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Photo: Courtesy of David Yi
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David Yi was working on his first book, Pretty Boys: Legendary Icons Who Redefined Beauty (and How to Glow Up, Too), when he came across a detail that blew his mind. He was researching “masculine-identifying folks and their relationship with makeup,” he says, when he discovered that Neanderthals wore foundation, highlighter, and blush some 50,000 years ago. “These weren’t low-browed, grunting, low-IQ folks,” Yi says. “They had a high emotional intelligence because they used makeup as self-expression — that’s what an archaeologist, Professor João Zilhão from the University of Bristol, said in the 2000s when they discovered this. Innately, we all want to feel beautiful, and wanting other people to recognize your beauty actually means you have a higher intellect.” Yi was amazed. “I was like, So liking makeup or skin care means I’m really smart. I knew it!”
By that logic, Yi may be smarter than most. He’s the founder and editor-in-chief of Very Good Light, a skin-care publication that wants to uplift marginalized voices and redefine masculinity. And he launched a brand, Good Light, to provide a gender-inclusive skin-care option. “Everyone deserves to be noticed and to be seen. I’ve been invisible. I know what it’s like to not be seen for the longest time, and I never want anyone to feel that way,” Yi says.
Founding his own skin-care brand also allowed him to create the gentle but effective products his acne-prone, sensitive skin desperately craved. “I experienced cystic acne so badly last year. I was like, Am I a teenager? No, it’s just a pandemic, and I’m super-stressed.” He fixated on it, tried to slough off his skin with anything he could find, and ended up making it worse. What worked for him was paring everything back and slowly reintroducing products to recalibrate his skin and determine what actually worked. “Of course, if you need medications, get medications, but by and large, the overarching theme these days is looking for products that aren’t going to disrupt my skin barrier,” he explains. “It’s all about sensitivity, it’s all about hydration, and it’s all about plumping.”
He still uses the occasional acid to treat hyperpigmentation, but never in conjunction with other exfoliators. “I was using every BHA, every AHA under the sun, and this is an amateur mistake, but I then used Dr. Dennis Gross’s peeling pads. My face turned into tomato, angry, bright red.”
Yi’s best skin-care tip is (mostly) free of charge, save for the cost of a mirror. “We only have ourselves, and it was hard for me to come to terms with loving myself for the longest time. I didn’t like how I looked, or I compared myself to other people, and I was like, How am I going to be an entrepreneur when my skin’s not good enough?” So he started looking at himself in the mirror for five minutes every morning and every evening. “Hugging yourself, literally taking your hands and hugging your face and saying ‘I love you’ as you’re putting skin care on, that self-actualization practice is powerful because you’re saying, ‘I’m going to come to terms with myself. I may have big pores today; I may have a new wrinkle today; I may have cystic acne today, but this is me. I’m going to do something radical, which is loving myself wholly.’”
Below, Yi breaks down his current skin-care rotation.
Every morning, I start my day with a smoothie. It is not the most delicious smoothie, but my Korean mother makes it. It has cabbage, which is good for your digestion and for your stomach. It also has a little bit of potato, and I asked, “Why potato?” and my mom said that it’s good for muscle regeneration. She adds blueberries as an antioxidant. She adds in the tiniest amount of ginger. It has apples, and it’s also mixed in with this fish collagen. It’s just so great for your skin and your immune system and your digestion, and that’s all interlinked, right? Your digestion is linked to the skin that you present.
This really helped with my cystic acne. It’s ashwagandha powder, and studies have shown that people’s stress levels and cortisol levels are dramatically lowered after a couple of weeks of being on it. I didn’t believe it, but my friend in L.A. was like, “You should try ashwagandha powder,” because she had cystic acne too. I was like, I have nothing to lose, so I ordered it, and when I started taking it, it really helped. It tastes very earthy.
Some people say this is a double cleanse in one because it’s great for wiping off sunscreen but also amazing for wiping away makeup. If you have a waterproof eyeliner, it’ll even wash that away. I use it both morning and night. You can also use it as a hydration mask — set your face for two minutes, brush your teeth, and then wash it off.
We wanted to over-invest in hydration because gel-to-foam cleansers can be stripping, and for my sensitive skin, that’s not great. But I love gel-to-foam formulas, and so we added in beta-glucan and hyaluronic acid. We have a seaweed species called Laminaria Japonica, which is the most hydrating of the 12 seaweed species, and seaweed is very sustainable — we should eat more of it since there’s so much excess in our oceans. It has glycerin. It has prebiotics. It’s kind of an all-in-one solution. It’s also fragrance free and just plumps your skin so deliciously. I’m just wowed by it. I’m like, Whoa, my skin looks dewy after I wash it. How is that I’ve never found a cleanser that does that?
I love the Dr. Dennis Gross face steamer. It has been a game-changer for me. It opens up your pores and allows them to soak up products better. I use it maybe four times a week — I’m mostly lazy these days, but I try to do it to end my day or to invigorate my face in the morning. You can have your own home steamer, but you have to wait for the water to boil, you have to then put it in something, you have to dump the water in the sink. The Dr. Dennis Gross one is kind of no-fuss — you just put the water in, turn it on, and seconds later, it’s steaming your face. You turn it off, and you go about your day. I know that it’s a little pricey, but when it comes to convenience, there is no price that you can pay to save time and energy and get real results, I think.
I love Liah Yoo’s Krave Kale-lalu-yAHA when I need that extra boost to slough off dead skin. I won’t use it every day — I’ll use it on days when I feel like I was extra sweaty or maybe I need to finally exfoliate — and it’s been gentle enough for my sensitive skin, and I think that it’s going to be gentle for everyone’s skin. It doesn’t have a fragrance, which I really like.
I always pat it in with my hands — that’s what I’ve learned from my mom. She never used a cotton pad, and she just warmed it in her hands. Sometimes I will use a reusable cotton round if I want that action of sloughing the skin, but really, the acids should be able to break down the dead cells in your face.
I would say six weeks is a good time to see cellular turnover and really see results with this. I know that people want immediate results, but rarely do you find immediate results with skin care. Maybe it’ll give you a glow or maybe you’ll feel dewy, but are you actually seeing the benefits of it?
This probiotic serum does it all. It has Moringa seed oil. It has carrot seed oil. It has probiotics. It has bakuchiol. It has blue tansy. I mean, this is the ultimate product that is going to cool the skin — if you have skin that is acting up or angry, it is going to be its best friend, and that’s why we call it the “We Come in Peace” serum. My sister told me that she had a huge cystic acne bump and the day after using this serum, it went away. One of our interns had eczema, and after a week of using it, the eczema resolved, and I was like, Oh my gosh. This is insane. People are getting real results, and that, to me, is a signifier of a true winner. Sometimes I even use it as a primer for makeup. I use it sometimes just as a moisturizer when I’m feeling lazy because it is very hydrating and it has this amazing smell — I think comes from the blue tansy.
I was having a conversation with somebody the other day, and they were like, “I don’t believe in red light,” and I was like, “Well, I do.” And I am also addicted to my phone so I can’t sit seven minutes with a face mask on and with my eyes closed — I can’t. This solves that problem. When I’m watching Netflix, when I’m reading a book, or when I’m DMing someone, I can use the SolaWave wand up and down my face. I apply a serum, and then it’s kind of like I’m doing gua sha. It’s been amazing because if you have an acne bump, you can just use it for that bump, or if you want to get into crevices because maybe some parts need more love, this allows you to do that, too. I think it’s ingenious. Recently, I had a cystic pimple, and I used the SolaWave for three days, and the bump did shrink — I left it on for five minutes each day, nothing too excessive.
When I was growing up, my mom aspired to use this brand and sometimes didn’t feel like she could afford it — or she would rather spend her money elsewhere, like feeding her children. [Laughs] Later in life, when I got her Sulwhasoo, it was this experience that we shared. My mom and I both love it, and my mom’s stamp of approval is the ultimate stamp of approval. We love the heritage of the brand, the ginseng in the brand. The eye cream is very effective. I think that a lot of eye creams are just heavier moisturizers, but this one feels like an instant Botox. I don’t know if it’s good for dark circles, but I will say that it tightens and brightens, and it also gets deep in those wrinkled crevices so that when you do wake up, you feel as if it’s less saggy or baggy.
This is the one product as a beauty editor that I will buy. It’s great for acne-prone skin — it has niacinamide, so it’s also gonna help clear your skin. It has hyaluronic acid. The formula doesn’t leave a white cast, and every time I put it on, everyone’s like, “Oh, what are you using? You’re so dewy.” I’m like, “It’s sunscreen!” I never reapply throughout the day if I’m indoors, but if I am outdoors and I’m sweating a little more, yes. Honestly, these days, who has the time? We’re out in a post-pandemic world. I’m like, “Sun, hit me! I haven’t seen you in a long time.”
It’s important to understand that the gender binary was created in the West. I’m talking about the Western world because still by and large, the world is based on a Western lens. It’s the oppressive, dominant lens. When it comes to the gender binary and gender roles, I always question things. Why is it that boys have to wear blue and girls have to wear pink? And when I was researching the history, it actually started that girls were associated with blue and boys were associated with pink, and the power structures changed it, and I felt that it was so absurd. From then on, I was like “Whoa, what else can I uncover?”
I’ve wanted to prove to my friends, my industry peers, and even my own parents that men have also participated in beauty, and it doesn’t make you less than. If you see someone with a full face of makeup, you shouldn’t judge them. You should understand that that is their way of showing their power. I actually found that throughout all these characters in my book that cosmetics and skin care amplify these powerful people to finally reach their success. People use products, and those products made them feel so powerful that they achieved amazing great things.
When we allow ourselves to rise to the occasion and become unabashed in our own agency and demand respect no matter what we look, that’s when our lives change and that’s when greatness comes in and that’s when we can really change the world. I really believe one person really can change the world. Like, King Louis XIV. He created the whole wig trend, and that wasn’t a thing for men, ever. He was like, Why not? I’m gonna do it, and it became a thing.