September 19, 2014

Skincare Tips #4: Sun protection is very important! And a bit complicated, too!

Sun protection is crucial. Crucial, I tell you! Sun damage causes: wrinkling, aging, skin thickening, brown discolorations, visible and/or broken capillaries, and skin cancer. It’s a huge reason why skin ages in the first place. People’s hands and necks often look older than their faces, and the difference is in the amount of sun protection. We put SPF-containing products on our face, but we often neglect our hands and necks, and that causes them to age first.

Types of UV Rays:

UVA and UVB are the two types we need to concern ourselves with:
1. UVB:
  • Causes sunburn
  • Causes gene mutation, which then causes abnormal growth patterns
  • Largely locked by the ozone layer (except, of course, where the ozone layer has a hole--Australia)
  • Also blocked by glass windows

2. UVA:
  • Causes tanning and free-radical damage
  • This damage begins as soon as your skin sees daylight, not just after getting a deep tan.
  • Not blocked by windows, the ozone layer, or even clouds
Extra Notes:
  • UV radiation is strongest between 10am – 2pm.

  • Wearing a hat or staying in the shade is only helpful to block the sunlight hitting you from directly above. UV rays still reflect off of other surfaces (cement, snow, grass, water), which will then attack your skin from below.

  • Darker skin (brown melanin) is less prone to skin cancer than light skin tones (yellow and red melanin). However, the risk of sun damage (i.e. wrinkles) is still there.

All about Sunscreen

The meaning of SPF:
SPF does not mean amount of protection. It means duration of tolerance. It only tells you how long you can stay in the sun without being sunburnt. Let’s take SPF 25, for example, a very common SPF in cosmetics. Wearing an SPF 25 means you can stay out in the sun 25 times longer than normal without getting sunburnt.

In other words, a high SPF only means that you can stay in the sun longer without being sunburnt (compared to with a low SPF.) It doesn’t mean better protection, though, only longer protection. You are never 100% protected from all UV rays at any given point. You can be 98% protected, though! Although SPF doesn’t directly refer to the quality or amount of protection, it turns out that a higher SPF does indeed correlate with a higher amount of protection: 
SPF UV Protection
2 50%
4 70%
8 80%
15 94%
30 97%
50 98%
70 98%

As you can see, it levels off after SPF15. It’s also important to note that 2% of UV rays are still enough to trigger a tanning response.

Another important thing to note about SPF is that we’re talking about sunburn, not sun tanning. Remember how we talked about UVA and UVB above, and how sunburn and tanning are caused by different UV rays? (Sunburn is caused by UVB while tanning is caused by UVA.) This is the very reason why you can wear sunscreen but still get tan. SPF only addresses sunburn, and this means it only refers to blocking UVB radiation, not UVA.

Now that doesn’t mean that sunscreens don’t prevent tanning at all. It's just that there is no SPF-like system for UVA blockage (tanning) like there is with UVB (sunburn.) There are ingredients that prevent tanning (by blocking UVA), though, and all we can do is look out for the following:
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Zinc oxide
  • Tinosorb
  • Ecamsul (aka Mexoryl)
  • Avobenzone (aka butyl methoxydibenzyl methane)

How to apply sunscreen properly:
Liberally. Thick layers. Applying it thinly or diluting it lowers the SPF value. The SPF value written on the package is under the premise that the sunscreen is applied liberally. (This is something to consider if your sole sunscreen is the SPF in your makeup. Unless you pack on the foundation and/or pressed powder, the sun protection may not be adequate.) Sunscreen should also be reapplied after swimming, sweating, or even after washing your hands.

High SPF sunscreens do contain a higher concentration of sunscreen ingredients, which can offset the issue of not applying liberally enough. However, more sunscreen ingredients also means more potential irritation.

Good sunscreen ingredients to look out for:
Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These two ingredients are the least likely to cause irritation and/or an allergic reaction. They also block out a good portion of the UVA spectrum (the tanning rays.) The downside of these is that they leave a white cast, as well as block the flow of oil from your pores. One option is to look for sunscreens that use multiple active sunblock ingredients instead of only titanium dioxide. This will reduce the risk of clogging pores.

Water-resistant sunscreens:
By definition, water-resistant sunscreens are able to maintain the same SPF even after being immersed in water for 40 minutes. “Very water-resistant” means it lasts for 80 minutes:

Water resistance is beneficial for exercise or swimming; however, the acrylates in these water-resistant formulas can look icky under makeup, and hence not ideal for everyday wear:

Sensitivity caused by using AHAs, BHAs, and tretinoin:
(AHAs and BHAs stand for Alpha hydroxy acid and Beta hydroxy acid, both of which are categories of weak acids that gently exfoliate your skin. Salicylic acid is a common one often found in cleansers, for example.)

These skincare products are known to make your skin more sensitive to sun. Why? Simply because these products exfoliate your top layer off. Your top layer of skin is already thicker and wrinkled from sun damage, which is a sort of protection in and of itself (although very weak.) By exfoliating this off to reveal fresh, new skin underneath, your skin is now more vulnerable to sun damage. Because of this, it is especially important to have sun protection when using any of these products.

Airi’s Notes:

There’s so much emphasis placed on moisture and anti-aging that we overlook the importance of sun protection, so we need to remind ourselves every day. It’s not even about having pale skin, it’s about having healthy skin.

Sunscreens are gross, I know. The texture is tacky and it doesn’t sit well with makeup. But there are sunscreens with nice textures out there. The very same effort we spend on finding a good serum we should also spend on finding a good sunscreen, one with a nice texture that we won’t hesitate to use daily. Though in my case, I’m also a sunscreen + hide-under-my-jacket type of girl XD

Whew that was long! But here's to healthy, happy skin!

September 16, 2014

Speaking honestly: Are Koreans racist? And if so, how does it affect life? (Warning: long post, sensitive topic)

This is a very sensitive topic. I will be talking about race, and it may not be what you want to hear. I am going to be very honest and upfront, but remember that you are not obliged to read anything that might upset you. Believe me, I know what it's like to dream about a country or a culture as your ideal place. And it's very easy to become defensive and protective of the image we have of it. However, I will not tolerate any attacks or insults directed at me out of willful ignorance. If you do choose to read this, please remember that these are not my own opinions. I am simply reporting on what I’ve gathered and observed from living in Korea and familiarizing myself with the culture and people.

Yes, yes they are. There’s no question about it. Many native Koreans, when in a safe environment with close acquaintances, will admit it as well. Koreans are, on average, more judgmental about race than the average American.

Korea is a very homogenous country. Unlike in Canada or America where many of your acquaintances have their own ethnicity and culture, there is little variation in Korea—just about everyone is Korean. Everyone's friends, classmates, and teachers all have the same black hair, brown eyes, and Korean features as they do. They all celebrate the same holidays, share the same values, and carry the same mannerisms. As a result, Korea is a very close-knit and nationalistic society. To be fair, I doubt Korea is any more racist than other East Asian countries. I can’t speak for Southeast Asia or all Western countries, but I know that China and Japan have a similar attitude toward racial differences.

The racial hierarchy centers loosely around the development and wealth of the country in question. But as you'll see, it correlates greatly with skin color—lightest at the top, darkest at the bottom. The following is a *crude* (emphasis on the crude) diagram that depicts how non-Korean races/countries are often ranked in people’s minds:

  • USA
  • Europeans, other predominantly-white countries
  • Japan
  • Taiwan, Hong Kong
  • China
  • Southeast Asia
  • Philippines
  • Blacks
  • (There are some countries that I didn't include and I apologize for that. I don't know about the rest; it never came up in conversations and I forgot to ask.)

    A couple points of elaboration:

    USA: Americans are generally treated very well by Koreans. It goes back to the Korean War, where America played a humongous role in helping South Korea. Quick history lesson: China and North Korea had overpowered South Koreans and forced them all the way south. Busan was the only city that had not yet been seized by North Korea. Then America came in and cleverly cut off the North Korean army's supply lines, pushed the North Korean army all the way back up, and recaptured Seoul. And for this, Koreans have an exuberantly friendly attitude towards Americans. This attitude has even trickled down to the current generation.

    Japan: The hatred towards Japan stems from history—the colonization, war atrocities, comfort women, all the way to the modern day Dokdo/Senkaku Islands dispute. As one would imagine, this hatred is stronger with the older generation. As for the younger generation, they also resent the Japanese government. But in terms of regular Japanese people and Japan as a whole, it fades into a mixture of contempt, rivalry, and finding them strange. Unlike China and other Southeast Asian countries, Koreans don’t necessarily look down upon the Japan, given that Japan is an undeniably developed and wealthy country. Rather, it’s more of a resentment for their politics and history, as well as a rivalry (constantly trying to one-up them in whatever they can.) Another aspect is pop culture. Japanese and Korean pop culture and style are vastly different, and many Koreans find Japan’s “otakuness” weird and off-putting.

    China: Unlike Japan, China is be one of the countries that is actually looked upon by many Koreans as subordinate. That is, it’s perceived to be lower than Korea, almost as if less civilized. This ill impression of China likely has to do with the news stories that come from China, though I can’t say for sure. What I can say is that there are many Chinese immigrants in Korea, and they are perceived similarly to how Mexicans are sometimes perceived in America—coming and “stealing” jobs, things like that. However, I hear that this is slowly changing as Koreans are beginning to realize that there are, in fact, many wealthy Chinese.

    Blacks: The perception and treatment of blacks varies. With the emergence of hip hop in Korean pop culture, some blacks are seen as cool. Black men can be seen as strong and masculine. In this case, these blacks are often treated the same as white American foreigners—that is, viewed as charming, exotic and treated very well as a result. However, there is also the possibility of the exact opposite. Many Korean people also see blacks as dirty, scary, and in the extreme case, less than human. This is more likely to happen to blacks from Africa rather than blacks from America. (And by "less than human" I don't mean people will literally think that they're not human; I mean that they won't treat them with the basic respect and consideration that a human being deserves.)

    I know that some black English teachers have testified online or in videos that Koreans are not racist, and I of course can say nothing against their experiences. However, I also think there is a possibility that the language barrier prevented many of the negative comments from being understood. There is an episode of Hello Counselor where a black student from Africa, fluent in Korean, talked about the discrimination he faced in Korea. People would make racist comments in Korean (assuming he couldn’t understand), refused to sit next to him on the subway, and when he told a girl that he was from Africa and not America, her face showed disappointment. His friend also told a story of how an ajumma blocked the seat next to her on the subway (using her legs) so that he couldn’t sit down.

    Ethnic Asians who grew up abroad: I did not include this in the chart due to position ambiguity. However, in the case that an Asian American is asked, “Where are you from?” replying with his/her ethnicity implies that they actually grew up there. In other words, to say that one is Chinese implies that he/she is literally from China. And as you can guess, naming an Asian country will elicit a different (less positive) reaction from naming a Western country. Another aspect to consider about being Asian American is the ability to speak English. In Korea, English is such a valued skill that it’s almost synonymous to power.

    How does this affect daily life?

    First, it’s important to note that this concept of being treated well and not being treated well applies predominantly to foreigners who live in Korea long term. Going to Korea as a tourist is a very different experience than staying to live; the sample size of experiences is incomparable. Staying long term while working or going to school subjects you to many small, daily life experiences that you don’t get as a tourist. Furthermore, people who are clearly tourists are generally well received, regardless of ethnicity.

    As far as the quality of treatment, it’s not so much that non-white foreigners are treated poorly, as it is that white foreigners are simply treated that much better. Have you heard of the term “white privilege”? It’s a horrible-sounding term, I know. I want to clarify that I am not attacking anyone with this. But to really wrap our heads around this racial divide in Korea, we have to come to terms with the fact that white foreigners are seen as enchanting, exotic, and beautiful in Korea. As a result, people are generally very patient and polite to them. It’s not uncommon to be showered with compliments or given free gifts (extra cookies at cafes, free drinks at restaurants, extra prizes and freebies from street stands or raffles, extra food from food stands, or perhaps even random food from random strangers.) In a way, they're treated better than Koreans themselves.

    On the other hand, while being non-white doesn’t necessarily mean that one will be treated poorly, it's likely that they still won’t be treated quiite as nicely without the mystique of being white. People might be less peppy and willing to help, for example. They’re less likely to compliment the foreigner’s beauty, nor randomly give them extra cookies or tteokbokki. In the event that this foreigner doesn’t speak Korean, it’s very possible that Koreans will be less patient and more frustrated with his/her not understanding than they would for a white person. Being frustrated means either raising their voice, being passive aggressive, maybe outright rude, or otherwise clear about their displeasure to help.

    Now I don’t mean to imply that being white makes every single day in Korea glorious, nor that being non-white means constant oppression. The examples above are under the assumption that the foreigner speaks little to no Korean, and even then they won't happen every day. In terms of daily life, it basically boils down to a difference in people's enthusiasm and willingness to help—more enthusiastic to help white foreigners, less enthusiastic to help non-white. Apart from this, the mentality of looking down upon other races is generally kept behind closed doors. This is because for most people, this racial prejudice is unconscious (rather than being an constant, active thought) and comes mainly from overgeneralizing a country or a culture as a whole.

    In other words, people may think racist thoughts when judging a country or culture from afar, but those thoughts won't necessarily come into play when actually interacting with someone face-to-face. Adults understand that these thoughts are not politically correct, so even if they do believe in them, they know it’s unacceptable to say or display them in public (although some people are certainly more transparent than others.)

    It’s similar to online trolls. They think and say hateful things when judging from the comfort of their own home, but they could never own up to these actions in public. Trolls would probably act supportive or empathetic in the face of someone they secretly dislike.

    Speaking of public displays, there are many multiethnic idol groups nowadays. You may also hear idols speak positively of foreign celebrities—they might say Rihanna is beautiful, for example. The thing to remember is that not every Korean person will be as open-minded or politically correct as an idol. Idols get more exposure to other cultures than a regular person would because they travel and live with their fellow foreign members. Similarly, not every foreigner is part of a Kpop group or as famous as Rihanna. What fans feel about a handsome idol or celebrity doesn't necessarily represent how they feel about that country or of the people as a whole.

    And of course, not everyone is racist. I, too, am generalizing about the average, regular Korean person. There are certainly many outliers. Just like anywhere else, some Koreans are nice, some are mean, some are racist, and some are not. Then there’s every point in between.

    Just to reiterate, these are not my own opinions. In this post I only mean to divulge in honesty how things are; I've done my best to leave out my own opinions about this. But as you can probably guess, this racism upsets me a lot. However, I in no way mean to blame or put pressure on anyone. No country is perfect, and Korea is far from alone in this. Lastly, please remember that there are many factors that will affect someone's experience, so no one can guarantee what yours will be.

    September 13, 2014

    Snippets of Everyday Life, Episode 13: Yummy little foods

    It’s been a long time since I did a Snippets post! For those of you who don’t know, my Snippets in Everyday Life series is where I share pictures of everyday things and sights in Korea. It’s sort of like Instagram, except in higher quality. :)

    I realized that my blog posts are so darn long compared to most, so this time I’ll keep it short for a change!

    Look at this HUGE gorilla! Notice how he’s over two stories tall!

    He doesn’t look big in the photo, but again, he’s two stories tall. Seriously, imagine that. A big gorilla with a big backpack somehow attached a big building. How..?

    I was hungry, so I went to a Café Pasucci nearby. Café Pascucci is another one of the large chains like Café Benne. What I found interesting about this café were the chairs—big, long, cushy sofas!

    How fun is that? It’s like a little booth in and of itself. You can sit in a circle with your friends and chat so easily ^^

    The entire floor was sofa seating:

    But nothing beats this. This corner here is the size of a room and has super long sofas and a super long table. It's like a noraebang room!
    I would have never guessed to see this type of seating in a café. Do people go to cafes in such large groups?

    This was my ham + cheese + egg panini:

    It was pretty good! Not amazingly good, but better than I expected.

    Towards the end of my stay in Korea I began trying different brands of strawberry milk from the convenience store. This one wasn’t my favorite, but the packaging is adorable:

    I won't lie; I do find Asian packaging so much cuter than American packaging! Especially when it includes a little straw~

    This is Sinchon at night, taken right by the subway entrance. You can see there are some construction cones, the people in front of me are smoking, and everyone is wearing their winter coats:

    And here is some tteokbokki from the food stand near my apartment. They will typically slide a plastic bag over a plate before putting your food on top. That way, no dishwashing and no disposable plates!

    After I took this photo the ajumma asked where I was from. When I told her America, she was so excited. She gave me extra food, like sundae (intestine) and other things. She even excitedly told the ajusshi that came in after me, “Hey, she’s from America! She’s American!” and he looked at me and went, “Uh.” (You know, ajusshi groan of acknowledgement.) Haha.

    I remember once I was 1,000KRW short (because the tteokbokki here was 3,000KRW instead of the usual 2,000KRW you find elsewhere), but the ajumma gave me food anyway. ^^

    September 10, 2014

    For shrinking pores: Skinfood Peach Sake Toner (Normal-to-dry Skin Review)

    Skinfood’s Sake Peach line is geared towards removing excess sebum, tightening pores, and clearing your skin overall. According to the product advertisement, the sake contains anti-melanin properties, while the peach contains Vitamin A&C, pectin, and organic acids. The latter two are said to be anti-aging.

    As someone with large (and often clogged) pores on my nose, how did it work on me? Well, not exactly miraculous!

    This review would not be possible without Honest Skin. Thank you Honest Skin!


    Brand: Skinfood
    Name: Peach Sake Toner
    Amount: 135mL
    Actual Weight: 342g
    Price in Korea: 9,000KRW
    Price on Honest Skin: $10.05 (Make sure to use my discount code "P88FIHW163" for 5% off!)

    Water, alcohol, butylene glycol, hexylene glycol, propylene glycol, diethoxyethyl succinate, peg-60 hydrogenated castor oil, oleanolic acid, hydrogenated lecithin, allantoin, bis-peg-18, methyl ether dimethyl silane, stearyl glycyrrhetinate, disodium edta, prunius persica (peac) fruit extract, rice ferment filtrate (sake), enantia chlorantha bark extract, chamomilla recutita (matricaria) flower extract, glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) root extract, centella asiatica extract, glycine soja (soybean) seed extract, dimethicone, argania spinosa kernel oil, sesamum indicum (sesame) seed oil, beta-sitosterol, tocopherol, serenoa serrulata fruit extract, imidazolidinyl urea, methylparaben, CI 17200, CI 19140, CI 15985, parfum

    The glass bottle it comes in is thick, heavy, and sturdy. The glass is frosted/cloudy.

    It doesn’t spill out though the opening. It comes out in droplets, albeit big ones.

    It's clear (obviously, hehe.) It smells very strongly of peach! I occasionally get a whiff of alcohol scent as well, but most of the time it’s masked/overpowered by the peach scent.

    The consistency is just like water. Very thin.

    Beware if you don’t like pores and dots!

    I have tried this toner on two separate occasions. The first time, my skin was dry and super sensitive. The second time, my skin was normal-to-dry.

    1st time trying: Dry & Super Sensitive Skin: My skin was dry underneath and oily/ rough on top—and apparently, very sensitive as well. When I switched to this toner, my skin went haywire: dry, sensitive, itchy, redness, peeling, tiny pimples:

    Now, I’m fairly certain that this toner didn’t directly cause this irritation (as my skin had recently gotten over a similar flare up) but I do think that this exacerbated it. Mainly, it dried my skin out. I couldn’t stand it after a week.

    2nd time trying: Normal-to-dry skin This time round, my skin was normal-to-dry. My cheeks and forehead are mostly matte (though not to the point of dryness) and my nose generates a moderate amount of sebum throughout the day. I battle large, clogged pores on my nose (comodones & blackheads, yo!)

    Honestly, it didn’t change my skin too much! It thankfully didn’t dry out my skin, as my nose still produces the same amount of sebum as before. (I only used this on my T-zone area.) However, it also didn’t shrink my pores or prevent blackheads. As you can see, my pores are even bigger since it’s about time for my routine pore cleanout:

    (The dry flakes label was just so you knew they weren't oversized comodones exploding out of my pores. XD)

    Long story short? It dried out my sensitive, breakout-prone skin, but it didn’t seem to affect my normal-to-dry skin much. In both cases it didn’t shrink my pores.

    Mmm…I’m neutral about it. It didn’t work for me, but it could very well work for someone else. Would I recommend it to my friends? Probably not...It has a high alcohol content (it’s the second ingredient after water) as well as high fragrance, both of which are skin irritants. For this reason, I’d especially caution those with sensitive skin. Even to those with robust skin, I’d still caution against expecting it to do much else other than drying out sebum.

    Although I didn’t care much for this toner, I can point you to this toner that I do really like, the Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence. (It’s got niacinamide which is helps with anti-aging and repairing your skin. It's a great skincare ingredient all around.)

    Thank you again Honest Skin! Remember to use my 5% discount/coupon code P88FIHW163!