It’s basically the reason this blog was created. The 10 Step Korean Skincare Routine befuddles westerners but don’t back away, read the rest of this post to get a start on your kbeauty journey! The routine may seem daunting at first but after some time it becomes natural and logical. You may be asking yourself, “How could you possibly find 10 steps to put on your face?” Well, depending on how invested you are and how simple you like to be, the number of products could even go to 12 steps. Some people will only have three steps. It all varies considerably for different people as skincare is a personal and unique regime. Nevertheless, we all have to start by learning what the steps are.
Step One: Eye/Makeup Remover
I don’t wear makeup so this isn’t a field I’m experienced in but I do understand that sleeping with your makeup on is bad. How could it not be? Layers of product that contain ingredients not made to be consumed by the skin sitting on your skin for over 16 hours. Of course, the pores will be clogged and the skin possibly irritated. Of course, there are some makeup products that can be good for your skin but generally speaking, this step is extremely important.
Step Two: Oil Cleanser
I know what you’re thinking, “Oil? On my skin? On acne prone skin?”Yes, of course, I get it. It seems so counter-intuitive. Especially when you have acne prone combo to oily skin, putting oil on the face just doesn’t seem like a good idea. But it is a good idea, it’s actually a great one! Especially if you wear a lot of makeup, you don’t realize it but your makeup remover might not actually be removing all of your makeup! Trace amounts of product can still be left on the skin. An oil cleanser is really effective in washing off remnants of makeup. It’s also a must-have if you wear sunscreen (which you should! Every day!). Sunscreen is similar to makeup in which it doesn’t come off easily. An oil cleanser gently emulsifies the sunscreen or makeup and washes away easily. Oil cleansers are also generally more moisturizing than a typical cleanser, There are two different types of oil cleansers, the most popular one being the liquidy oil type. It generally comes in a pump bottle and will feel exactly like you would expect. A sherbert oil cleanser is generally stored in a jar. It is solid but easily breakable and melts quickly with a rub of the hands. The pump package seems to be more sanitary but it depends on your preference. This is an essential step! Although, you only really need to perform it at night
Recommended: Heimish All Clean Balm
Step Three: Water Cleanser
Another one? Another one. Yes, there are three steps of cleansing and depending on how extra you are there can be four or five. The water cleanser is water based rather than oil based and is not meant to take off makeup. It can probably remove remnants of remnants as well as possible residue from the oil cleanser. You need it when you wash your face with a cleansing oil but also if you happen to not wear sunscreen (gasp) and/or makeup, you can just use a water-based cleanser. These cleansers can give you the squeaky clean feeling you crave or be the gentle light formula you wish for. One word of advice, if you love foaming cleansers, be sure to choose one that’s in a bottle that foams it up for you. Creating bubbles and foam on your face may be satisfying but it can seriously irritate your face. You can also just create the foam in your hands first but the cleanser may try to create more foam as you wash your face. Water you waiting for? Go out there and find your perfect water-based cleanser! This is an essential step! You need to clean your face at least once a day. The pollution and dirt that collects on the skin can most definitely break you out.
Recommended: Cosrx Low PH Good Morning Gel Cleanser
Step Four: Exfoliation
I guess it can be considered a cleansing step. Granted, you probably don’t want to do this more than 2 times a week so it’s not really a daily routine step. Depending on your skin type and your exfoliation product, you may go up to every day or you may only do it once a week. The general consensus is if you aren’t sure, try twice a week. Exfoliation products scrub the dead skin cells off your face and promote skin cell regeneration. There are lots of different ways to exfoliate: scrubs, peeling gels, peeling masks, chemical, physical, etc. I prefer chemical exfoliants as they prove to be more gentle but some people love physical exfoliants. When using physical exfoliants gently circle the fingers into the skin. Don’t rub excessively. Pain is not equal to better skin, you may even be implanting tiny scratches on your face. The main types of chemical exfoliants are AHA and BHA. They are both acids and very prominent in most chemical exfoliants. There are also combinations of the two like neogen’s gauze peeling pads. Neogen’s pads are lightly textured to swipe across the face and remove layers of dead skin and dirt and they are also presoaked in a gentle exfoliant formula. Many brands have been coming out with pads like these and this step is quite popular now. It is convenient for people on the go (or just people who are feeling lazy). Some pad formulas also take on the function as a toner as well as an exfoliant eliminating the next step.
Step Five: Toner
Kind of another cleaning step? For this step, some people like to use cotton pads and soak their pads in toner and then swipe on the face to distribute the toner. Personally, I feel like this wastes product, so I like to put it directly in my hands and pat it on my face. I have heard some people say that even after makeup remover, an oil-based cleanser, a water-based cleanser, and an exfoliant they swipe a cotton pad over their face to find dirt and dust. I guess if you live in a highly polluted area or you wear a lot of makeup, you could experiment with cotton pads and see which method you prefer. The toner is essentially supposed to balance your pH level after your cleansing (even if you have a low pH cleanser) and get your skin ready for your next products. It actually helps your skin absorb products deeper, faster, and more efficiently. It should provide some level of moisture and comfort to your skin after several steps of cleansing. This is an essential product that even the most basic skincare routine includes. The step may be fused with other steps (toner/essence is common) but this step definitely takes your skincare to another level.
Recommended: dearKlairs Supple Preparation Toner
Step Six: Essence
Finally, the nitty-gritty begins. This step is much more specialized to your skin type (not that the others aren’t). Essences are used to moisturize and target your concerns. Such concerns could include but are not limited to: acne scars, acne, brightening, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and pores. Essences are generally slightly thicker than toners but slightly thinner than emulsions (if you choose to use one). The layering aspect of the routine generally goes from thinnest products to thicker products. There may be some variances as some toners are slightly thicker and some essences are more watery etc. Routines are very individualized and if there is a product that you really want to emphasize, you may put it earlier in the routine (after the toner of course!)
Recommended: Cosrx Snail 96 Mucin Essence
Step Seven: Emulsion
More moisturizer? More moisturizer. An emulsion is really just a lighter, watery moisturizer. There’s really not much more to it. Of course, you can get fancy with it and include special ingredients to boost your skin but it’s not especially necessary as you have several other products to do that. This is a step many people will skip as there are a couple more products to layer. But if its winter and your skin still feels dry, either upgrade your moisturizer or get an emulsion!
Step Eight: Serum
Yes, I know it’s a lot of moisturizer. But wait! This moisturizer is super, supercharged with skin benefits. The serum (or booster or ampoule) is generally the thickest product in the routine with a syrupy texture. These are the most effective and targeted products in your skincare routine. Some people like to put this product right after toning or essence to really let the effects sink into the skin. Serums include ingredients like vitamin C for brightening or will have specific ingredients for wrinkles, spots, acne, acne scarring, and moisturizing. (Some people just can’t get enough!) If you’re thinking of cutting out the essence, you can but it is considered essential, hence the name. Unlike the emulsion, the essence is still specified but is closer to the skin. For picky skin, a serum might be too much and an essence with its fluid texture could be better. Some people like to divide the essence’s concerns and the serum’s. For example, you could have an essence targeted toward acne but a serum targeted toward brightening. With so many steps, customization is natural as long as you understand the properties of the routine and the products. If you happen to get a vitamin C serum for brightening, beware of oxidization. Never place your vitamin C serum in a warm and/or brightly lit area as it will oxidize quickly and may be harmful to your skin. If your serum starts to turn yellow or orange it is starting to oxidize. If the yellow/orange color is still faint you can try to finish it quickly or simply throw it away. If the discoloration is evident I would highly recommend you throw it away. You can try refrigerating your serums and other products to make them last longer.
Recommended: dearKlairs Vitamin C Serum
*If you like vitamin C serums/products, be careful not to wear them during the day unless instructed. Vitamin C is known to oxidize in the light and may harm your skin in the process.
Step Nine: Sheet Mask
The famous step that gives you skin like a kpop star! Not really though. All this moisturizer is a lot for most people. If you complete every single one of the eight steps above, your skin will be bursting with water. Yet still, in South Korea there is a saying that goes, “A sheet mask a day…” that’s it. Yes, you heard right, a sheet mask every single day. To be honest, I don’t think most people in South Korea are completing every single step in the routine every day, twice a day. It’s an option but their routines most likely did not include emulsions. Sheet masks are different from moisturizers and emulsions as they have the solid barrier on their face. This is why it’s toward the end of the routine. It locks in the moisture like no other. Yet because the essence is thinner than the remaining steps, it can’t be the last step. Either way, sheet masks also can have several purposes other than just moisturizing. They also can help acne, plump wrinkles, even skin texture, all the good things for your skin. Some sheet masks come with several steps: cleanser, toner, and sheet mask. (sometimes serum!) There are several varieties of sheet masks, all made for different concerns and price points.
- The most common is cotton. It absorbs product well, people are generally not allergic to it, and it has various thicknesses for different amounts of essence. Cotton sheet masks are also generally the cheapest. They usually come as one whole piece.
- If you want to splurge a little more you can get a hydrogel mask. These masks are super cooling and are very moisturizing. They will sometimes come in two pieces for a better fit on the face. Sometimes they will have gold for locking in moisture but it significantly raises the price. Personally, I think the gold is a little extra as there are so many other ingredients that can lock in moisture for a much lower price. But if you are looking to feel luxurious as many do when using a sheet mask, a gold hydrogel mask could suit you perfectly.
- The coolest sheet masks (at least I think so) are made from plant material. They can be made from seaweed, fermented flowers, and such. They are usually the most expensive. (For regular people) The material itself contains beneficial properties for an extra boost that other sheet masks can’t acheive as easily.
For an extra cooling sensation, store all your sheet masks in the fridge! It makes every session an extra special one. If you don’t think a sheet mask a day is right for you, try to keep it to at least one or two a week. Just to make sure that you’re keeping the moisture locked in. (Sheet Masks also make great presents!)
Recommended: Innisfree It’s Real Squeeze Mask
Step Ten: Eye Cream
It’s never too early to start using eye cream. It’s never too late either! Some kids start at age ten! The fear of wrinkles is real. The skin around your eyes is much more sensitive to movement because of its thinness. So it needs an extra gentle (you guessed it) moisturizer. Eye creams are specifically made to prevent and/or help wrinkles, help undereye circles, and undereye bags. Of course the best thing for (not genetic) undereye circles and bags is sleep but I’m sure the right cooling eye cream could help. If you’re a little younger and wrinkles are not your first priority, thinner eye creams are still preventive. Eye creams are one of the more expensive products in proportion to the amount of product given because of their high nutrient dense properties. They make great gifts for the more mature people in your life.
Step Eleven: Moisturizer
I know I said it’s ten steps but exfoliators and sheet masks are usually a daily step so…. Anyways, back to Moisturizers! Moisturizers are extremely concentrated water bombs for your skin. Their sole purpose is to moisturize your skin as gently, quickly, and fully as possible. A good moisturizer will moisturize your skin well but not break you out, while retaining the moisture without feeling unnecessarily tight. It will sink into your skin and not sit on top of it. If you have oily skin and you don’t need a lot of moisture, you really don’t need half of these steps. Of course you should still use some sort of moisturizer whether it be a cream, an emulsion, an essence, or a sheet mask to regain the moisture lost by the cleansing steps but you can and should customize the routine.
Step Twelve: SPF
Sunscreen is often overlooked but it is incredibly important. It is one of the things that is not an option, it cannot be eliminated, and it is thankfully generally affordable. Protecting your skin from UV rays is one of the biggest factors of skincare. It is easily resolved but most people believe that when indoors, the sun won’t get you. Let me tell you, it can and it will. UV Rays travel through glass, through clouds, and through the cold air. Even if it’s winter, and the sky is cloudy with little sun and you’re going to be spending most of your time indoors, you need sunscreen. The UV Rays will still reach you and even if it’s not in full force they can still be harmful. Yes, they are not swords that are being launched at your skin at full speed but needles pricking your skin will still hurt and still should be blocked. Korean sunscreens have a tendency to cause white casts, especially if you are darker than a pale beige. Try to look for more watery sunscreens and it shouldn’t be as much of a problem. There is lot’s more to sunscreens but that is another article for another time. Just remember that sunscreen is very important but you only have to wear it during the day! (So does it count as a half step?)
Step Twelve (Part 2!): Sleeping Mask
A Sleeping Mask or Sleeping Pack is the final step of the skincare routine. It’s not an extremely important step but it does prevent moisture loss. Sleeping masks also have ingredients that smooth and plump the skin. They can have some extra ingredients like green tea to soothe the skin and create a sleepy atmosphere but they are definitely a step that many will skip. Some people use their sleeping mask during the day as a moisturizer since the two are very similar. One moisturizes and one seals in moisture. Much like the rest of the routine, the step is adjustable, versatile, and personal.
Recommended: Cosrx Ultimate Moisturizing Honey Overnight Mask
If you got through this whole thing, thank you and I’m sorry for all the bad jokes. Overall, this routine may seem scary but trust the process and your gut. For some, they can’t live without the whole nine yards. Some just want the easiest routine possible. This means the basic necessities. The easiest of the easiest routines will only be 3 steps. If you are just getting started, you might not even need to wash your face in the morning. If your skin is relatively normal with not too much oil and not too dry, give your face a splash of water and apply toner, moisturizer, and SPF.
- remove makeup(only if you wear makeup)
- oil cleanse(only at night)
- water-based cleanse
- exfoliate(twice a week)
- sheet mask(at least once a week)
- eye cream
- sleeping mask/SPF
So go forth! Learn about your preferences! Experiment with the order and ingredients in different products! There is so much more than just the products above. Powders, pads, patches, and more!
Thanks for fighting with us! Tune in next Friday for a review of the Heimish All Clean Balm! ❤ Follow and like if you enjoyed this post and want to see more.
7 thoughts on “The 10 Step Korean Skincare Routine”
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Thanks for reading the post Monica!
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Thanks for letting me know Elizebeth! I will try to get this fixed ASAP.
This is a topic that is near to my heart… Best wishes! Exactly where are your contact details though?