Why the Pursuit of the Korean ‘Glass Skin’ Might, Scientifically, Be a Redundant Venture for Indians
“Sheesha ho ya dil ho…” from 1980 represents a point in history when we were comparing our hearts to glass, suggesting they could shatter just as easily. But this decade — since 2017, at least, if not earlier — has marked yet another organ of the human body being compared to glass. This time, however, the analogy doesn’t serve to impart a lesson in caution; instead, it sows the seeds of an inspiration that might not just be unadvisable, but also unattainable.
The “glass skin” hype has taken over the beauty industry worldwide by storm. The surge in the popularity of this ideal — a cultural import from Korea that idealizes a complexion so clear, radiant, and flawless that it appears translucent and reflective, almost glass-like — has made it all the rage among skincare enthusiasts, with thousands of articles available online guiding people to successfully achieve this feat.
“[Glass skin] is no longer a beauty trend but a beauty standard. Like all beauty standards, glass skin is a physical impossibility, and as such, the path to Windexed perfection is paved with products that always need to be repurchased. (How convenient for capitalism!) It’s unending. It’s addicting. It burrows into the brain. It inspires that specific kind of obsession that comes with coveting the unattainable,” writes Jessica DeFino, a beauty reporter specializing in skincare. “I gave into this obsession for a time. I lamented the fact that my textured, sensitive skin would never look like glass… Then I realized: It’s a good thing that glass skin is unattainable IRL because all the features I’d need to erase in order to get that smooth, glassy glow literally exist to protect me.”
With the growing fanbase for Korean pop culture in India, people here are also being drawn to the allure of achieving the much-sought-after glass skin. The question, however, is whether this ideal is attainable for Indian skin types in the first place. “K beauty is not good for Indian skin — it has too many steps [that] can actually cause irritation and also a lot of acne. Our skin is oilier, deals with more pollution, and our weather conditions are different than Korea. We cannot handle so many steps,” explains Dr. Kiran Lohia, a Delhi-based dermatologist.
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The serums and sheet masks formulated to cater to the needs of Korean skin, which are touted as essential to achieving the look, will not yield the same results on Indian skin due to differences in skin structure, general climate, and environmental conditions. According to experts, Indian skin is “much thicker” and has more melanin than people from other parts of the world. Also, when it comes to details like pores and complexion, there’s genetics governing much of it.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Korean skincare products are actively harmful to the Indian skin, as a myth-busting article explains; it’s not tailored to the Indian skin either, though.
Dr. Vibhuti Dhaundiyal, an aesthetic physician from Noida, points out that Korean skin is also less prone to pigmentation than Indian skin, which is why ensuring it stays hydrated is the primary focus of products catering to Korean skin. “Indian skincare needs to combine hydration with targeted treatments to effectively tackle pigmentation concerns unique to this skin type,” she notes, explaining why hydration alone isn’t enough for Indians.
Further, many parts of our country are extremely humid, which can trigger excessive sweating and oiliness, making skincare products designed for dry or temperate climates less effective and even counterproductive on Indian skin. Bangalore-based dermatologist Dr. Shuba Dharmana agrees: “We need to be careful with the hot and humid climates in our cities. The over-layering of skin care creams and products can lead to clogging of pores and breakouts.”
But with the feverish obsession with the trend online, it’s easy to get lost in the normalization of translucent, reflective skin, forgetting that the largest organ of the human body isn’t supposed to look like glass. “Currently, the ideal of good skin is very smooth, extremely shiny and wet looking. There is no allowance for changes in tone or texture. It’s very flat and glass-like. It reflects the state of our largely virtual digital lives. We’re expecting our faces to look like a screen,” culture critic Jessica DeFino told NPR. “When movies first came out and we could see actresses on the screen, the lighting wasn’t that great, the camera quality wasn’t that great, and it led to this sort of blurred, ethereal look. And all of a sudden people were like, ‘This is what somebody famous and worthy looks like. I want to look like that, too.’ Every advancement in screens — in cinema, in digital — has had that moment. And we are trying to adapt our real-life human faces to a virtual, hyperreal standard of beauty.”
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It is essential to bear in mind that making one’s skin appear glass-like may not only not be feasible for everyone but also that most of the embodiments of glass skin we see have been achieved through digital filters.
“When people refer to ‘glowing skin’, they often mean an even skin tone with no blemishes and a smooth surface, which reflects light in a flattering way. But clever lighting and filters are often needed to create the appearance of ‘glass skin’… and it would be impossible for most of us to replicate this look in real life,” Dr. Justine Kluk, a consultant dermatologist from London, told Refinery29. “All skin has pores, and if this is a beauty standard, most people trying to achieve, it will be met with disappointment.”
Further, in our preoccupation with glass skin, what we also tend to overlook is that it’s not necessarily indicative of how healthy one’s skin is. “Although eating a nutritious diet, getting sufficient sleep, moisturizing regularly, wearing sunscreen, and avoiding smoking are better for our general physical health and benefit our skin, skin glow is not an accurate indicator of health status,” says Dr. Kluk.
In a world with diverse skin types, skincare regimes, climates, and myriad cultural and environmental factors to account for, no one type of skin can be a one-size-fits-all ideal; certainly not one that suggests skin should look like glass.
Moreover, it’s good to remember that the goalposts for the ideal skin keep shifting. “When I was a teenager, ‘good skin’ was classed as ‘not getting spots,’ but this has now evolved so that we have to have a face clear of acne, wrinkles, hair, texture, pores, scars, pigmentation, visible veins, discoloration, and so on,” says Lex Gillies, a skin positivity campaigner. “I think these types of trends purposefully skim over a basic truth about skin care: ‘good’ skin is mostly down to genetics and luck.”
Who’s to say we wouldn’t be manipulated into aspiring for diamond-skin — or, perhaps, even ruby-skin — next?