You might have heard of this huge movement that’s going on. It’s called the 10-Step Korean Skin care Routine. Because I love researching skin care, I have read 16+ articles and two books about it. I personally feel like it is everywhere. Surprisingly, I still talk to most of my friends who haven’t seen anything beyond propaganda for a stripping cleanser, astringent toner, and moisturizer where the main ingredient is petroleum (which creates a plastic-like coating on your skin and clogs your pores instead of nourishing your skin).
Korean beauty is more than just ten steps and sheet masks–it’s not just what you use, but how you think…skin care is a holistic practice.”
–Charlotte Cho, The Little Book of Skin Care
I hope this blog post will inform you about each step in skin care, and assist you in building your own routine. The optional steps all depend on your skin type and anything you might be struggling with specifically. If your skin is exactly where you want it to be, then you may not need to add any treatments or additions. If you are trying to target acne, dark spots, dullness, under eye bags, etc. Then, you might want to consider adding a step into your routine to aid in that issue.
Oil Cleanser • Cleansing Water • Face Wipes
These aren’t just for the evening, but can be used as a first-step cleanser in the morning. Not only do they break up makeup, they also lift off dirt and sebum (which is what clogs your pores in the first place.) When you us the oil cleansers with a hot, muslin cloth, this helps to open your pores for the second facial cleanse. If you’re a more oily skin type, I would suggest trying a water cleanser first. But, don’t be afraid of an oil cleanser either.
The science: oil sticks to oil, right? This means that, after a long day/night of sweating and buildup, you’ll really deep-clean your pores and makeup by pulling it out with an oil cleanser. Out of all the steps I’ve added to my skin care routine, I’m pretty sure this step (specifically an oil cleanser–not just a face wipe) has changed my skin’s appearance.
Foam • Bar Soap • Gel
The second facial cleanse can come in the form of a thick foam, a solid soap, or an exfoliating cleanser that will thoroughly remove any leftover dirt, makeup residue or oil. However, Kerry Thompson and Coco Park advise in Korean Beauty Secrets, that it’s important to “select a cleanser with a proper pH. Cleansers with a high pH can disrupt your skin’s slightly acidic, protective barrier and raise your skin’s pH over time.” The ideal pH for a cleanser is between 5.0-6.0. Make sure to check the ingredients list of your cleanser and look for gentle oils, herbs, and fermented ingredients which typically have a low pH (4.6 or lower!)
Physical • Chemical Peel
Our bodies naturally shed millions of dead skin cells everyday; however, as we get older, our “cell turnover” slows down. This causes a build up of dead skin cells that sit on the surface of our skin, clogging our pores, making our skin look dull and aged. Thus, God blessed us with natural exfoliants like sand…or ground sea kelp and foods with enzymes to eat away at that dead skin like lemon, pineapple, papaya, and pumpkin.
Exfoliating can : reduce the appearance of pore size, prevent blackheads and dull skin, speed up skin turnover, and brighten skin and lighten dark spots. Due to the fact that it assists in such a vital reaction of our skin, I consider it a necessary step in a skin care routine.
Hydrosol • Low pH • AHA/BHA
Most American cosmetic companies have skewed the idea of a toner as a third cleansing step, with alcohol as the top ingredient to help “clean” any leftover residue on your skin (which only strips your skin of its natural, healthy oils.) However, a toner can be multiple things in one, including: soothing, exfoliating, brightening, or pH balancing. Thompson and Park say that a toner should have the ingredients “designed to add moisture to the skin that might be stripped away during the cleansing process and to increase the penetration of the skin care products that follow.”
Your skin is kind of like a sponge that has multiple layers and when you wet a sponge, it can better absorb the soap or liquid you’re trying to wipe up, right? Same goes for your skin. When you add a toner, it acts like a humectant to help better absorb and hold moisture from the products you add later, whether it’s just a moisturizer, a serum, or a face oil.
Essence • Serum • Ampoule
Technically these wouldn’t collectively be called “nourishment,” they would typically be referred to as a “treatment” or a “booster” for your skin because they are all packed with the most powerful, nourishing ingredients used to focus and prevent specific needs.
An essence is a watery liquid, sometimes almost a gel-type formula, that could be used interchangeable as a toner. An essence is also a humectant to prepare skin for following nutrients and moisturizer; but, it usually has added nutrients that a toner doesn’t have. Next, are serums and ampoules. Serums and ampoules are both oils jammed with the strongest, purest vitamins and nutrients for your skin. The difference between the two: ampoules have a denser concentration of beneficial ingredients. That is why serums and ampoules may seem super expensive for only a 1-2oz. bottle of product. However, you only need 4-6 drops/1 pump of the oil because it is such a concentrated amount of product.
These products are like food for your skin. The key with these products is understanding the benefits of the main ingredients. For example, green tea is known for soothing and diminishing redness, good for someone with eczema or hyper-pigmentation. On the other hand, propolis is known for being an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, which would benefit someone with acne. This is where it’s up to you to recognize what your skin is going through at the time, and search for products to target that specific ailment.
Never feel pressured to blindly use products based on what you’ve heard, because every person’s skin is unique and will react differently to variations in ingredients and formulas…analyze your skin and determine what conditions need to be treated.”
–Charlotte Cho, The Little Book of Skin Care
Face Oil • Emulsion • Cream
Moisturizers help to keep your skin hydrated throughout the day/night. They also can prevent your skin from over-producing oil to compensate for dry weather. Depending on the season and the climate of where you live, you might want to use a lighter or heavier moisturizer. Emulsions are a light, liquid-gel moisturizer typically used in the Summer. Face oils are similar, but they are usually a plant-based oil mixture. Creams can also come in a gel form for the Summer, but they usually range from a medium to heavy consistency for the Fall and Winter.
Brightening • Cooling • Wrinkle-Fighting
Again, using an eye cream is personal. If you think you need one, there are specific ones for deep hydration, to reduce puffiness, and to firm and lift. However, sometimes less is more, and you can simply use your moisturizer around your eyes. But, remember that the skin around your eyes is thinner and more delicate than the skin on the rest of your face, so it may be more susceptible to react to a normal moisturizer.
Acne • Sun Spots • Wrinkles
When we hear “spot treatment,” we typically think of acne spot treatments. However, there are other types of spot treatments for dark spots, wrinkles, hyper-pigmentation, etc. Some may even be referred to as serums, but they are meant for only those trouble areas. These treatments usually come in a very small bottle and are a strong concentration of an ingredient needed for a specific issue. I always keep an acne spot treatment handy for those blemishes before they can become something painful and red. However, I only have to use it maybe once a week.
SPF 30 • SPF 50+
I used to hate putting on sunscreen as a kid. And I’m from California! Every time we went to the beach, my mom would force me to slather sunscreen all over my body…and because I was horrible at reapplying, I almost always came home with a severe sunburn somewhere on my body. I used to admire my siblings who had significantly tanner skin than me, and thought that if I was tanner I wouldn’t have to apply and reapply so much sunscreen. However, Korean Beauty Secrets says, “Sun protection is simply the most effective, repeatedly proven defense we have against dark spots, skin damage, fine lines, and wrinkles.”
Despite my siblings’ tan skin, they were not immune to the anti-aging and cancer-causing properties of the sun’s rays. Today, there are SO many facial sunscreens that are light and soothing, and feel like a normal moisturizer. Using makeup with SPF 15, 20, or even 30 is not enough, because the tint ingredients dilute the UVA & UVB protection. It is necessary to use a facial sunscreen separately, and remember to apply it down your neck and décolletage!
Detox • Exfoliate/Peel • Moisturize
Wash-off masks can do so much for your skin! Revitalize, detox, renew, hydrate, and plum. Again, it all depends on what you need. I’ve heard it’s best to do detox masks at least a week before a big event because it might bring some toxins or blemishes to the surface, and they need time to fully heal. Hydration masks could be good to do the night before an event to help plump up your skin and refresh it. And I like to do a peel mask the morning of an event because it helps slough off all my dead skin, and helps my makeup apply smoother.
Sleeping Pack / Sheet Masks
Hydrate • Skin-turnover • Brighten • Fight Hyper-pigmentation
These masks aren’t just for the lazy girl, but they’re also probably more effective than a wash-off mask. A sleeping pack is a mask that you wear overnight and wash off in the morning–when your skin is plump and glowing from all the infused moisture! Sleeping packs are perfect for any season (especially in dry areas and winter seasons) and, again, can specifically target dehydration, dullness, and cell turnover.
Same goes for sheet masks. Sheet masks can be made of a variety of different materials–fiber/pulp/hydro gel/bio cellulose–soaked in facial essence. You take the facial sheet out, place it on your face, and let it sit for 30 minutes, or until the sheet is mostly dried. Then, you take it off and pat in any essence still sitting on your face with your fingertips. I LOVE using these almost every night after I double-clean and tone my face. It’s an extra boost of moisture before I finish my routine and go to bed. However, I would recommend going for a sleeping pack first, and saving sheet masks for special occasions or spa nights. As cheap as sheet masks can be, sleeping packs are probably more cost-efficient in the end because you get more masks out of the pack than you would buying a set of sheet masks for the same price.
Try listening and analyzing your skin on a daily basis. Figure out what routine works best for you! If you are a minimalist, look for 2-in-1, or 3-in-1 products like a strong essence instead of purchasing a toner and a serum as well. Or, you can get a toner with exfoliation properties instead of purchasing a physical exfoliant or peel mask. Start by figuring out your skin type, then take a look at your current products, and question if they are actually helping to improve your skin, or even preventing it from getting worse…or if they’re just stripping it and keeping it at bay.
Did this post help inform you more about the Korean skin care routine? Have any other questions or recommendations for future posts? Let me know in the comments below! 🙂