The 10-Step Korean Skin Care Routine, Made Simple
Whilst the West remains enamored with three-step retinol, exfoliators, and acids, Koreans have moved on to a multi-layered ten-step skincare routine, that makes use of cleansers, serums, toners, and masks. Known as the hallmark of modern Korean beauty, this popular skincare routine can either intimidate or inspire fierce devotion in some.
Contrary to popular belief, you’re not required to do all ten products every day, if you can’t afford it. Instead, Korean skincare is all about discovering a good variety of products that work for you, tailored to your skin type and problems. To the Koreans, having adequate hydration is the secret in fighting aging properties –– it helps with reducing wrinkles, shrinking pores, firming skin, and lightening hyperpigmentation –– so that your skin appears younger, healthier, and more radiant from the inside out. With this, let’s dive right into the routine, and begin your journey towards achieving glowing, beautiful skin.
The Holy Grail Of Skincare: Korea’s Ten-Step Beauty Routine
Regardless of what skin type you are, here are four core stages that we recommend everyone to follow. Stage 1: Cleansing (Step 1-3), Stage 2: Preparation (Step 4), Stage 3: Treatment (Step 5-8), Stage 4: Protection (Stage 9-10). As long as you’ve covered all four core stages,
it’s perfectly fine if you decide to skip some products from the ten-step routine.
The routine usually follows this order: oil-based cleansers, water-based cleansers, exfoliators, toners, essences, serums/boosters/ampoule treatments, sheet masks, eye creams, moisturizers, and lastly, SPF protection. Feel free to experiment with the products and find something that works for you.
Step 1: Oil-Based Cleansers
Step one of Korea’s famous double-cleansing method is to use oil-based cleansers. When applied to dry skin, oils can draw out and dissolve excess sebum, act as a makeup remover, and remove any oil-based impurities (such as dirt, pollution, product debris) left on your skin. We recommend using oil-based cleansers as an alternative to harsh makeup removers, as oils have additional anti-aging and nourishing benefits. Not only do oil-based cleansers help to soften and hydrate the skin, but they also keep any beneficial oils within the skin intact, which maintains healthy sebum production.
Step 2: Water-Based Cleansers
Whilst oil-based cleansers are effective in removing sebum, pollutants, and any oil-based impurities, it isn’t as great against pore-clogging sweat and dirt; hence, this is where water-based cleansers come in! However, we strongly encourage only using products with a low pH –– our skin is naturally acidic and falls between 4.2 and 6.5 on the pH scale. Add anything north (or south) of that, and our skin becomes either too alkaline or too acidic. Having skin with an unhealthy pH level can result in acne development, blotches, skin irritation, excessive tightness, and more.
A low pH level cleanser ideal for those with acne-prone skin, it contains Glycerin and Caprylyl Glycol that works towards clearing impurities and acne-causing bacteria with every wash.
Great for sensitive skin and extremely mild, this cleanser is a fan favorite. It is moisturizing and hypoallergenic especially since it is infused with Panthenol to strengthen the skin barrier.
Step 3: Exfoliators
Exfoliation refers to the process of removing dead skin cells or debris using a physical or chemical granular substance. In return, this helps to deep cleanse the skin, increase the skin turnover process, even out skin tones, smoothen skin texture, and even prevent whitehead and blackhead formation. You can’t miss this step! It’s essential for creating a clean canvas for nourishing and hydrating the skin later on.
Physical exfoliators work by removing the top layer of dead skin cells through rubbing and massaging. However, those with sensitive skin (such as rosacea) or who cannot withstand physical scrubbing can opt for a chemical exfoliator. These exfoliants work by penetrating the skin and dissolving the intercellular glue holding the dead skin cells together.
Step 4: Toners
Though toners are often thought of as another harsh, alcohol-laden astringent in America, Korean toners are anything but. Designed to balance and hydrate the skin, Korean skincare toners are typically mild moisturizers that regulate your skin’s pH level at an optimal 5.5. This protects our skin’s natural acidic mantle, which acts as a chemical barrier that keeps external harmful bacteria out, whilst locking moisture in. Furthermore, Korean toners come with hydrating and soothing properties, which nourish the skin and prepares it for the following steps.
Ideal for those looking for a moisturizing daily toner, this rose water toner contains Rose Canina Fruit Extract to soothe and soften your skin as well as wipe away any excess dirt or oil.
Gently treat dead skin cells and enlarged pores with this pH-balanced toner that contains 10,000 ppm of natural tea tree extract that works to brighten your skin while reducing wrinkles.
Step 5: Essences
In the world of Korean skincare, it’s all about layering products to let your skin breathe, rather than relying on one thick cream to work all the magic. So whilst toner acts as the first layer of moisture, the essence is the second. Essence products contain a concentrated formula that aims to diminish fine lines, wrinkles, uneven skin tones, and dullness. Though it is thinner (and watery) in texture, an essence product is still designed to be slightly heavier than a toner. This is because essence contains active ingredients designed to promote cell turnover rate, which maximizes your skin’s absorption rate for the next products to come.
Step 6: Serums, Boosters, Ampoules
After so much talk about preparation (cue toners and essences), it’s time to bring out the big guns. Serums are highly potent products that deliver powerful ingredients into your skin, with the intent of treating any kind of skin problem you may have –– such as hyperpigmentation, dullness, dryness, and wrinkles. These products have a more viscous texture than essences or toners, as they contain heavy-hitting, skin-penetrating ingredients that nourish and replenish the skin.
On the other hand, ampoules are widely considered to be the more concentrated version of serums. Ampoule products contain even more active and heavy-hitting ingredients, which deliver the ultimate amount of goodness to your skin. If you’re aiming to get that Korean glass skin effect, you won’t want to skip this step.
Regardless of whether you have stressed and dull skin or dry and irritated skin, this ampoule that contains Panthenol and Propolis Extract will provide your skin with long-lasting moisture and dew.
If you have a dull complexion or dark spots and blemish that you want to rid of, this ampoule is perfect for you as it has Niacinamide that works towards diminishing dullness.
Step 7: Sheet Masks
Yep, you heard it right –– more serum and moisture to come! Easily the most well-known product in the K-beauty world, sheet masks have become so ubiquitous that they’re found nearly everywhere. Sheet masks aim to accomplish two things: to further boost up your skin’s hydration and active ingredient content, and to build a natural barrier over your skin, which keeps all that goodness intact. Most often soaked in serum or essence, sheet masks act as a protectant between your skin and the air around it, which keeps the moisture where it belongs: within your skin.
Step 8: Eye Creams
The eye is one of the first places where aging effects begin to set in, as the skin around it is way thinner and more delicate than the rest of our face. And as you’ve guessed, eye care is extremely important to Koreans who want to reduce wrinkles, fine lines, dark circles, puffiness, and sagginess around the eyes as soon as possible. Designed to hydrate and nourish the ultra-thin skin around your eyes, eye creams work as a preventative treatment to lighten any signs of aging, especially if you use it before these effects set in. We recommend using this product at night, where your skin can absorb all its benefits whilst you sleep.
Step 9: Moisturizers, Nourishing Oils
In Korean skincare, there isn’t such a thing as too much moisture –– even if it may seem a little redundant. Applying this vital layer of moisture helps to lock in all the layers before it and gives your skin an added boost of hydration. Because it is partly water-based, moisturizers act as a humectant, which makes them effective in drawing and retaining water within the skin.
Of all the hydrating ingredients before it, moisturizing oils come last due to the presence of occlusives. These are ingredients that form a seal (otherwise known as a hydrophobic film) over the surface of your skin, which prevents any loss of moisture from evaporation.
Achieve glossy skin with this 4 in 1 cream that works as a moisturizer, primer, and luminizing cream at the same time; plus, it works as a glowing base before you apply your makeup.
Highly nutritional and moisturizing, this cream is gentle on the skin and works as a powerful anti-aging cream that is infused with Orchid Elixir extract to improve your skin’s tone and elasticity.
Step 10: SPF Protection
We’ve finally arrived at sunscreens: the final step of this ten-product skincare routine. Wearing sunblock every day is a must to protect yourself from UV damage, which comes in two forms –– the UVA and UVB rays. Whilst UVA rays expedite the aging process, giving you faster age spots, lines, and wrinkles, UVB rays result in sunburns and dark spots. Unfortunately, both rays are cancer-causing, which is why applying sunscreen daily is so important. We strongly encourage wearing sunscreen daily, even if you’re just hanging out at home. Yes, the UV rays can even reach you indoors!
Although this ten-step skincare routine works wonders and has great results, we recognize that it may not be for everyone. Each person’s skin reacts differently to using so many products, and budget and time constraints may make applying this many products challenging. We recommend picking and choosing the products that work for you, instead of forcing yourself to do all ten steps daily. Above all, remember that Korean skincare is all about devoting time to self-care –– taking time out for yourself will give you great results in the long run.
|1||NEEDLY Mild Cleansing Gel|
A low pH level cleanser ideal for those with acne-prone skin, it contains Glycerin that works towards clearing impurities.
|2||Etude House SoonJung pH 6.5 Whip Cleanser|
Great for sensitive skin and extremely mild, this cleanser is moisturizing, hypoallergenic and strengthens the skin barrier.
|3||Mamonde Rose Water Toner|
Ideal for those looking for a moisturizing daily toner, this rose water toner contains Rose Canina Fruit Extract to soothe your skin.
|4||SOME BY MI AHA BHA PHA 30 Days Miracle Toner|
Gently treat dead skin cells and enlarged pores with this pH-balanced toner that contains 10,000 ppm of natural tea tree extract.
|5||COSRX Full Fit Propolis Light Ampoule |
Regardless of whether you have stressed or dull skin, this ampoule contains Panthenol to thoroughly moisturize your skin.
|6||Missha Vita C Plus Ascorbic Acid Spot Correcting & Firming Ampoule|
If you have a dull complexion, this ampoule is perfect for you as it has Niacinamide that works towards diminishing dullness.
|7||Missha Glow Skin Balm|
Achieve glossy skin with this 4 in 1 cream that works as a moisturizer, primer, and luminizing cream at the same time.
|8||Innisfree Jeju Orchid Enriched Cream|
Highly nutritional and moisturizing, this cream is gentle and works as a powerful anti-aging cream that is infused with Orchid Elixir extract.