You might have seen this long process on YouTube or in beauty magazines and thought, “Yeah, right! This is too much.” Well, today I challenge you to rethink your idea of skin care. With this guide on how to make the most of your Korean skin care routine, you’ll be looking flawless!
This routine first became popular in the West with Charlotte Cho’s The Little Book of Skin Care: Korean Beauty Secrets for Healthy, Glowing Skin. The book goes into all the amazing Korean skin care tips you could ever want.
Before we dive in, I’ll tell you how I came about using this routine. I was complaining to a friend of mine about my red, irritated cheeks, my dry/oily skin, and my large pores. I have, what I consider to be, the worst skin type— reverse combination sensitive (I’ll explain more about it later), while my friend has oily skin. She challenged me to do this routine and I am one who loves a challenge! So, I went to YouTube and watched video after video. Well, none of the ones I watched had my skin type so I swam around wondering what would be right for me.
I went through trial and error and finally found what works well for me. Personally, I don’t want any readers to have to go through all that hassle which is part of why many people are turned off by this routine. Also, for those who say they don’t have enough time for this routine, I can show you that you only need 20-25 minutes for both AM and PM routines.
Let’s start with different skin types, so you can see what works for you.
Normal – Normal skin has even pigmentation, is not acne prone, isn’t too oily or dry, pores aren’t large and barely visible, and isn’t sensitive to most products. You’re the type that doesn’t need makeup to cover up imperfections and it’s rare for you to have a really bad reaction to a cosmetic product.
Dry – Practically invisible pores, red patches, a dull or textured complexion, skin elasticity is taut, and lines are more visible. You’re the type that likes hydrating foundations and drinks a lot of water to try to revitalize your skin.
Oily – Large pores, shiny complexion, highly elastic skin, acne and blemish prone, and “soggy” skin texture. You’re the type that has either gone through all the acne products with little results or feel that you have to wash your face constantly to not look like a wax figure.
Combination – Typically, this means your T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin) is oily and your cheeks and the rest of your face is dry. The reverse is when your T-zone is dry and everything else is oily. You’re the type that is frustrated with skin care because it’s hard to find what’s right and can even need two different foundations.
**Sensitive – All skin types listed above can be sensitive. Sensitive skin occurs with skin allergies, eczema, rosacea, intense acne, hormonal issues, or even environmental factors. Redness, intense dryness, irritation, itching, and pain are the usual indicators. You’re the type that is really afraid of or cautious with skin care. Even natural products are frightening!
Now that we know our skin type, let’s dive into the 10 steps!
Step 1 – Oil Cleanse (Time: 1 minute)
Oil cleansing deep cleans the skin and pulls out all the makeup and dead skin that gathers throughout the day, and yes, it’s friendly to both oily and combination skin! Oil cleansing helps to regulate sebum production and typically, products are oily when you apply them and become milky when you wash them off. All you do is take the desired amount of product and massage all over your face for about 30 seconds – 45 seconds and then wash off and pat skin dry with a soft towel.
Normal: Clean It Zero.
Oily: Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick.
Combination: Snowflake Cleanser.
Sensitive: Lemon Sparkling Cleansing Oil.
What I’m Using: I’m Cleansing Oil #02 Fresh Oil for Oily/Combination Skin It feels great on my skin, so far and my foundation and eye makeup don’t stand a chance. It has mineral oil in it which tends to mess with my eczema. So, we’ll see if it pans out. However, my skin feels refreshed and soft afterward. I give it a 3.8 out of 5 stars.
Step 2 – Water-Based Cleanser (1-2 minutes)
A water-based cleanser can be a foam cleanser or have a silky texture. They wash away anything left that the oil cleanser couldn’t pull from your face. Simply use the desired amount and rub it in your hands first. Afterwards, massage in small circles onto your face, then wash off and pat dry with a soft towel. A note about cleansing waters— which are slightly different from a water-based cleanser— is that you can use it as a cleanser but you have to wash it off since it can dry out the skin.
Dry: Egg Soap Special Set.
Oily: REAL FRESH FOAM (Green tea).
Combination: Snowise EX Cleansing Foam Facial Cleanser 150ml.
Sensitive: Green Tea Cleansing Foam.
What I’m Using: Unfortunately, the brand I use isn’t currently available. The Bonvivant line was my favorite and the Botanical Real Rose Cleansing Foam is amazing and is great for my sensitive skin. I really hope they bring it back for U.S. customers! 5 out of 5 stars.
Step 3 – Exfoliate (1 minute)
Exfoliation is in either a chemical or physical form. Chemical exfoliators are usually less abrasive while physical exfoliators can give a deeper clean. Either method is useful for the skin. Exfoliating is necessary to control excess sebum, clear away dead skin, and polish your skin. Chemical exfoliators include peeling gels, exfoliating scrubs, gel, clay, sugar, and charcoal masks. Physical exfoliators come in the form of pore brushes or pore pads.
Normal: Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine
Combination: Deep Clean Pore Glacial Clay
Sensitive: Dr. Vita Clinic Gently Vita Exfoliator
What I’m Using: I am using both a physical and a chemical exfoliator with the Hello Kitty Pore Brush for my AM routine and the Innisfree Real Rose Mask for my PM routine. I love the Hello Kitty brush because of its super soft bristles and effective cleaning. The Real Rose Mask smells great and has been keeping away excess shine from my cheeks. It does contain alcohol and currently, I am experimenting to see if any alcohol ingredients are messing with my skin. So far, nothing yet! Hello Kitty brush: 4.5 out of 5 stars. Real Rose Mask: 4 out of 5 stars.
Step 4 – Toner (30 seconds)
Toner is the glaze of your cleanse. It preps for the next steps and can hydrate and revitalize your skin. Just pour into your hands and pat on your skin.
Combination: Snail Bee High Content Skin.
Sensitive: Urban Eco Harakeke Toner
What I’m Using: I am using the Bonvivant Botanical Real Rose Toner which, again, breaks my heart because it’s both rose water and rose oil combined. It leaves my skin supple and feeling like a rose petal. 5 out of 5.
Step 5 – Essence/Mist (30 seconds)
Essence is the shining diamond (Seventeen pun intended) of the routine. Here is where you want to choose the very best ingredients for your skin. They rejuvenate, hydrate, reduce redness, brighten, and more. This step is crucial to the routine because of an essence’s consistency. A light watery texture is the best indicator of a true essence. It absorbs quickly into the skin and then does its magic. Just use the desired amount, then pat or spray onto your skin.
Oily: Vita Energy Toner & Mist
Combination: Honest TT Mist
Sensitive: Rice Ferment First Essence
What I’m Using: Snail Bee High Content Essence. I must say I’m in love. This essence has both Bee Venom and Snail Slime that nourishes and ultra-hydrates my skin. Now, yes, snail slime is gross in nature, but in Korean beauty it’s a must-have product! It has reduced the redness on my cheeks, doesn’t irritate my eczema, and helps control pimples. 4.8 out of 5 stars.
Step 6 – Ampoule/Serum (30 Seconds)
This is the helper or the boost to your routine. Usually, this is where you focus on moisturizing skin rather than hydrating it. With hydration, you are feeding your skin moisture, but with an ampoule, serum, or emulsion, you want to lock in moisture. That’s why this is usually the thickest, or at least second thickest, step in the routine. Just use the desired amount and pat onto face.
Oily: Centella Blemish Ampoule
Combination: Propolis Light Ampoule
Sensitive: Berry Vital Daily Serum
What I’m Using: Sadly, this is the only part of my routine with which I haven’t had luck. What I was using is a total dud. The Pore Corset Serum might be great for oily or normal skin without any sensitivities, but not for me! One of the ingredients is menthol which can have a minty scent and tingly feeling on the skin. I should have known. Eczema and acne prone skin beware! While it does tighten and close my pores, it also clogs and irritates my skin and causes bumps. But I’m not giving up my search for the perfect step 6. The products above all look great! I give this serum a 1.5 out of 5 stars.
Step 7 – Sheet Mask (15 – 20 minutes)
Here, you can either relax or get a cup of coffee and continue with your morning routine. The sheet mask is a vital part of Korean skin care. Sheet masks are the first seal for your perfect pH balance. Not all masks are made the same. Microfiber is the most common, but there are also bubble sheet masks, foil sheet masks, bio-cellulose, hydrogel, and more! To use a sheet mask, just follow the instructions on the labels and then pat in all the essences!
Oily: 3D Pore Tightening Mask
Combination: Balancing Recovery Mask
Sensitive: Song Joong Ki Seven Days Mask Pack
What I’m Using: I have been using a lot of different face masks, both with alcohol and without. Currently, I am testing out the alcohol ones before I get to the rest of the non-alcohol ones. Of the non-alcohol and alcohol masks, The Fresh Mask Sheet Honey and Its Real Squeeze Mask Rose have been my favorites. Even though the site says there is alcohol in the Fresh Mask Sheet Honey, the brand must have changed because there isn’t any alcohol or alcohol sulfates. Both masks smell and feel amazing. The honey plumps my skin, and the rose is moisturizing. I give both 4.3 out of 5 stars.
Step 8 – Eye Cream (45 seconds)
The skin around your eyes is the thinnest, and often the most sensitive, area on your face. By using an eye cream, you can firm the skin and prevent aging lines, as well as hydrate and moisturize. All you do is use the desired amount and pat in.
Normal: Panda’s Dream So Cool Eye Stick
Oily: Fermentation Eye Cream
Combination: Starting Treatment Eye Cream Rose Edition
Sensitive: Gold CF-Nest B-jo Eye Want Cream
What I’m Using: Orchid Eye Cream by Innisfree has been working pretty well for me, even though it does have alcohol in it. I’ve noticed that my dry and itchy skin under the brows has felt a lot better. Cold-grown orchid is the key component and is supposed to give skin vibrancy and strengthen elasticity which prevents wrinkles. I have noticed the bags under my eyes becoming less prominent. I give this a 4 out of 5 stars.
Step 9 – Emulsion/Moisturizer (30 seconds)
Here we have the second seal to our routine. Moisturizers and emulsions give a protective layer to your skin and can boost the other steps by locking in all the moisture. Simply use the desired amount of product, rub your hands together, and pat into skin.
Combination: Snow White Milky Lotion
Sensitive: Snail Bee High Content Lotion
What I’m Using: I’m using the Oolu Orchid Emulsion and so far, it’s really great. It has orchid and rice oil, which helps with skin elasticity and brightening redness and inflammation. I love the orchid smell, and the packaging prevents you from using too much (which is what I do a lot). It is slightly greasy which is my only qualm, but it’s not too bad and eventually soaks well into my skin. For the first 30 minutes it doesn’t seem to soak into my oily cheeks. Yet, my forehead hasn’t felt better! No flakey or irritated skin. 4.3 out of 5 stars.
Step 10 – SPF or Sleeping Pack (30 seconds – 1 minute)
Here, you either have a shield in the AM or the final moisturizing seal to your PM routine. SPF is crucial to skin care in general. It protects from sun damage, and if you have sensitive skin, it is your hero! A sleeping pack is the great last seal to really vitalize your skin. You can do one every night or just once a week. For SPF, just rub into your hands and pat into skin. For a sleeping pack, follow directions on the labels.
What I’m Using: I’m using the Innisfree Eco Safety Perfect Sunblock and I really love the smell and the fact that there isn’t alcohol or any other irritants. Plus, it has sunflower oil, which contains Vitamin E. It’s non-greasy and makes my skin feel soft and ready to tackle the sun. For a sleeping pack, I am using the Etude House Green Tea Bubble Tea Sleeping Mask, and I use it 2-3 times a week. Personally, I think it over-moisturizes my skin, but on dry days, or if I’ve been in an arid environment for too long, it really helps my dry T-zone. For the sunscreen, I give it a 5 out of 5 stars,and for the sleeping pack, I give it a solid 4 out of 5.
- Pat in your skin care rather than rubbing in. Skin absorbs the products better.
- If you’re using an exfoliating pad, be sure to sweep your pad upwards so that you aren’t dragging your skin downward and causing sagging skin,
- Wash your hands before you cleanse so that no bacteria counteracts your routine.
- Use an ice roller before you start your routine to de-puff your face and prepare the skin.
- You can add a cleansing water or rice water to the ice roller before or after you freeze it to prepare the skin.
- Stick with one external vitamin product at a time in your routine. Vitamin A (Retinal), B3 (Niacin/Niacinamide), C, and E are the most common. Talk with your dermatologist to see which vitamin is right for you.
- Brightening/Whitening products doesn’t always mean bleaching! “Whitening” is usually translated wrong and is supposed to mean brightening or color correction (getting rid of redness or uneven pigmentation).
- Rice water is great for brightening and clearing the skin, and all you truly need is rice and water. Use as a cleansing water or use with cleansers.
- Use coconut oil to enhance your oil cleanser, as well as using it as a lip balm!
- You can combine steps 2 and 3 with physical exfoliators like scrubbing brushes or scrubbing palms to save time.
- Combining steps 6 and 7 by adding ampoules to your sheet masks also saves time!
- As always, read all the ingredients of a product before use to make sure you’re getting what’s right for you.
Now that you have the full ten steps and top products to choose from, try this challenge for at least a month to seefull results. Even with some misfires, I have noticed my skin being less red, less dull, with fewer blemishes and breakouts, and with a more vibrant complexion. People keep asking me what I’ve been doing differently and I tell them it’s all because of the Korean 10 Step Skin Care Routine.
If you take the challenge let us know in the comments below and update us with your progress!
Kim (Paradoxicalsuds) is a writer for What the Kpop and has been a devoted K-Pop fan for almost ten years. An avid SNSD, GOT7, FTIsland, and AOA fan, Kim has been in love with K-Pop since the original debut of TVXQ. While she watches new MVs or K-Dramas on her laptop, Kim enjoys tea, begging for affection from her cat, making jewelry, and writing fiction.
Media: As Credited, Michelle Phan, and TheBeautyBreakdown.