How Glowy Skin Became A Phenomenon

by Rhea Cartwright

We all know that words hold immense power and while the beauty industry lexicon grows larger with every new trend, there is one four-letter word that has become a firm favorite: glow. Often related with radiance, dew and luminosity, determining how to get glowing skin has become a constant quest for purveyors of beauty.

An antithesis to the heavily made-up, contoured look that was baked and blended to perfection in the early years of Instagram, glowing skin has been propelled by viral makeup artists such as Nam Vo, famous for turning her clients into “dewy dumplings” and brands such as Glossier that championed the no makeup-makeup look. The war on shine was over and as mattifying powders were downed, highlighters, strobing creams and skin care-makeup hybrids became the key items in beauty repertoires everywhere.

As the beauty industry has become obsessed with “glow” and everyone seems to be chasing an ethereal yet elusive multi-tasking buzzword, scientifically speaking, glow can’t be quantified. It isn’t tangible or measurable in the way that wrinkle depth or hydration levels can be and yet the aesthetic it summons in our collective minds is often that of immensely healthy and optimally hydrated skin.


Famously known for 10-step routines, the exponential rise in radiance is intrinsically linked to the Korean beauty influence on the Western market with “chok chok” skin laying at the heart of Korean beauty ideals, according to Charlotte Cho, co-Founder of Soko Glam and Founder of Then I Met You. “Chok chok doesn’t just pertain to skin, but is used to describe something that is literally moist," she tells TZR. "The glowing skin that everyone is obsessed with is a direct result of K-beauty’s skin-first philosophy and Koreans have always loved the dewy look.” From glass skin to kkul-gwang, the K-beauty world has a penchant for innovative terms to describe a light-reflective complexion. “Koreans have always raved about glowy skin which is something that Western beauty has historically tried to cover up with mattifying primers, foundations, and powders to keep the skin as matte as possible.”

Cho says that when she introduced Korean beauty to the U.S. through the Korean 10-step skin care routine, the focus wasn’t on using 10 steps every single time to achieve healthy skin, but was centered on educating yourself to build a routine and understanding the steps to achieve your skin goals. “The philosophy is a way of life and goes beyond just steps or sheet masks," she notes. "It’s how you think about skin care and what works best for your particular skin care needs. The more time you invest in taking care of your skin and understanding what products and ingredients work for you, the better results you will see.”

Innovative ingredients alongside accessible pricing of K-beauty helped to catalyze the explosion of skin care as a category. Pre-pandemic, makeup usage in the U.S. has declined, but skin care rose by 5% to $5.9 billion in 2019, according to NPD insights. Jessica Richards, founder of SHEN Beauty, observes an increase in consumers looking for “glow”-related products. “Since 2015, I have consistently seen a rise in SHEN’s search terms for “glow.” In particular, it seems to rise in the winter months as people are looking for more of a natural glow and when COVID-19 hit, the search term jumped by 25% above average. Consumers are staying at home and wearing less makeup but still want products to make their skin glow.”

For clinical dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch, radiance is a marker of blood flow. “The glow we attribute to new brides, falling in love and even post-orgasm sends blood to the face. Glow naturally aligns to health hence the “healthy glow” of pregnancy.” Natasha Moor, a bridal and celebrity makeup artist, agrees and says although her clients always want a glowy look for their wedding day, glowing skin represents more than just an aesthetic. “It’s a term used to exude happiness in a way that is almost angelic and comes from a space of purity. My clients aspire to showcase the happiness they feel internally, which translates externally as a glow,” she says.

With photography an integral part of weddings, celebrations, and now everyday life, Moor thinks that social media selfies and filters have translated the real world fascination with glow within the digital sphere. “Filters create a version of ourselves that we want to portray," she continues. "Like any trend, social media has definitely influenced the notion of a glow being the ideal and while Instagram has served as a way for so many to learn and educate themselves on creating a glow with makeup, there are unrealistic perceptions of beauty due to over-editing or what it means.”


Although the intensity of glow can be enhanced to varying degrees with makeup, the hashtag glowing skin counts over 6 million images varying from no-makeup selfies to green juice. Essentially, for the modern consumer, looking lit from within is an amalgamation of lifestyle and skincare which is surely linked to the sizeable rise of the global wellness industry, now worth over $4.2 trillion. From sleep quality to stress levels, consumers are becoming more aware of how their lifestyle contributes to their overall skin health and appearance, with the beauty industry quickly responding with a whole host of products to ease the journey. Dr. Howard Murad famously said that topical skincare products address only 20% of your skin and the other 80% is affected by what you eat and drink, including your dietary supplements.

To some extent, a healthy glow has become an aesthetic signifier that you’re doing everything right; regularly working out, eating copious amounts of fruits and vegetables, sleeping eight hours at night, reducing stress, minimizing sugar, not smoking, and not drinking alcohol. When the body is in great health, the skin glows with vitality and that makes a great base to work on, according to Margo Marrone, The Organic Pharmacy founder. To her, glowing skin looks like you’ve just come back from a hike, fully hydrated and bouncy. In practice, they are simple choices. But for the average person, this seemingly unscathed lifestyle, especially during a pandemic, is largely impossible and almost a privilege.

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Dr. Amy Wechsler, board-certified dermatologist and psychiatrist, says that stress levels compounded with lack of sleep will typically result in our skin looking less radiant. “Right now, the whole world is stressed and understandably so. Depression and anxiety levels have increased as very few people are completely fine in this current period of time.” Dr. Wechsler emphasizes that although there aren’t enough clinical studies to corroborate the claim, if someone does have a glow, it’s an indication that they are better able to handle stress.

“We are starting to understand that lower stress levels and more sleep is crucial for skin health and its overall light-reflective appearance. We often wear our stress on our skin and while we can’t define what radiant means, it’s often the overall health of the skin such as an even texture and lack of dullness caused by a deceleration of surface skin cells turning over regularly.” She adds that while several factors can cause dullness and the renewal process to slow down such as pollution, smoking or poor diet choices, she believes that lack of relative stress plays a crucial role in the skins glow. “When we go on vacation or take time off work, we come back with a glow even if we’ve not been in the sun.”

Glow Recipe

As we pivot away from terms such as “anti-aging” and “anti-wrinkle,” the focus on having an incandescent glow is a way to soften the ageist narrative and promote positivity. “We’re choosing words that are more positive instead of trying to fight something that is ultimately inevitable. Language is powerful and we can’t judge ourselves with negative words as it’s detrimental for our self-esteem,” Dr. Wechsler adds, who believes it’s perhaps better that glow isn’t measurable. “There’s a broad range and spectrum of what glow means that makes it more attainable.”

While the linguistic choices of the beauty industry holds no bounds, at the core of glass skin, chok chok, and even the newly coined, dolphin skin — is a glow. The visceral reaction to the monosyllabic word has transcended beauty and having a glow exists as much internally as it does externally. Whether the path to radiance is with 6 a.m. Pilates, improving sleep habits or by a generous application of Glossier Future Dew, "all the tools are there," as Moor says. "But it's important to always appreciate your own glow as that's your true power."