Why Koreans have white skin that is so smooth and glass-like is a mystery to many. But the obsession towards pale skin is deep-rooted in Korean culture.
In fact, if you look at the streets of Seoul, you’ll find teenage girls carrying umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun and elderly people wearing visors.
Even if it’s the dead of summer, women and teenage girls wear long-sleeved tops to protect their skin from tanning.
But what is the reason behind this strict beauty standard. Why do Koreans have white skin and are obsessed with it? You can find some answers below:
Why Koreans Have White Skin
If you want to know why most Koreans want white skin, you’ll have to dig deeper into the country’s feudal past.
White skin was considered a trait exclusive to the nobles. The worker class people used to toil in the sun, tilling their fields or doing manual labor out on the street.
On the other hand, nobles had the luxury of staying indoors and not exposing themselves to sunlight. So you could tell a person’s class by their skin tone.
And this feudal mentality of the upper classes being better has trickled down into modern Korean culture through their preference for white skin.
Interestingly, the western world prefers tanned skin for the exact same reason!
With the industrial revolution, people began working indoors in warehouses and factories and developed an unhealthy, white pallor to their skin.
While those with money could afford luxury vacations to beachside towns and countries, acquiring a darker, tanned skin tone.
White skin as a coveted symbol of wealth and luxury might have begun in the feudal traditions of Korea’s past. But it’s now being kept alive through Korean mass media and pop culture.
South Korea is a country obsessed with its idols. In fact, the popularity of these K-pop stars and Korean drama actors and actresses is so great, that even countries like the USA, UK, and even India are mad about them.
And what’s common about all these Korean hearthrobs and celebrities? Their clear, blemish-free, and milky-white complexion!
If you turn on the TV in Korea, all you’ll see is celebrities with picture perfect pale skin everywhere.
There are also rumours about how some record labels and artist management companies ban their representatives from tanning completely.
So the teenagers who grow up looking at these celebrities and idolizing them, internalise the message that pale skin is desirable. They even get several surgeries and treatments to look like their idols.
Take the example of popular Korean singer IU. Initially starting off in the industry with a naturally tanned skin tone, she is now known for her soft, white skin. Other girl pop groups such as BlackPink also have very fair skinned singers.
A lot of hospitals have even named dermatologist procedures after IU.
Several doctors we spoke to even described how Korean girls would come into their office with pictures of a specific Korean celebrity, asking to look like them.
Even if one were to reject traditional beauty norms, it becomes difficult to stick to your dark skin. Because the love for paler skin is everywhere!
And more often than not teenagers buckle to social pressure. If you’re not pale enough or have the right features, you might not be accepted in your peer group. Maybe even bullied.
There have been instances where K-pop groups publicly tease their darker skinned members.
And while this might be harmless fun, you’ll see how the preference for paler skin is embedded in the Korean psyche if you dig deeper.
There are several beauty apps and filters in South Korea that make your skin lighter. A lot of Korean girls use bleaching products before they even graduate from high school to look more acceptable to their friends.
When talking to Korean students about this preference for white skin, we uncovered some interesting points.
A lot Korean students don’t really think about how or why this beauty standard came about.
The answers were pretty telling. One student confessed that constantly seeing pale-skinned celebrities made them want to have white skin like theirs.
Another student confessed that those with whiter skin are perceived as “tidier” or “more intelligent”.
Push From Cosmetic Industry
Who hasn’t heard of Korean skincare? In the past few years, K-beauty has captured the world’s attention.
And the major revenue generator for the Korean cosmetic industry is the sale of skin whitening products.
And a lot of Korean women (and men too!) use these products from quite a young age. Bleaching your skin often is a common procedure, and is why Koreans have white skin.
When the Korean skincare brand Snow launched a campaign to promote their skin whitening lotion, they even used the tagline…”Pale is Better”.
And it’s not just skin care products that are used to give Koreans white skin. Several youngsters go under the knife just to look paler.
We spoke to a famous surgeon in one of Seoul’s best cosmetic clinics. He describes the process of skin whitening practiced regularly.
A chemical called glutathione is injected into the skin’s upper layer. Supposedly, this substance helps decrease the production of melanin in the body, decreasing pigmentation.
But is it safe? Our source explains that while this procedure is relatively harmless. It can lead to complications in people with asthma and heart issues.
They do not accept patients if they have a past history of pulmonary complications either.
But a lot of Korean men and women do not hesitate to get this procedure done several times just to look paler. No matter the price of beauty.
What is considered dark skin in Korea?
Korean beauty standards do not accept even slight tanning or bronzing. You’ll see that their makeup products do not generally have bronzers, contours or other stuff that darkens your skin tone.
Even skin tones that may be considered “fair” in other Asian countries like China, Singapore, Bangladesh, or India.
South Korean’s prefer skin to be pristine white and flawless.
Why Korean have glass skin?
If you look at the surface, you might say the secret to the famous Korean glass skin lies in the advanced beauty products they have.
But the love for poreless, flawless beauty goes skin deep. Korean culture focuses around purity, perfection, and paleness.
White skin is associated with traits like desirability, innocence, intelligence and other positive attributes. So everyone wants to look fairer and more beautiful.
A lot of job opportunities can also pass you by if you do not meet Korean beauty standards. And this is especially true for women.
What are some Korean skin whitening secrets?
Korean men and women take a lot of care to look fairer. Some of the Korean skin whitening secrets or hacks they use include:
Wearing sunscreen everyday, even when indoors. One of the reasons why Koreans have white skin is because they do not take risks with sunscreen.
In summer, in winter, if they’re going out, if they’re staying in – Korean’s will have sunscreen on.
Korean beauty also focuses on skincare more than makeup. They create products that naturally give you a glow rather than wearing foundation to make your skin lighter.
There are several cosmetic procedures available to alter the skin’s pigmentation and make you appear naturally whiter.
Are all Koreans white skinned?
Not all Koreans are white skinned. The criteria of beauty in South Korea is white skin, therefore, a lot of K-dramas, movies, pop music videos show actors, actresses, and models who have very pale skin.
However, on average, the skin tones in Korea can range from pale to olive skin to even light and dark brown tones.
Also, a lot of Koreans use face filter apps that brighten up pictures and make you look “whiter” than you are.
The use of sunscreen which leaves a white cast on face and foundation shades that are lighter than you’re own are also very widespread practices.
This doesn’t mean that Koreans have naturally white skin.
While the western world is obsessed with tanning and bronzing, East Asians, especially Koreans still think fair is beautiful.
The whole K-beauty industry and the multitude of skin brightening and whitening products is a testament to this obsession.
But things are steadily improving. Certain K-pop stars like Hyori and influence from hip-hop subcultures is now popularizing the beauty of tanned skin in Korea.
Hopefully, South Korean society will be expecting dark skin soon and celebrate it just as they do for paler skin.