If the past year was defined by one particular beauty trend, it would be Korean Beauty, hands-down. K Beauty has even gotten those of us whose routine used to consist only of St. Ives Apricot Scrub and Bioré Pore Strips doing 10 — yes, you read that right — 10 steps every night.
Contrary to the recent additions of K Beauty sections at Sephora and the glass skin social media craze, the skincare regime is nothing new — Koreans have always had a skin-first philosophy of which Americans only recently hopped on the bandwagon. One of the forces that convinced Americans of the magic of the routine? Soko Glam, an online source for all things Korean Beauty.
After starting Soko Glam, Charlotte Cho also started her own skincare company, Then I Met You. We spoke with the powerhouse about Korean Skincare in the U.S., how she started her own skincare line, and the best skincare advice she’s ever received.
What was your first job and how did you land it?
Growing up, nothing excited me more than getting my first part-time job. My parents wanted me to focus on studying, but I loved the idea of making my own money and being independent. My first job was working as a cashier at a sushi restaurant, when I was 16. I remember the day I got my first paycheck — it felt so great that I could pay for things on my own, like gas for my car and eventually college. Looking back, I strongly believe those part-time jobs really helped me gain the perspective and experience that I needed for my next chapter living in Korea and founding Soko Glam.
My first job was working as a cashier at a sushi restaurant, when I was 16. I remember the day I got my first paycheck — it felt so great that I could pay for things on my own, like gas for my car and eventually college. Looking back, I strongly believe those part-time jobs really helped me gain the perspective and experience that I needed for my next chapter.
You’re originally an esthetician. Were you always interested in skincare? What was your first experience with it professionally?
Growing up in California, I actually did not listen to my mom and often slept without cleansing my skin or removing my makeup! When I discovered Korean beauty and skincare techniques while living in Seoul, it completely changed my mindset and my skin. I began to adopt the multi-step Korean skin care routine, and I couldn’t wait to share it with my friends.
After I became obsessed with Korean skincare, I started Soko Glam. It was then that I was contacted daily for skincare advice. I wanted to further my education to better help others, so I decided to get my esthetician license by going to night school. After a year of studying, I became a licensed esthetician!
Korean skincare (and the 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine) have totally taken off in the U.S. recently. Why do you think it took Americans so long to get on the bandwagon?
When you’re educated about skincare and you stay committed to a routine, you’ll see results. Korean skincare is not about the amount of products or steps you have, it’s about having the knowledge that will help you achieve only good (skin) days ahead!
I think skincare was an afterthought for Americans (it was even for me, growing up in LA), but now people are more interested in adopting the Korean skin-first philosophy, where we learn how to get our skin healthy and figure out the root of the issue, instead of covering up with makeup! Now, I feel Americans love to think of skincare more as a way of self-care instead of a chore.
What makes Korean skincare different from American skincare?
Korean skincare products are incredibly innovative, gentle, and effective. There are entirely new categories, consistencies, formats, and ingredients that were created in Korea. Some of the new categories that Korean beauty has introduced to the world include: sheet masks, BB creams, cushion compacts, snail mucin, and sleeping packs. Korean manufacturers are not only incredibly quick to market, but their facilities are so advanced and sparkly clean.
Korean manufacturers are not only incredibly quick to market, but their facilities are so advanced and sparkly clean.
What are you most proud of about Soko Glam? What was the biggest challenge you faced with it?
I’m proud that Soko Glam was able to completely disrupt the beauty industry. By introducing Korean beauty to the mainstream US audience in 2012, not only have we helped other people gain confidence and knowledge about their skin, but we’ve helped propel the industry to make more innovative and effective products at great prices. We love seeing skincare as a category thriving, a change that has been amazing to witness in only six years.
Trust me, it wasn’t easy to make K beauty mainstream! When Dave (my cofounder and husband) first started Soko Glam, no one in the US knew what it was, so we had to start from scratch to educate everyone about how great Korean skincare is. It was hard to introduce this concept because the mindset and lifestyle at the time was so focused on makeup, but I’m glad we persisted!
You have your own skincare line, Then I Met You. What was the process of developing a skincare line like?
Since early on, I’ve always been asked when I’d launch my own brand. While it was my dream to launch my own line one day, the truth is I wasn’t ready yet. I still needed to learn more about what our customers wanted, and about the innovations and ingredients that would really create effective and meaningful results.
Now with a decade of hands-on skincare experience, personal feedback from customers, and discovering the best beauty innovations, I’ve been able to launch Then I Met You in a very meaningful and intentional way.
How did you decide what products you wanted to create?
The double cleanse is a popular technique used in Korea to effectively and gently remove impurities from your skin that can cause acne and premature aging. Using an oil-based cleanser (Living Cleansing Balm) removes oil-based impurities, such as sunscreen and makeup, while a water-based cleanser (Soothing Tea Cleansing Gel) will ensure the remaining impurities are removed from your skin.
It’s not extra, it’s science — it was something that personally transformed my skin when I learned about it in Korea and was reinforced in my studies as an esthetician.
I realized after speaking with the Soko Glam community that my journey was not unique after they saw similar life-changing results after incorporating the double cleanse into their routine. Launching with the Cleansing Duo was a very intentional nod to my journey and what I believe are the essential steps to a solid skincare routine.
How did you choose the name for your company, and what was the most important thing to you while developing it?
My intention with Then I Met You was to make the most efficacious products for your routine, with the premium ingredients and luxurious experience I know matter. This didn’t happen overnight. It took about a decade of living in Korea, experiencing products as a customer, becoming an esthetician, and many years of hands-on experience with Soko Glam and connecting with customers to reach this point.
What’s unique about Then I Met You is that it’s more than just a beauty brand. Then I Met You is rooted in the Korean concept of jeong, which is cultivated by taking the time to develop deep emotional bonds with the people, places, and things that matter most. I’ve used jeong as a guiding principle for not only product development, but also for the consumer experience as well. My hope is that Then I Met You will not only serve as a turning point in your skin routines, but also transform the way you live and feel.
You mentioned that Then I Met You was developed with “older millennials” in mind. What did you mean by that, and why did you choose to focus on that demographic specifically?
I’m 33 and I’ve reached a turning point in my life where I want a higher quality experience and a deeper meaning in the products I engage with.
My goal is to create products for those that want a turning point in their skincare routines. They aren’t new to skincare. They have a routine, but they are looking for something deeper that will deliver the results they are looking for.
It took about a decade of living in Korea, experiencing products as a customer, becoming an esthetician, and many years of hands-on experience with Soko Glam and connecting with customers to reach this point.
What is the best skincare advice you’ve ever received?
Double cleansing will change your life!
What do you think the future of skincare looks like? Five years from now? 10 years from now?
There are going to be a lot of skin care brands — your head will spin! But only the products that are truly effective and are of quality will rise to the top because customers have the final say, and I know they want and expect the best!
If you could tell someone who knew nothing about Korean skincare one thing, what would it be?
I’ll pass on the same advice I got when I was first starting out: Double cleanse — it will change your life.
How do you balance your personal life with your career?
I literally work with my husband, and my dog Rambo is at work with me most of the time, so my personal life is very intertwined with my career. I don’t mind it at all!
You’re the author of The Little Book of Skincare, and are currently working on your second book — congrats! What should we expect to be in your new book? Why did you decide to write another one?
Thank you! My next book actually has nothing to with skincare. It has to do with jeong, a deep and emotional connection you can have with someone or something. It’s a Korean cultural concept that made a big impact in my life, and I can’t wait to share this other part of my passion.
What has your writing process been like so far? What’s the hardest thing about writing a book?
Self doubt. Sometimes you have to get out of your own way and make moves! I never thought I could be an author, let alone have my book be translated into over six languages. If I never took the leap of faith back in 2014, I would have missed out on so many opportunities!
Is there anything you think the beauty community is lacking right now?
We need more females at the helm of beauty companies!
What is the best career advice you have ever been given?
Give everything 110% when you’re young and have the energy.
If you could tell your 22-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
Go to Korea. For the next five years, you’ll not only fall in love with the country, skincare, your future husband — but you’ll create your own company and write books about your newfound passion!
Give everything 110% when you’re young and have the energy.
Charlotte Cho is The Everygirl…
Go-to coffee order?
Iced matcha latte with oat milk, or iced latte with oat milk
One skincare product you can’t live without?
Then I Met You Living Cleansing Balm. I feel dirty without it.
Favorite item in your closet?
A periwinkle scarf from Acne Studios that my friend Joan Kim got me.
Last movie that made you cry?
Burning by Lee Chang Dong
A motto you live by?
There’s nothing like sharing a meal together that will nourish jeong.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Michelle Obama. I love her tenacity and her values.
Take Charlotte home with you (kind of)