Who wants to be a ‘skinfluencer’ (and launch their own products)? Board-certified MD and TikTok star Dr. Zion Ko spills her secrets
Call it misinformation frustration, lockdown fatigue or just the need for a fun outlet during a time that was anything but. Board-certified internal medicine physician Dr. Zion Ko turned to social media during the pandemic to let off a little steam and share her favorite skincare ingredients (retinol, SPF and vitamin C) for “walking out of quarantine with your best self.” TikToks of doctors dancing in lab coats were becoming status quo, but Dr. Zion did something different: constantly unapologetically posting while patched up in eye masks (like, everywhere—while driving, at lunch, you name it).
“When I started filming it wasn’t like, oh, I’m going to film this with eye masks on and make it my signature,” she says. “I probably had them on already because I’m always wearing eye masks. I wear them on lunch breaks. Co-workers are so used to seeing me patched up, they’re not even phased—wearing eye masks anywhere and everywhere is completely normal to me.”
Dr. Zion’s normalization of filming while wearing eye masks—combined with her pandemic-popular skincare hacks, doctor-quality skincare advice and videos that guest-starred her skincare guru (and now equally famous) Korean mom—established her as a rising skinfluencer superstar on social media (TikTok in particular with her authentic, honest style).
Dr. Zion’s skinfluencer beginnings has been nurtured since the earliest days by her age-defying Korean mom. “I remember my mom giving me baby serums when I was younger and telling me I needed to be religious with sunscreens,” she says. “When I was off at college, my mom would send me ‘skin’ care packages. Most care packages have snacks or comforting things from home, but my mom is sending me more serums.”
One of her favorite ingredient obsessions has always been retinol. “As an internist, I looked for all the research—retinol is an ingredient that’s scientifically proven,” Dr. Zion says. “Whether people want more minimalistic skincare or want a 20-step routine, retinol is mandatory no matter your gender or age.” (Humble brag time: Dr. Zion says she actually saved “my babysitting money to buy Murad’s retinol again and again,” adding that “it was not irritating at all.”)
A little more than a decade later (call it kismet), Dr. Zion is teaming with Murad to marry these two skincare loves—retinol and eye masks. But eye masks are aplenty in the skincare world, so she wanted to make sure her masks offered something different: “The shape was something I really put my work into. I’ve used so many eye masks, and little sizes never made much sense to me. I’d wear them flipped so the bigger part could cover my inner eye, but that left out my crow’s feet. I never want to leave out any part of the eye, but there wasn’t a way to address the entire area.” With pen in hand, she drew out her ideal shape and ended up with an “extra-large shape leaves no part of the eye untreated.”
Second only to the shape? Ingredients: “So many eye masks are so cute for selfies, but are they doing anything? I found vitamin C for brightening or hyaluronic acid for hydrating, but couldn’t find retinol for its collagen-stimulating benefits. We crease, we wrinkle, we lose elasticity around the eye—retinol is magic and the eyes deserve retinol!”
Also, Dr. Zion knows that ingredient performance is only as good as its delivery system, so she made sure to address one of the most common quibbles about eye masks—slippage (which makes ingredient delivery tricky). “My question was, how do we make the retinol work even better?” So she drew on her medical experience: “Bio-cellulose is used in hospitals because it helps with trans-epidermal absorption, versus other materials that just lie on your skin. Bio-cellulose is at the top of the pyramid of eye-mask materials because there’s no ingredient evaporation. It locks in the ingredients so you’re getting 100% of its benefits. That’s something you won’t get from other eye mask materials, and that means more ingredient bang for your buck.”
She leaves us with this parting advice: “Schedule, don’t skip.” Meaning, all retinol products, including her new eye mask collab with Murad, should be used consistently. “These masks definitely deliver an instant pick-me-up, but they should be used regularly—even if that means patching up during a Zoom call or trip to the market! Caring for your skin shouldn’t be embarrassing. My opinion on driving to the store with eye masks on is that we should all be doing it.”