A Beginner’s Guide to Korean Skincare: The 10-Step Routine
By now, everyone with an inkling of interest in beauty and skincare knows that Korea holds the gold standard for skin products. Koreans are known for their flawless skin, and it’s not because of genetics—it’s because they have a long tradition of taking care of their skin. Lately, a daily 10-step skincare routine popular in Korea has been gaining traction in the States. Ten steps might sound like a lot, but take it from a Korean-American who knows her stuff but isn’t quite obsessive when it comes to skincare: with some tips to get you started, even the average person can give it a whirl. Here’s a guide to the basics (what on earth is the difference between essence and serum?) and how to tackle the routine.
Here are all the 10 steps in the routine:
- Oil-based cleanser—Don’t let the word “oil” scare you; this is good for all skin types. Oil helps to better break up and remove all the makeup and dirt that accumulates throughout the day.
- Water/foam-based cleanser—A second cleanse ensures that any remaining dirt and makeup is removed and that you’re face is really clean.
- Exfoliator—Used two to three times a week to remove dead skin. This, plus the thorough cleaning steps above help maximize the affect of the following treatments.
- Toner—Balance the pH of your skin, prepping it to take in the full benefits of the products.
- Essence—A watery but concentrated formula that promotes faster cell-turnover rate, which helps prevent wrinkles and aging.
- Serum—Even more concentrated than essence, with active ingredients that targets specific problems. It’s often water-based, absorbing more quickly and penetrating more deeply than moisturizer.
- Sheet mask—A gel or cloth mask soaked in a serum can target everything from boosting collagen to fighting aging to brightening skin. These are typically used for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Eye cream—For anti-aging, moisturizing, and/or combatting dark circles, this cream is ultra-concentrated while still being gentle enough to not irritate an extremely sensitive part of the face.
- Moisturizer—Hydrates the skin and (a big difference from serums) helps to retain the moisture.
- Sunscreen—For both protection and prevention of premature aging.
Making It Manageable
I know what you’re thinking: Who has time for 10 steps?!
It sounds daunting, but keep in mind that you rarely go through every single step every night and every morning. For example, you don’t want to over-exfoliate—every two or three days is enough for most people, even less frequently if your skin is very sensitive. An oil-based cleanser is unnecessary on a fresh face in the morning, and you don’t need sunscreen at night. I’d argue, too, that the more costly sheet masks can be more of a luxury for at-home spa nights than for daily use.
You can further cut down the routine when you’re in a rush depending on your skin type. I personally follow most of the routine in the evening—but in the morning I simply use a foam cleanser, toner, serum, and moisturizer. I’ll use the serum in the morning only when I feel like I need an extra boost of moisture. And sometimes I rely on the SPF in my CC cream rather than a standalone sunscreen, to save a little more time.
The process might seem tedious, but you can ease into it gradually. And keep in mind that once you get into the routine for most nights, skipping it every once in a while (or going lighter in the morning) will be more forgiving than if you weren’t already treating your skin well.
Finding the Right Products
Perhaps the trickiest part to all of this is figuring out which products are best for you—without breaking the bank. For starters, purchase products from places you know will allow you to return items even after use, like Sephora. You can also follow beauty gurus with your skin type and see what works well for them; YouTube is a good resource for this. There are tons of product reviews online, but at the end of the day it comes down to what works for your skin specifically. (And if some drugstore products turn out to be your holy grails, don’t feel pressured to use a $100 version just because others love it!)
Here’s what I personally use (I’m typically prone to blackheads and routine breakouts):
Banila Co. Clean It Zero – $17
LUSH Rose Water Toner – $23
Tony Moly Sheet Masks – set of 11 for $11