[Ed note: For those unaware, Korea has a universal, single-payer healthcare system, and in-office treatments are far more affordable than they are in America.]
About five years ago, skin-care technology started to advance, and acne patients started adding laser treatments and radiofrequency-charged microneedling to their weekly visits, Dr. Ban says.
Gold photothermal therapy (or Gold PTT) is a favorite of Dr. Sang Wook Lee, a board-certified dermatologist at Seoul’s Yezel Clinic, for treating patients with severe acne. My friend even undergoes this treatment with Dr. Sang and swears by its visible and non-invasive results. Basically, a special serum spiked with gold nanoparticles is layered onto skin. Next, an ultrasound wave device is used to encourage pores to absorb it.
Then, a long-pulsed diode laser, often Vbeam, heats up the gold molecules and, more or less, shrink pores and stop oil production by damaging sebaceous glands — in a good way — while killing acne-causing bacteria. Major studies are just starting to be done on Gold PTT over the past three years, so it isn’t available in the U.S. just yet. However, VBeam is widely offered at dermatology offices across the U.S.
Dr. Cho, on the other hand, has personal experience with a more heavy-duty laser for managing her acne: Fraxel, which comes with major downtime. But, “It slows down breakouts for those who constantly get them,” Dr. Ban adds.
Injectables are also an option. Of course, cortisone injections are often done at dermatologist offices to help quickly nip cystic pimples in the bud — just as they are done in America. But Korea takes injections several steps further with what is called skin booster shots. (I’ve explored them in-depth when sharing what the future of K-beauty looks like and when I tried out a few myself.) The most popular one for acne is called Rejuran Healer, according to Dr. Choi Bo Youn, a board-certified dermatologist in Seoul. With the assistance of DNA from salmon, shallow injections of the elixir help balance out oil production and moisture levels. “It also helps with redness and rejuvenating,” she adds.
Prescription topical creams are also offered. They are considered the fastest route to clearing up acne, Dr. Choi says. Antibiotic-based ones and Epiduo are the most popularly prescribed in Korea, adds Dr. Ban. The latter is often prescribed in America, too, particularly for cystic acne.
Sticking to It
And, of course, Korea is the home of pimple patches. The small, round hydrocolloid stickers help heal acne without drying it out while protecting skin from further environmental aggravation, Dr. Ko Lamm says. The stickers also keep you from picking at or popping your pimples, Dr. Chang adds. When I’m out to dinner with friends in Seoul or even backstage at a K-pop show, I always see at least one pimple patch on someone’s face. They are also easily accessible with numerous racks of them at any store that sells beauty products. Luckily, you can find them just as well in the U.S. lately, thanks to Hero Cosmetics and Soko Glam.
Although most acne stickers aren’t medicated, some are infused with gentle-yet-effective anti-inflammatory ingredients, Dr. Ko Lamm mentions. The Cosrx Master Patch – Intensive, which is an essential in my skin-care routine, covers zits with a tea tree oil-boosted blanket, while the Acrosspass Trouble Cure is barbed with painless, dissolvable darts of hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and peptides.
The American Acne Way
As mentioned above, as patients, we love a quick fix for our medical issues. Physicians and patients in America, on the other hand, value evidence-based medicine, according to Dr. Chang. They often rely on large clinical studies when recommending acne products. The ingredients that are often put into action in these successful studies are typically benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and retinoids, despite their drying and irritating side effects, she says.