Having great skin can change your life. Trust me, as a girl who once had a severe acne problem when she was in college, I know the difference between cringing every time I had to come into the light (I removed my makeup in the dark, true story!) and being comfortable, eager even, to go outside and have people look at my face. My skin journey has been a long one, filled with oozing acne and unrelenting keloid scars, but it has ultimately led to bright and beautiful skin thanks to several great Asian skincare products.
I was first exposed to Asian skincare products when I was in eighth grade and secretly tried my aunt’s papaya soap in her bathroom, but I didn’t seriously commit to them until last spring when I started trying the Korean sheet masks my old roommate left in the refrigerator of our apartment. To be honest, I thought the masks were silly at first. In addition to ones for your face, there were ones for your hands and even feet. Then I tried them and I realized that Asia was onto something with their beautifully packaged, extremely effective, reasonably priced skincare products. After waiting in line for hours at Peach and Lily’s Korean Beauty Sample Sale, fighting for Memebox doorbusters on Black Friday, and ordering K-beauty bloggers’ “holy grail” products on Amazon, I have developed my own 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine.
In this guide, I will break down the miraculous yet seemingly overwhelming 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine and show you that it can actually be kind of fun! Before you begin, please note that this is just an example of my personal nighttime skincare routine. I have combination skin that is oily around the T-zone area and dryer in the other regions, but you might have a different skin type with your own unique needs. This 10-step guide is supposed to serve as an outline, featuring some of my favorite products as examples, so you can create your own customized skincare routine.
Step 1: Oil-Based Cleanser
To remove your makeup, begin with an oil-based cleanser like Botanic Farm’s Grain Ferment Cleansing Sherbet. Oil-based cleansers, especially cleansing balms and sherbets, will effectively melt off your makeup (even waterproof ones!) without irritating the skin. Just take a nickel-sized amount of the cleansing sherbet and gently massage it all over your face using circular motions until the makeup fully melts. Since I wear waterproof eyeliner and mascara, I like to start with the area around my eyes and then move to the other regions of my face. Next, proceed to thoroughly rinse your face and voila, your makeup is removed!
Step 2: Foaming Cleanser
“What! Another cleanser?” you ask. Yes, following up with a water-based, foaming cleanser helps to ensure that any remaining residue (such as those pesky mascara crumbs!) is fully removed so your skin can be a clean canvas for the rest of your skincare regimen. I like Mizon’s Egg White Bubble Cleanser since it deep cleans your pores and helps control blackheads. Additionally, it doesn’t make your skin feel dry or stripped of nutrients afterward like some other harsh cleansers. Simply apply 3-4 pumps to dampened skin, massage the bubbles thoroughly around your face, rinse with lukewarm water, and then splash your face with cold water to tighten your pores.
Step 3: Exfoliator
We’re all probably familiar with this step since drugstore aisles are packed full of them. However, I suggest you say NO to the exfoliators with plastic microbeads that are harming the environment and YES to natural, non-irritating scrubs like Nature Republic’s Super Aqua Max Soft Peeling Gel. Though there is no consensus among dermatologists on how often you should exfoliate your skin, the most common answer is once or twice a week. Exfoliating your skin promotes cell turnover and helps unclog pores, but be sure not to over-exfoliate, which can leave your skin red and sensitive. To use Nature Republic’s Super Aqua Max Soft Peeling Gel, squeeze about three pea-sized drops onto your fingertips. Apply the gel to your face and massage in circular motions. You should notice your dead skin starting to peel off. After about one minute, rinse the gel off of your face.
Step 4: Toner
Toner “removes any residual residue from the prior three steps, while soothing and restoring your pH balance,” explains Charlotte Cho, co-founder of SokoGlam. “Plus it preps your skin to better absorb what comes next.” This might be the easiest step in the routine because all you have to do is saturate a cotton pad and lightly pat the liquid onto your face and neck. Caolion’s Freshly Skin D Programme Self-Purity Step 01 is my go-to toner since it contains no alcohol and calms my skin.
Step 5: Essence
This is perhaps the most confusing step since essences look just like toners, but it is considered the most important by Korean women. Essences are concentrates of nourishing liquids that do a number of things including increase skin elasticity, moisturize, improve skin tone, and prevent wrinkles. Missha’s Time Revolution First Treatment Essence is a cult favorite since it’s comparable to Japanese brand SK-II’s Facial Treatment Essence, yet more affordable. Using a cotton pad or your hands, gently tap the liquid onto your face to maximize absorption. Also, please note that in my experience essences take longer to show results. Though they are magical, simply applying an essence for two days is not enough. Commit to an essence for at least a month to judge results.
Step 6: Serums or Ampoules
This step is where you can really customize your skincare regimen! Ampoules (more commonly referred to as serums in the West) are super-concentrated versions of essences that are meant to target very specific skincare needs such as hyperpigmentation, acne, fine lines, or dehydration. Rather than slathering these over your entire face likes essences, you simply put a few drops of your serum on the target areas of your face. Missha’s Time Revolution Night Repair Science Activator Ampoule is my top pick since I am trying to combat wrinkles far before they start to form.
Step 7: Sheet Mask
Ah, the sheet mask. The craze so popular that even Sephora has packed their check-out area shelves full of them. Sheet masks are dipped in ingredients such as collagen, snail extract, or donkey milk and are then absorbed by your skin. For maximum effectiveness, only wear a sheet mask 2-3 times a week for 20-30 minutes. Freeset’s Donkey Milk Skin Gel Mask (Aqua) is very popular and I always keep a ton of them on hand for dry skin emergencies. I prefer to buy sheet masks in bulk on Amazon since you will often get a way better price. If you’re looking for a recommendation, it’s always safe to go with Etude House’s sheet masks.
Step 8: Eye Cream
Ladies with dark spots under your eyes, eye cream is here to rescue you. Unsurprisingly, the skin around your eyes is thinner and more easily dehydrated. That’s why it needs to be treated with its own cream. I take a little bit of Mizon’s Snail Repair Eye Cream and gently tap it underneath my eyes. Gently tapping is important because it allows the product to be fully absorbed by your skin and eliminates any harsh tugging of the sensitive skin underneath your eyes.
Step 9: Moisturizer
Most of us are familiar with this step, but in the 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine, moisturizer serves a role beyond simply moisturizing your skin. It also acts as a barrier, locking all of the other ingredients you previously applied onto your skin. Using a product like Freeset’s Donkey Milk 3D Moisture Cream, massage the moisturizer into your skin using gentle, circular strokes [Update: Freeset no longer sells this cream on Amazon. I have now transitioned to the Belif True Cream Moisturizing Bomb].
Step 10: Night Cream
The final step! When winter is upon you and you are tired of dry, ashy skin, night cream is your best friend. Goodal Nature’s Solution Firming Sleeping Pack (Honey) promotes better skin texture and complexion with its fermented honey, royal jelly and bee propolis. Night creams supply nutrients and moisture to the skin’s deepest layers overnight, so apply an appropriate amount over your face before you sleep and then rinse it off in the morning. [Update: Amazon no longer sells this product. I have transitioned to Laneige’s Water Sleeping Mask which I love.]
Congratulations, you made it through the 10-Step Korean Skincare Routine!
I know it all seems overwhelming, but the truth is that learning about it takes way more time than actually doing it. Once you have your routine on lock the entire process, minus the sheet mask step, takes only about 10-15 minutes each night. To keep myself motivated, I often envision how happy and confident I feel when my skin is glowing compared to how down I feel when my skin is dull or acne-infested. For me, skincare isn’t just about looking great for other people. It’s about looking great so I can feel great. Whether you decide to follow all 10 steps or customize a more simplified routine, always remember to be patient and loving with your body. Trust me, once you start to see positive results, you’ll realize that all the time you spent moisturizing and exfoliating your skin was well-worth it!