Woman Wonder: The Heavy Lifting It Took to Regain My Confidence

heavy lifting

Inspired by Wonder Woman, we asked the K-Beauty Squad to share with us how they are a Woman Wonder in their own lives. Here, contributing editor Sheryll Donerson reveals the heavy lifting it took to regain her self-esteem.



After living in Vietnam for a couple years, I moved to Phuket, Thailand, last year. One might think I moved there for the stunning beaches, amazing food, and the ability to breathe fresh air again after choking in motorbike exhaust for two years in Ho Chi Minh City. All of these things are true, but there was a bigger force at play.


There is a street in Phuket called Soi Ta-iad, more affectionately known as “The Soi.” It is literal fitness heaven. There are protein smoothie stands, gyms, Muay Thai camps, MMA camps, fitness camps, and tons of healthy food that occupy the land on the 2-kilometer road. It was my goal to move to Phuket and finally lose weight after trying unsuccessfully for years.


Let’s rewind. When I was in my mid-20s, I suffered through a bout of depression and emotional eating that left me nearly 30 pounds heavier. I yo-yoed the weight off back and forth, even dropping nearly 20 pounds while I lived in Korea, only to gain most of it back eating my life away in Vietnam (pho is dangerous, ya’ll). I told myself that by my 30th birthday I wanted to get my weight under control once and for all, so when moving to Phuket came up for discussion, it was a no-brainer to go to a fitness camp there. I chose Unit-27, a total conditioning and fitness gym, specializing in high-impact strength and conditioning workouts. They had great reviews and the crazy intense, hour-long classes seemed fun.


heavy lifting


When I arrived for my first day at Unit, one of the coaches, Joy Somers, checked my weight and body fat and discussed goals with me. She suggested I start CrossFit, and I’m sure I looked at her like an insane person. All I’d ever heard about CrossFit were the gross dude bros who all hurt themselves trying to lift ridiculous amounts of weight using terrible form. She assured me this wasn’t the case, and told me to try it once to see if I liked it. I agreed.


The next morning, I took my first class and nearly died. But I was 100,000% sold. I couldn’t lift anything and almost passed out at the end, but everyone was super encouraging and helpful.


As the weeks went by, I started to catch on to all of the lingo, terminology, and moves that CrossFit is known for. I could back squat properly for the first time in my life. I could do a deadlift. I even started to work on my pull-up, something I never thought I would ever be able to do. And slowly but surely, I started lifting heavier, too.


The author before, left, and after.




As the weight I put on the bar continued to increase, my confidence grew. My body shaped changed. I stopped looking at the scale and instead started to track how much weight I was squatting during each workout and how I could improve. My whole perspective on my body changed. Instead of viewing myself as this sad, tired, depressed, and overweight woman, I transformed into a fearless, strong, confident weightlifting machine who could literally deadlift your boyfriend. (Literally — I just pulled a 205-pound deadlift the other day.)




CrossFit and lifting heavy weights have changed my life. When I get on the weightlifting platform and load up the bar for a set of squats, shoulder presses or deadlifts, I feel invincible. When I feel the weight on my shoulders or grip my chalky hands on the cool, sleek metal of the bar, there’s no one on the planet stronger than me. The number on the scale is a long-gone memory — I weighed myself a few days ago and instead of recoiling in horror, I thought about how that weight allows me to push myself each day during my workouts. I may not have abs or perfectly chiseled Michelle Obama arms, but I am strong. I am fearless. I am a Woman Wonder.


How are you a Woman Wonder in your life?





How I Deal With Hormonal Acne (and How K-Beauty Has Helped)

hormonal acne signs need k-beauty

Yes, there’s more to hormonal acne than just topical treatments (sugar, we’re looking at you!), but a K-beauty skincare routine makes a huge difference in the length and severity of a breakout. Here, how one K-beauty guru manages her hormonal acne.



Let’s keep it real. I have nice skin. I have worked very hard to have nice skin. And unfortunately, like clockwork, once a month, my skin is temporarily screwed over by my not-so-great-friend named Hormonal Acne. Hooray!


Despite my iffy skincare techniques in my youth, I had great skin all throughout high school and college. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s when ish got real, real quick. I developed terrible cystic acne that could only be tamed by Retin-A and harsh acne treatments. Birth control worked, too, but I had to stop that for various other health reasons.


Dealing with my hormonal acne is the ultimate struggle because I know every month it’ll be the same thing. Thankfully, I’ve learned to tackle my acne with love and care, instead of trying to purge them to death like I did in the past. Read on for my K-beauty inspired approach to keeping my hormonal acne at bay.


hormonal acne


What is hormonal acne?

Hormonal acne is characterized by breakouts along the chin, jawline, and sometimes cheeks, usually around the time of your period or by hormonal imbalances. It can also be caused by stress, a sugar or dairy heavy diet, and exhaustion. I’m sure we can all recall the times we pulled a stressful all-nighter and were blessed with a lovely care package of acne a couple of days later. Lovely, right?


Beauty from the inside out

I know it’s cliché, but what they say is true: You are what you eat. If I eat a lot of sugar, I break out. It’s inevitable. It’s especially worse when I am PMS’ing. I have thankfully weaned myself off of soda and most sugary desserts and candy, but I cannot say no to cupcakes and donuts. They are my kryptonite. But now, when the cravings hit, instead of reaching for something super sugary, I like to drink La Croix, because it’s carbonated like soda without the sugar, and a piece of fruit and plain Greek yogurt. I don’t have much of a reaction with dairy, but the thing about hormonal acne is that it’s all trial and error. Try cutting out or limiting your sugar and dairy intake to see if that makes a difference.



I track my period using the Clue app on my iPhone. This is important for a few reasons. When I know I’m hitting that sweet PMS zone, I like to preemptively cut back on my sugar intake and increase my usage of acne fighting AHA ingredients like lactic and glycolic acid. I’ve found that if I start working on the breakouts early, then I won’t have as much of a mess on my hands later.


Clean yo’ face


10-step skincare routine hormonal acne


One of the commandments of K-beauty is a clean face. Double cleansing has been a part of my life for so long I don’t even understand what I did before it. Even if I don’t wear makeup (and especially when I do), I use an oil-based cleanser to remove dirt, grime, and pollutants. I follow it up by using a pH balanced cleanser like the COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser.


My K-beauty approach

For so long, I bought into the whole “if it hurts, it must be working” approach when it came to my acne. I used harsh scrubs, drying acne treatments, and alcohol-laden toners with reckless abandon, in hopes that it would help my adult acne. Needless to say, it made it worse. Drying out your skin actually produces more oil, which makes your acne worse.


This is where my K-beauty approach comes in. Instead of thinking about my acne as a mortal enemy that needs to be eradicated with hate, I nurture, hydrate, and moisturize my skin. And surprise. My skin is great!


After I double cleanse my skin, I apply a chemical exfoliant of some sort. I rotate between using a BHA (to dissolve built-up oil, blackheads, and whiteheads, and “unglue” all the dead skin cells) and an AHA (to smooth out my skin). After about 15 to 20 minutes, I follow that up with a hydrating toner, then a sheet mask like my favorite Leaders Vaseline mask. After 20 minutes, I pat the remaining essence into my skin and apply a lightweight serum like the CELLNCO Super Hyaluronic Moisturizing Ampoule and slather on my all-time favorite Sulwhasoo Overnight Vitalizing Mask.


Focusing on a multi-step K-beauty routine instead of scrubbing my skin into oblivion has tremendously helped my hormonal acne. I still have minor breakouts, but I am able to manage them much better, and they don’t last nearly as long as they used to. #Blessed.


How do you deal with your hormonal acne? Let us know!

Sunscreen 101: What Everyone Has to Know

sunscreen 101

That 10-step (or 2-step) skincare routine you’ve got going on? It’s useless if you don’t wear sunscreen. Yes, everyone — and we mean everyone — needs to wear sunscreen, 24/7, 365. Here, we cover some of the basics of sunscreen 101.



The temperatures are rising and the sun is out. Summer is here so that means a few things for me — beach vacations, copious amounts of cold brew iced coffee, and making sure I slather on sunscreen every single day.


Sunscreen is a vital and necessary part of my skincare routine. If there is nothing else I do, I always wear sunscreen. Why?


1. I don’t want to age like a banana.

2. I want to prevent and get rid of my post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH).

3. I want to prevent my chances of getting skin cancer.

4. Contrary to popular belief, black people do get burned in the sun, and I don’t want to deal with that.


So in an effort to encourage everyone to wear sunscreen, I’m going to do a little sunscreen 101. Grab a drink, a notepad, and join me for a Q&A session.


sunscreen 101


Q: Sheryll. Do I really need to wear sunscreen? It’s cloudy/rainy/I’m dark skinned/I hate it/I don’t burn, etc.


The short answer to this question is a loud YES. Everyone, everywhere, regardless of what type of skin you have, should wear sunscreen. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing a broad-spectrum formula that is at least an SPF 30 or more every single day that you plan on being outdoors. And even though it might be cloudy or rainy on a particular day, the sun’s harmful UV rays are still being a hot mess so … wear sunscreen. EVERY DAY.


Q: What is the difference between a chemical and a physical sunscreen?


Let’s have a quick science lesson. The sun emits harmful UVA and UVB rays. They cause free radicals that damage our skin and cause a multitude of issues: premature aging, cancer, burns, etc. UVA rays cause most premature aging by penetrating through our delicate layers of skin, while UVB rays are the ones that cause us to burn (or tan if you’re lucky).


So what does this have to do with chemical and physical sunscreens? A chemical (also called organic) sunscreen absorbs the sun’s rays by using chemical filters, like avobenzone, octylcrylene, and ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate (octinoxate). They tend to offer more protection from both UVA and UVB rays, but some people find these chemical ingredients irritating. Physical (or inorganic) sunscreens use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to deflect the sun’s rays. However, titanium dioxide can cause some people to break out, and while zinc oxide protects against the full spectrum of UVB and UVA rays, titanium dioxide does not protect against all UVA rays. If you’re concerned, your best bet is to look for the PA+ rating, which is used in Korean sunscreens. (PA+++ or PA++++ will give you the best UVA protection.)


Chemical sunscreens tend to have a more watery, lightweight texture, while physical sunscreens are thick and can leave a white cast. Most sunscreens today feature a mix of both chemical and physical UV filters.


Q: Got it. So how much sunscreen should I apply each day? Is the sunscreen in my makeup enough? 


So glad you asked! A sunscreen is not like a typical skincare product. Its efficiency is directly related to how much you apply, when you apply, and reapplication. You should be applying approximately a ¼ to ½ teaspoon size amount of sunscreen each day. It sounds like a small amount, but the next time you’re applying your sunscreen, measure it out. You’re probably going to be surprised at how much it actually is. If you’ve been applying a pea-sized amount every day, you’re not getting enough sun protection. Sadly, this means that the sunscreen in your makeup is practically useless on its own.


amorepacific cushion compact sunscreen 101


Q. But I’m wearing makeup! How and when should I reapply?


As far as reapplication goes, you should be reapplying sunscreen roughly every two hours or after swimming or sweating. I know, I know. It’s a lot. But if you have any type of PIH (those darks marks you get after a pimple) or wrinkles or sun damage or are worried about aging, it’s a must. If you’re wearing makeup, look for a cushion, powder, or spray than has sun protection that you can keep in your bag. If you’re using a spray, be sure to spray it on thoroughly; a light mist won’t do.


If I am wearing makeup, I reapply my makeup using a sunscreen spray, like Supergoop or Kate Somerville. On days that I’m going makeup-free, I reapply using a lightweight, gel or fluid sunscreen. A tinted moisturizer with SPF works well, too!


Q: My sunscreen is greasy/oily/leaves a white cast. What do I do?


Listen, finding a good sunscreen is like finding a needle in a haystack. I’m black, acne-prone, and have really oily skin. When I’m looking for a sunscreen, I always look for a few key words: watery, gel, liquid, fluid. Sunscreens with these descriptors tend to be very lightweight and very easy to apply. I avoid sunscreens that have a tint for obvious reasons, but if that’s your jam, by all means go for it!


Some sunscreens that are oily girl friendly:


1. Laneige Light Sun Fluid SPF 50 PA+++

2. Sulwhasoo Hydro-aid Moisturizing Soothing UV Protection Fluid

3. Dr.Jart+ Every Sun Day Soothing Gel

4. The Face Shop Natural Sun Eco No Shine Hydrating Sun Cream


If I do get the dreaded white cast, I apply a lightweight tinted moisturizer or foundation over it. It’s not ideal, but at least I’m wearing sunscreen!


What is your holy grail sunscreen? Let me know in the comments!



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