and Salicylic Acid when I had pimples (and yay, I have finally successfully went off Benzoyl Peroxide), and told me I can wear as much makeup as I want as long as I took it off properly at night. He introduced me to a lot of great masques that are very effective and quite pricey. He would have let me use a skincare line with a lot of active ingredients (skinceuticals) if my mother hadn't bulked and bought me Mamonde instead.

My Korean derm has always told me to be gentle to my skin, steer clear of active ingredients (except for a very select few), and use as little makeup as possible. His motto can be somewhat translated as "Don't fake it if you can't make it". He introduced me to a lot of great masques that I can only make at home, and insists on having me use skincare that is as simple as possible. He makes his own skincare, most of which has 5 ingredients at most, and he has great skin. His latest action is to start me off on Japanese horse oil, which I know is quite controversial as an animal lover, and jojoba oil. He knows me well enough to understand that I would never really use an oil as an moisturizer exclusively, but he highly recommends doing so.

Antioxidants was just another great area for them to disagree over. My American dermatologist and many other celebrity dermatologists believe antioxidants are essential at night because it absorbs any damages the UV rays or other free radicals have done to you during the day before it damages the deeper layers or your skin and your genes. Therefore, to him, it is never too young for anyone to start antioxidants care, especially in this environment we have.
My Korean derm was annoyed that my American derm started me off on an antioxidant as early as I was 16, telling me that people should not use antioxidants unless they know they have been in the sun without protection, and even then topical antioxidants should not be used very often, only in emergencies. He compared antioxidants to Benzoyl Peroxide, which if you read my earlier articles, caused me quite a lot of pain since even though it cleared my face, gave me post-inflamtary hyperpigmentaion. He told me that antioxidants are great for the skin while handing me a glass of soy-milk (which is another decision my Korean derm made for me: go off milk, which contains lactoise which might be harmful for some people's skin, and instead drink soy milk which is full of isoflavons and benefits) and a pomegranate. He told me that antioxidants should be eaten, and not applied topically. He told me that it is always better to eat my way to beautiful skin than eat a big Mac (and I saw him frowning for the first time, something he never does in the name of beautiful skin) a day and apply antioxidants and other stuff on my face and eat the condensed Vitamin C and vitamin E pills, which he said can cause cancer and is hard to be absorbed. He told me that he tells all of his favorite clients that the best way to have great skin and stay fit is to drink soymilk in the morning with two boiled eggs, drink 16 glasses of green tea everyday instead of water, and eat a huge serving of raw fruits and vegetables at lunch and dinner before eating anything else. He said that by the time he finishes his fruits and vegetables, he rarely have any room left for him to eat anything else.

I've been trying this diet those past weeks and I haven't had a breakout in 2 weeks, and I have lost 8 pounds. I am really happy, but I still don't know whether I should stop using antioxidants topically even though I am sure I eat more than enough everyday now. What do you think?


  1. What a great post! I am Chinese and am first generation Canadian. Growing up I've always felt like anything my mom or grandma would tell me about taking care of my skin was rubbish, and there is no "scientific evidence" to prove it. However I have learned the hard way, that while whatever they say might not be proven scientifically, it has worked time and time again. My skin has improved just by avoiding certain things that are "yeet hay". Such as mangoes?!?! I don't even know where to begin on translating this concept into English. I don't have sensitive skin but I have found any harsh acne treatments to actually make my skin worse.

    I personally feel that genes play a huge factor in skincare. My skin reacted really well when I switched over to using asian skincare products (Like you I am a lover of Laneige. I religiously use the White Plus Renew line). I introduced a few of my friends to it (some of whom were Caucasian), and it did not yield any above average results for them. But my Asian friends loved it!

    My bottom line is that it sometimes pays off to listen to what your mother has to say! =D And also, try not to get so caught up in media advertisements and the notion of whether something is proven scientifically or not. One thing that I think both Easterners and Westerners will agree on is drink lots of water! Water, tea, juice, milk, etc! But watch out for high sugar content (especially in juices). You need to take in a lot of liquid to flush out all the toxins in your body and stay hydrated. =)

  2. HI, Elaina, that's a great observation. I just knew that my mother's "scientific" method and my grandmother's "folk" method works equally well, but I never bothered to think that it might be because of the differences in genes between asians and westerners. It makes total sense, since westerners tend to have thinner, thus more sensitive and quicker to age skin. Their pores are also larger. My skin responds okay to both Asian and western products, but Asian products seem to work better, and just feel better overall. :) What you said about drinking lots of water is so true! All great skin, despite their genes, need lots of water to stay healthy.

  3. Wow! 16 glasses of green tea every day? I have to force myself to drink even half a bottle of water a day (horrible horrible habit, I know)! I wish I lived in Korea so I could go to korean dermatologists since I trust their advice (since I'm Korean). I love reading magazines and it really does seem as though American skincare revolves around active ingredients and the latest "good-for-you" ingredient.
    I really should eat more vegetables and get natural nutrients instead of spending so much money on topical products, hehehe.
    Your korean derm sounds cute (handing a glass of soy milk)! ^.^*

  4. haha, yeah, 16 glasses of green tea everyday is a lot, and even I can't manage it. I have to remind myself to finish my 8 glasses, but I have tried drinking 16 glasses, and it is really a great detox. I get great skin and lose weight in a week. Unfortunately, I can't really keep it up all the time.
    I like my Korean derm better than my American derm as well. :) He is really sweet and feels more personal. :)


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