Lee Il-hwa began her career as an actress in 1992 with appearances in SBS’ Calendula and MBC’s Three Families Under One Roof. She has since starred in numerous TV series, including the SBS dramas First Wives’ Club and Iljimae in 2007 and 2008, respectively. In 2012, she was cast in tvN’s Answer Me 1997, which is the first installment of the successful Answer Me franchise, and also took part in Answer Me 1994 in 2013 and Answer Me 1988 in 2015. In 2013, she landed a supporting role in the widely popular SBS fantasy romantic comedy You From Another Star starring Jeon Ji-hyun and Kim Soo-hyun. In 2017, she was named Best Supporting Actress at the KBS Drama Awards for her performance in Chief Kim and Witch’s Court. She also bagged an Excellence Award at the 2017 Korea Drama Awards for her work in the former. In 2018, she became part of the MBC daily series Secrets and Lies, which earned her a Top Excellence Award at the MBC Drama Awards.

Lee Il-hwa married singer Kang In-won in 1996, but they got divorced only a year after. In 2011, she got remarried to a university professor.