When people think about Korean Skincare, they may think of the infamous 10 step routine that became popular a few years back. People tried it out, raved about it and swore it could cure all of your skin mishaps if you were just patient enough to give it a go. Beauty magazines, bloggers and skincare specialists praised Korean products and the lengthy routine, establishing Korea as the innovation beauty hub of the world. Like many others though, I just sat and scoffed at the idea and questioned internally who on earth had time and money for that shizz?
My skincare regime back in the UK usually just consisted of face wipes; lots and lots of face wipes. They were quick and easy so they were my skin saviour. I would come home after a hard days work and the thought of washing my face just seemed TOO.DARN.MUCH. They were also a life saver when I would stumble home at 2am after too many proseccos. I slept soundly in the smug knowledge that I wasn’t one of those dirty girls that didn’t wash their face before bed. I was good, I cleansed, I used a face wipe for goodness sake.
But looking back my skin felt dry; my skin tone uneven. I used to love the feeling of using a stringent alcohol based toner thinking that if I could feel the burn then it must be tightening up my pores. The thought of oil cleansers repulsed me. And if I had a spot, well, that was what concealer was for. It was make up over skincare for me; that’s what makes you look half decent, right?
Wrong. It wasn’t until I moved to Korea that my whole perception of skincare changed. It is safe to say that Korean women are skincare obsessed; they spend more per year on beauty products than any other nation. In Korea, the motto is ‘skincare first, make up second’. Time well spent is time treating your skin, not hiding it with copious amounts of make up. Because if you have glowing healthy skin, then you actually don’t really need much make up to enhance your features.
Slowly my three step routine become a 5 step routine, and my 5 step routine graduated to a 10 step routine. I don’t use ten products every morning and evening, but I have a cabinet full of products in my arsenal to choose from depending on what my skin condition is that particular day. That is what the ‘Korean 10 step routine’ is for me – knowing your skin and treating it accordingly to its daily needs. After double cleansing (oil based cleanser + gel or foam cleanser), the products should be added in order of lightest consistency to thickest. This is to help maximise absorption of all the products, for example, toner before serum, before moisturiser.
1. Oil Based Cleanser
The first step is an oil based cleanser. I won’t go in to too much detail about this because I wrote a full blog on the importance of using an oil based cleanser to remove all your make up and why it is important. Some people double cleanse both morning and evening as well because even overnight you can build up excess sebum, dust and bacteria on your face so it can’t hurt to double cleanse twice a day!
My favourite oil based cleansers are Banila Co Clean it Zero (balm), Troiareauke Oil Cut Cleanser (this one actually contains no oil so a good one for those with oily skin who are a bit hesitant using oil cleansers), Heimish All Clean Balm and Klairs Gentle Black Deep Cleansing Oil.
2. Water-based/Foaming Cleanser
As part of the double cleanse method, you must always go in for another wash with a foaming or water-based cleanser. Whilst the oil based cleanser will get rid of any make up, suncream and excess sebum, the water-based cleanser removes any water-based substances like bacteria and dust. It will also help remove any leftover residue from the oil based cleanser and leave your face feeling nice and clean. As mentioned before, you don’t need to do all 10 steps everyday but this one is crucial and one I personally do morning and evening without fail.
My favourite water-based foaming cleansers are the Innisfree Jeju Volcanic Pore Cleansing Foam, Heimish White Clay Foam and Benton Honest Cleansing Foam. In the mornings, I will use the Cosrx Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser. I am also a recent convert of cleansing sticks like the Belif True Tincture Chamomile Cleansing Stick and su:m37 Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick. Please see this blog on my review of Korean cleansing sticks.
The third ‘step’ is using an exfoliator to get rid of dead skin cells that may have accumulated on your skin. Exfoliating helps regulate your skin cell cycle leaving your skin feeling healthy and glowing. It also helps minimise the appearance of pores and really helps get out all the gunk that gets trapped in them. Exfoliators usually come in ‘scrub’ types with black sugar being a popular ingredient in Korean exfoliators. More recently, chemical exfoliators are becoming increasingly popular, many of which come in pre-soaked pads that you simply swipe over your face. Depending on your skin type, you should aim to exfoliate once or twice a week. As I have problems with milia and excess sebum, I exfoliate 2-3 times per week.
My favourite exfoliators are the Skinfood Black Sugar Wash off Mask, Cosrx Salicylic Acid Exfoliator , Klairs Gentle Black Sugar Face Polish and Neogen Bio-Peel Gauze Peeling Wine (offers both a chemical and technical exfoliation).
4. Sheet Mask
‘A sheet mask a day’ was a craze in Korea that I had heard about but wondered if anyone actually did it. At a skincare event I was invited to the dermatologist asked us if anyone did actually do this and I was amazed that 5 people put their hand up! Sheet masks have long been all the rage in Korea and have in the last few years hit the Western market as well. Its like a spa facial in a pack – it will leave your skin feeling super nourished. Plus its great to use before an event as it will give you that infamous Korean glow immediately after use. They are also a must when on a long haul flight (even if you do look scary). I usually use a sheet mask once or twice a week and pick one according to my skins needs – if my skin is dry a hydrating mask, or a brightening mask if it just feels a bit dull.
My favourite sheet masks are the Cosrx Snail Mask, Too Cool for School Egg Sheet Masks, Mizon sheet masks, Troiareuke GPS Mask and Innisfree It’s Real Squeeze Sheet Masks.
At the skincare event I just spoke about, the dermatologist presenting asked us to guess her age. We estimated about late 30’s. We were off by about 12 years. Her secret? TONER! She said that she uses toner 5 times a day. And whilst I do think that is overboard, toner is an important step in your skincare routine. Not only does toner help close your pore after cleansing, it also preps your skin for everything else that you are about to put on it; it’s like a base. Without it, your products like serums and essences will not seep in to your skin as effectively. Always pat in your toner – put a few drops in your hands and pat in or gently swipe over your skin with a cotton pad but be gentle so the product seeps in more effectively. Sometimes I will use two toners if I have the time – a gentle toner to close my pores and restore my natural skin pH level, followed by a specific toner like an AHA/BHA toner if I am experiencing a breakout, or moisturising toner if my skin is feeling a bit dry.
My favourite toners are the Son & Park Beauty Water (gentle, exfoliating), Troiareuke Skin Complex Toner with Ampoule (moisturising, brightening), Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Toner (sensitive, pH Balancing), Belif Witch Hazel Herbal Extract toner (good for dry skin) and Cosrx AHA/BHA Toner (good for breakouts).
People always think that adding too many products on your skin can’t be good for it as it will just create one thick oily layer but Koreans are masters at producing light formulations making layering super easy. Many Korean women consider essence to be the most important step in their skincare routine. Essences treat a particular issue and are concentrated formulations that help treat your skin at a cellular level. They usually have a watery, lightweight consistency. I have several essences that I will rotate according to my skins needs although on the whole, essences help brighten your skin and promote healthy cell turnover. Again, it’s best to use your hands to pat this product in – pat pat pat. That’s the Korean way.
My favourite essences are the Cosrx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence, Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence and the Belif Hungarian Water Essence.
Serums are like super-charged essences. They usually come in smaller containers (are usually a bit more expensive) and like essences target a certain skincare problem. They will sometimes have a slightly thicker consistency, or gel-like in consistency. They seep deeper in to your skin than any other skincare product and are a great anti-ageing addition to your skincare routine. Usually I’ll just use an essence but if something is particularly wrong with my skin then I’ll use a serum or ampoule as well.
My favourite serums/ampoules are the Missha Time Revolution Night Repair Activator Ampoule, Innisfree Green Tea Seed Serum and Klairs Freshly Juiced Vitamin Drop.
8. Eye cream
Being honest, this is one step that I almost always miss. This is purely because I suffer from milia around my eyes do I don’t really like loading up cream around that area. I also have very sensitive eyes so whenever I seem to use an eye cream they get all itchy *sob*. The skin around your eyes is different from the rest of your face and therefore needs its own skin care. It is also the first area to show signs of ageing so treating it is a must. I am still on my quest to finding the perfect eye cream although I do enjoy the Missha Time Revolution Eye Cream and Thank You Farmer Miracle Age Repair Eye Cream.
9. Moisturiser / Sleeping pack
It’s pretty obvious what this step does. Moisturising is important, even if your skin is oily. Korean brands have come up with very lightweight gel moisturisers that are great for those with oily and combination skin types as they seep in quickly but provide enough hydration to keep your skin healthy. Moisturisers help seal in all that good stuff that you’ve just put on your face.
My favourite moisturisers are the Innisfree Green Tea Balancing Cream, Too Cool for School Egg Mellow Cream, Troiareuke AGT Hydro Essence (can also be used as a sleeping pack), Thank You Farmer True Water Light Gel Cream and Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb.
‘Sleeping Beauty’ is a big category here in Korea. Instead of using a night cream or regular moisturiser, why not use those 7 hours of z’s by treating your skin to a deeply hydrating treatment? Enter – sleeping masks (also referred to as ‘packs’). These were a game changer for me and a lot of other people – you will wake up the next morning with glowing and hydrated skin.
My favourite sleeping masks are the Cosrx Ultimate Moisturising Honey Overnight Sleeping Mask, Too Cool for School Pumpkin Sleeping Pack and Laneige Water Sleeping Mask.
I never really gave sun protection much thought, which to be fair, was pretty easy to do when you live in a country like England. However, including a SPF in to your daily skincare routine is a must; even if it’s not sunny! Korea has produced some wonderfully fresh scented, light weight formulas for suncream which I adore. Many have multi-use functions like combining to act as a primer, essence or mist. Using a SPF everyday has helped even out my skin tone and no doubt will help reduce the number of wrinkles I will get later in life! I used to be all about that tanned life but moving to Korea, I am definitely more conscious about using SPF on my face now on a daily basis.
My favourite suncreams are the Too Cool for School Sun Primer, Thank You Farmer Sun Project Shimmer Essence and Missha Sun Milk range.
A final note on the Korean 10 step skincare routine …
I now look forward to coming home, unwinding and commencing my evening skincare ritual. Yes I may now spend 15 minutes a day cleaning my skin instead of 3 minutes, but what’s 15 minutes of your day? The results are worth it. Your routine doesn’t need to be this lengthy process whereby you must use all products twice a day; it’s mostly about knowing your skin and treating it accordingly with the necessary products at your disposal. Trust me, your skin will thank you for it!