Thirty-one-year-old David Yi is the founder behind the aptly named beauty website Very Good Light, a place where men can learn and tell stories about everything related to beauty, skincare and the emerging, increasingly flexible brand of masculinity Generation Z and young millennials are pushing. Recent stories include: “I Tried a Booty-Enhancing Beauty Line to Make My Ass More Beautiful,” “Patriots Player Wishes He Told Aaron Hernandez This: ‘I Won’t Stop Being Your Friend’” and “The Black Guy’s Guide to Korean Beauty.”
On that last count, Yi, as a Korean-American, injects the site with a global perspective heavily informed by Korea’s massive beauty and skincare market (in which men are the most popular spokesmodels) and with an editorial voice honed during his time at publications including Mashable (where he founded its fashion and beauty vertical), Women’s Wear Daily and Harper’s Bazaar.
I caught up with Yi over the phone earlier this week to talk about destigmatizing male makeup, the gender neutral future of your local beauty counter and those ultra-popular snail-mucus masks from Korea.
What are some good examples of the beauty editorials you create for guys?
Recently, we did a story destigmatizing acne and celebrating the beauty of models with acne. We’ve also done editorials about the beauty of wearing turbans and how different their cultural connotations are here than in India. We like sharing stories related to skincare, beauty and masculinity that aren’t found elsewhere. I love beauty because of how inclusive it is. When I covered fashion, you had to be one particular size or shape — basically, very tall and skinny — to wear the clothes. Beauty allows everyone to experiment and mimic celebrity looks.
I’ve noticed some pretty active commenters on the Very Good Light site. What has surprised you most about the community that you’ve created?
Probably how curious these guys are about the beauty market and how specific their questions are. When we first launched, we published basic stories like “Why You Should Wear Toner.” But we quickly realized a lot of men already know a lot about skincare and grooming. We also realized how interested they are in learning about certain products, whether it’s something they’re going to buy for themselves or their daughters. I knew there was an interest in these kinds of conversations among men, but I didn’t anticipate so many guys would already have such a knowledge base. They want more progressive stories.
The Very Good Light post about “crusty-ass Western men” made me laugh. What kind of cultural difference does this speak to?
There’s a stigma in Western culture that being too pampered or too groomed makes you less of a man, but in Korean culture, if you don’t have groomed eyebrows and flawless skin, it means you aren’t respectable, that you’re not someone who cares for yourself or your appearance. It means you haven’t worked hard enough to want to take care of who you are.
I do, however, think that’s changing. Men in the West are becoming more mature about their manhood. More and more are opening up their eyes and saying, “Whoa! What does it mean to be a man? Why is it that I think certain things? And why is it that I’ve been conditioned since I was a child to like certain things or to like certain colors or to be interested in certain topics?” This is slowly changing the culture.
Skincare is the new social currency. You can buy fake designer clothing, but you can’t fake beautiful, translucent, flawless skin. Great skin can show how conscious you are of what you put into your body and how well you tend to it. This is similar to what happened with men’s fashion in 2012. Kanye wore a leather kilt, and NBA players started becoming staples at fashion shows. Suddenly high fashion for men became accessible. That’s what’s going on now with skincare and beauty. Self-care is only going to become more and more important to these guys.
Yet most major Western beauty lines and retailers — e.g., Sephora — are still only marketing their products to women. Do you predict this will change in the years to come?
Yes, we’re becoming more gender neutral. In Korea, the Sephora equivalent is called Olive Young. There’s already an entire wall full of men’s products there. It’s my dream. They have skincare, eyebrow pencils, serums and BB creams. You name it, they have it for men. In Korea, they’ve found that male celebrities make effective brand ambassadors for both men and women, so male K-Pop stars and Korean male actors are the most sought after beauty ambassadors.
Korean skincare is known for advising people to follow a 10-step treatment plan for the cleanest, most well-moisturized skin possible. Do you prescribe to this system for men, too?
I do prescribe a 10-step beauty regimen, but it’s not very strict. It’s kind of ingrained in me at this point. First, I use an oil cleanser, then a foam cleanser. I’m loving belif’s foaming cleanser formula right now because it hydrates your face while it cleans it. Then I use Son and Park Beauty Water to further cleanse. Next, I use a toner — at the moment, P50 from Biologique Recherche. Some people hate this product because it smells like onions, but I love it. Then I exfoliate and use a serum before I move on to moisturizing. During the day, I use a light moisturizer with sunscreen. My favorite sunscreen is EltaMD. In the evenings before bed, I’ll use a heavier cream and then an eye cream and a sleeping mask (to lock in moisture overnight). A lot of nights, I’ll incorporate another mask, too — whether that’s a sheet mask, a cream-based mask or a charcoal mud mask.
Before we wrap up, let’s talk active ingredients. K-beauty products are known for incorporating certain elements that Western consumers are largely unfamiliar with, such as snail mucin (nutrients from snail slime). Has rubbing snails on your face done your skin well?
Snail mucin is super hydrating and also good for brightening up hyperpigmentation and dark spots. It makes your skin feel baby soft, but it’s also super slimy. I don’t like the texture, but a lot of people swear by it. Also, I read somewhere that brands electrocute snails to get them to leave their shells and make the mucus available. I don’t find this ethical, so I don’t gravitate toward those products. I do think Western men are becoming available to try this sort of thing though, especially when it seems particularly weird or crazy.