Korean Skincare, Holy Grails, and Ho Chi Minh City Living with Sheryll of The Wanderlust Project
When I first discovered The Wanderlust Project, I wanted to be best friends with the site’s author, Sheryll, an American woman who was (at the time) living in Korea. She is a spectacular storyteller, and I love the variety of content she shares. Sheryll creates gorgeous photo spreads of the cities she visits, shares personal stories about her life as an expatriate, and writes some very compelling product reviews. She recently made a big move from South Korea to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and her pictures and stories have placed Vietnam in my list of top 5 international destinations I’d like to visit in the near future.
I was so excited when Sheryll agreed to do this interview. Today she’ll be sharing her current skincare routine, favorite products, and what life is like in her new city. Some of you may be familiar with her already, but for those of you who aren’t, allow me to introduce her to you: Internet, this is Sheryll:
What was it about Korea that initially inspired you to move there?
To be honest, I didn’t really know much about Korea before I moved. After I finished traveling through Europe, my boyfriend Johnny and I didn’t have jobs, I had a few friends from college and high school that were already living and teaching in Korea, and they told me about how wonderful it is, and how teaching was a really great job. We researched it a bit, and then just went for it. It was definitely a great decision.
I love reading about all of your adventures, but of course I have a special place in my heart for your skincare discoveries. How long after you moved to Korea did you start changing things up in your skincare routine? Was there a particular gateway product that sent you down the Korean skincare rabbit hole?
I think I ended up changing my skincare routine about 2 months after I moved to Korea. Before I moved, I was terrified of all the “whitening” ingredients, since that’s all that I had heard about Korean cosmetics. I had no idea there were tons of products that didn’t have whitening agents in them at all. I think it was the first time I saw an Etude House store that really sealed the deal for me. I don’t particularly like their skincare, but it’s all about the packaging and marketing. It’s all just so cute!
My first Korean products were the Skinfood Anti-Trouble Mandarin and Parsley Toner and Emulsion. At the time, I didn’t even know what an emulsion was! I had to look it up on the internet after I bought it. I saw results with those 2 products pretty fast, and once I started really researching the Korean skincare routine, it was done deal. I went out and purchased all the steps pretty soon after, and haven’t looked back since.
Are there specific brands or product types that you’re drawn to more than others?
If I had to choose my all time favorite Korean brand, I think it’d have to be Innisfree. They have incredible products at really great price points. Plus I love their all natural approach to skincare. Of course, I know that “natural” is just a buzzword these days, but I do appreciate how they package their products in recycled plastic and cardboard, and that a lot of their products are sourced within Korea.
As far as product types, my skin is shiny, yet pretty dehydrated, so my skin tends to love products with a lot of moisture. In the summer, I love gel cream based moisturizers, and in the winter, I usually lay it on thick with a really creamy one. My nighttime routine is all about moisturizing – I like to wake up with glowy, hydrated skin. Thanks to Korean cosmetics and a pretty strict skincare routine, I don’t suffer from acne anymore, except for the unavoidable hormonal breakouts during that time of the month, and during those times I love to use bee’s venom products. I find that they really do help clear my skin. I currently have Benton and AC Care in my breakout stash.
Do you have any favorite ingredients?
My skin takes incredibly well to fermented ingredients, namely the Missha First Treatment Essence and pretty much everything I’ve tried from Su:m37, a Korean high end brand that specializes in fermented skincare. I don’t know what it is about fermented things, but my skin always shows such a noticeable difference when I use them, almost immediately. I used a sample of the Su:m37 Secret Repair Concentrate and seriously, my skin changed overnight. I’ve been dying to get my hands on it ever since, but it’s pricy!
I get a lot of email from women of color who are worried about trying Korean products that say they’re made for “whitening.” None of the products I’ve personally tried have affected my actual skin color – just clarity, luminosity, and evenness – but then, my tone is light. Is this always the case? Are there certain “whitening” products or ingredients you feel aren’t good for deeper skin tones?
I totally agree with you. All of the products I’ve used in Korea that claim to whiten the skin have never changed my skin color in any way. I only get lighter in the winter because I’m rarely in the sun, just like any other person. I think that “whitening”, is sort of a weird Konglish way to explain the products…I think “brightening” is a much better word. I find that when I use products that have been described as having whitening properties, it doesn’t whiten, but they make my skin glow. One of the main things that has happened to my skin since I’ve started using Korean skincare is that my skin is pretty even toned. I used to have really bad acne scarring, and a lot of the products I’ve used over the past 2 years have really faded them.
When I asked my co-teacher about whitening products, she told me it’s mostly for people with uneven skin, or sunspots, or freckles. No one is really trying to “bleach” their skin but a majority of the intense whitening products are available by prescription only in Korea. I don’t think anyone should be worried about bleaching their skin from a commercial Korean beauty product.
What is your current skincare routine?
In the morning, I cleanse with my Su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick. I follow up with the Benton Aloe BHA Toner, then use the Benton Snail Bee High Content Essence. Since I’m in Vietnam now and it’s hot and humid everyday, I’ve been using my new favorite emulsion, the Su:m37 Waterfull Rebalancing Gel Lotion. Gel lotions/gel creams are my favorite type of moisturizers to use for hot weather, because they provide moisture, but they aren’t heavy. The Su:m37 one is fantastic! After my moisturizer, I apply sun cream, and again, I use another Su:m37 product, the Sun-away Cooling Watery Sun Block. It’s FABULOUS. It’s incredibly lightweight, smells great, and doesn’t leave a white/grey cast on the skin, which is super important for dark skinned women like me.
My night routine is a little more intense. I first take my eye makeup off with the Innisfree Apple Juicy Emulsion Eye and Lip Makeup remover. Then I take my makeup off with the Sulwhasoo Gentle Oil Cleanser (which is fabbbb by the way). Then, I cleanse with my Su:m37 Miracle CHARCOAL stick. (quick note, the charcoal stick seems to be something that doesn’t exist anymore, but I bought mine in a Christmas gift set, so I’m not sure what the deal is). The charcoal stick is wonderful for really deep cleaning my pores, which is needed because there’s SO much pollution here and when I go out, my face is constantly sweaty. After I cleanse, I again use my Benton Aloe AHA/BHA Toner (depending on my skin that day, sometimes I’ll add in the OST Vitamin C Serum to my toner), followed by the Benton Essence. I use the Dear Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Serum to add an extra boost of hydration, because the charcoal cleanser is a *tad* bit drying. After my serum, I apply the Su:m37 Time Energy Skin Resetting Softening Emulsion, the Su:m37 Flawless Regenerating Eye Cream, followed by the Su:m37 Time Energy Skin Resetting Moist Firming Cream.
At night, I love to give my self some sort of mask, so I rotate out a few. Some days, I like to use a Primera sheet mask (primera is such an awesome brand I wish I had bought more of), some days I use the Belif First Aid Aqua Rush Mask, or the Sulwhasoo Clarifying Mask, or the Sulwhasoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask. I like to pamper myself and my nighttime routine is the perfect way for me to wind down.
If you had to choose one Holy Grail skincare product, what would it be?
Ahhh! This is tough. If I had to choose ONE holy grail skincare product, I think it would have to be the Su:m 37 Rose Miracle Cleansing Stick. It’s just a really incredible product, at an affordable price point, and it really does the job effectively. Usually I prefer to spend my money on serums and moisturizers, and I sort of skimp on cleansers, but this one is just a whole new level. I don’t think I can use a regular cleanser again. Coming in at a close second is the Sulwhasoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask.
I noticed you’ve been trying to trim down your skincare and makeup collection in preparation for your big move to Saigon. What products will you actually be taking with you? How did you decide?
Well, I thought I had trimmed it down (I got rid of a TON of stuff), but as I was unpacking I realized I brought way more than I thought. But then again, finding makeup and skincare items in a new country, and especially as a black woman, is a difficult task, so I prepared for every possible situation. I kept most of my makeup, and ALL of my hair care products, since I figured if I couldn’t find stuff in Korea, I definitely wouldn’t be able to in Vietnam. The biggest thing was focusing on my skincare items, as I had heard that while Korean cosmetic stores are in Saigon, they are a bit pricer than Korea. So I made sure to bring all the things I couldn’t live without, especially the higher end products. I ended up bringing all of my Benton and AC Care Skincare, all of my Su:m37 and Sulwhasoo, a bunch of new stuff from Wishtrend, and all my personal care items like deodorant, body wash, etc. I know I’ve scaled down, but I could never be a backpacker. My skincare routine is too intense! I gave a lot of the stuff I liked, but didn’t really want to bring, to a friend, and some things that I just didn’t like I threw away. I also gave away a majority of my face masks and I gave my samples away in the giveaway I hosted on my blog.
What inspired you to choose Saigon as your next destination? Were there other places you considered before deciding on Vietnam?
We ended up choosing Saigon over other places (like Thailand for example), because we’d read so much about the ESL scene here and how it’s pretty easy to find a job. I plan on teaching part time in the evenings, and working on freelance work/my blog in the morning, and I liked that Saigon in particular has so many schools, and a lot of them offer part time hours.
There’s also more opportunities to work in other fields here, as I’m not on a working visa and can sort of do what I want. I’m not confined to teaching like I was in S. Korea. Besides freelancing, I’ve been toying with the idea of getting into social media work.
What will you miss most about living in Korea?
More than anything, I will miss the shopping, especially the beauty stores. Like I said earlier, there are stores here, but they are pricer than in Korea. I miss being able to go into an Innisfree or go to the department stores. I’ve never had to worry about ordering things online, and now I’m super paranoid that my shipping will get screwed up, since apparently the mail system in Vietnam isn’t the most reliable.
I also really miss the public transportation in Korea. Honestly, it was one of my favorite things about living there! Here, it’s walking or motorbike. There are buses, but I’m not sure what kind of schedule they are on. In Korea, you had signs telling you exactly where the bus was, how far it was away, etc. I miss that. Luckily, I live in an area where everything i need is within walking distance, so I don’t have to worry about riding a motorbike.
Are there any Vietnamese skincare brands you’d like to try?
Honestly, I haven’t seen any Vietnamese skincare brands yet. I’ve been to a few stores, and it seems a lot of the skincare products are imported from France (which makes complete sense). There’s also a French inspired day spa here called L’Apothiquaire that has a whole slew of organic and natural products that I’m curious to try out. I still need to investigate more, but I’m totally willing to try anything.
What are you looking forward to?
Before I moved, I was most looking forward to the cheap food and spa services, and I can say with 1000% confidence that no one was exaggerating on the cost of living here. Everything is so inexpensive! Fresh fruit and vegetables are abundant, something that was seriously lacking in Korea. I got an amazing pedicure with awesome nail art for about 12 dollars the other day, something that would’ve easily cost about 60 bucks in Korea.
And the weather is awesome here! It’s hot, but it’s not completely overwhelming. The people are incredibly friendly as well. I’m loving life here so far!
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